THE NITTY GRITTY

Clean­ing Stain­less

SAIL - - Boat Works / Hull Repairs - Chip Law­son finds an easy way to make old stain­less steel shiny again

How much did it cost to fix the blis­ters? How long will the re­pair last? When I found my 33ft Cape Carib (built in Hong Kong in 1975) for sale on the mar­ket, the seller told me that a yard had of­fered him a quote of $8,000 to fix the blis­ters, think­ing that I might find the news in­trigu­ing. There were about 60 se­ri­ous spots. Would his yard just Dremel some pock­ets and trowel in a Marine-Tex type, or go more ef­fec­tively with new glass? No mat­ter. When an owner puts a boat with an ob­vi­ous case of blis­ters up for sale, he’s try­ing to say he’s ne­go­tiable.

I made my own es­ti­mate of the re­pair cost and re­vised my of­fer to buy the boat. He re­luc­tantly ac­cepted. The re­duc­tion was how I jus­ti­fied do­ing the work my­self. Still, no­body wins: I took on hard, dusty, noisy work, ex­pen­sive ma­te­ri­als, itchy, sweaty breath­ing con­trap­tions fog­ging my glasses, blind­ing me half the time…. and so on. Trans­porta­tion, ex­pend­ables and bev­er­ages were all there too. The project cost about $500. For­tu­nately, the right side of the hull was not in­volved.

How long will my re­pairs last? The orig­i­nal hull with poor qual­ity con­trol in production and stop-gap re­pairs along the way sur­vived for forty-three years. I think I’m good.

With­out a doubt, the best way to “clean” stain­less steel parts is to have them elec­tropol­ished. Elec­topol­ish­ing is an elec­tro­chem­i­cal process that cleans the stain­less and re­moves any sur­face iron par­ti­cles, leav­ing a shiny and far more rust-re­sis­tant sur­face. The down­sides of elec­tropol­ish­ing are its high cost and the en­vi­ron­men­tally un­friendly waste prod­ucts re­sult­ing from the process.

An­other op­tion is to man­u­ally pol­ish and buff the stain­less with clean­ing com­pounds and ei­ther a rag or power buf­fer. This is def­i­nitely a far more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly process, but very time-con­sum­ing and not quite as ef­fec­tive as elec­tropol­ish­ing.

For­tu­nately, there is also third way to clean stain­less, at least those small parts that are not at­tached to the boat—cit­ric acid. Cit­ric acid pow­der is de­rived largely from citrus fruit and is very en­vi­ron­men­tally safe. Food-grade citrus acid pow­der is even used as an ad­di­tive in snacks and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, and then added to wa­ter and heated, be­comes a safe-to-use “poor man’s elec­tropol­ish” for stain­less.

I per­son­ally use a hot­plate to boil the wa­ter and an old stain­less sauce pan to hold the parts and cit­ric acid so­lu­tion. De­pend­ing on how badly the parts are rusted, I mix be­tween 1½ to 3 cups of cit­ric acid pow­der for each quart of wa­ter, then boil the parts for 20 to 60 min­utes.

Be­warned, the cit­ric acid bath will not re­move sealants or other non-metal­lic sub­stances, so any sil­i­cone rub­ber or caulk­ing com­pounds you want cleaned off must first be re­moved by hand. Once the parts have been “boiled” clean they then need a thor­ough clean­ing with fresh­wa­ter to re­move any and all traces of the acid.

While not per­fect, a cit­ric acid bath does a very ef­fec­tive job of clean­ing small stain­less parts with min­i­mal ef­fort and at very rea­son­able cost. Five pounds of cit­ric acid costs less than $ 15 on­line. s

Be­fore and af­ter: the cit­ric acid soak works won­ders

Boil the parts for 20 to 60 min­utes, de­pend­ing on how rusted they are

The cleaned parts are rust-free with min­i­mal ef­fort

The parts be­fore clean­ing

A 5lb con­tainer of cit­ric acid is in­ex­pen­sive and eas­ily ob­tained

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