Bilge Boat odor--dry bilge possible?

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Abramczyk's picture
Joined: 3/31/08
Posts: 17
Bilge Boat odor--dry bilge possible?

After moving my 1984 Catalina 36 that I purchased in Tampa to the Chesapeake Bay last year I woke up and stirred all the years of uglyness in the bilge. I have tried everything to get that "boat diesel bilge" smell from the boat, to no avail. Appreciate some advice from fellow owners with those nearly impossible to clean bilges.

Thanks. Nick
"Muy Vale"
Herrington Harbour South, MD

Gunkholer 1889
Joined: 12/12/08
Posts: 25

You might try running a ozone generator in the boat.

bboggs's picture
Joined: 6/22/08
Posts: 144

[QUOTE=Nicholas Abramczyk;711]After moving my 1984 Catalina 36 that I purchased in Tampa to the Chesapeake Bay last year I woke up and stirred all the years of uglyness in the bilge. I have tried everything to get that "boat diesel bilge" smell from the boat, to no avail. Appreciate some advice from fellow owners with those nearly impossible to clean bilges.

Thanks. Nick
"Muy Vale"
Herrington Harbour South, MD[/QUOTE]

I recently bought a book called "Get rid of Boat Odors" by Peggie Hall. Most of the book deals with head odors and boat plumbing but there is a short section about bilge odor. The upshot is to clean and rinse thoroughly and make sure there is no standing water trapped by a blocked limber hole etc.

Two other potential problem areas mentioned in the book are the shower sump and anchor locker. Cleaning and rinsing these areas with a bio-enzymatic cleaner might help with your issue. The anchor locker is not a place I would have thought about as a source of cabin smells but every time you fill it with wet rode, you are bringing aboard critters and organic material and storing them in a dark damp place with the potential for the resulting odors to permeate the inside of the boat.

HTH and Good Luck,

s/v Palmetto Moon

Bill Boggs
s/v Palmetto Moon
1991 C36, Hull 1128
Herrington Harbor South
Chesapeake Bay

Gary Teeter's picture
Gary Teeter
Joined: 3/10/08
Posts: 49

Check the plywood under your fuel tank. It is common for moisture to be trapped between the bottom of the tank and the plywood that it sets on. The resulting corrosion produces pinholes that soak the plywood with diesel.

Catalina sells exact replacement tanks with spacers to put under the tank, and a thicker tank wall. I found replacement to be a fairly simple job.

Gary Teeter
Annie G
Everett, Washington

Gary Teeter
1989 C36 "AnnieG"
Std Rig #966, M25xp
Everett, WA

Spanki's picture
Joined: 8/27/08
Posts: 84

I read in Sail magazine that a boatyard mechanic told him to use Calgon fabric softener, I recommended to the boat next to ours after he found deisel in his bilge (C32) after he got it winterized by marina mechanic. He had to clean all the fuel up but he said the calgon worked great. I recommend Superclean by Castrol found at Wal-Mart to clean. You must use gloves with the stuff but it is amazing stuff and biodegradable and inexpensive. Good Luck!!

Spanki & {Russ 12-8-1949/9-6-2010 R.I.P Butch}
s/v Spanki 1993 Catalina 36 #1224
"Don't worry, Be happy""Sail your life away"

mutualfun's picture
Joined: 6/25/07
Posts: 454

We had use calgon on our Catalina 30 when I had some issues with our diesel and it does work. The cleaner I will a test to about wearing rubber gloves as it is very hard on skin, I found out the hard way. Also we used Calgon in our holding tank to clean out the scale build up and that worked as well, I always in the fall take and remove the inspection cover on the holding tank and hose it out while at the pump out.

Randy Sherwood
Mutualfun 1990 # 1057
T/R W/K M35a
Home. Charlotte, Mi.
Boat. St Augustine,Fl.

jsc4484's picture
Joined: 6/29/07
Posts: 138

I had a huge fuel problem this past season. I had to drain the tank completely of 33 gallonss of bad fuel. I had it everywhere, including the bilge. The best thing I found to remove the smell was JOY dish soap. Every old time sailor swears by this, and I also thought they were NUTZ. But low and behold two bottles later and my bilge and clean and and most

Hope this helps


Jeff Costa

S/V KAIROS Hull #0235

LCBrandt's picture
Joined: 6/26/07
Posts: 1282

Since I removed the black rubber original head hose, replacing them with the white plastic(?) hose, I have had no further (other than temporary) head odors. The black rubber hose develops micro-seeps. Once they are gone, the head odor problem was solved.

As for bilge odors, at least once a year I use a garden hose with spray nozzle to rinse out the underfloor area of our boat. I use LOTS of water, sufficient to where the bilge runs clear and clean. Especially important is the small often-overlooked bilge area just forward of the mast. You must lift the V-berth sole to gain access to this space. When that's rinsed clean I spray into the compartment under the V-berth to allow fresh water to flow back through the forward bilge area to flush it thoroughly.

Every second year or so, I buy a couple gallons of vinegar at Costco, and then using a garden sprayer I liberally spray the entire under-floor area. I don't want to do this if we're planning to be onboard anytime in the following couple weeks, as the vinegar smell is overpowering. But it has proven effective for me. I don't think anyone would notice any unpleasant odors on our boat.

Larry Brandt
S/V High Flight #2109
Pacific Northwest, PDX-based
2002 C-36 mkII SR/FK M35B

Laura's picture
Joined: 12/23/07
Posts: 150

Nick- Definitely consider replacing any suspect hoses connected to the head system and tank.
We replaced ours and I also washed out the bilge and sprayed some KILZ paint to recoat and provide a cleaner surface.
No more odor!

Laura Olsen
S/V Miramar #938

Laura Olsen
Commodore C36/375IA
S/V Miramar
hull 938 (MKI 1989, TR,WK, M25xp)
Edgemere, MD

benethridge's picture
Joined: 5/13/09
Posts: 446

When I bought my boat, it smelled pretty bad: Diesel fumes, mildew and human sweat. Pretty gross.

Based on suggestions found on this forum and elsewhere, we did the following:

1. Had the interior cushions professionally cleaned by a furniture cleaner.

2. Removed all loose equipment from the boat.

3. Sprayed 50/50 mix of vinegar and water on areas of the lower hull and bilge where diesel smells were detected. Rinsed this down into the bilge. This took care of the diesel smells.

4. Wiped down the entire hull liner with Purple Power (use rubber gloves and fans/fresh air to avoid getting the stuff on your skin and in your lungs). Sponge-rinsed this off.

5. Sprayed Purple Power into the lower sections of the hull, including the bilge. Let sit for a few minutes. Rinsed this down into the bilge.

6. Cleaned all the teak with Murphy's Oil Soap.

7. Wiped all the teak with lemon oil. (Available at most supermarkets.)

8. Laid one of those diesel fuel-eating socks (with special fuel-eating bacteria) in the bilge. Bought at West Marine.

The boat smells great now, and the captain is a happy sailor again. :)

Ben Ethridge
Miami, FL
1984 MK1 Hull# 263

therobesons's picture
Joined: 6/7/09
Posts: 114

Before going out for a sail I run some water into the bilge, enouge to cover the bilge pump, (turn off the bilge pump) with a bottle of JOY or DAWN and let the motion of the boat clean all areas that the smelly water/diesel/etc get to.

This cleans the undersides, little corners, cracks and crevises that you can't other wise get to.

Self cleaning as its best.

Then I use an ionizer to get rid of any smells that have gotten into the fabric etc.

clean smell free boat, no gloves.


Bob, LaRainne and McKenzie Robeson

1985 Std Rig C-36, Hull #374

San Pedro, Cal

Sailing the So Cal Islands and coastal ports from San Pedro south to San Diego.

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