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Cleaning the bilge is not a favorite activity of most boat owners. But if you don’t want your boat to stink, it’s something that you must do. While the bilge system operates through a simple mechanism, it performs a crucial function in keeping the vessel safe.
Unfortunately, the right maintenance of the bilge is often overlooked in many boats. With time, sludge and muck gets deposited in the bilge and can affect the performance of your boat. One of the easiest ways of cleaning the bilge is by using the right bilge cleaner. However, choosing a reliable product that can restore the bilge to its original state isn’t easy.
I have shortlisted the top bilge cleaners in the market and compared their performances. In this article, I will share the five best bilge cleaner solutions you can pick from the market.
To start with, let’s learn a few things about the bilge and bilge cleaners.
What is Bilge?
The bilge is a chamber that forms the lowest point in a boat. It’s located inside the hull and it collects the excess water that drains from the deck. This makes it safe for the crew to work on the boat, especially during rough weather.
In most boats and ships, the bilge chamber is filled with water. The water is usually contaminated with oil, chemicals, solvents, and other materials. This water needs to be pumped out before the bilge chamber becomes too full.
Larger bilge chambers can also contain partitions to prevent the water from sloshing around. These reduce the chances of the bilge water destabilizing the ship. Commercial vessels are often equipped with bilge alarms that notify the crew about the rising water levels in the bilge,
How to Clean Bilge?
The bilge gets filled with water from wave spray, rain, leaking hatches, propeller shaft leakages, and various other sources. A filled bilge compartment can affect the stability of the boat. If the bilge overflows, the water can get into the engine room. This can damage the machinery and the boat’s electronics.
Not cleaning the bilge will lead to the growth of bacteria in the chamber and stagnant water will give rise to mold and foul odors. It will also lead to rusting and corrosion of the area and the equipment in it.
All modern vessels use electric bilge pumps for bilge cleaning. The pump is connected with a float switch that automatically starts the pump whenever the water rises above a specified level. Some pumps come with a manual switch located at the helm.
Note, maritime laws make it compulsory for a vessel to have a fully functional bilge pump system for tackling emergencies. The larger the size of the boat, the higher will be the pump capacity. Multiple bilge pumps are also needed in many vessels.
Beyond that, the bilge pump can play a crucial role in keeping a vessel afloat if it develops a leak and is taking in water. Many boat owners rely on a two-pump strategy for draining bilge water during emergencies.
Using a bilge cleaner is the best way of cleaning a bilge. The cleaning of the bilge can be done in a few simple steps mentioned below.
- Open up the bilge area of the boat.
- Apply the bilge cleaner to every surface and corner. Read the instructions about using the cleaner and dilute it with water if necessary.
- Let the cleaner sit for a few hours. Generally, the longer you let the cleaner work on the surface, the better are the results.
- If needed, scrub the surface with a piece of abrasive cloth to remove the scum. Rinse the bilge with water to clean it. It’s best to collect the rinse water in a bucket and dispose of it in a safe area and not in the water.
- Let the bilge dry and your cleaning is complete.
If one round of cleaning is unable to remove all the residue, you can go for a second round.
How to Choose the Best Bilge Cleaner Solutions?
Choosing the right cleaner from a wide range of products in the market can be confusing. Here are a few points that you need to keep in mind while choosing a bilge cleaning solution.
- Choose biodegradable bilge cleaners. This means you can deposit the cleaner in water without harming the environment.
- Avoid cleaners that use harsh chemicals, abrasives, or acids. These can damage other parts of the boat and are not environment-friendly. The cleaner material should be safe for materials like fiberglass, plastic wiring, and rubber hoses.
- Make sure that the cleaner contains an emulsifier that can mix oil and water into a homogenous liquid which can be disposed of easily. It should also contain a detergent to remove the oil and grime that sticks to the bilge surface. Not all cleaners are equally good at emulsifying oil and removing the grime after a single application. So, you need to pick the best performers.
- Select the type of product you need. You can pick just a bilge cleaner or a multi-purpose cleaner that can be used on other parts of the boat as well. These cleaners can be used to clean up floors, asphalt, and tools as they have a non-corrosive formula.
- If you don’t prefer harsh chemical smells, pick a cleaner with an aroma. It will make the job of cleaning easier and will also remove the noxious smell from the bilge.
- Lastly, bilge cleaners come a wide range of prices. However, since keeping the bilge clean is a necessity, I suggest that you choose a quality product over a cheap and ineffective cleaner.
Best Bilge Cleaner Solutions: Top 5 Picks
Listed below are some of the best bilge cleaners for the smelliest and oiliest of the bilges.
I compared various factors to assess their performance. These include their chemical composition, the ability to break down oil, price, and other features like smell. Lastly, I also checked the feedback from the users.
Note, a bilge cleaner may be biodegradable, but the mixture of the cleaner and oil from the bilge is not. That needs to be disposed of properly in a waste oil bin. You can also use a wet vac to clean out the bilge after using the cleaner.
Star Brite Super Orange Citrus Bilge Cleaner
This cleaner from Star Brite has a biodegradable composition and can be used for boats up to 30 feet in length. The formula is specially designed to emulsify oil, grease, and transmission fluid. The composition is safe for fiberglass, metal, and plastic surfaces. The formula has a citrus extract that keeps the bilge smelling fresh.
Most users found the cleaner to be effective on tough oil and grease. The sludge and oil were effectively dislodged from the bilge and there was no foam formation. The residual orange smell was refreshing too.
The instructions mention pouring the cleaner with some water and then getting the boat running for an hour. The running motion will perform the necessary cleaning action.
However, users found that you need to scrub the surface to get the best results. Also, if you haven’t cleaned your bilge for a long time, you will need a second bottle.
Overall, this is a reliable bilge cleaner from Star Brite that offers excellent cleaning action. I have no second thoughts about recommending this as a top-class bilge cleaner.
- Emulsifies oil and grease easily
- Refreshing citrus smell
- Safe for fiberglass and plastic
- Environmentally safe composition
- Fast cleaning action
- Can cause skin irritation on contact
- Price is on the higher side.
Oil Eater Cleaner Degreaser
Need a multi-purpose cleaner not just for the bilge but for other surfaces as well?
This water-based and biodegradable degreaser from Oil Eater is good enough for household and industrial use. The brand also mentions that the product is non-toxic and free from acids, petroleum solvents, and abrasives.
You can use it over floors, carpets, tiles, concrete driveways, metal surfaces, and also as an engine cleaner. The only materials over which it can’t be used are suede and leather. Overall, it’s one of the most versatile cleaners in the market.
Users were satisfied with the cleaner’s ability to remove tough oil and grease residues. The time and number of cleanings required will depend on the amount of sludge on your bilge. Scrubbing can make the cleaning process more effective.
The cleaner isn’t perfumed. So, it won’t cover up any foul smells coming from the bilge. That said, it doesn’t have any unpleasant chemical smell either. Keep in mind, this cleaner comes in a concentrated version. The degree of dilution will vary depending on the type of cleaning. As per the instructions, you need to dilute it at a 1:1 ratio for heavy-duty bilge cleaning.
If you’re looking for a versatile cleaner at an affordable price, the Oil Eater cleaner is a great choice.
- Water-based and biodegradable composition
- USDA approved for non-food surfaces
- A versatile cleaner
- A concentrated product
- May cause skin or eye irritation
- Can affect colored surfaces.
Better Boat Premium Bilge Cleaner
This cleaner from Better Boat is an effective emulsifier for all the oil and grease deposits in the bilge. The formula ensures that it can be used on materials like fiberglass, plastic, and rubber.
Besides, the cleaner also deodorizes the bilge area.
Using the product is simple. You need to pour it into the bilge and run the boat for an hour or more. The instructions mention that no scrubbing is required.
Users remarked that leaving the cleaner in the bilge for an hour works well for a medium-duty cleaning. For heavy-duty cleaning, you will need to repeat the process.
Note, the brand doesn’t mention any specific ratio for diluting the concentrate. You need to mix it with a few gallons of water as needed. The recommended volume is 1oz for every 3 feet of waterline length.
What’s more, the brand also offers a money-back guarantee. If you aren’t satisfied with the product, you can return it within 30 days of purchase. That said, this cleaner comes with a higher price tag than the competitors. If you need something more affordable, there are other options.
Also, it’s not marked as biodegradable. However, if you’re depositing the bilge residues in a safe location, that isn’t an issue.
- Emulsifies oil and grease effectively
- Can be used on fiberglass, and plastic
- Keeps the bilge odor-free
- A concentrated product
- Chances of skin and eye irritation
- Comes with a higher price tag
Star Brite Heavy Duty Bilge Cleaner
This is a heavy-duty bilge cleaner from Star Brite that works on oil, grease, and sludge. It has a biodegradable formula that can loosen and disperse the most stubborn residues on the bilge.
It’s also safe for use on fiberglass, rubber, and plastic.
The recommended volume of use is 32 oz for a 25 feet boat. Since this isn’t a concentrate, you can pour it directly into the bilge and add some water if the bilge is dry. You can run the boat for an hour while the movement helps the cleaner to do its job.
Users mentioned that the cleaner was able to remove the sludge and foul smell from the bilge effectively. However, some users found it necessary to scrub the bilge for more effective cleaning.
The cleaner is free from any aroma or chemical smell. While it’s not cheap, I feel that the price to performance ratio makes it a good pick.
- Biodegradable product
- Heavy-duty cleaning action
- Dissolves oil and grease quickly
- Easy to use
- Can be used on fiberglass and plastic
- Can cause eye irritation
- Some scrubbing is required
Star Brite Sea Safe Bilge Cleaner
The Sea Safe bilge cleaner comes with an environmentally friendly formula and is free from phosphates and other harsh chemicals. It’s marked as biodegradable and can be used on rubber, fiberglass, and plastic materials.
Beyond that, the cleaner also has a low sudsing formula. That means it’s free from NPE, Phosphorus, and Miranol. So, it’s less toxic for aquatic lives.
When it comes to cleaning action, the Sea Safe cleaner does a good job of eliminating dirt and grime from the bilge. It forms a uniform emulsion and doesn’t generate foam. Users mentioned that adding the cleaner in the bilge and running the boat for an hour resulted in a good cleaning action.
Note, Star Brite also donates a percentage from Sea Safe sales to support environmental activities.
If you ‘want an environmentally safe bilge cleaner, this is a great pick.
- Safe for aquatic life
- Biodegradable formula
- Effective cleaning action
- Easy to use
- It’s an eye irritant
Answer: You can use a detergent and hot water to clean the bilge. Scrubbing can be done with a deck brush or a sponge. However, cleaners with an advanced formula can do the job more effectively. Since they contain oil emulsifiers, you will need to do less scrubbing.
Answer: The bilge traps heat and moisture and there’s no airflow in it. This makes the accumulated water ideal for bacterial growth. At times shower water or hatch drains can empty into the bilge.
This results in the deposition of organic material that gets decomposed with time. Regular maintenance and keeping the bilge as dry as possible are two ways of keeping it odor-free.
Answer: Using bleach for bilge cleaning can be a good solution and it does a great cleaning job. But bleach is a corrosive material. It can corrode boat fixtures and rubber hoses in the long run. Also, high concentrations of bleach are potentially harmful to the skin and the lungs. So, it should be used carefully in the right concentration.
Answer: Obviously, you can’t throw it overboard. One way is to pump it out in a container and dispose of it in the right place. Otherwise, you can use absorbent pads or sponges to soak it up and collect it in a plastic bag, If the water is too contaminated, you can deposit it in a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Collection Facility.
Now you have the list of the best bilge cleaner solutions in the market. These are some of the quickest and easiest options for cleaning up the bilge.
For me, the Star Brite Super Orange Citrus Bilge Cleaner is the top pick. Star Brite is one of the leading manufacturers of cleaners and this product comes with ingredients of the highest quality. Apart from the excellent cleaning performance, the refreshing smell is another aspect that makes it a popular choice.
A smelly bilge can not only make your boat stinky, but it can also corrode the metal structure of the boat. So, picking the right cleaner that is made for that purpose is the best option. Many bilge cleaners also serve multiple purposes and can help you clean the other areas and accessories of your boat too.
Now it’s your turn to make the right choice.