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Old 01-08-2018, 12:26 AM   #1
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Cleaning an Engine Room

Cleaning an engine is easy enough,though with twins the outside is not so easy. But, the ER sides, stringers, bulkheads,flatter hull sections, are more difficult to access for hand work. Lots of bending, stretching, and body contortions.
I first thought about a pressure washer. I know how to use one, and what they can do.They have wands to give access from a distance, they blow the muck off the surface, pressure can be controlled. But I can envisage mess getting sprayed around, spray bouncing back, etc, in the confined space of the ER.
Then I considered steam cleaning. Never used one, they also have wand extensions, they don`t seem to have the pressure to actually remove the grime, more they loosen it so it can be wiped away, but that means closer work, contortions, etc. Maybe the steamed grime can be hosed off, I wonder if that would work, a 2 stage process. And then there is me, and hot steam, in the ER, not so sure about that.
Presumably the gunk exits the boat with the water you use, via bilge pumps. We`re just using water in one form or another, so subject to the nature of the gunk, that may be ok.
What advice and experiences can ER proud TFers bring to this discussion?

Island Gypsy 36 Europa "Doriana"
Sydney Australia
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Old 01-08-2018, 01:27 AM   #2
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The advice I can bring is a bucket of water, some boat wash, a sponge, a straightened out coat hangar (to push the sponge into all the crevices), a LOT of sweat and - most importantly - a Karcher wet/dry vacuum.

No easy solutions to this one, Iím afraid.


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Old 01-08-2018, 02:16 AM   #3
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I bought an 'Engine and Bilge Degreaser' from Supercheap Auto recently. See link below. The plan is to mist it on using a 2 litre pressure sprayer (hand pump) then rinse off. As yet the motivation to actually do it has yet to find me!

Chemtech CT14 Degreaser - 5 Litre - Supercheap Auto

I think you can also have a diluted mixture sloshing around in the bilge for a trip or two, then pump it out. My bilge doesn't really need cleaning, but I am a bit concerned that the stuff pumped out will be polluting, so I might wait until I'm going to haul out and then pump the bilge out into the yard's pressure washdown area. They collect that water/waste for correct disposal.

If you are only generating a small volume of waste water then Wet Vax and buckets for correct disposal would work.
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Old 01-08-2018, 03:26 AM   #4
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If you use a bucket/basin of hot water with lemon scented washing up liquid mixed in it will act as an oil dispersant. Use 3 or 4 short/long handled cheap disposable brushes and slosh plenty of hot water and scrub vigorously, rinse with clean water. Any water in the bilges can be pumped overboard, it is NOT a hazard as the washing up liquid will unlock surface tension and disperse any oil safely.
It won't hurt if you let the water slosh around the bilges if you prefer to cruise offshore and pump out.
When the bilges are dry use a citron scented spray to treat all the bilge area and kill any residual oil smells.
If you use a power washer it will blast the muck everywhere, a garden hose with an adjustable spray can sometimes be a good help.

Finally put a good squirt of lemon scented washing up liquid in the bilge to slosh around. Get in the habit of putting a squirt in after changing oil/fuel filters for clean smell free bilges.
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Old 01-08-2018, 04:30 AM   #5
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My bilge and engine space (I can't call it a "room") was disgusting and impossible to clean when I bought the boat. I finally replaced the engine and fuel tanks, and gave the whole area a complete clean and paint while the space was empty. I also moved everything away from the new engine (battery boxes, new fuel tanks, hoses etc,) making it much more user friendly and accessible. I installed plenty of good lighting which also makes it easier to work on and keep clean. Now its a joy to maintain and is still looking like new.
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Old 01-08-2018, 05:41 AM   #6
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24 cans Supercheap de greaser $40
Export Degreaser - 400g - Supercheap Auto

Then high pressure washer because it uses less water.
If there is any residue left use Fairy Dish washing Liquid then take it over to the pump out station and suck the bilge dry
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Old 01-08-2018, 05:53 AM   #7
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For us in the USA.....

The Clean Water Act (33 CFR 153.305) also prohibits the use of soaps or other dispersing agents to dissipate oil on the water or in the bilge without the permission of the Coast Guard. Soaps, emulsifiers and dispersants cause the petroleum to sink in the water column and mix with sediments where they will remain for years. Also, the soaps themselves are pollutants. You may be fined up to $25,000 per incident for the unauthorized use of soap or other dispersing agents on the water or in the bilge.*
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Old 01-08-2018, 06:38 AM   #8
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I am cleaning my ER each year when winterizing, I use high concentration of spray nine in water, and a brush with flexible long handle. I remove that drain plug so the water and all junk can flow out in a bucket I put under the boat. I then rinse twice with a bucket of fresh water and I am done for the year.

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Old 01-08-2018, 07:34 AM   #9
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I haven't had to clean up a greasy, oil laden engine room, but I have still scrubbed by share. I have used a bucket of hot water, simple green, and most recently an old wash cloth. The wash cloth makes it easy to get into corners etc, and had a good combination of abrasion and softness.

I turn off the bilge pump so none of the residue pumps overboard, then scrub away. You don't end up using a lot of water anyway, but when done, empty the bilge with a wet vac. Then dump the wet vac contents on land where it will perk through the soil.

So far this has worked well.
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Old 01-08-2018, 07:54 AM   #10
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Dawn dish soap. And a teenager willing to work.
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Old 01-08-2018, 08:23 AM   #11
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When we took possession of our boat, it stank. The bilges were filthy, smelled awful, the heads were abysmal. They nearly turned my stomach, that's saying a LOT coming from a master plumber who's seen it all!

I was apprehensive about cleaning, I wanted to really blast it clean and couldn't reach half the places. I went for broke and used my el-cheapo karcher pressure washer. I was expecting a huge mess, but was surprized at how little mess it actually made. Minimal water accumulation, overspray was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated, and it did a terrific job of cleaning. I had pre-treated all of it with spray 9, I cleaned ALL the bilge areas. A/C on and a blower in the bilges to dry out. Made a dramatic difference in eliminating the odors. Well worth the effort.

As far as the heads, there was no redemption for those old electric seawater heads, replaced the entire waste system.
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Old 01-08-2018, 08:41 AM   #12
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....Then I considered steam cleaning.....
I once tried steam cleaning an engine room. It didn't go well. Within a few seconds I couldn't see what I was doing due to the 'fog' from the steam.

If you have the type of access where the deck hatches above open most of the engine room, good doors and windows in the space over the engine room then steam cleaning may work.

Or buy / rent something like this. 12" blower They move a lot of air.
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Old 01-08-2018, 08:52 AM   #13
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They have hot water pressure washers.

The company I work for is an environmental clean up service too.

Its what they yse to clean the bilges of commercial boats after an purple detergent like Zep.

They work.....BUT THEY ARE MESSY!
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Old 01-08-2018, 09:10 AM   #14
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I don't like water spraying around in engine rooms. Have done many repairs that were found to ultimately be caused by water sneaking into areas where you don't want it to be.

Flywheel housing vents..
Generator ends..
Any bolt with a split lockwasher, water wicks into threads..
Anything electrical, especially if energized...

One of the most destructive things in an engine room is a water spray event like a split hose or broken wet exhaust. Spraying wash water down there is in the same category.

A kitchen brush on a stick and a bucket of water can keep water localized.

I just wipe things down with a rag. Never washed my engine and will not.
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Old 01-08-2018, 09:42 AM   #15
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A powder Dishwasher detergent (no suds) sprinkled liberally, then with the pumps off, let some water in, go for a cruise, before emptying, get at the areas above that waterline, then remove the dishwater while doing a final coaxing spray with a hose from your salt water pump.
I have used a steam cleaner every couple of weeks, on an open runabout when I worked (1968) a boat we launched in the Iona Island sewage outfall channel. Worked well in that outdoor application, but I echo what has already been stated above, not suitable in an enclosed space.
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Old 01-08-2018, 10:07 AM   #16
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I use Extreme Simple Green diluted 1:1 with water. Spray on with a garden sprayer scrub with a brush, rinse and repeat. The ESG is amazing for cutting through grease and oil. I have a diesel pusher motorhome with a rear mounted radiator. It had a buildup of oily crud that I tried several cleaners on it. I sprayed the ESG on it and the crud started running off before I even scrubbed it. Home Depot sells it online.
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Old 01-08-2018, 10:46 AM   #17
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Anytime I do work in the bilge or engine room area that involves any kind of vapors I lay a box fan over my open lazaret hatch and leave the engine room access open which is on the opposite end of the boat. I find I can work with paints, acetone or other chemicals and not even smell them as the air exchange rate is so large.

I Pressure steamed an interior of an entire 55 foots sailboat once that had a fire on board. Not a very pleasant environment but with the box fan set up I described maybe not too bad?

With that said I am of the school that others have posted which is cleaners and brushes. Sometimes you just can beat hand work.
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Old 01-08-2018, 10:52 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Sugardog View Post
Dawn dish soap. And a teenager willing to work.
Whatever means you use, it's very possible to move something on the engine or accidentally disconnect something. When it comes to cleaning near any piece of equipment, I suggest using someone who can be trusted to take care around that equipment. In my case, I do it myself so if there's a problem, at least I know where I was and what I was doing. That gives me a place to start when trying to fix the problem.

I don't believe there's any product available that can be sprayed or poured on equipment or in the bilge that will remove dirt or oily residue without some sort of scrubbing. You're going to have to get in there with a brush, rags or sponge. And you'll have to rinse as well.

As for the legality, someone could make the case that it's illegal to wash a boat while in the water because of soap runoff and one of the western states will probably do this before long, but in the meantime, people do wash their boats (and their bilges). The best plan would be to turn off the bilge pump, clean your bilge (engine room), and then collect the water in a bucket and dump it on shore where it will be properly treated (storm water drains often dump directly into the waterways so that's no different than dumping it directly with your bilge pump).

If you clean your bilge or engine room and keep it clean, it's easy to spot a leak. A clean bilge is a happy bilge. I once watched a mechanic working on someone's engine and when he dropped a wrench it went completely under the mixture of oil and water in the bilge. He had to fish around for it.
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Old 01-08-2018, 01:05 PM   #19
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I recently cleaned my ER floor after stripping out all the old bonding wire and repairing a diesel leak. I used a cleaner called Parish Orange Blossom Citrus Solvent. I sprayed it on with my pump sprayer and brushed it in with a boat brush. With the bilge pumps off, I rinsed it down GENTLY to avoid overspray damage with a hose end sprayer like this which allows a fan spray with minimal pressure or volume.

Then I bailed the bilge into a bucket and poured it down the appropriate shore side drain to keep it out of the water. After all was said and done, I was left with a fresh orange-smelling ER.
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Old 01-08-2018, 04:02 PM   #20
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I use Roll Off along with the same attachment as FlyWright. Then I use a wet vac for clean up. The spray attachment works great and you have great control over the amount of water used and where it goes so no overspray gets on anything that can be harmed.

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