The 3 Best Bilge Cleaners 2020
Best Overall Choice
Star Brite Super Orange Citrus Bilge Cleaner
Best Budget Choice
Oil Eater Cleaner Degreaser
Best Premium Choice
Better Boat Premium Bilge Cleaner
The bilge on a boat is one of the least respected parts of the craft, despite its importance. As boat owners, we know that we need to clean it regularly, but it happens much less frequently than it should. Consider that if the bilge pump stops working you risk sinking. It makes sense to keep it running cleanly and efficiently.
The history of bilge dates back centuries to the earliest days of boating. Sailors referred to their rubbish or trash talk as bilge. Legend has it that the crew of some ship sent an unknown sailor to inspect the deepest, darkest part of the ship. That was down where the water and residue collect. After a brief time in this black hole, the sailor noted that it was also full of rubbish and trash. From that day on, they referred to the area where water collects in a boat as the bilge.
You typically have two approaches to cleaning your bilge. There’s the DIY method where you can mix up a home brew of dish soap or other cleaners. There’s also the more professional route of using a formulated bilge cleaner. The kind that can emulsify grease and cut through sludge and slime.
The most important reasons to keep your bilge clean are:
to prevent the growth of bacteria
cut foul odors
prevent rust and corrosion of equipment that lies in the bilge
You can get bilge cleaner in most marine hardware stores, but, it can be expensive. Liquid Tide is less expensive and does as good a job. It contains no phosphorus and is biodegradable. It can also cut grease and dirt, and has a clean smell that makes it a good choice.
There are several commercial cleaners on the market, but they are not all created equally. You need a biodegradable and environmentally-friendly cleaner. Even if you empty the bilge safely, you may still have residue that comes out later and can pollute the water.
Older cleaners use harsh chemicals, abrasives, or acids to clean. You want to make sure you’re also finding a product that won’t damage the various parts of your boat. Make sure you look for ones that state they are safe for fiberglass, plastic, metal, rubber, and so on.
Some boats take in more water than others. It is normal for some water to be in the bilge since it can leak in at the stuffing boxes and rudder posts. But, if you find an unusual amount of water, make sure you don’t have a leaking through-hull fitting or pipe. If your boat usually has some water in the bilge, add the liquid Tide to the bilge. From there, let the rocking of the boat do the cleaning for you.
You can remove most grease and dirt can with Tide and a little elbow grease. Steam cleaning can be an alternative. Steam cleaning is a harsh method that can cause the paint to peel, especially on a wooden boat. As they say on the stunt shows, don’t try this at home. Seek out a professional and check their references.
Limber holes are in the ribs or partitions in the bilge. They allow water to pass through them and flow to the lowest bilge points. That’s usually where you’d find the bilge pump. This allows you to pump the water out either automatically or manually.
You should keep these holes clear of residue to prevent blocking the water flow. Most boats will have a light chain running through the limber holes. This allows you to pull it back and forth to dislodge any foreign matter.
Newer model boats have drip pans installed under the engines. They prevent oil from dripping directly into the bilge. Whether or not you have drip pans, put absorbent pads under the engines. They not only absorb the oil that could drip but provide a quick way to find leaks. Each time you do an engine check, check the pad to see if any new oil spots have appeared. If so, try to track down the source immediately.
What to look for:
You should inspect the bilge and its surroundings with a flashlight at least once a month. Look for the following:
Lift up the float switch on your electric bilge pump to make sure it turns on the pump automatically.
If you find unusual amounts of water, be sure to track down the source.
Check all through-hull openings and fittings.
Make sure that all fittings below the waterline have double hose clamps.
Check the seacocks to make sure that you can turn them off. You could sink your boat if a hose comes loose from a seacock. This is a real danger if you have a corroded valve and you can’t stop the flow of water.
Look for corrosion and rust.
Check for unusual growth or mildew.
Check all pipes, hoses, and clamps.
Check limber holes.
Remember that it is illegal to pump oily discharge overboard. If you find oil in your bilge water turn off the bilge pump and find an alternative way of disposing of the oily water. Don’t think just because there is only a little bit of oil it is okay. The test for illegal pollution is simply a “visible sheen” on the water.