That Smell? Victory....maybe? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 12 Old 09-17-2012 Thread Starter
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That Smell? Victory....maybe?

2nd post here. I got my first boat (1981 Cascade 27) in June and am now living on it. I love it. The boat sails well, is very sturdy, well outfitted and was meticulously maintained by the previous owner.

But- Man did it stink.

1st, the previous owner died, and the holding tank was left full for about 2 years before the wife decided to sell it. So the tank and lines all had to be replaced. That was a crappy job. Pun intended. That fixed about 80% of the problem.

Then- gradually the boat had been starting to smell worse and worse and I could not figure out what the hell was wrong. I read a ton of information on web about cleaning boats and reducing the odors. I did everything i read, minus renting an ozone generator and blasting it.

You know, the most common thing you read in all of the articles, is that you must locate the odor source and get rid of it. If it's crap, it's your head, if it's diesel, you got a leak, ect. Well, I could not find it. I thought it was my bilge, so I cleaned the heck out of it with no avail. I kept getting so convinced that it must be whatever I had dreamed up that day, that I did not do something..very...simple. Follow my nose. So I started sniffing everything to find out where the source stank was coming from. You can laugh, at this mental image. So i traced it to a compartment, which i had cleaned when I got the boat, and then stored some stuff in there. In there was a hand vac, some various block and tackle, flares, diesel absorbing pads (for filter changes) junk box, and some wiring for my battery selector. All of this stuff stank, but I knew it could not be the cause (the vacuum was empty and clean) so I got my light and shined it in the very back, where I saw a plastic bag with something in it. I was afraid it was going to be moldy bread, or a dead fish or something but when I opened it, I found a GREASE GUN that must have been in there for years! It was full of red grease, and had leaked a lot in the bag. I took a wiff of the bag, and shonuff, that is the smell I was smelling. It was kind of a strong diesel smell, but also kind of rotten. The boat smells 90% better today.

All this is to say, and confirm that you have to find the smelly thing, and get it off your boat. I feel like a tool for not taking the simple road and using my god given smell detection tool (nose) but now I know.

The second reason for posting this is to get some of you veteran's ideas and opinions. I am a young man (25) and don't know as much as a lot of you. I know the boat smells better, so to me that means that I found the odor and got rid of it (grease gun). But what do you think? Have you ever hear of a little grease stinking up a whole 27 foot boat? I believe it was the Valvoline Crimson grease.

I'd also love to hear other people's opinions on keeping a boat smelling nice, keeping the mold at bay, and having a nice little clean live aboard.

Thanks for reading and replying.

Tyler from Everett, Wa
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post #2 of 12 Old 09-17-2012
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

Greetings Tyler,

We've been going through an ordeal like that ourselves for the past few years. We would notice an odor up forward in the V-bearth that became more noticeable in the summer time. I replaced all the sanitation lines, twice actually. Replaced it with that expensive white sanitation hose, then tore it all out a couple years later and replaced with with mostly hard ABS plastic pipe. The interior of our boat is insulated with a spray on foam coating. After this last summer, I pulled up the hatch covers in the v-bearth where the holding tank is mounted and spent a hot afternoon upside down in one of those access holes scraping out the foam insulation below the holding tank and cutting out a wooden shelf in a nearby cabinet under the y-valve. I kind of figured in the last couple of hose changes that I spilled some mucky water on both, and even though I cleaned it up, the odor was imbedded into the material. That seems to have fixed our problem. There's always something to fix when you have a boat.

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post #3 of 12 Old 09-17-2012
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

If the grease began to decompose chemically, due to heat and age, sure I can imagine it stinking up.

Living in the PNW, and cooking aboard, I think you have a real uphill battle with fighting mold. I keep a bottle of plain old, Formula 409 and a small, green scrubbie sponge onboard. Anytime I see a black speckle of mold- "Blamo!" It gets 409'd and scrubbed.

You could get a dehumidifier and plumb it into one of your sink drains. It's another electrical load, another appliance to trip over though.

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post #4 of 12 Old 09-17-2012
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

Sometimes it just takes time for the odor to completely disappear. If you find and remove the source (sounds like you have) it can take awhile for the smell to disappear from everything in the boat that absorbed it. In our last boat there was about 30 gallons of diesel and seawater sloshing around in the bilge when we first saw the boat, it literally made your eyes water. Even after removing all of the oily water and cleaning the bilge thoroughly we would develop headaches if we were on the boat overnight. We eventually painted the bilge, replaced all the cushions and the headliner before it smelled "clean", but if the boat had been closed up for awhile you would still catch a bit of the smell when you first went in for a couple of years.

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post #5 of 12 Old 09-17-2012
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

Smells get absorbed into anything porous; wood, cloth, foam, paper, et cetera. Washing ALL the upholstery/fabric/foam, and painting/varnishing/oiling all wood surfaces (even if they have been previously finished) will usually go a long way toward getting rid of those lingering little whiffs of smell. Of course, keeping the cabin well ventilated 24/7 also helps. When all else fails, just realizing that boats have a "boat smell", and learning to live with it, may be the only thing to do.

Never forget them. Do something to prevent it from happening again.
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post #6 of 12 Old 09-18-2012 Thread Starter
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

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Originally Posted by SlowButSteady View Post
Smells get absorbed into anything porous; wood, cloth, foam, paper, et cetera. Washing ALL the upholstery/fabric/foam, and painting/varnishing/oiling all wood surfaces (even if they have been previously finished) will usually go a long way toward getting rid of those lingering little whiffs of smell. Of course, keeping the cabin well ventilated 24/7 also helps. When all else fails, just realizing that boats have a "boat smell", and learning to live with it, may be the only thing to do.
Yes, I have read this, and I know it is the case with my boat. My whole cabin is African Mahogany Ply. Here is what I was tentatively thinking.

1)Ozone generator for 2 days, with me off the boat, obviously. I know that there is a lot of negative press, on these, but there is also a lot of great testimonies from people who have used them, and they have done wonders on their boat for mold and odors, I have a guy on my dock who rents one every 6 months and blasts his boat with it. It seems they can be tough on rubber, but I hear its only natural rubber, and I think everything in my boat is synthetic. This is still not a for sure thing, I plan on doing a lot more research.

2) What do you think about a carpet shampooer with upholstery attachments for the the cushions? My fear is them not drying for like 2 weeks, and getting moldy. I would use a product like Natures Miracle, you know, the enzymatic cleaner for getting pet odors out of things? Apparently it works as it dries, so you need to saturate the hell out of stuff. Seems to have worked in my house for when my dog was a pup. I really don't want to replace the cushions, that stuff costs almost half what my boat did.

3)The wood. Not sure the best method of treating this. Since this is my first boat, I don't really know yet, how to care for it. It's in great shape, so I don't want to sand it all down and refinish it. That would also be a huge task leaving me without a home for a week or so. So what do most people do? Or what should I do in my case? What do you mean "oil" it? Is their a varnish I can put directly over what it on their now? Or do I just clean it with a spray bottle and some natures miracle?

4) I have a dehumidifier on the boat for the winter. It sucks. In a good way. I hope that will circulate the air too, but I need to read up more on how these things work, and if they actually move air, or just suck the humidity out of it. The thing literally sucked the water out of my bilge. Pawn shop $60.

5) Getting used to the boat smell. It takes time, and does not bother me, as much as it bothers my lady. I don't need advice on what to do about this. Ha Ha. Even if I find another lady, she probably doesn't like stinky boats either, and frankly, I don't want a lady that likes stinky boats.


Thanks again!
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post #7 of 12 Old 09-18-2012
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

Ozone will attack many (any?) organic polymers. Natural and synthetic "rubber" can be effected, as well as paint and varnish. It may help to get rid of the smell in the short term, but make everything more porous, and likely to absorb odors, in the long term.

Those shampooers will only do part of the job. You want to wash the foam as completely as possible. I took all the cushions home, took the covers off, and washed both the foam and the covers in Woolite the bathtub. I just tossed a couple of covers, or one of the foam pads, at a time into the tub with Woolite and warm water, and then walked back and forth on it for a couple of minutes. I then rinsed them (x2 for the covers, x3 or 4 for the foam) and hung them in the backyard to dry. Drying the foam is somewhat problematic, but I found that rolling the foam up in thick towels (no one tell the Admiral, but the the oh-so thick guest towels worked best ) and compressing the roll as much as possible took a lot of the moisture out.

Getting the foam back into the cover is also a pain. I found that turning the cover inside-out and pushing the foam in as I re-inverted the cover seemed to work best. There was still just a little bit of moisture in the foam, which became apparent as I struggled with getting the covers back on. But I found that I could lay a towel over the cover and walk back and forth on it to force the remaining water to the cover and into the towel. Still, all told, it took about a week or so get everything dry again.

Interior wood can be finished with varnish, polyurethane, or various "furniture oils". As general rule, you can't put urethane over other finishes as the solvents will cause the old finish to bubble. But the other way around is usually fine. I wipe all the wood surfaces down on my boat a couple of times a year with a lemon oil furniture polish (it works fine on exposed gel-coat and Formica too). For some of the shiner bits of trim I wipe a little "Danish oil" on once a year, or every other year (it takes a while to dry, and acts kind of like varnish, but penetrates the wood). Many production boats will have unfinished wood in areas that can't be readily seen (such as inside lockers and cabinets). Painting these with a gloss or semi-gloss enamel, or a wood sealer.

Never forget them. Do something to prevent it from happening again.
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post #8 of 12 Old 09-18-2012
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

My boat usually smells surprisingly good after being shut up all winter. Last season I went up the day before launch, uncovered it, and noticed it smelled a bit "off" down below. Also noticed I forgot to leave the hatch open (my usual routine) on the top-loading fridge when I left the boat on the hard the previous fall. Didn't think much about it at the time but that evening while sleeping on the boat with no breeze or fans moving air through the cabin I woke to an increasingly foul odor. I stumbled around the cabin half awake and traced it to the area of the fridge. Upon opening it the smell amplified greatly and I wondered how just leaving a clean, dry fridge shut up for the winter could result in a smell like that.

A careful inspection with a flashlight revealed a (very ripe) remains of a hamburger patty in a ziplock that eluded detection after finding its way into a hard-to see area under the mechanicals in the recesses of the unit during final stages of layup 6 months earlier at dusk. Fortunately, since I had left the fridge hatch accidently closed all this time the odor hadn't permeated the fabrics inside the boat and it was an easy clean/fix isolated to the fridge compartment itself. I now have a battery powered LED light array mounted over the fridge that illuminates the interior completely when open . . . very nice addition . . . not just for cleanout but for everyday use.

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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

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...
A careful inspection with a flashlight revealed a (very ripe) remains of a hamburger patty in a ziplock that eluded detection after finding its way into a hard-to see area under the mechanicals in the recesses of the unit during final stages of layup 6 months earlier at dusk...
That'll do it....

Several years ago a friend had a mystery stink that turn out to be the remains of a small flying fish in a dorade box. Apparently, the little Kamikaze had managed to fly into the cowling and, of course, became trapped in the dorade on a trip from Monterey to San Diego. Murphy's Law being in charge of things, that vent happened to be pointed into the prevailing wind once they tied up at Mission Bay, so it just pumped rotting fish stink into the boat for a few days until they came back to the boat and opened it up. The fish had mostly decayed and dried out by then, so the "new" stink was pretty faint and took several weeks of "Where IS that smell coming from? Look everywhere!!!" to find the source.
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post #10 of 12 Old 09-18-2012 Thread Starter
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Re: That Smell? Victory....maybe?

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Originally Posted by SlowButSteady View Post
Interior wood can be finished with varnish, polyurethane, or various "furniture oils". As general rule, you can't put urethane over other finishes as the solvents will cause the old finish to bubble. But the other way around is usually fine. I wipe all the wood surfaces down on my boat a couple of times a year with a lemon oil furniture polish (it works fine on exposed gel-coat and Formica too). For some of the shiner bits of trim I wipe a little "Danish oil" on once a year, or every other year (it takes a while to dry, and acts kind of like varnish, but penetrates the wood). Many production boats will have unfinished wood in areas that can't be readily seen (such as inside lockers and cabinets). Painting these with a gloss or semi-gloss enamel, or a wood sealer.

Thanks for the great advice. I don't know a lot about finishing/caring for wood. I have stained a deck, and I built a farm table for my mom that I also stained and then put polyurethane on ( I think that is how I did it) but that is the extent of it.

What would you say my best method for the wood in my cabin is? It's in great shape, a couple nicks here and there but mostly in great shape. It needs something to bring it's shine back, and hopefully seal in any odors that have gotten in there. Maybe that is the wrong way to think about odors though, which you can elaborate on. What do you think should be used to just go over all the wood, to make it look as close to new as possible again. I have seen Danish oil, and if I were building a coffee table or dresser, I would totally use that stuff, but can I use it in my boat, over the existing finish?

I have a plan for the fabrics, just need a good plan for the wood.

Also- any good advice for bilge areas that can't be accessed? Just good old bilge cleaner? Orrr....?

Tyler From Everett.
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