Scruffy Smells

Cat Fraser of Colchester, Vermont, asks:

“How do I get rid of what I call ‘boat smell?’ I’ve tried baking soda, a dish of vinegar and many commercial products. Somebody told me that coffee grounds are the way to go. A friend of mine made her husband change to stainless steel water tanks, but that’s not an option here.”

Don Casey replies:

To solve this problem, you have to find the source of the smell. Very often it is the toilet plumbing. A toilet hose is supposed to pass effluent, but if there is a horizontal run, it often winds up holding some waste onboard. Eventually the odor will permeate the hose wall and when that happens the whole boat will stink.

To test your hoses, put a clean rag in boiling water, then put on a pair of rubber gloves and wring most of the water from the rag. Vigorously wipe down all the hoses running from the toilet and holding tank then quickly sniff the rag. If it has picked up any odor you should replace all the hoses: the best odor-resistant hose is SeaLand’s OdorSafe ( You can also use a hot rag to test the status of the holding tank’s permeability.

There’s a chance the smell is coming from the toilet’s fill water, because when critters die in the inlet hose they will make the toilet stink when it’s flushed. Adding chlorine bleach into the fill line and letting it sit for a few minutes should cure that problem—until more decaying matter accumulates. The spray deodorizer Febreze ( is good at eliminating general odors.

Regular cleaning and deodorizing of specific areas in the boat is always a good idea, but I might also suggest renting or buying a small ozone generator. After you have run it for a couple of hours aboard the closed boat, the results will astound you.

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