Keeping your boat clean and safe

Josh Gunn

Michigan State University Extension

Caring for your boat while protecting Michigan’s Great Lakes and inland waters can be accomplished by following some simple steps this boating season.

There are many ways boaters can inadvertently harm the environment while they clean their boat. Paying attention to how you clean and what you clean with can help reduce the potential impact on the environment.

Using non-abrasive pads and little or no soap to clean your boat reduces the amount of pollutants that can potentially get into the water. By washing frequently with a sponge and water, you can prevent buildup of dirt that would otherwise need detergents that are more concentrated. When using soaps, be sure they do not contain phosphates, ammonia, bleach, chlorinated solvents, petroleum distillates, or lye. Try to remember that elbow grease goes a long way to cleaning your boat, and if you do need to use a soap, make sure it is biodegradable and non-toxic.

Collect and dispose of paint chips that flake off of the hull of your boat while washing. Bottom dwelling creatures can consume the metals in the paint. These can then work their way up the food chain until they possibly end up on your plate while trying to enjoy a fish dinner. Additionally, the properties of the paint that prevent growth on your boat can prevent growth of aquatic vegetation on the bottom of the lake.

Pack up your litter. We have all seen the trash that was left in the bed of a truck blow away as the truck drives down the road. Uncollected trash in boats behave no differently as the boat zips across the water.  By collecting trash on the boat, it reduces the chance that it will accidentally end up in the water, and makes clean-up of the boat easier when you are done for the day.

Michigan Sea Grant, a cooperative effort of University of Michigan and Michigan State University Extension, has additional information on how to be environmentally-conscious when cleaning and maintaining your boat. They also have a list of alternative cleaning products that you may want to consider when maintaining your watercraft.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).