Every year, warmer weather means getting your boat ready for the water. I fondly remember the summer job I held during my college years. Having grown up on the water and around boats, it was a very fitting job. However, one of the not-so-fond memories I do have is of the abrasive chemicals that we used to clean the boats. They smelled strong and even burned if you got them on your skin. Not knowing any better, some 23 years ago, it seemed like the right thing to use. Many of the all-purpose cleaners we used contained toxins that easily penetrated our skin or were harmful to breathe in. I hate to think now about the damage I may have done, not to mention the harm these toxins did to the environment as they ran into the water.
Today, it's different—with a shift towards environmental friendliness, boat cleaning is much safer and certainly less expensive than it once was. Many of the cleaning products can be made at home with only a few simple ingredients. Although some people may approach homemade boat cleaning products with skepticism, I can tell you that they work. Here are some green cleaning tips to keep your boat looking its best while protecting your health and the environment.
Gather Your Cleaning Equipment
Standard to any boat cleaning kit is a few good scrubbing brushes. A long handle brush that will allow you to reach difficult areas without having to break your arm or back is necessary depending on the size of your boat. Most boat surfaces will tolerate a medium-soft bristle brush. If you get a brush that is too abrasive, it will damage the finish. Make sure that the handle of your brush is durable as well. A small hand brush is also handy as is a bucket, sponges, chamois cloths, and a mop.
Do Cleaning and Maintenance on Land
If possible, do most of your cleaning or maintenance on shore rather than in the water. Also be sure that you properly dispose of old parts or any chemicals appropriately.
Use Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products: Recipes
Here are some inexpensive and safe cleaning recipes for keeping your boat looking its best. Remember, the key to cleaning success is to put a little elbow grease into it. We are accustomed to chemical-laden products that require little scrubbing or buffing, but if you want to stay greener and get your boat to really shine, it will take a little energy on your part.
To take care of hard water stain and rings, mix one tablespoon baking soda with one tablespoon toothpaste. You'll want a pasty consistency, and you will use it by scrubbing at the stains with this mix and a damp cloth.
When it comes time to clean the hull, you can mix one part white vinegar and one part warm water in a bucket. Use a light bristle scrub brush to wash the hull before rinsing thoroughly. But, if this cleaner doesn't do the trick, worry not! There is a heavy duty hull cleaner you can make with 1 ½-cups baking soda and a gallon of warm water in a bucket. Scrub with your brush just as before and rinse when you're done.
Do you want to brighten your hull after it's clean? Make a hull brightener solution with ¼-cup baking soda and one gallon water. Add this to your rinse water after cleaning.
Mix one part each of water, salt, and white vinegar for a good brass cleaner. Putting these together, you should get a paste that you can apply with a clean rag. Rinse well when you're finished.
There's no mixing needed for a chrome cleaner. Instead, rub straight apple cider vinegar on your chrome pieces and wipe off with a clean, dry rag.
Pour baking soda on fuel oil stains and wait about 20 minutes in order to remove them, then rinse with clean water.
You can also use plain baking soda on teak to deodorize it. Just rub it on the teak and let it set for about 20 minutes, the same as for fuel oil stains, and then rinse.
A good, green window cleaner can be made from one cup of white vinegar and one quart of warm water. Apply it with a damp cloth and buff dry.
Dip a clean sponge in undiluted lemon oil to apply a natural metal polish to your metal fixtures. Don't forget to rinse when you finish.
And last, you can make vinyl cleaner by mixing one teaspoon baking soda and one teaspoon toothpaste, the same general idea as the hard water stain cleaner. Apply with a rag and rinse well.
It is amazing how much better you will feel about putting your boat in the water knowing that you are not contributing to an increase in water pollution or risking your own health by using toxic chemicals. Happy boating!
(For more ideas on cleaning up while staying green, take a look at this spring cleaning guide.)