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Chachere's picture
Joined: 10/27/10
Posts: 649
upholstery cleaning suggestions?

Looking for suggestions for spring cleaning of cabin cushions. We don't have originals, but these are fabric with what seems to be a vinyl portion on the underside.
A few minor stains, but mostly looking for a way to remove boat odors and freshen them up. Dry cleaning? Renting an upholstery shampoo machine? Toss 'em in the washing machine?

Matthew Chachère
s/v ¡Que Chévere! #466
1985 C36 MKI tall rig fin keel M25
Homeported in eastern Long Island, NY

plaineolde's picture
Joined: 11/4/08
Posts: 753

Couple suggestions; easiest first; put them on deck in the sun for an afternoon, seems to work wonders in the spring.

This past winter, I had the mast boot leak, which soaked the cushion along the head bulkhead and resulted in something growing on them. I put the least wet ones on deck in the sun and they dried out fine, no odor. The seat cushion, complete with mildew, I brought home. My wife used our carpet shampooer with the upholstery attachment; removed the mildew and no odor from the cushion.

The winter before, I foolishly only dogged one side of the port above the starboard settee. The seat and back cushions were thoroughly soaked through, dripping with water. Lots of mold and mildew. I brought them home and washed the seatbacks in the washer on handwash, dryer on air dry. Came out fine. For he seat cushion, I had to remove the cover. That's a pain, as you have to remove the buttons, taking off the smaller button on the bottom. Washed the cover, same settings, and it was fine. I hand washed the cushion foam in a big tub and let it air dry.

So, if you just have some boat odor that the sun doesn't get rid of, I'd consider the upholstery shampooer route. And make sure you don't let them get soaked over the winter:eek:

Chachere's picture
Joined: 10/27/10
Posts: 649

Answering my own query ...
We took the covers off, used oxy for the stains, then ran them through the washing machine on gentle with Woolite, air dry in the sun. They look and smell much better now.

deising's picture
Joined: 11/3/08
Posts: 1351

Thanks for posting your results.

Phil L's picture
Phil L
Joined: 1/15/08
Posts: 102

I'm curious about removing the buttons. That has been what has kept me from washing mine. How difficult are they to remove? I wasn't aware you could remove them.

Daddio Rick
Joined: 11/13/19
Posts: 28

This being my first post let me say hello. We are a couple of 65 year olds who have owned a new to us 1995 Mk II for all of 2 days. Unfortunately the previous owner who was liveaboard became ill and subsequently passed about 18 months ago. One can imagine the inside that we have found. Still the price was right and this will be our third boat in need of major cleaning and even refit. So beit. 

One question that comes to us as we get started is how to clean heavily molded cushions? My previous practice was to unzip the material and head for a laundramat. However on the C36 we have the little buttons. Can anyone here speak to how those are removed to allow washing? Thanks in advance...

Joined: 5/4/19
Posts: 3

Welcome to the group.  We are fairly new members ourselves.  We are also in the process of refreshing/cleaning cushions on a new to us (4 weeks) 1995 C36.  I'm not sure about cleaning heavily molded cushions as that isn't something we are dealing with, although we did find some areas of light mildew stains on the inside of the vinyl backing on a few of the cushions.  We found a product called Concrobium Duo Blast Mold and Mildew Deep Stain Remover at the local home improvement store.  You just spray it on...no scrubbing necessary.  Stains were gone in under 24 hrs.

As far as the buttons, what has worked for us is pushing down on the cushion near the button to release pressure on the button and string.  With the string relaxed and using needle nose pliers we lifted the string up and over the hook on the back of the button.  Then letting the string slip through the cover we placed a small wooden dowel (anything stiff would work though) through the loop in the string so that once the foam was clean and back in the cover we could attach the buttons fairly easily.  We did forget to do that on one of the first cushions we were working on but were able to pull the string back through the sponge with the aid of a small crochet hook and patience.  Hope this helps.

Joined: 6/15/17
Posts: 10

I concur with the above advice! We purchased our 1995 Mark II 3 years ago, and also faced cleaning and managing a boat that had sat in the water in Oriental NC (HIGH HUMIDITY) for several years, due to an ill owner. Fortunately, not a lot of harm was done that couldn't be undone, but LOTS of cleaning. I was also put off by the buttons at first and really struggled with figuring out how to get them off. Be prepared for some sore fingers wrestling with them to get them both off and on! (I believe a few choice words were thrown in there too...but I am pretty sure the rest of us salty sailors have said a few of those epithets in other foul conditions, lol)

I second the crochet hook. The trick is finding one that is small enough in diameter (to not totally gouge out the foam to big) but LONG enough to push all the way through the cushion. 

Be prepared, that you may have trouble with zippers on your cushion covers. I ended up having to replace a few because they were so corroded the zipper wouldn't slide and I had to cut the zipper to get the cover off. Fortunately, that was not a difficult repair (I have some sewing skills...so it wasn't really that tough to sew new ones in...pretty much a straight stitch!)

Be prepared ALSO for the little fabric covers to pop off the heads of the buttons. They are just 'snapped on' when initially installed but the aluminum backings corrode and become gunked up with stuff so they pop off. Get some CLEAR gorilla glue and glue them back onto the heads AFTER you have reinstalled them. I found it easier to handle without having to worry about ruining the recently repaired button cover). 

ALSO, go to any sewing or craft store and get some heavy duty sewing 'twine'...I am getting old and cannot remember the correct name for it now...lol..It's often used for hand sewing upholstery, can be waxcoated etc. I had several of the threads that connect the decorative button on the back to the back button (on the back of the cushion) break off. I was able to replace them with this thread, which I now keep on board. Frankly, any sail thread you have would also probably work. 

One other thing to note, we had some staining on one of the salon cushions (a bottom cushion). This is on the long straight side with the little table that pops up in the middle. I discovered that I could actually reverse the cushions (move left to right and right to left) by rotating the cushions and switching the side that the buttons were on. (I hope that makes some sense...) That allowed us to have a refreshed look on a side where no amount of stain remover or cleaning would restore the color back to the same as those nearby. THey were a bit brighter than their counterparts for the first few months, but faded overtime and now it's not noticeable at all (read: they're just as dirty as the rest now...lol, thanks to our four legged second mate, Rita who loves to make that her lounge spot!).

Hope these tips help and best of luck!


Joined: 5/4/19
Posts: 3

In regard to frozen zippers, we tried PB Blaster plus a number of other things recommendations found online, including trying to knock the zipper free with a large screw driver and hammer. We had read some place to use white vinegar but I figured it couldn't compare to the PB Blaster. After trying a number of things over a couple of weeks I finally grabbed a qtip soaked in white vinegar and dabbed the teeth right behind the zipper. I was immediately able to unzip the zipper. I don't know it it was a combination of everything we tried or if it was the white vinegar itself, but if we ever experience stuck/frozen zippers again, we'll start by trying white vinegar. After the zipper was working we used a bee's wax based lip balm on the zipper teeth as we didn't have any straight bee's wax available.


KevinLenard's picture
Joined: 1/28/15
Posts: 158

I'd also recommend NOT machine washing the foam to avoid separating the white topper from the yellow blocks. A good soaking with Concrobium and drying in the sun should remove all mould and smells. The dark discoloration only comes out with using Clorox bleach cleaner, but it leaves a faint bleach odor for a while. The covers with vinyl seem to hold up fine being machine washed once every 5-10 years. The buttons are a challenge in patience. Keep the cushions dry year round!

Stevenjones's picture
Joined: 6/29/07
Posts: 74

This Practical Sailor article may be of interest to you...


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