Today many deck cleaning products are advertised as exceptionally effective, while requiring very little elbow grease. All you have to do is simply aim, gently pull the trigger, and that’s it—the grease, mold, black streaks and rust stains disappear magically. While caught up in the excitement of these miraculous cleaning products, many crew fail to realize they contain toxic, dangerous man-made chemicals and pesticides. Caution, danger, and warning aren’t written in bold on their labels for no reason...
Today many deck cleaning products are advertised as exceptionally effective, while requiring very little elbow grease. All you have to do is simply aim, gently pull the trigger, and that’s it—the grease, mold, black streaks and rust stains disappear magically. While caught up in the excitement of these miraculous cleaning products, many crew fail to realize they contain toxic, dangerous man-made chemicals and pesticides. Caution, danger, and warning aren’t written in bold on their labels for no reason.Most common cleaners today can actually be very harmful to our health.
Using chemical-based cleaning products on yachts can also cause major damage to the marine environment. However, there are environmentally friendly alternatives available.
Problem with chemical-based cleaners
In addition to reading the label, information on the chemical contents of cleaners and their health effects can often be found on an MSDS (material safety data sheet). These should be provided by the manufacturer and either packaged with the product or made available at the retailer or on a company website. The MSDS should show the active ingredients, potential safety hazards, and information on managing spills or accidental human exposure. Unfortunately, these MSDS’s can be difficult to read, ingredients are often not listed, and their accuracy is poorly policed. Furthermore, while required for industrial products, MSDS’s are not required for household products, though, with a little digging, you can find them for most marine cleaning products. If mechanical cleaning action is not sufficient, choose cleaners wisely and use them sparingly.
While many products are labeled "biodegradable" or "environmentally friendly", there are no widely accepted standards that regulate the use of these terms, the ability to biodegrade does not necessarily render a cleaning chemical safe for the environment. When choosing a cleaning product, it is important to identify the active chemical ingredients. Read the label; ask for and read the MSDS information. Use the label information or the internet to identify manufacturers. Call and ask manufacturers why their product is eco-friendly. Consult green cleaning or chemical safety internet resources for more information (a list is given in below).
Governments and regulatory agencies have been working in a number of areas to limit pollution by cooperating with suppliers to improve cleaning product design. The EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program creates partnerships with manufacturers and formulators to produce products ―whose ingredients, when compared to conventional formulations, are less toxic, less persistent (i.e., they biodegrade faster), less bioaccumulative (i.e., they do not tend to build up in living tissue-human or animal) and whose ingredient byproducts have similar beneficial characteristics. A number of other green cleaning chemistry guidelines have been established in the United States, Canada and abroad. The EPA’s Design for Environment website has a listing of some of the chemicals targeted for reduction or elimination in these standards. (see table below).
The main impact that chemical-based cleaners have on the marine environment are as follows:
• Detergents that contain phosphates can cause local oxygen depletion and this may result in the suffocation of aquatic life.
• Cleaning products used on topsides and decks may contain chlorine, ammonia, potassium hydroxide and solvents. All of these can be very harmful to the aquatic environment.
• Degreasers which are often used ondeck can dry the natural oils that fish need for their gills to take in oxygen.
• Most chemical-based cleaning products contain chemicals which disrupt the reproductive cycle of fish.
There are plenty of positive things that yacht crew can do to protect the ecosystems of the harbors and oceans. One thing that is particularly easy to do which helps prevent damage is using environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Think ahead when planning your cleaning location. When using any marine cleaner, it is important to keep wash and rinse liquids away from surface waters where they are likely to be directly toxic to local aquatic life. Without a permit, it is also illegal to discharge the by-products of any cleaning operation into surface waters. While government and regulatory agencies naturally pay more attention to large polluters than to small ones, the collective impact of the behavior of thousands of individual boat owners can be substantial.
Avoiding detergents that contain ammonia, bleach, sodium hypochlorite, petroleum products or lye is something that should be a priority for yacht crew. These chemicals are all toxic to marine life and can both harm and kill plants and animals in the water. Become more aware of what ingredients are in the cleaners you are using.
Easy alternatives to chemical cleaning products for yachts.
An increasing number of companies have developed boat cleaning products that do not use these chemicals which are harmful to the aquatic environment. These are readily available and a search on the internet will find a range of products and local suppliers. There are also a number of options available with more environmentally friendly ingredients to replace regular cleaners loaded with chemicals.
• Replace any scouring powders with baking soda or salt.
• Instead of flour cleaner use a quarter of a cup of white vinegar diluted in 2 litres of water.
• Exchange the head cleaner with a brush and baking soda.
• Replace a chemical bleach with hydrogen peroxide.
• Remove mildew by using a paste mixed up of equal parts of lemon juice and salt.
• Instead of using a fiberglass stain remover use baking soda paste.
Also use reusable cloths, such as old clothes and towels, rather than disposable paper towels.
||Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs) Carcinogens (known, probable, or possible) Ethylene Glycol Ethers Chorine Bleach Inorganic phosphates
||Highly corrosive chemicals Highly combustible chemicals Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
||Ethylene diaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) Nitrilotriacetic acid (NTA) Chlorine bleach Sodium hypochlorite Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) Petroleum-based solvents
||Phosphates APEOs EDTA NTA Halogenated organic solvents Butoxy-ethanol Carcinogenic chemicals
||APEOs EDTA NTA Quaternary ammonium compounds Glutaraldehyde Sensitizing substances Acute oral toxicity chemicals
||Phosphorous Phosphonates VOCs Petroleum oil Biocides