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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest Forums > Gear & Maintenance
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Old 03-14-2007
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Cleaning Water Tanks

I'm in the midst of restoring my Pearson 10M. I'm pretty far along on the mechanical and electrical and now on to the other stuff.

Water tanks are two, 20 gallon each, built in fiberglass tanks mounted below both port and starboard main cabin lower bunks. I need to flush out the water and make it sanitary.

I was thinking just siphon off the water into the bilge and refill the tanks a few time, rinse and repeat with some bleach.

Any experience in this? I'd like to actually have potable water in the tanks. I hope this is not to trivial of a question.
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Provided the interior surface of the tanks is still solid, then cleaning the tanks with bleach should do a pretty good job of cleaning the tanks so that the water will be potable. I would flush the tanks with bleach first, then follow with a flush of vinegar. That will help get rid of the nasty bleach smell/taste that sometimes remains in the tanks.

BTW, if there is an inspection hatch in the tank, then steam cleaning or pressure-washing is a good idea.
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Any suggestions on the amount of bleach/vinegar to add. I have no idea how old the water in there is, so I'm assuming that it needs a significant concentration. I don't want to over do it though and end up with chlorine saturated tanks that take forever to flush out.

The water from the tanks appears clear when drawn from the pressure water system, but I still don't trust it.
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Old 03-14-2007
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With thanks to Peggie Hall of Raritan...this is the way to do it:

Fill the water tank with a solution of 1 cup (8 oz) of household bleach per 10 gallon tank capacity. Turn on every faucet on the boat (including a deck wash if you have one), and allow the water to run until what's coming out smells strongly of bleach. Turn off the faucets, but leave the system pressurized so the solution remains in the lines.
Let stand overnight-- at least 8 hours--but NO LONGER THAN 24 hours. Drain through every faucet on the boat (and if you haven't done this in a while, it's a good idea to remove any diffusion screens from the faucets, 'cuz what's likely to come out will clog them). Fill the tank again with fresh water only, drain again through every faucet on the boat, repeating till the water runs clean and smells and tastes clean.
Cleaning out the tank addresses only the least of the problem...most of the problem occurs in the lines, so it's very important to leave the system pressurized while the bleach solution is in the tank to keep the solution in the lines too.
People have expressed concern about using this method to recommission aluminum tanks. While bleach (chlorine) IS corrosive, the effect of an annual or semi-annual "shock treatment" is negligible compared to the cumulative effect of holding chlorinated
city water in the tank for years. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to mix the total amount of bleach in a few gallons of water before putting it into either a stainless or aluminum tank.

To keep the water system cleaner longer, use your fresh water...keep water flowing through system. The molds, fungi, and bacteria only start to grow in hoses that aren't being used. Before filling the tank each time, always let the dock water run for at least 15 minutes first...the same critters that like the lines on your boat LOVE the dock supply line and your hose that sit in the warm sun, and you don't want to transfer water that's been sitting in the dock supply line to your boat's system. So let the water run long enough to flush out all the water that's been standing in them so that what goes into your boat is coming straight from the water main.
Finally, while the molds, fungi and bacteria in onboard water systems here in the US may not be pleasant, we're dealing only with aesthetics...water purity isn't an issue here--or in most developed nations...the water supply has already been purified (unless you're using well-water). However, when cruising out of the country, it's a good idea to
know what you're putting in your tanks...and if you're in any doubt, boil all water that's to be drunk or used to wash dishes, and/or treat each tankful to purify. It's even more important in these areas to let the water run before putting it in the tank--wash the boat, whatever it takes...'cuz any harmful bacteria will REALLY proliferate in water hoses left sitting on the dock.


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Excellent reply Cam! I remember Peggy Hall from Usenet days of yore.

I forgot all about the contaminants that would reside in the water hose used for filling the tanks. It will be worth buying a new hose for this operation. I can just imagine all the spiders and roaches that have taken up living in the current hose I have on the dock!

I suppose regular maintenance on the water tanks should include introducing a small amount of chlorine on a scheduled basis.
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Thanks Cam..that was the article I was thinking of... Peggy Hall is the source when it comes to head and water systems on boats.

One trick to help keep the bad stuff out of your hose is to take the nozzle off and attach one end to the other when you are storing it... that will prevent creepy crawlies, dust, dirt and other stuff from getting in the hose.
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