Got SMELLS? Get in your bilges, chain locker or lower spaces and clean them....then PAINT them. This will protect the area and chase out the smells. If I can do this, you can too!

My day often starts with a decent plan consisting of things to do and things I want to actually finish, to be crushed by weather, sick kids or circumstances beyond my control and I’ve come to accept that.  This morning I had planned to continue scraping the teak on the port side of the boat in hopes of moving on to sanding, but rain effectively helped me to cease that work.  I even had some goals for posts I wanted to write to get a bit ahead of myself to start May off with a bang, but of course the rain effects my Wi-Fi, so things are reallllly slow to upload even here on an American dock.  So I sat down to knock out a post I’ve been thinking through for months, as I’ve been slowly working on cleaning and painting all the bilge spaces on Tulum, from Bow to Stern.  I’m not done yet, but I’ve knocked out enough work to be able to credibly share my methods with you in hopes that you might learn something or at least come away from this post knowing you do it better?  This info should be straightforward and easy to understand and you can get your spaces clean and smelling good without spending a lot of money or time.  So here we go:

Chain Locker and Bilge Space Cleaning and Painting Techniques, Tips and Practices by LF2SF

Before I start either a bilge cleaning or painting job or both, I gather supplies: my wet/dry vacuum, a bucket of fresh water and Simple Green already mixed up with a sponge in it, my spray bottle of Zep Mold Stain and Mildew Stain Remover, a hand scraper for loose paint, at least three old rags, my bilge paint (if needed), paint can opener, paint bucket and brush.

First things first: I always vacuum the space first.  On my boat apparently no one has cleaned up the spaces in a while and there’s sawdust, paint chips and dog hair everywhere below the floor boards and in the bilges:

First Step- Vacuum everything that will come out, wet or dry!

Second step after vacuuming:  I always clean with a big bucket of Simple Green, water and a sponge.  This cleans out grease and other funk.  This method also sets you up for the next step, since you already have a bucket and sponge handy. 

Next step is the Zep.  I spray it on thick and give it about 30 seconds to sit and do it’s thing.  It WILL whiten spaces and clean up mold, mildew and other funk…also making the spaces smell better.  NOTE: As someone who cares about your life, make sure you use some smarts working with this stuff in a closed space environment.  It is STRONG.  It has fumes that are harmful, so you should ventilate your space or use a respirator….no matter what a big stud you are. 

Lastly, let is all dry.  This means take a dry rag and wipe it all down, then ventilate the space and give it some time to dry.  This is why I start other projects while doing this, giving it all time to dry (like 2-3 hours).  After that, I either paint or move on to something else…but I usually paint since I’m down in the space and filthy anyways.  

Besides Simple Green, Zep Mildew and Mold Stain Remover is the secret weapon.
1st cleaned and finished space using my method, (the Chain Locker).

Here’s examples of the cleaning and painting method detailed above and the immediate, often dramatic results:


Forward Center Bilge Space

Central Bilge Space- before cleaning and painting
Same space, after cleaning and painting.

Under the Galley Floorboards

Storage under the galley floorboards, engine on one side and galley spaces on the other, completely nasty-
Looking closer-
Same spaces after cleaning and painting, now wine storage

Former Generator Space

Old Generator Space, right after it was removed.
Same space, cleaned but not cleaned and painted.
Same space, cleaned and painted with bilge paint, now space for my tools.

Engine Room Peeway Space (water maker membranes)

Old water maker membranes, left in the boat (no water maker connected) under the engine room peeway space.
Membranes out but not painted or cleaned.
Membranes out, space cleaned and painted.

Girls Closet 

The inside of my girls closet with all shelves out. During haulout, we needed to trace a throughull to verify what it was, and had to go find this huge 5-ft back flow piping inside my girls closet.
Chipping and painting in progress in the closet.
Done Sir Done…all shelves back in.

Stern lazarette (Inside and Out)

Stern Lazarette, (after work in the yard), still dirty.
Other side of the same Lazarette (inside the boat)
Final pile of rotted wood and junk I jerked out of the inside of that same space (Stern Lazarette opening in the background).
Same Space as I start plugging holes. I also added epoxy to the rotting wood to stiffen it and then added multiple coats of bilge paint.
Stern lazarette, cleaned, epoxy barrier coated and painted inside and cleaned and painted on the outside.

Bottom line: All this work and pictures are not meant to toot my own horn.  It’s meant to let you see how much better dirty spaces on old boats can look if you give them a bit of TLC and elbow grease + some bilge paint.  Whether you’re retired or working on the boat on weekends, these are projects that can be knocked out in a couple of hours of concentrated time.  But these are often the very projects that get overlooked by owners because they’re hard, smelly, dirty and hurty.  My advice….do this stuff yourself and you’ll feel a strong sense of accomplishment.






5 Responses

  1. You certainly did a LOT of work! Great job(s)! If you ever need some help with the wine – “getting rid” of it – just holler, and I’ll come over. 😀

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