Boat Maintenance Tips for Living Aboard

When Life Hands You Lemons, Clean Your Boat

Monday, November 21, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA




If you’re a regular follower of our blog, then you know that we just spent four weeks on the hard after having to unexpectedly haul out. It hadn’t been that long since our last time out of the water, but we wanted to make the most of it while we waited (and waited) for parts to arrive. First up on the list of jobs was to tackle the ugly brown “moustache” around the waterline.

Last year, a fellow cruiser recommended using lemon juice for the job. According to him, the process required very little scrubbing, so we were game. To make things easier, we transferred the juice to a spray bottle and got to work. We sprayed a two-foot wide strip and spread the juice with a sponge. After allowing it to sit for ten minutes or so, we came back and wiped the area clean. In places where the stains were more stubborn, we repeated the process, finding the juice was most effective in direct sunlight (something that’s a little hard to come by in October).

We have to admit, we were a little surprised with the results but shouldn’t have been. 


It comes down to science. The main components of lemon juice are citric acid, limonene, ascorbic acid and lemon oil. Basically, it’s a natural bleaching agent, thanks to its acidity. And it’s an inexpensive way to clean (just watch out for bees). There were a few areas of the hull that were beyond the reach of the lemon juice, but were easily taken care of with oxalic acid.

But how does it compare?


Our first choice for cleaning stains on the hull is oxalic acid. We buy crystals in bulk from a chemical company south of Seattle and mix it ourselves, which makes it quite economical (2.5 kilograms for US$43.44). On a scale from 1 to 10 as a cleaner, we rate it as a ten. After applying the acid on the stains and letting it sit for a while, all that’s required is washing down the hull with water. The downside is this: oxalic acid brings the copper in the anti-foul to the surface and streaks the paint unless you can keep the whole thing wet (or off the anti-foul).

With the lemon juice, it took less than one 15-ounce bottle to do the job. At a cost of around US$2, that’s a bargain. It did require more elbow grease than the oxalic acid, which a downside. But doesn’t damage or streak the anti-foul and didn’t require any extra clean-up or vigilance on our part – both big bonuses. On a scale of 1 to 10, we rate it a 7.5 to an 8 and will definitely use it again.

So, when life hands you lemons, use them to clean your boat.

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10 comments

  1. I'm going to have to test this to clean the ICW brown off our swim steps. Remarkably, my 2 coats of wax repelled the yellow on the hulls!

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    1. If you do, let me know how it works for you (probably a little better thanks to the sunshine) . . . and watch out for the bees! I don't want my buddy, Hastings, getting stung.

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  2. And you can chuck a slice in your G & T while you admire your handiwork :) :) (actually I hate gin- mine's a vodka or a caipirinha if you're treating!)

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  3. That's a great tip! I love the smell of lemons.

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    1. I was so glad someone told us about it and was surprised at how well it worked. It required more elbow grease on my part, but I think it was worth it.

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  4. Wonderful tip. And, better for the environment. Did you squeeze them all yourself or buy 100% lemon juice bottles? :-)

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    1. You can do it either way and use the juice to clean a variety of surfaces -- Mother Nature is an amazing thing!

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  5. Great tip! Better for the environment and it the smell would be delightful.

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    1. It was a little sticky at times but, yes, much kinder on the environment and me!

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