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Bilge Cleaning: How to Clean Your Boat Bilge in 3 Steps

speed boat driving through water

Spend enough time in your boat and it’s inevitable: something unwelcome will build up in your bilge area. Whether it’s simply lake water that leaves a bit of a stain or dirty water that needs to be cleaned out immediately, it’s essential to your boat’s proper function and appearance that you clean out your bilge from time to time with the proper materials—and the proper strategies.

But how do you clean your boat bilge without taking an entire afternoon of work? In this article, we’ll explore the quickest and most efficient route possible to cleaning your boat bilge, clearing it out, and restoring it to a “new-boat” quality.

Step One: Acquire the proper cleaner.

Some online instructions will advocate that you get a generic soap or cleaner for your boat bilge. The problem? These soaps will generally not be biodegradable, which means they can do damage
to the water if your plug is loose or if you’re being careless. It’s better to switch to a dedicated bilge cleaner that’s biodegradable, ensuring that it doesn’t leave any long-term remnants in your boat’s water or on the boat itself.

This bilge cleaner also has the added benefit of being able to clean out carpets, upholstery, and fabrics, giving it an inherent advantage over some of the generic stuff. It’s a good cleaner to keep handy in case you have the need to clean your bilge, your fabrics, or more at any one time.

Step Two: Apply the cleaner and soak.

Open up your boat bilge area and add enough cleaner for the affected areas. You can mix in some water to ensure that the surface area of any of the staining is reached by your cleaner. Although you can clean right away, you’d do well to let the cleaner do some de-greasing. Wait a few hours for it to take full effect. This is the kind of cleaning you can do on a bad-weather day.

The soak accomplishes a few things: it gives the cleaner time to work its magic and the water mixture ensures that your cleaner is reaching every part of the boat bilge that needs cleaning. Your spouse might not like how you let dishes soak before cleaning them, but you can be assured that the soak will help make things easier on your bilge cleaning process.

Step Three: Scrub and rinse.

After a few hours’ soak, it’s time to do the scrubbing. You can use anything you like here, as long as it has enough abrasion to really get in the nooks and crannies of your boat bilge (without doing any damage to the bilge itself). You can take your boat up and park it uphill somewhere to let the water and biodegradable soap drain. Apply a little more water for rinsing, and you should now be looking at a cleared out boat bilge with less staining and less scum.

Now, if only washing the dishes in the sink could be this easy.

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