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post #1 of 39 Old 03-22-2015 Thread Starter
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cleaning out water tanks

Now that my boat his home from the yard and tied up, I can start the process of making her habitable. First on the list (the heads already work) is running water. The tanks have some water left in them which has been there for at least 9 month, probably much longer. It sat in hot Florida and now through some time in the PNW. I'm assuming there's some growth of slimy stuff in the tanks and lines.

What shall I use to clean it out? I've used diluted bleach before, which worked well, but it tends to eat up the diaphragms of sureflow pumps in my experience. I was thinking of using a food grade brew sanitizer I have, but it's famous for foaming up, and would take forever to wash out all the foam...

Suggestions?

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post #2 of 39 Old 03-22-2015
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Re: cleaning out water tanks

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From Peggie Hall, who does know what she is talking about:

"Although most people think only in terms of the tank, the plumbing is actually the source of most foul water, because the molds, mildew, fungi and bacteria which cause it thrive in damp dark places, not under water. Many people—and even some boat manufacturers—believe that keeping the tanks empty reduce the problem, but an empty water tank only provides another damp dark home for those “critters.”

There are all kinds of products sold that claim to keep onboard water fresh, but all that’s really necessary is an annual or in especially warm climates, semi-annual recommissioning of the entire system—tank and plumbing. The following recommendations conform to section 10.8 in the A-1 192 code covering electrical, plumbing, and heating of recreational vehicles (which includes boats). The solution is approved and recommended by competent health officials. It may be used in a new system a used one that has not been used for a period of time, or one that may have been contaminated.

Before beginning, turn off hot water heater at the breaker; do not turn it on again until the entire recommissioning is complete.

Icemakers should be left running to allow cleaning out of the water feed line; however the first two buckets of ice—the bucket generated during recommissioning and the first bucketful afterward--should be discarded.

1. Prepare a chlorine solution using one gallon of water and 1/4 cup (2 oz) Clorox or Purex household bleach (5% sodium Hypochlorite solution ). With tank empty, pour chlorine solution into tank. Use one gallon of solution for each 5 gallons of tank capacity. (Simpler way to calculate: 1 quart bleach/50 gal water tank capacity)

2. Complete filling of tank with fresh water. Open each faucet and drain **** until air has been released and the entire system is filled. Do not turn off the pump; it must remain on to keep the system pressurized and the solution in the lines

3. Allow to stand for at least three hours, but no longer than 24 hours.

4 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, because 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.

5. To remove excess chlorine taste or odor which might remain, prepare a solution of one quart white vinegar to five gallons water and allow this solution to agitate in tank for several days by vehicle motion.

6. Drain tank again through every faucet, and flush the lines again by fill the tank 1/4-1/2 full and again flushing with potable water.

An annual or semi-annual recommissioning according to the above directions is all that should be necessary to keep your water tasting and smelling as good as anything that comes out of any faucet on land. If you need to improve on that, install a water filter. Just remember that a filter is not a substitute for cleaning out the system, and that filters require regular inspection and cleaning or replacement.
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 certainly 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, because any harmful bacteria will REALLY proliferate in water hoses left sitting on the dock.
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Peggie Hall--Specializing in marine sanitation since '87
Author "Get Rid of Boat Odors-- A Guide to Marine Sanitation Systems & Other Sources of Aggravation"
What she said.
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post #3 of 39 Old 03-22-2015
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Re: cleaning out water tanks

I say go with bleach. You only need a couple ounces per gallon of water. Pump it through your water lines and then let it sit overnight and flush it out. After you flush the tanks a couple ot times, run a little white vinegar through to kill the bleach taste/smell.

Edit...Barquito beat me to it and Peggy knows what she is talking about.

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Last edited by chuck53; 03-22-2015 at 04:56 PM.
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post #4 of 39 Old 03-22-2015
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Re: cleaning out water tanks

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Originally Posted by Barquito View Post
What she said.
Yup, that's been ANSI and WHO standard forever.

Prevention is the real cure; when you lay up the boat, MT the tanks and DRY the tank! You always wash the dishes before putting them away, right?

If the tank is stored dry all you need to do is fill it and bleed a little though the taps.

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Re: cleaning out water tanks

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Originally Posted by pdqaltair View Post
Prevention is the real cure
Everything Peggy said.

I take one extra precaution. All the water going into our tanks or that we use through our dockside hookup goes through an inline water filter. It's inexpensive and it makes a big difference in the water quality and taste. For $30 a year at the RV store it's inexpensive insurance.

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post #6 of 39 Old 03-23-2015 Thread Starter
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Re: cleaning out water tanks

Sounds good. I've had good luck with bleach before. Has anyone else had it eat up the diaphragms from water pumps? Perhaps that wasn't what was eating them up after all, perhaps they were just wearing out when I was living aboard. Even if it does eat them, they're easy to replace.

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Re: cleaning out water tanks

Pump diaphragms are a wear item. If you used diluted chlorine and didn't let it stand too long, I would not expect that to cause undue wear.

Not knowing how much stuff is growing in there, nor how it was maintained in the past, I would try to manual wash them out the first time. Do you have an access plate? If I was going to live aboard, I would seriously consider replacing the water hoses too. Not that expensive and they all eventually split anyway.


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post #8 of 39 Old 03-23-2015
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Re: cleaning out water tanks

Thanks for this Peggy (in absentia). Here's a question though:

My ship's water container is a single stainless steel 200 gallon tank. According to Peggy's directions this means I should pre-mix 40 gallons of the bleach/water solution. This is not an easy task. Does anyone have an alternative approach?

How dangerous is bleach to copper pipes (yes, we have copper) and a SS tank? Can partially fill my tank, then add the bleach (4 quarts according to Peggy's receipt), then fill my tank with water and follow her directions? I could even add a diluted bleach mix, but I just can't see how I can pre-mix 40 gallons in one go...

JimMcGee: What inline filter do you use?

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Re: cleaning out water tanks

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Originally Posted by MikeOReilly View Post
JimMcGee: What inline filter do you use?
Hey Mike, I usually pick one up at the RV store at the beginning of each season. I've used the ShurFlor and the System IV brands. One or the other is usually on sale in the spring for around $25. I haven't seen a difference in performance or taste between these two.

I tried a less expensive filter from the camping section of a big box store ($19) and pulled it out after two weeks - the water tasted awful.
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Re: cleaning out water tanks

My water system has been in constant use for 4 years. Only used with clean municipal US water, and I always run the hose for a while before starting to fill. The water coming out of the taps looks, smells, and tastes fine.

Should I still do some kind of bleach flush? I haven't done one for 4 years. Is it necessary if the water seems fine?

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