With a little knowledge and know-how, steward/esses can be at the helm of greener practices, incorporating eco-friendly cleaning products while reducing the use of plastics and chemicals that pollute the ocean.
In an age where it has become fashionable to talk, write and think about environmental issues and everyone is aware of our marine life being consumed by mountains of plastic, the real issue is: What are we doing about it?
How are we cutting down on the amount of plastics used onboard? How are we changing our cleaning and showering habits to avoid billions of litres of chemically laden products reaching the ocean through our waste systems?
As yacht crew we can put pressure on shipyards, yacht builders, ports, marinas, suppliers and chandlers to provide more eco-friendly systems and products that can be incorporated across our industry and in everyday operations onboard. We, as Chief Stews and Captains, are in a position to convince our employers that we should be purchasing eco-friendly cleaning products and toiletries, rather than brand name chemicals.
This series is in part a response to lively debate and conversation on the subject in our Facebook group, Yacht Stewardess and Steward Tips, where a wide range of questions, advice and tips are exchanged. Personally, sustainable and eco-friendly practices are something I have been engaging with for many years and in my training courses I teach the junior Stewards and Stewardesses an environmental approach to looking after the yacht's interior.
In this series of articles I will be looking at some practical ways to change what we use onboard so as to be kinder to the delicate marine ecosystems without lowering our cleaning standards or damaging the delicate surfaces on board. Part 1 will provide an overview of general-use natural cleaning products which have the added advantage of being cheap and suitable for sensitive skin. Let's get started!
Eliminate the chemical-heavy 'steward/ess favourites'
It isn’t hard to focus on making small changes in our daily cleaning routines and on the provisioning list if we know how and what to replace these popular chemicals with.
Focus on purchasing eco-friendly laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid – take a few seconds and think about the huge volumes of laundry and dishes we do each day and multiply that by all the yachts in the industry – the amount will be mind-boggling!
Polishing silver, brass and other metals:
● Bring one litre of water, one tablespoon of baking soda, and one piece of aluminium foil to a boil. Drop silverware in the pot for 10 seconds (longer if it's very tarnished), then remove using kitchen tongs. Be sure to wash properly afterwards with dishwashing soap and warm water and carefully dry and pack away.
● Rub ketchup onto the item with a soft cloth, rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly. You can also soak small brass items in a bowl of tomato juice to clean them. Put them in the juice and let them sit for five minutes (longer, if they're really dirty.) Pull them out, rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly.
● For brass, pewter and copper: Make a mixture of 2 tablespoons tomato sauce (ketchup) and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Rub on with a cloth until shiny. Wash afterwards with dishwashing soap and warm water.
● For tarnished copper, aluminium and brass: Dip half a lemon into some baking soda or salt and rub over the metal. Salt and bicarbonate of soda are mild abrasives and the acid in the lemon dissolves the tarnish. Rinse with cold water and buff with a dry, soft cloth to bring back the shine.
● For silver and brass: This works well on tarnished silver cutlery. Mix lemon juice and baking soda into a thick paste and rub onto the silver or brass with a soft cloth. Give it five minutes to work and then wash well with warm water and dishwashing liquid.
**Never leave lemon juice on silver for longer than 5 minutes, it can damage the silver leaving an effect known as pitting.
To clean china and glass:
Add some white vinegar to your sink’s rinse water or dishwasher. Lightly clouded glasses (do not do this with crystal!) can be made clear again if you soak them in a solution of equal parts hot water and white vinegar, and lightly scrub with a soft bottle brush.
To clean and deodorize food containers:
For stinky Tupperware, wash the container in a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. Store these with the lids off. If odour persists, place a slice of bread soaked in white vinegar in the container (with the lid on) overnight. The smell should be gone the next day.
To clean and polish stainless steel appliances:
Including the refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, cooktop, and range hood. It is possible to find eco-friendly products that won't damage stainless steel and finer metal surfaces like chrome, nickel and titanium. They are naturally scented using only essential oils of lavender and chamomile. Lookout for Better Life products, which are made in recyclable containers and with biodegradable formulas.
I have previously written an article on the use of lemons while cleaning and in the laundry room. For more information, please read When Life Hands You Lemons...Get Cleaning!
Besides vinegar, which the next article will focus on, my favourite natural cleaning product is baking soda.
What is baking soda/bicarbonate of soda?
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). This is a simple chemical compound and is found in crystalline form in nature but is ground to a fine powder for use in cooking (and cleaning!).
Baking soda's mild abrasive action and natural deodorizing properties make it a powerful replacement for harsh commercial scouring powders. It works great in combination with vinegar and creates a lovely fizzy cleaning agent. Let’s look at this beautiful product and its uses.
● Sweat: Scrub perspiration stains from washable clothing with an old toothbrush and a paste of baking soda and water, leave for at least an hour, longer for bad stains, then wash as normal. Not only will this remove the stain, it will get rid of the smell too.
● Blood: Blood stains are always hard to remove. Baking soda will normally be very helpful in removing these. For small areas of blood, dampen the stain with COLD water. Rub baking soda into the stained area with an old toothbrush. Leave the baking soda paste on to soak for a while and repeat if necessary. Launder as per care label instructions.
For larger areas of blood, add 250ml baking soda to 250ml white vinegar into a bucket of cold water. Swirl the mixture around well and then add the blood-stained item. Leave for several hours - overnight is ideal - then launder as per care label instructions. Repeat if necessary BEFORE drying the item.
● Vomit and Urine: Thoroughly rinse the stains under a cold tap as soon as possible after the event. Sprinkle the area with baking soda and leave on for about 30 minutes. For whites, you could also add some lemon juice or vinegar with the baking soda for more efficient stain treatment. Baking soda will neutralize the acid and prevent it from permanently damaging the clothing.
● Stinky shoes: Avoid embarrassing stink-foot by sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of baking soda into each shoe and shaking carefully to distribute throughout the whole shoe. Tip out before wearing. To avoid mess, you can make bags/sachets filled with baking soda that are placed into each shoe to keep them fresh (old silk stockings would work well for the sachets).
● Swimwear: To remove saltwater or chlorine from bathing costumes, soak the garment for an hour or two in warm water to which you have added a handful of baking soda. Wash as usual or simply rinse out well under cold water. This will keep swimwear looking good for longer and will get rid of any unwanted smells.
● Vacuum cleaner: Every time you change the bag in your vacuum cleaner, pop in 1 tablespoon baking soda. And if it is the bag-less type, just drop the baking soda into the dirt collection chamber. This will quickly curb that less-than-fresh smell that can linger when the cleaner starts to get full, especially if you have pets on board.
● Grease: Sprinkle fresh grease stains with baking soda and leave for an hour or two to work, then drip a little water on to the powder and scrub gently. Rinse off and wash as per care label instructions.
● Cleaning the oven: Get rid of those gross, blackened globs on the bottom of your oven without scrubbing yourself sore or flavouring your next meal with chemical-based cleaner. It really is as easy as sprinkling a liberal amount of baking soda all over the oven floor, spraying it with water until well dampened, and forgetting about it for a few hours, or leave to sink in overnight. Come back, wipe it out and rinse with vinegar to prevent a white film of baking soda residue.
● Carpet deodorizer: All those little fibers in carpeting really hold on to all kinds of smells that you don’t exactly want lingering in your home. Sprinkle baking soda liberally, let it sit overnight and then sweep most of it up before vacuuming what’s left. Baking soda absorbs the odours instead of trying to cover them.
● Fruit and vegetable wash: Pests and, worse, pesticides are common contaminants on produce, so washing our fruits and veggies is essential. Sure, you could buy a pricey spray, but you know what works even better? A few tablespoons of baking soda in a bowl of cool water. Just soak them for five to ten minutes, giving some hard-to-clean veggies like potatoes and celery a little scrub with a vegetable brush.
● Scrub out the toughest dirty dishes: Baking soda makes those dreaded dishes covered in dried crud so much easier to tackle. Dunk the dishes into soapy water, then sprinkle the trouble spots with baking soda. Let them sit a little while to soften. You can also add a dash of baking soda to the dishwasher for a boost in cleaning power and a reduction in funky smells. - Wash dishes, pots and pans. Adding a couple tablespoons to your dishwater can help remove grease and food from your dishes. If the food is cooked on, let it soak first then use some dry baking soda on a cloth to scrub it away. **Do not do this with guest dishes, only use for crew and galley dishes
● Get Rid of Mold: Mold growth makes old books, photographs and other stored items smell musty. Get rid of both the odour and the cause, excess moisture, by sealing the items in an airtight container with a large, open tub of baking soda. You can also sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the items and brush it off.
● Remove oil, grease and wine stains: Sometimes, scrubbing a stain just makes it worse. Let baking soda do most of the work. Sprinkle it on, let it sit and it will lift much of the offending substance from the surface. Brush it off and then rub the area with a paste of baking soda and water if necessary. This baking soda cleaning trick will remove oil stains from certain fabrics, and can save carpets and couches from permanent splotches of spilled red wine.
● Keep your refrigerators smelling great: This is the most common usage. Just place an open box in the door. Bad smells are neutralized.
● Deodorize sinks and trash cans: For the sink, pour half a cup down the drain while running warm water. For the trash, sprinkle some on the bottom of your trash can and in your trash occasionally.
Natural way to clean your Garbarator on board:
Here’s what you need:
● ½ cup lemon juice
● ½ cup baking soda
Heat lemon juice in microwave for 30 seconds. Add baking soda slowly (it will bubble) and mix well. Turn on the disposal and pour down the drain. Turn on hottest water for a few seconds to rinse away any mix remaining in the sink or the bowl. Use weekly. If disposal still has a bad odour, repeat.
Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound. In its pure form, it is a pale blue, clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. Hydrogen peroxide should really be called oxygen water, since it is basically the same chemical make up as water but with an extra oxygen atom (H2O2). Because of this it breaks down quickly and harmlessly into oxygen and water.
Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide (a compound with an oxygen–oxygen single bond) and it can be used as an oxidizer, bleaching agent and disinfectant.
Great uses for Hydrogen Peroxide:
It wasn't until recently, after doing some in-depth research on the subject, that I came to realize what a “miracle substance” hydrogen peroxide really is! It is safe for humans and the environment, it's readily available, it's cheap and, best of all, it WORKS!
● Wash vegetables and fruits with hydrogen peroxide to remove dirt and pesticides. Add ¼ cup of H2O2 to a sink of cold water. After washing, rinse thoroughly with cool water.
● In the dishwasher, add 2 oz. to your regular detergent for a sanitizing boost. Also, beef up your regular dish soap by adding roughly 2 ounces of 3% H2O2 to the bottle.
● Use baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to make a paste for brushing teeth. Helps with early stages of gingivitis as it kills bacteria. Mixed with salt and baking soda, hydrogen peroxide works as a whitening toothpaste.
● Soak your cleaning brushes in hydrogen peroxide between uses to keep them clean and prevent the transfer of germs.
● Clean your cutting board and counter top in the galley and crew mess. Let everything bubble for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse clean. (I’ve been using this a LOT lately!)
● Wipe out your refrigerator and dishwasher. Because it’s non-toxic, it’s great for cleaning places that store food and dishes.
● Clean your sponges. Soak them for 10 minutes in a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and warm water in a shallow dish. Rinse the sponges thoroughly afterward.
● Remove baked-on crud from pots and pans. Combine hydrogen peroxide with enough baking soda to make a paste, then rub onto the dirty pan and let it sit for a while. Come back later with a scrubby sponge and some warm water, and the baked-on stains will lift right off.
● Clean the toilet bowl. Pour half a cup of hydrogen peroxide into the toilet bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, then scrub clean.
● Remove stains from clothing, curtains, and tablecloths. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a pre-treater for stains — just soak the stain for a little while in 3% hydrogen peroxide before tossing into the laundry. You can also add a cup of peroxide to a regular load of whites to boost brightness. It’s a green alternative to bleach, and works just as well. Please ensure however, that the fabric you are cleaning will not be damaged when using hydrogen peroxide and washing in a washing machine.
● Brighten dingy floors. Combine half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one gallon of hot water, then go to town on your flooring. Because it’s so mild, it’s safe for any floor type, and there’s no need to rinse.
● Help out your plants. To ward off fungus, add a little hydrogen peroxide to your spray bottle the next time you’re spritzing plants.
● Hydrogen peroxide helps to sprout seeds for new plantings. Use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution once a day and spritz the seed every time you re-moisten. You can also use a mixture of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 32 parts water to improve your plants’ root.
● Remove yellowing from lace curtains or tablecloths. Fill a sink with cold water and 2 cups of 3% hydrogen peroxide. Soak for at least an hour, rinse in cold water and air dry.
● Spray down the crew shower with hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria and viruses.
● Use 1 pint of 3% hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of water to clean humidifiers and steamers.
● Wash shower curtains with hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew and soap scum. Place curtains in machine with a bath towel and your regular detergent. Add 1 cup full strength 3% hydrogen peroxide to the rinse cycle.
● Use for towels that have become musty smelling. ½ cup peroxide and ½ cup vinegar let stand for 15 minutes wash as normal. Gets rid of the smell.
● Use hydrogen peroxide to control fungi present in aquariums on board. Don’t worry; it won’t hurt your fish. Use sparingly for this purpose.
● Remove stains from clothing: You know those gross, yellow underarm stains on your white crew t-shirts? Don’t lie, everyone gets them. Banish your unsightly stains by soaking them in hydrogen peroxide before the wash.
● Get pesticides off food: To get dirt and chemicals off your fruits, add ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide to a sink of cold water. Make sure to rinse your veggies in just cold fresh water afterwards.
● Clean musty towels: Everyone has those perfectly good towels that have acquired that gross, musty smell. Don’t throw them away! Add ½ cup of peroxide and ½ cup of vinegar to your wash, let the towels sit in the solution for 15 minutes, then clean as usual for lovely smelling towels.
General Green Cleaning Replacements
Here is a handy quick reference guide to keep in the laundry room:
|Baking Soda with White Vinegar:||Unclogs drain and whitens laundry|
|Lemon:||Whitens laundry when added to detergent|
|Lemon & Baking Soda:||Clean white porcelain sinks, tubs & toilets|
|White Vinegar:||Add to rinse cycle to soften clothes and remove soap residue|
|White Distilled Vinegar:||Cleans & whitens - safe on windows and wooden floors|
I hope you find these tips useful. Please comment below to let us know how you got on!
About the Author:
Isobel Odendaal has worked in yachting and luxury hospitality for over 20 years. In 2008 she left her job as Chief Stewardess to set up Super Yachting South Africa, the leading training company in South Africa and the only accredited provider of GUEST courses in the country.
Photo credits: Products in washing-up bowl, Nick Youngsen via Alpha Stock Images CC BY SA 3.0; cutlery, Pixabay; lemons, Pexels via Pixabay; baking soda, aqua.mech on Flickr CC BY 2.0; glass bottles pixnio; glasses, Pixabay.