One Mean Green Machine

Sail Green: We find so many "environmentally friendly" cleaning products on the market that Mother Nature herself might not be able to make a choice. Along the way, we learn a few things. A special product review from our December 2009 issue

January 15, 2010

lembo cleans 368

Marianne Lee

“Honey,” he said to me, “what do you think of the new head?” Well, honey, I said to him, it’s great-but did you have to use every single galley implement aboard Land’s End to pull off the masterful installation?

So it goes before the start of each sailing season, when the crack crew of Captain Rick Martell and me, first mate Elaine Lembo, engage in a battle of wills as we combine forces for the single goal of bringing new luster and improved levels of livability to our 1935 classic wooden Crocker ketch.

Nothing gets the captain angrier than when I suggest tying up at a slip, availing ourselves of shipyard facilities, and hosing down the old girl inside and out. Fresh water rots timber, he bellows.


Argh. When mutiny’s not an option, what’s a salty swab to do?

Try as I might (we’ll leave the saga of the battle of wills for another day), finding cleaners that are gentle yet effective belowdecks or above on any boat, whether wood or fiberglass or metal, is a challenge.

That explains why I perked up when a few of the many companies marketing marine cleaning products sent word that they’ve put a series of items on the market that, aside from being effective and safe on any boat surface, are created with the environment in mind.


Among companies producing such items are Ecover, Star brite, Thetford Marine, and West Marine. I got in touch with them and was immersed in suds in no time. I shared a few of the items in the product lines-by no means are these representative of all the makers and all the products available in the United States-with CW editor Mark Pillsbury and his first mate, Sue Pillsbury, to try out on Jackalope, their Sabre.

On Land’s End
Much of the cleaning aboard Land’s End involves fighting mildew and mold. So I enthusiastically reached for West Marine Pure Oceans Mildew Stain Remover ($13 for 16 ounces) to efficiently wipe down painted surfaces as well as to remove growth from canvas, as it’s safe to use on fabric. I also availed myself of Thetford Marine Mildew Stain Remover ($13 for 32 ounces), also safe on fabrics. According to the product release, Thetford’s mildew remover does double duty on such concentrated stains as coffee, blood, and pen marks on upholstery and carpets, and it can be applied as a spot remover on laundry stains. It worked well on canvas, too.

The sun was out and it was hot down below, so I came on deck for fresh air and to tackle the fake leather ivory-colored cockpit cushions. For this chore, I chose West Marine Pure Oceans NanoTec Vinyl Protectant ($8 for 16 ounces), which the manufacturer says prevents fading and cracking and leaves no sticky or gummy residue after use.


Beaming over a job well done and wanting a break from the rays, I climbed back down the companionway and into the galley. A quick survey of the dinnerware reminded me that more than a dusting off was due, so I squirted a dime-sized drop of Ecover Ecological Dishwashing Liquid: Grapefruit and Green Tea ($5.50 for 16 ounces) into the sink and got busy. The scent was so nice, and the suds just the right intensity, that it inspired the swab in me to jump in the bay for a swim and, in the tradition of a true cruising sailor, scrub myself down with-but what else? The good stuff I’d just used to clean the dishes moments before.

On Board Jackalope
First mate Sue Pillsbury swabbed the surfaces of the couple’s fiberglass Sabre using Thetford Marine UltraFoam Deck Cleaner ($13 for 32 ounces), which, according to company statements, is capable of removing grime, oil, and algae. In her estimation, this product is the real deal. “All in all, it was one of the easier cleaning jobs I tackled this spring,” she said.

During haulout, Mark prepared the hull for waxing with Star brite Sea Safe Hull Cleaner ($18 for 32 ounces). He was sold on its effectiveness; according to Star brite, the cleaner is powerful yet relies on a mild acid. “This was my kind of cleaning job,” he said. “I used a boat sponge to put cleaner on small sections of the hull at a time, then stood back with the hose and watched the crud wash away. I may never scrub again.”


Elaine Lembo also writes about chartering for Cruising World and for the magazine’s website (


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