When Joe and I were hunting for our cruising sailboat, one memory stands out. We were viewing a 44-foot sailboat for sale, and when we went below, there was a scented candle burning. “What smells are they trying to mask?” I whispered to Joe out of earshot. Once we opened the floorboards, the moldy odor was the answer to that. As we later saw more boats on the market, it became clear that odor is a common problem onboard sailboats.
Many boat owners get used to the smell and/or just live with it. I knew this wouldn’t work for me, because I have a heightened sense of smell. Any boat purchased, we would need to address the odor issue.
Since buying Mahi, and discovering a variety of odors inherent because of the age (23 years old), we have greatly improved the smell on our boat. This is how we did it.
Replace Any Permeated Hoses– Joe needed to change out the diesel fuel fill hose as it was permeated. He discovered this the first time we fueled up and the diesel smell was so bad he couldn’t sleep inside the boat. Joe also changed out all the sanitation hoses as they were permeated as well. We elected to change out both electric heads or toilets, and regularly use Raritan KO and CP in our sanitation system. More about “Head Management” in a future post.
Clean the Interior- I started with a complete interior clean. I use a bucket filled with Dawn soap, vinegar, and water. Using a soft sponge, I vacuum, then wipe down every surface, starting at the ceiling, wall and working down. I need to change the water often as it becomes dirty. For any stubborn stains, I have a bottle of Spray Nine. You could always try Simple Green, too. I also keep some dry microfiber towels for drying off.
Clean under every hatch– Next, vacuum and wipe with a sponge in every cupboard, drawer or side openings in your boat. I use the same mixture as above. After I dry the space, I line them with a rubber shelf liner.
Clean the Bilges- This job will be gross, but it is essential to improve the smell of your boat. I put on knee pads, since I will be bending over and kneeling down. I start by using my shop vac to remove any loose debris.
Then, I use a sponge to start removing dirt, grease and bilge gunk. I usually add more Dawn and vinegar solution to my water than usual. One small bilge space may require 2 or 3 water changes, depending on the age and condition of your own boat. Use Spray Nine for any stains. This time, I use an old, clean rag to dry the space.
Don’t forget to also clean the bilge or floorboard hatch and the supporting wood. These will be extremely dirty as well. If you have access to the dock, I will also remove the wood hatch and any removable wood supports. Carefully transfer to the dock for cleaning. I do this when I have a lot of items to clean at one time. It’s more efficient and you get them cleaner as you can soap, scrub and hose them off, then set in sun to dry.
Clean or Replace Soft Goods- Boat odors will happily embed into the fibers of fabric and upholstery. Sometimes, if the odor is minimal, you can spray with Febreeze and air out in the fresh air. If this trick doesn’t work, it is time to remove the fabric, and depending on the material, wash by hand and line dry. Important! Be sure to research your fabric and how to care for it. You wouldn’t want to inadvertently shrink the fabric or damage it.
At the same time, if your foam is in good shape, you can also wash and dry your foam. Linda, who refinished the upholstery on Mahi, was able to salvage the original foam and clean it. She removed the Polyester batting cover to expose the foam, then she steamed it using a vinegar and water solution. It aired dried in the sun. This step may take awhile, depending on your humidity, time of year, and other considerations, so do this when your foam has time to dry out.
Linda then replaced the poly batting, too. Batting can be purchased at JoAnn’s Fabric or at Quilt Stores. Be sure to get 100% polyester batting- either Hobbs Poly-Down or Quilter’s Dream Poly. Use a 3M spray adhesive to apply to your dry foam, then add back on your clean, fresh smelling fabric.
Mattresses may be another soft good that would benefit from airing out or replacing. On board our boat, we elected to replace the master berth mattress for 3 reasons- I need a good quality bed for my back, the mattress was 23 years old, and to eliminate the fabric fiber smell.
The Result? We have noticed that we have improved the smell by 90%. The remaining 5% has to do with having a salt water head, and when you flush, there is a slight odor. The other 5% is because I still need to detail the engine compartment.
The best complement came from our electrical worker the other day. He asked how old our boat was, so we told him 23 years old. He was surprised because out boat didn’t have the typical old boat smell. When we open the boat up and go below, it smells great.
I’ll be honest- it took a lot of hard work, but the end result was worth it! My nose is happy!
Would love to hear from you about this topic! Just leave me a comment below.