How To Clean Your Anchor Chain And Dock Lines

How To Clean Your Anchor Chain And Dock Lines | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Beth York

June 15, 2022

There are many ways your anchor chain and dock lines can go from brand new to 'ew!' in a single season or less. This guide on how to clean your anchor chain and dock lines will provide you with the necessary information to keep your equipment clean and functioning for as long as possible.

Using simple, low cost, environmentally friendly techniques, you can keep your anchor chain and dock lines shipshape and ready for duty. Take advantage of a sandy bottom to keep your anchor chain rust-free, and make use of your washing machine for clean, pliable dock lines.

It is a common occurrence for anchor chains to rust. Their constant exposure to water causes them to oxidize and create iron oxide, aka rust. Using harsh chemicals and acids to remove the rust can actually weaken the chain and further remove its galvanization. Besides rust, anchor chains act like mud magnets in some anchorages.

Cleaning a muddy chain doesn't have to be a back breaking, dirty job. I'll share several techniques to help make cleaning your anchor chain a breeze!

Stiff, unmanageable dock lines are another common issue among boaters. By knowing the proper technique, you can clean your dock lines using your washing machine! It doesn't get any easier than that.

I live at anchor full time so I have quite a bit of experience with dirty, rusty anchor chain. Fortunately, I never have to spend much time cleaning my chain or lines. I know an effective way to let the sea clean my chain and a washing machine soften my lines. In this article, I'll share my gear maintenance tips with you!


Table of contents

Rusty Anchor Chain

You've had a perfect afternoon cruise and just arrived at a gorgeous anchorage to spend the night. You go to the bow, open your anchor locker, and to your dismay you discover that your anchor chain is a rusty mess! Can you trust a rusty chain? How did this happen? What do you do now?

How Rust Forms

Rust is like the baby of iron and water. You put iron together with water and bam! Nine months later you've got a rust baby. Just kidding. It actually only takes 4-5 days for rust to form.

Your anchor chain is made of an iron alloy called steel. Putting a wet anchor chain into an anchor locker creates the perfect environment for rust to form.

New chain has a galvanized (zinc) coating which prevents the iron in the chain from making contact with the air and water. During use, this coating wears away which allows the rusting process to begin.

When To Worry About Rust

Corrosion due to rust is a slow process. Rust isn't going to ruin your chain overnight, and probably not over a season, either. The speed at which the corrosion occurs is dependent upon the environment. Salt water corrodes chain faster than freshwater.

If your rust is starting to flake off the links, it's likely time to replace your chain. Chains that are rusted to the flaking point make a total mess of the anchor locker and deck, anyway. Treat yourself to a fresh set of links!

How To Remove Rust

You've determined that your rust isn't so bad that you need to replace your chain. Congratulations! But your chain still looks terrible, so what can you do about it?

  • Acid Bath
  • Scrub With Metal Brush
  • Cement Mixer
  • Electrolysis
  • Drag Through The Sand

Look at all those rust removal options! It can be confusing to know which method is right for you.

Not all acids are the same so be sure to do your homework when choosing this route. Muriatic acid, for example, will remove the rust but also causes an unstoppable chemical reaction which accelerates the rusting process. Phosphoric acid seems to be the best option.

Scrubbing each link with a metal brush will remove rust. This method is slow, messy, and strenuous. Unless rust only affects a small portion of your chain, I don't recommend going this route.

If you happen to have access to a cement mixer, tossing in your chain with some sand will do the trick in about 10 minutes. Be sure to remove the paddles first.

Using electrolysis to remove rust from the chain requires a number of supplies and a bit of set-up. After filling a bucket or tub with a conductive solution, you create an electrically charged environment within the bucket which causes the remaining good steel to separate from the rust. The rust falls away after anywhere from an hour to a couple of days. Make sure you are fully informed prior to attempting electrolysis. I think YouTube is your friend on this one.

Last but not least, my favorite option - dragging the chain through the sand behind the boat! It's cost effective, practically effortless, and uncomplicated. Obviously this method only works if you have a sandy bottom available to you. If not, you can always drag the chain behind your vehicle down a dirt road. The results are the same, a rust-free chain.

How To Stay Rust Free

Unfortunately, it's difficult to maintain a rust-free chain. Your chain rusted the first time because it lost its galvanized coating. You can have your chain re-galvanized if you can find a company to provide that service. Many companies that galvanize have stopped processing anchor chains as the chain sometimes fails during the hot dip process.

Your best bet for keeping your anchor chain as rust free as possible is to, whenever possible, rinse it with fresh water after weighing anchor. Also, it's important to let the chain dry, so leave your anchor locker open to allow evaporation to do its trick.

Muddy Anchor Chain

If you find yourself in an anchorage that has provided you with a generous sample of bottom mud on your chain, what should you do?

Having a deck wash certainly makes the job easier than throwing bucket load after bucket load of water on the chain as it's raised. However, there are times when the mud is particularly tenacious, usually when the clay content is high. When this occurs, water alone isn't enough to fight the muddy battle.

Whether you have a deck wash down system, or a trusty bucket, using a long handled scrub brush can greatly speed up the cleaning process. I've seen cruisers tie three scrub brushes together, bristles in, around their anchor chain to scrub mud away. Davis Instruments used to make an anchor chain cleaning device called a 'Gunkbuster'.

There's definitely a hole in the market when it comes to devices that clean anchor chains. Get to work inventors!

I know of one way to help chuck some of the gunk prior to attacking your chain with water and a brush. Before you begin pulling anchor, back down on your anchor fairly hard. This will lift your chain up out of the mud that it's settled into and knock the larger chunks off. You may find that repeating this a time or two as you weigh anchor will greatly decrease the amount of scrubbing necessary.

If money isn't an issue, you can install a water pump within your anchor well to spray high pressure water directly onto your chain from a nozzle directed just below the bow roller. There are currently no prefabricated kits available for this application so you'd have to purchase and install the components according to your boat's specifications.

Softening Stiff Dock Lines

There is something so satisfying about a line that is soft and pliable. It coils smoothly, lays flat, and runs around winches and through blocks easily. With a small amount of effort, you can make sure your dock lines behave themselves throughout their lives.

Dock lines become stiff and unmanageable after they've absorbed salt and dirt. Removing the line stiffening gunk can be a fairly easy task.

Clean Dock Lines Easily

Some people pooh-pooh the idea of using a washing machine to clean lines as this method can cause tangles if you don't properly prepare your lines . You can also damage the washing machine if you put lines straight into the washer.

To avoid issues, create a daisy chain or sinnet chain with your line then place it in a mesh bag prior to putting it in the washing machine.

Wash one line bag at a time on the delicate setting with a small amount of detergent. Adding fabric softener during the wash cycle can help soften your lines.

Once your line has been run through the washing machine remove it from its mesh bag and dry your line in the sun. Dry your line draped over a clothes line, or lay it out straight on a dock or on deck. It's important to allow your line to dry completely prior to use.

Rinsing your dock lines with fresh water regularly will help them stay pliable after washing.

Alternatively, you can place your line in a tub with water and detergent and allow to soak for an hour or so. Agitate the line for a few minutes and then rinse thoroughly. Dry completely. While this method is more labor intensive, the end results are similar.

How To Clean Your Anchor Chain And Dock Lines
Beth York

Beth York

Beth lives on board her 1983 30ft S2 sailboat with her husband, 6 year-old son, and her two fur babies. She has been sailing and boating for most of her life. Beth has been blessed to experience cruising in the Great Lakes, the Bahamas, and in Alaska. She loves to travel and adores living on her tiny boat with her family.

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