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Old 11-25-2014, 02:18 PM   #1
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How to clean a dirty bilge?

My "new to me" boat has a dirty bilge I need to clean up. Some place quoted me $800 to clean it-- 8 hours at $50 per hour x two "techs". Seriously?? There is some oil in the engine drip pan and the bilge water is blackish so it might have some oil also.

This seems like a "do it yourself" type cleaning job to me, but maybe I'm missing something. Is there something that will "eat" the oil so I can just discharge the water?

Also, what's is a good price per foot for a topside compound and wax? Mine has some oxidation.
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Old 11-25-2014, 02:46 PM   #2
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Yes agree a do it your self project

I clean every other month

I have a remote pump I bought at Harbour Freight garden hose type clean all the old water out

then use warm water direct from the water heater and soap and water and brushes and sponges

then I use my remote pump again to get the bulk of the water out while rinsing

then last I use a shop vac to get the rest out

what is the smell like in your bildge?
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Old 11-25-2014, 03:24 PM   #3
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This seems like a "do it yourself" type cleaning job to me, but maybe I'm missing something. Is there something that will "eat" the oil so I can just discharge the water?

Also, what's is a good price per foot for a topside compound and wax? Mine has some oxidation.

Yes, do-it-yourself is possible. Absorbent rags to sop up oil. Once the oil is under control, clean with rags and a variety of household products. (In our case, mostly a combination of dishwashing and bathroom products. You may need additional products for any remaining oil film.) Rags on the end of flat-bladed screwdrivers, mops/brushes with variable-length poles, sponges, and so forth. After that you can get serious with steam, pressure washer, etc.

It's not rocket science, but access -- or usually lack thereof -- makes it more difficult... and that's why a yard would estimate a price like that. If you're not "flexible" anymore, it's sometimes well worth it to just write a check.

Our local cleaning crew charges approx. $100 for monthly deck and bridge washes, and approx. $900 for an annual serious deck and bridge wash/polish/wax/etc. Nominally 42' boat.

-Chris
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Old 11-25-2014, 03:38 PM   #4
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$20 fer foot or so for compound and wax in my town. Labor rates may be higher or lower in your area. Most important is to get references because one guy's compound and wax might not be the same as the next guy's.

Cleaning the bilge? This is certainly something that a physically fit boat owner should be able to handle. Don't expect to just pour something into the bilge and have it magically become clean. You're going to have to do some scrubbing. Dawn brand liquid dishwashing detergent seems to work well.
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Old 11-25-2014, 03:45 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by cardude01 View Post
My "new to me" boat has a dirty bilge I need to clean up. Some place quoted me $800 to clean it-- 8 hours at $50 per hour x two "techs". Seriously?? There is some oil in the engine drip pan and the bilge water is blackish so it might have some oil also.

This seems like a "do it yourself" type cleaning job to me, but maybe I'm missing something. Is there something that will "eat" the oil so I can just discharge the water?

Also, what's is a good price per foot for a topside compound and wax? Mine has some oxidation.
Actually....the quote is right there...

Someone here awhile back and I have known a few people who have had their bilge "detailed". While it seems like a lot of money, for how well they do it...they do it faster and better than many boat owners and generally in less total man hours expended...most that have had it done say it is worth it.

So what is your time and sweat worth?

Plus you have to ask yourself....just how clean do you want it?
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Old 11-25-2014, 03:53 PM   #6
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For bilges I am a big fan of floor dry in 40 lb bags from the auto parts stores. It likes water and oil. I can get it into places I can not get into. I leave it down for a couple of days and then pick it up with the shop vac with a bag filter. Do NOT suck the shop vac full unless you are into lifting serious weight. I find it takes a lot of crud out and leaves less for the scrub phase of the clean up. Also a big fan of Simple Green. Spray on let it work and then rinse off. You will still end up scrubbing.
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:12 PM   #7
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When i was quoted $20 per foot ($1,000) to wax/polish below the rub rail only, i decided to buy a nice $200 buffer/polisher and have been saving loads of money ever since by doing it myself. Now it always looks nice.
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:18 PM   #8
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When i was quoted $20 per foot ($1,000) to wax/polish below the rub rail only, i decided to buy a nice $200 buffer/polisher and have been saving loads of money ever since by doing it myself. Now it always looks nice.
Yea, I tried that also. I never got more than one side done and not very well. I went to the marina to check on the guy doing mine. 100 degrees in the shade and he is out there sweating and getting sunburned for that little money. I wouldn't do that kind of work for what I'm paying and he is just working for someone so he's not getting the full amount.
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:27 PM   #9
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How to clean a dirty bilge?

I actually have a nice (heavy) buffer from the car lot. The topside doesn't look all that bad to do while the boat in the slip, but below the rub rail I can't figure how I would do it.

I got quoted $1100 just for the topsides, 2 step compound then wax. But I know how hard it can be to run that big heavy buffer on a car so doing a multiple step buff on a 40' boat might be more than I want. How long do you think it will stay shiny after a good buff and wax job?
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:31 PM   #10
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I actually have a nice (heavy) buffer from the car lot. The topside doesn't look all that bad to do while the boat in the slip, but below the rub rail I can't figure how I would do it.
Having it hauled and blocked is the best way. Trying to use an electric buffer in the water in a dinghy is a distant second.
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:39 PM   #11
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Guy in our marina decided to pressure wash his topsides from his unsecured dinghy. Every time he hit the trigger the dinghy took off until he ran out of hose. He must of tried it 10 times before giving up. I nearly fell overboard laughing. I did go and help by using bow and stern lines and then pulling him slowly along the length of his boat. I guess he saw me laughing because I got drenched in the process and the side of a boat can't be that hard to hit.
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:41 PM   #12
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I actually have a nice (heavy) buffer from the car lot. The topside doesn't look all that bad to do while the boat in the slip, but below the rub rail I can't figure how I would do it.

I got quoted $1100 just for the topsides, 2 step compound then wax. But I know how hard it can be to run that big heavy buffer on a car so doing a multiple step buff on a 40' boat might be more than I want. How long do you think it will stay shiny after a good buff and wax job?
I thought we were talking bilge cleaning???
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Old 11-25-2014, 05:49 PM   #13
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Anyone tried a handheld steam cleaner for ER and/or bilge? Probably not good on perforated sound deadening material but could work on hard surfaces.
One issue of bilge cleaning is disposing of the dirty water/crud. I`m getting that some people pump it out, a practical course, but I can see pollution control/maritime might not like it.
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Old 11-25-2014, 06:32 PM   #14
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Guy in our marina decided to pressure wash his topsides from his unsecured dinghy. Every time he hit the trigger the dinghy took off until he ran out of hose. He must of tried it 10 times before giving up. I nearly fell overboard laughing. I did go and help by using bow and stern lines and then pulling him slowly along the length of his boat. I guess he saw me laughing because I got drenched in the process and the side of a boat can't be that hard to hit.
Anyone who couldn't see that coming shouldn't own a pressure washer.
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Old 11-25-2014, 06:39 PM   #15
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Given how we all love the water and dislike oily discharges in marinas that stick to our hulls let do our best to be part of the clean marina/waters solution not part of the problem. I have been amazed at how well the oil absorbing towels work. Lay one in the water in your bilge and it will capture the oil in the water and can be easily picked up and thrown away. Then pump the bilge guilt free!

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Old 11-25-2014, 07:59 PM   #16
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Spottsville has it right. I leave an oil absorbing towel in my bilge at all times. After a few months, it'll be brown or black but the water under and around it is clear! I just swap it for a new one and take the old one home and burn it. I've never had a problem with an oily bilge discharge. They have bilge socks you can tie to a lanyard and it makes it easier to retreive. They are inexpensive- downright cheap compared to the labor involved in cleaning as described above. Ben
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Old 11-25-2014, 08:30 PM   #17
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[QUOTE=tego;286848]Spottsville has it right. I leave an oil absorbing towel in my bilge at all times. After a few months, it'll be brown or black but the water under and around it is clear!

MMM.. it occurs to me that my Detroit might have something to do with how we each have a different approach our bilge de oiling. Those towel things are great... for a few days or weeks, maybe, kinda.

I have been considering a drip pan with a small pump and just pump the used oil back up on top of the engine and let it run down... maybe some would find its way back inside.
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Old 11-25-2014, 09:18 PM   #18
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One of the things that I use if I have to clean up oil residue on hard surface is the "Purple" cleaner that mechanics use for degreasing. Spray it where needed let sit for a few minutes and just wash off with hose. The stuff just kills the residue instantly and leaves nothing behind. That along with the absorbent pads. I became a master when the oil fill was left off, 2 gallons of oil sprayed everywhere.
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Old 11-25-2014, 09:24 PM   #19
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My favorite bilge cleaning trick is to use my 14 year old son. I'm a firm believer in child labor and every boat should have its own bilge monkey.
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Old 11-25-2014, 10:18 PM   #20
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The bilge in our "new to us" boat was really, really bad. The gray water drained to tyhe bilge and was pumped out when the bilge pump went on. I used a water hose and brush with alkaline cleaner for the fitst bit. Then I brought my pressure washer (small electric) and blasted a ton of stuff off. I stayed about a foot back from the glass so I wouldn't tear anything up. I sucked the water out of the bilge with the shop vac (A bucket head from home depot... best thing ever!) and put an oil absorbent pad over it. A couple of days later all the oil is in the rag and I toss the water overboard. No sheen! Amazing what 35 years of water from your bath and shower can do in an enclosed space. Gotta clean it.
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