Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vinegar is your friend

On a boat that lowly cooking ingredient, white vinegar, can really turn out to be useful.

White vinegar is nothing more than a 5% solution of acetic acid (a weak organic* acid) in water.

As a general cleaner, you will find straight vinegar to be superior -  it kills bacteria and other microbial life forms, and the organic nature of the acetic acid helps to solubilize dirt and grease.  And it is completely natural.  No rinsing is necessary.

Vinegar kills mildew and algae growing in or on surfaces by subjecting them to a low pH which they cannot tolerate.  On Eolian, our worst examples are to be found on the underside of the bimini and dodger canvas in the cockpit.  After a winter of being closed up, the colonies are especially numerous and colorful just over the vent in the galley ceiling.  Sponge it on, and brush the cloth surface gently but thoroughly to break up the colonies.  The vinegar itself calls for no need to rinse - unlike bleach, vinegar evaporates completely, leaving no residue whatsoever.  However, the corpses of the dead algae and mildew left behind from the treatment will still be present; hosing down the surface will help to flush them away.  We recently used straight vinegar to clean the sunshield on our foresail.

Most boat owners know that flushing a little vinegar from time to time will help to keep the head internals and the head lines free of carbonate deposits.  Because it is acid, the vinegar dissolves them.  But it is not a strong enough acid to damage the head internals, the plumbing, or your holding tank (unless perhaps it is an aluminum tank - but that would be a terrible materials choice for a holding tank).  It works slowly tho, so it is best if you think about it as a slow-acting cleaner...  Don't just pour it into the bowl and flush it away - it won't have had time to work on the carbonate deposits.  Pour a pint or so in the bowl and let it stand for an hour or two to soften or remove lime deposits there.  Then pump out the bowl (but don't rinse), moving the vinegar thru the head internals and into the joker valve and the first part of the plumbing.  Let it stand for a few more hours.  Then rinse the bowl with 4-5 pumps, which will move the vinegar further downstream in the plumbing. 
The chances are excellent that the ID of your head pump is about the same as the ID of your head plumbing.  So one stroke of the pump will move things thru the plumbing about the same distance as the length of that stroke, perhaps 6".
  I know this sounds tedious, but if you time things right in your daily living, it can work out pretty well.  It is especially advantageous if you can get some vinegar into the head internals and the plumbing if you are going to leave the boat for a few days, thereby giving it lots of time to act.

And it is incredibly cheap - cheaper than bottled water**!  We always keep a gallon or two on board.

*Not "organic" as in some vague politically correct term for food items produced without chemicals, whatever that means, but rather meaning composed solely of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

**Do not get me started on bottled water.

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