Non-Toxic Cleaning Products

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Cleaning products are necessary for dissolving and removing dirt, grime, allergens and germs. However, most cleaning products are not made to be directly released into our waterways. Ingredients in certain cleaners can damage fish tissues or persist in the environment and enter the food chain. Some products also contain phosphorous and nitrogen, which can put excess nutrients into the water causing algal blooms which can be harmful to coral reefs and coastal ecosystems. Instead, many cleaning products are created to go through wastewater treatment facilities, where the majority of contaminants and chemicals are removed before the water goes back into rivers, lakes and the ocean.  

cleaning, cleaner, non-toxic

Tips for cleaning:

1. Regularly rinse your boat or boat parts with freshwater. This can help reduce the need for harsh chemicals by preventing the buildup of salt, mildew and grime in the first place.

2. Research your cleaners. Manufacturers of chemical products are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. Labels on cleaners can be confusing and words like “natural”, “non-toxic”, “organic” or “biodegradable” are misleading because there is no regulation of the words’ use.

3. If possible, use cleaning products sparingly and try to prevent cleaning products and wastewater from draining directly into the water. Utilize designated washdown areas at your marina or club, or wash items down on a grassy area which can help absorb runoff before it ends up in the ocean.

Which eco-friendly cleaners are best for your boat?

BoatU.S. Foundation recently updated their 2009 study and tested 9 new “green” boat soaps to see if the products lived up to their environmental claims while still cleaning a vessel effectively. Interestingly, they found that the "greeness" of a cleaner did not impact its ability to clean.

Based on their research and weighing all the factors (cleaning, performance, toxicity and biodegradability), here are some of their top product recommendations:

1. 303 Multi-Surface Cleaner

2. Boat Zoap

3. MaryKate Super Suds Boat Soap

Additionally, Ecoworks Marine has a variety of products to clean every part of your boat. All of their products are compliant and surpass the MARPOL Annex 5 1.7.5 criteria.

Make your own homemade boat cleaners

With the following seven products that you may already have in your kitchen cabinets, you can clean most of your boat and boating accessories in an eco-smart and cost-effective way. 

  • Vinegar – acidic, strong cleaning agent that can dissolve dirt, debris and grime, kill or reduce certain types of pathogens (usually ones that cause common foodborne diseases), but is not a disinfectant 
  • Lemon Juice – acidic, strong cleaning agent that can dissolve dirt, debris and grime, antibacterial, but is not a disinfectant, citrus smell 
  • Baking Soda – mildly alkaline, slightly abrasive, strong cleaning agent that can help dissolve dirt and grease (be careful using around certain metals), and neutralize odors 
  • Cream of Tartar – mildly acidic, similar to baking soda, but is slightly less abrasive 
  • Borax – alkaline, strong cleaning agent that can get rid of stains, mold and mildew, and neutralize odors  
  • Salt – effective gentle scouring agent, boost cleaning and deodorizing action of other ingredients 
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – a natural disinfectant that is antibacterial and antiviral 

All-purpose cleaner 

  • White vinegar 
  • Water 
  • Bucket 
  • Scrub brush and/or cloth 

This simple mixture can be used for general cleaning purposes on your boat. In a bucket, add one cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water. Use a scrub brush or cloth to clean surfaces of dirt and grime. Rinse area with water. 

Fiberglass stain remover  

  • Baking soda  
  • Water 
  • Bowl 
  • Spoon 
  • Scrub brush and/or cloth  

In a bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda. Slowly add a small amount of water and mix until you make a thick paste. Using a cloth, rub the paste on fiberglass to remove stains. Rinse area with water.  

Aluminum cleaner  

  • Cream of tartar  
  • Water 
  • Small bucket 
  • Tablespoon 
  • Cloth 

In a small bucket, add two tablespoons of cream of tartar to one quart of hot water, and mix. Use a cloth dipped in the mixture to clean aluminum surfaces. Rinse area with water. Cream of tartar is used in this homemade cleaner instead of baking soda because if baking soda, an acidic substance, is left on the aluminum too long, it can cause the metal to oxidize.  

Stainless steel cleaner  

  • Baking soda  
  • Water 
  • White vinegar 
  • Bowl 
  • Spoon 
  • Cloth 

In a bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda. Slowly add a small amount of water and mix until you make a thick paste. Using a cloth, rub the paste on the stainless steel surface. Rinse area with water. To get rid of water spots on the stainless steel, wipe area with a new cloth that has been dipped in white vinegar.  

Sail cleaner 

  • Borax 
  • Water 
  • Bucket 
  • Sponge 
  • Scrub brush 

Overly aggressive cleaning can weaken sails, so it is important to be careful about what types of cleaning products you apply to the fabric. It is always better to soak for a longer period of time rather than to use stronger chemicals. For general sail cleaning, add one to two cups of borax to a gallon of hot water. Rinse the sail with water and then use a sponge to apply ample amounts of the mixture to the sail. Use a soft scrub brush for stains. Let the mixture soak on the sail for two hours. Rinse the sail thoroughly with water. Dry the sail fully by hoisting it or drape the sail in a dry place outside in the sun.  

Life jacket cleaner 

  • White vinegar  
  • Water 
  • Hydrogen peroxide 
  • Bucket 
  • Scrub brush 

In a bucket, add one cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water. Soak the lifejacket in the mixture for 30 minutes and use a soft scrub brush as necessary to get stains out. Rinse the lifejacket thoroughly with water. To sanitize the lifejacket, add one cup of hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of water in a bucket. Soak the lifejacket for 30 minutes. Rinse the lifejacket thoroughly with water. Let the lifejacket dry fully outside.  

Mildew remover  

  • Lemon juice  
  • Salt 
  • Bowl 
  • Spoon 
  • Scrub brush and/or cloth  

For stubborn mildew stains on canvas or other cloth surfaces, mix together one part lemon juice and one part salt in a bowl. Using a scrub brush or cloth, apply the mixture to the mildew stain and scrub to remove. Rinse thoroughly with water. Let the cloth items dry fully outside in the sun. 

Which eco-friendly cleaners are best for below deck?

You can use the same environmentally friendly products that you use in your household. Here are some companies that produce eco-friendly cleaning products:

Think ahead when planning your cleaning routine. It’s important to keep wash liquids away from the water (See Graywater). Also, use rags and old clothes to clean, rather than disposable items like paper towels.

To ensure your that your cleaner is safe and eco-friendly, look to see if your cleaner is a part of these programs. 

  • The Environment Protection Agency’s Design for Environment (DfE) created the Safer Choice label, which means every ingredient in the product has been evaluated to ensure it meets EPA's stringent criteria. Additionally, the EPA creates partnerships with manufacturers to create products, whose ingredients are less toxic, less persistent (i.e. they biodegrade faster), less bioaccumulative (i.e. they do not build up in living tissue of humans or animals) and whose ingredent by products have similar characteristics. 
  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. EWG’s scientists compare the product ingredients, websites and worker safety documents with the information available in government, industry and academic toxicity databases and the scientific literature on health and environmental problems tied to cleaning products. They use that information to create EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which provides you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for a wide range of cleaners and ingredients.

 

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