Tips and tricks for cleaning your boat

By Rachel Lord


You know the drill: You finish a long day (or week) of fishing, and it’s time to clean the boat. Get out the soaps, the degreasers, the scrubbers and the hose. Products that often hit the deck include bleach and branded general cleaners, such as Simple Green or 401. Before you know it, the suds are flying and you’re feeling good about a spic and span vessel. But you know it will only stay that way until the next trip out.
This repeated cycle of washing can send gallons of cleaners into our harbors, increasing nutrient loads (leading to increased algal growth, followed by smelly decomposition) and potentially harming marine life. Small amounts of chemicals and washed-off petroleum products can damage the hearts and other organs in developing fish.
In addition, we often use more cleaner than is necessary, and/or don’t dilute concentrated products correctly. These are both oversights that not only send more chemicals into the water, but also waste money.
While our harbors are work zones, they are also places where we congregate as boaters, as recreational or commercial fishing families, and where we introduce our kids to the marine environment.
There are plenty of ways to reduce our impacts in the harbor while still maintaining our vessels and keeping them clean. Remember that usually, there are several ways to get something done (i.e. there’s more than one way to skin a cat). So take these steps: identify the waste streams, understand the alternatives and take the path of least pollution.
Here are some ideas for keeping you and your crew safe, protecting marine life, and saving money when purchasing cleaners for your next round of boat washing:
• Look for third-party certificates for less-harmful products. These include the EPA-certified “Design for the Environment” label, or Green Seal Certified products.
• Read and follow instructions. Dilute as recommended, and use more elbow-grease than chemical. This will save you money.
• Read the label and avoid these ingredients: ammonia, sodium hypochlorite, chlorine, petroleum products or lye.
• No bilge cleaner on the market “eats” fuels and oils. While they do disperse, they are still in the wash water. We know that in small concentrations, they still are toxic for marine life, including small fish and embryos. Dispose of oily bilge water onshore.
Use alternative cleaners whenever possible. For example, straight white vinegar is a great stainless cleaner, and careful use of baking soda and water, rinsed with lemon or lime juice is an effective stain remover on fiberglass.
Be wary of products that aren’t certified and heavily market themselves as “Green” or “Environmentally Friendly.” Be an informed consumer and read labels.
DANGER means extremely flammable, corrosive, or toxic;
WARNING means moderately hazardous;
CAUTION means less hazardous.

Find more ideas on alternative cleaners at Cook Inletkeeper’s Clean Boating website:

Rachel Lord is the outreach and monitoring coordinator at Cook Inletkeeper. She can be reached at or by calling 235-4068 ext. 29.

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Posted by on Jul 2nd, 2013 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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