Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Things That Make You Go - Hmmmm.... What's in YOUR cleaner?

One of the things many Cruisers do when visiting a marina... is to take advantage of the plentiful water supply and do some major cleaning.  This week, Bruce and I set to work on cleaning our deck and hull.  This long overdue project presented quite a challenge.

Gathering our whole cleaning arsenal, we suited up in hats, swimsuits and sun-shirts and headed for the deck.

Rust and other grime
We had spilled a bucket of water that had, previously unbeknownst to us..., been soaking a rusty anchor chain.  The water sloshed all down one side of our deck and out the scuppers leaving nasty trails all down the side of our hull... no bueno!

Our plan had been to try the powers of lemon juice on the rust... but while I was working on that, Bruce found a partial bottle of Lysol Toilet Bowl cleaner.  We wracked our brains as to why we had that aboard and remembered!!!  Someone in a boatyard a couple of years ago had given us this leftover bottle, touting it's magical deck-cleaning abilities, both for rust and for the hated ICW Beard.

With the daunting prospect of cleaning every inch of our 45 ft. home... we are all for reducing the amount of elbow grease required.  I got started on the deck using the lemon juice.  I could easily apply it with a sponge and it wouldn't just run off.  Bruce took the Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner to the spots where the rust had left tracks down the side beneath the scuppers.

It was a miracle!  The rust just rubbed right off!  My excitement carried me right to the computer where I would share this newfound trick with my Facebook Page Friends.  BUT...

Very soon, I received a comment from a long-time Cruiser, whose opinion I value highly, about the use of caustic chemicals on boats and their direct affect on the environment.  (sound of wheels screeching to a stop) Wait... What???  Oh crap!  I forgot!  Yeah... the environment!

Here I am making my own laundry soap and DIY insect repellant, all in an attempt to both lessen our negative impact on the aquatic environment and the harm to ourselves... not to mention saving lots of $$$... and without a second thought, here we are... happily rinsing this poison right into the water!!!

Well of course I instantly removed the post hoping that not too many people got a look at it and thus reducing any possible far-reaching impact my shameful behavior could cause.  But then the wheels began to turn in my head.  Exactly HOW harmful is Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner to the aquatic environment???  Lets just go and look it up.  I went to my favorite source for All-Things-Environmental... and found this information on Environmental Working Group's website.

I was off the hook!  The product wasn't a major threat to the environment after all!  (Insert sound of Angels singing here)  I felt much better.  But... that Cruiser friend mentioned earlier and I had a talk about this and she pointed out the fact that, although EWG is a wonderful resource, they assume that the products will be used in the manner for which they were marketed... in this case, cleaning toilets.  The chemicals will be flushed through the public sewer system and run through a water treatment plant before being returned to the water.  My use of the product in a non-traditional way, and this close to the water are not really addressed here...  So given the choice of using a little more elbow grease and some lemon juice vs. the miracle of instant gratification at the cost of potentially damaging the environment...  I know which one I'll choose.  Guess we can strike Lysol Toilet Bowl cleaner off the grocery list...

The ICW Beard remains...
So back to the drawing board we went, with our baskets of cleaners including lemon juice, dish soap and Borax... (as well as other REALLY toxic cleaners that we ended up NOT using)  We scrubbed on the boat for three days, working during the cooler morning hours.  We finally finished the decks but haven't started on the ICW Beard...  We may wait until we pull the boat out of the water for a bottom job to do the hull.

During all of this time, scrubbing endlessly and mindlessly... I had a chance to think about the OTHER cleaners I've been making.  I began to wonder if THEY (most importantly BORAX) were really as environmentally friendly as I thought.

So I looked it up... worried that I wouldn't like what I found.  I've been using a combination of Dawn Dishwashing soap, vinegar and Borax for washing the deck.  In fact, I've been using Borax and Tea Tree Oil in most of my general purpose cleaner and my laundry soap as well!  PLEASE don't let Borax and Tea Tree Oil be bad!!!

The answer is not as easy as I had hoped.  For washing the deck, I found that many boating resources DO approve of the use of both lemon juice AND Borax as a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to costly and potentially unsafe chemicals.

BUT...  my go-to resource for all things Environmental... EWG has some conflicting information.  This led me to a more broad search which muddied the waters even more.  Long story short (I know, as usual that ship has sailed :))... Although Borax is a natural substance, it CAN have some harmful effects on the body if used in an unsafe manner.  It can also have a harmful effect on some types of aquatic life when large concentrations of it are present.

Unfortunately, when I ran the other ingredients through the EWG search, most of them came back with more of a negative environmental impact than I had believed they would.  THIS IS BAD!  So what should we do???

That same spot from before... now clean!
Bottom line... If you are interested in using alternative types of cleaners in an effort to protect the environment, there IS no easy answer.   PLEASE do the research and make the decision yourself.

For me, I'm applying the All-Things-In-Moderation principal and will continue to use Borax, dish soap and Tea Tree Oil for cleaning our boat... but in moderation and of course, taking proper personal precautions (wear gloves... an easy one here since Bruce is the Glove Nazi)

OK a LOT more elbow grease!
A little more elbow grease with a little less chemical assistance is my way of doing my part.  Knowing that there is no easy answer, no just-go-wild way without SOME negative impact has made me that much more aware of the long range consequences...  So the next batch of cleaner I mix up, I'l begin the process of investigation into just how LITTLE of the cleaning substances I can use, and still get the job done.

Lucky for us... we have the time to apply that little bit of extra ELBOW GREASE.. Which incidentally, studies show to pose NO adverse impact to the environment...

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