Dealing with a smelly boat loo (Marine Heads)
It is well documented that most smells in a boat loo come from decomposing microscopic marine life. The fact is saltwater is teeming with life, and it is used on most boats to flush a marine head. Therefore, if the saltwater is not rinsed with freshwater, just like milk or fresh produce, it goes sour. You can buy all sorts of chemicals to deal with the problem. Personally, I never used any marine cleaning product. I will explain my method of avoiding a smelly loo below. Before you read that, and if you suffered from a smell in the Heads compartment for some time, then you might need to replace the piping. I know customers use all sorts of chemicals to get rid of a persistent smell. In the end, replacing the flexy waste pipe can be the only solution as that pipe can become de-graded.
I will not get into the complex set up of holding tanks as the subject is worthy of another post. Let’s assume that you are only looking for guidance on keeping a marine loo smell-free.
Keeping the Heads smelling fresh
The majority of boats and yachts have a head set up similar to the image on the left showing a Jabsco manual loo. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a quiet flush electric loo? A similar principle applies. However, the electric loo does not have a hand pump and the modern ones are flushed with fresh water as shown on the right-hand image.
Hand-pumped seawater heads have the potential to be very unhygienic. The pump handle shaft can spread lots of bacteria and it is often contaminated with water passing the housing top seal.
My method of flushing includes using the hand shower freshwater system to finally rinse any remains of seawater from the loo system. This way of cleaning the loo after use has many benefits. I also leave a bottle of baby oil in the Heads compartment giving a final squirt into the bowl before pumping this out. When the seal is worn, it will allow liquid to get onto your hands as you use the pump. That’s not good at all! The baby oil helps to add a little life to the seal that sits below the handle.
Rinse the loo with fresh water at least once a day
Most marine compartments have an electric bilge pump that evacuates shower water. The compartment should be fully waterproof. So rinse the loo and then rinses down the compartment with fresh water at least once a day. Most boats carry an abundance of freshwater. It is important to keep this water flowing, so again liberal use of the shower cannot harm. Far too often, I talk to people who believe fresh water should be rationed. If you keep a boat in a marina, freshwater will look after your investment, and you should use lots of it.
Clean your bilge
The same principle applies to the above, although a slight word of caution because some marine operators get upset if you start pumping bilge water into the marina. So for the sake of being correct, let’s assume you are in a place with no restrictions.
Using plenty of hot soapy water
Washing your bilges with lots of fresh soapy water will get rid of most bilge smells. Greasy substances can be first dissolved using plenty of hot soapy water. The choice of chemical you use rests with your conscience, but for me, a concentrated household liquid soap (the same you use for dishes) works as well as anything I found in any chandlers. You also have the advantage, household soap is less expensive than a specialist marine branded product.
After you have washed your bilge (I have used a steamer in the past), consider painting it. In my opinion, a boat bilge should always be dry and immaculately clean. I never found a boat with a clean bilge that had a boat odour issue. No matter how old your boat is, it is always best practice to keep the underfloor sections of a boat pristine clean.
For information about marine services in Port Ginesta, Spain, please visit our Marine Services Page.
Selling your boat. I have been a broker for many years. I am asked to assess the value of boats daily. It’s clear to me that a boat free from nasty smells is the one that sells first for the most.
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