Staying Clean and Green
Start using cleaning products that don’t damage the environment or your pocketbook
By Bob Tigar
Some “marine” cleaning products are specifically designed for marine use, but most are repackaged household products that are sold at significantly higher prices. When we kept our Morgan Out Island 33, Diversion, on Lake Michigan, cleaning and maintaining the boat wasn’t difficult, thanks to the relatively short season and the lake’s fresh water. The 11 years we’ve spent sailing in southern Florida waters, however, have presented far more maintenance challenges.
We now carry six products that are effective in keeping our boat looking shipshape and also fulfill our personal requirements. Here are the things we think are important.
Safety: All the products we use have low toxicity and don’t require special handling or wearing a mask. However, it’s always a good idea to wear rubber gloves, have good eye protection, and wear appropriate work clothing. If you’re not sure how any product might affect a particular surface, test it first in an inconspicuous place.
Readily available: All the products we use are available in discount, grocery, and drug stores.
They work. In addition to their low toxicity, these products work as well as or better than anything else we’ve tried, and each has a number of different uses. Moreover, they cost less than dedicated “marine” products. Our six products are white vinegar, baking soda, borax detergent, ammonia, Soft Scrub (www.softscrub.com), and Barkeeper’s Friend (www.barkeepers friend.com).Here’s how we use them.
BECK AND HULL
To remove dirt, grease, and salt-water and hard-water stains, first wash the surface with fresh water. Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup ammonia, and 2 tablespoons of detergent in a gallon of water. Use a sponge to apply the liquid to smooth surfaces, and use a soft brush for antiskid areas. Rinse thoroughly. For tough stains, put some Soft Scrub on a soft cloth and scrub with a circular motion. Flush with clean water.
For stainless fittings, first rinse the affected area with water, then sprinkle on some Barkeeper’s Friend. Wait 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse with clean water. Reapply if necessary, and this time scrub the surface with a sponge. Rinse with clean water.
To remove stains on the hull at the waterline—the “ICW smile,” as some call it—put at least 2 cups of borax (more if you can get it to dissolve) into a gallon of water. The hotter the water, the more readily it dissolves. Apply the solution to the hull with a sponge. Repeat the process with a similar mixture of baking soda and water. If stains persist, sprinkle some Barkeeper’s Friend on a wet sponge and clean with a circular motion before rinsing with fresh water.
BIMINIS, DODGERS, ETC.
Sponge the bimini top with a mixture of 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 gallon of fresh water, then rinse with fresh water. You can use the same mixture and technique to clean Isinglass windows.
Mix 3 tablespoons of dish detergent (yes, I know it’s not one of the six products) in a gallon of water, then scrub the teak surface with a soft brush and flush with water. If the teak isn’t totally clean, pour some ammonia into a small dish and scrub the wood with a soft brush; a toothbrush works well for small areas or corners. Then flush well with clean water. This process will bring teak back to its natural state.
Mix 1 to 2 cups of borax detergent into a gallon of very warm water and use a sponge to clean bulkheads and overhead areas. This mixture is also good for removing any teak oil that has dripped from the trim onto a glass surface. It also works well for removing ground-in dirt, grease, and mildew stains.
For fabric and carpet stains, sprinkle baking soda on the affected area, wait 1 to 2 hours, and then vacuum up the powder. To remove mildew, sprinkle baking soda or borax on the fabric surface and saturate the area with white vinegar. For wine stains, quickly apply some white vinegar to the surface and rub gently. To help absorb odors, either put out a dish of white vinegar or saturate a sponge with white vinegar and put it in a dish.
PORTLIGHTS AND CABIN FLOOR
Mix 1 cup of white vinegar with a gallon of water and use a soft cloth to clean surfaces. Rinse with clean water and dry with a soft cloth.
Saturate a clean rag with either white vinegar or ammonia to clean and disinfect cutting boards and countertops. For stainless surfaces, use baking soda on a damp sponge to scrub the surface, followed by a clean-water rinse. Remove refrigerator odors by wiping internal surfaces with white vinegar; let it dry without rinsing.
To prevent or minimize calcium buildup in the head’s hoses, close the intake valve and pump the bowl dry. Then pour in 1/2 gallon of white vinegar, pump it through the system, and let it sit for at least 24 hours. Reopen the intake valve and pump the vinegar into the holding tank. Do this at least once a season, more often if possible. To clean and deodorize sink drains, put 3 tablespoons of baking soda in the drain, then pour in 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Wait 30 minutes before pouring 1/2 gallon of hot water down the drain.
White vinegar is good for removing salt stains from leather boat shoes. Saturate a soft rag or cotton ball with vinegar and wash the affected areas; when the shoe is dry, apply the appropriate oil, waterproofing, or polish.
White vinegar is also good for moderating the effects of a jellyfish sting. And roaches can be subdued by putting borax in the appropriate areas.
Joyce and Bob Tigar began sailing Sunfish on Lake Michigan. They use their current boat for extended cruises along Florida’s east coast and in the Bahamas.