The official Mills instructions to revive webbing to a clean and smart appearance (for after all, Blanco/Mills was designed for that purpose) is thus:
Should the equipment become in a dirty or greasy condition, it may be washed, using warm water, soap and a sponge. Then rinse with clean water, and when thoroughly dry apply the cleaner in the manner laid down in the instructions accompanying it. No cleaner may be applied to the equipment unless previously approved by the War Office.
So, what to do these days when presented with webbing components with various degrees to cleanliness and Blanco colour?
First check what the colouring on your webbing really is. It is very common to pick up webbing that has in the past been painted with emulsion or oil based paints in any shade and colour from white to black. This stuff will be a nightmare to clean up – Nitromors and a toothbrush will be a start.
But for regular grubby & blancoed kit the answer is simple. With a clothes brush or unused shoe polish brush clean of surface muck/mud. Biro marks can be removed with a cleaner designed for the purpose (try Wilcos). Give greasy stains a scrub with a toothbrush and some washing up detergent or something more powerful if you choose.
Reduce all the kit down to individual components, separating all straps and take brasses off the belt.
Now, wait for the lady of the house to go shopping then sling the lot in the washing machine. Select the hottest wash and fastest spin cycle. Put in your regular washing powder and a good couple of scoops of Oxyaction type powder. No need for conditioner! Press start and retire. It’s going to be noisy! Buckles will clank around – you might want to tie socks over the buckles to make it sound better but I’ve never bothered. Webbing material is pre-shrunk in manufacture so you won’t end up with a nice set of webbing for your Action Man.
At the end of the cycle you should end up with reasonably even coloured webbing that will take colour well. Much better to do this that try and apply colour onto messy webbing and hope it covers it all up. While the webbing is damp now is the time to set about re-blancoing and when done allow to dry naturally overnight.
Incidentally, post war waxy block Blanco or tinned paste type cleaners can be removed this way but the level of success depends on the thickness of the application. You may be better off trying the physical methods illustrated below, particularly when trying to remove new reproduction blanco types such as Soldier of Fortune, Shoot ‘n Scoot and the home brewed Tarrago.
NOTE: It has come to light that reproduction ’37 pattern webbing does not have a particularly permanent khaki dye in the cotton and it is likely that the machine machine and hand scrubbing methods will lead to the loss of all colour from the webbing, leaving a natural white cotton colour. Since the webbing is to be re-blancoed this shouldn’t matter a great deal but if you don’t want to lose all colour from your webbing then it is suggested to very carefully clean with a tepid water hand wash, just sufficient to remove grease, dirt and loose surface Blanco. This won’t be sufficient to remove post-war paste webbing cleaners or reproduction ‘blanco’ of any variety.
Questions have been asked about whether modern alternatives to proper Blanco can easily be removed from webbing so here is a test.
Here are three 2″ webbing straps scrubbed clean of original Blanco. The strap at the top of the photo is an old Blanco’d strap for comparison.
So here we see the three clean straps now dressed with three products. From top to bottom: Original KG3′d strap as control, Shoot ‘n’ Scoot KG3, Tarrago shoe cream KG3, proper Blanco KG3
So, after a few days lets have a go at cleaning it off. Soak the straps in hot water (as hot as you like) for half an hour or so.
Now squirt with a good cleaner – I’m using Asda pre-wash spray here. No need for gloves, contains surfactant cleaner.
Work it into the weave with a small nail brush or similar and leave to soak for half an hour. Colour will start lifting immediately.
After half an hour give a quick scrub and rinse off. Respray then scrub lightly but thoroughly. Rinse thoroughly and re scrub without applying more cleaner – you will see more colour lift out.
The wet webbing will look very dark still but hang to dry overnight and once dry it will look nice and bright.
Here is the cleaned, then blano’d, then cleaned webbing once dry. In the same order, from top to bottom: Original KG3′d strap as control, Shoot ‘n’ Scoot KG3, Tarrago shoe cream KG3, proper Blanco KG3
Conclusion: Shoot ‘ Scoot KG3, Tarrago shoe cream and proper Blanco can be removed from webbing with equal ease. There is some slight colour staining deep in the weave – SnS slightly green, Blanco slightly brown, Tarrago between the two – but all are eminently suitable for starting again with a reapplication or a new colour.
Written by David Pratt