Boat Cleaning & Maintenance

The products you purchase to clean and maintain your boat can be harmful to aquatic life, water quality and human health. When you purchase boat cleaning products check the labels for words such as “danger,” “poison,” “warning,” or “cautions” that indicate the toxicity of a product.


Save major boat repairs and cleaning for the boat yard where toxic wastewater is collected for treatment and proper disposal.

Tips for the Topside... fish

Reduce your use of toxic cleaning products:

  • Choose less toxic cleaning products, such as non-phosphate, biodegradable cleaners. Click here to learn how to Find Less Toxic, Less Volatile, More Biodegradable Products.
  • Use less product and more elbow grease.
  • Reduce the need for boat soaps by scrubbing and rinsing with freshwater after each trip.
  • Use canvas boat covers to keep boat clean between trips and reduce the amount of cleaning you need to do.
  • Contain spills and debris using tarps.
Spill-proof cleaning and maintenance activities:
  • Conduct maintenance work aboard your boat, not on the docks or over the water.
  • Always mix paints, varnish, epoxy and other products over a tarp or in a drip pan to catch spills and drips. Keep absorbents nearby to wipe up spills.
  • Tightly seal product containers when not in use to reduce spills.
  • Plug scuppers to contain spills.
Minimize emissions from surface preparation:
  • Sand and paint large areas only in designated shoreside boat maintenance areas, using vacuum sanders with dust containment bags and high-density low-volume paint sprayers.
  • If performing work outdoors, do not sand or paint on windy days.
  • Use tarps or visquine (sheet plastic) to catch and control falling debris, and vacuum or sweep frequently to prevent discharge of debris into the water.
  • For small jobs conducted in-water, attach tarps or visquine from boat to dock to catch debris. Reverse boat in the slip to work on the other side.
  • Plug scuppers to contain dust, debris and spills.

On the Bottomside:

Choose less toxic hull paints and antifouling strategies:
  • Check the new BOATER'S GUIDE TO USING HULL PAINT IN CALIFORNIA to assist you when selecting a bottom hull paint. This brochure provides an easy to read format that presents key considerations for boaters to think about when selecting a bottom paint. The goal of this brochure is to help boaters understand the available paint options and how the new information released by the CA Department of Pesticides Regulations regarding copper hull paints and regulations to address copper impairments (i.e., the new Marina del Rey and Newport Beach TMDL regulations) may impact a boater’s decision on the type of paint they may select.
  • For additional information on non-toxic antifouling strategies for boats, consult the University of California Sea Grant Program.
Use environmentally sound underwater hull cleaning practices, or select a diver who uses them:
  • Don’t clean hulls that are so fouled that cleaning must be abrasive and is likely to result in paint removal and the discharge of toxic heavy metals.
  • Perform regular hull maintenance to prevent hard marine growth and hull drag.
  • Perform hull cleaning in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations for the type of hull coating or bottom paint.
  • Clean bottom paints using non-abrasive methods. Avoid creating a colored plume of paint in the water.
  • Take zinc anodes back to shore and recycle or dispose properly.

Learn more about environmental laws associated with hazardous waste.