Bleach is the cheapest and most-available disinfectant you can use in the galley (or ashore, for that matter). It’s great for keeping your counters, cutting boards and other hard surfaces germ-free (I’ll write a separate article on using bleach in your water tank).
Before I go into details (below), a couple of notes:
- NEVER use bleach on any aluminum surfaces.
- Be careful: bleach will instantly take the color out of fabrics and, undiluted, can even eat right through fabrics.
- Before using the bleach solution on anything other than a white surface, use a tiny bit on a concealed spot to make sure it won’t remove the color. I haven’t had a problem with the 10% solution described below, but I’m sure there are some materials that it will take color out of.
- If you’re using bleach ashore, try not to put it down the drain if you’re on a septic system. It can kill all the bacteria in the septic tank that are necessary for breaking down the waste.
Using Bleach in a Spray Bottle
Keeping bleach solution in a spray bottle makes it really easy to just grab and use it throughout the day. I use it on counters and cutting boards every time I wipe them down. Just spray a little, then wipe with a rag. It will kill virtually all germs.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend using a 10% bleach solution for disinfecting purposes. That means 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, or
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) bleach mixed with 1-1/8 cups of water
Don’t use full strength bleach — it’s way too caustic and emits nasty fumes.
You can use any type of liquid bleach for this — the ones with fancy scents will lessen the bleach smell, but the plain bleach is cheaper and you can use it in your water tank as well (NEVER use scented bleaches in the water tank). And the bleach smell goes away in just a few minutes unless you really go overboard on spraying!
Get a small spray bottle for this — the solution is only good 24 hours (thanks, Diane, who corrected me on this!), so you don’t want to mix up a lot at once. If you can’t smell the bleach, it’s time to discard the solution and mix up a fresh batch.
Bleach loses its disinfecting power with exposure to sunlight, heat and evaporation — while you can’t do anything about the heat, you DO want to protect it from sunlight (any type of spray bottle will also stop the evaporation).
If you can’t find an opaque spray bottle, the easiest thing to do is cut the top off a sock and slip it around the spray bottle. You could coordinate the color with your galley, although little drips may make spots . . . so I just use white.Be careful using a bottle that’s been used for something else — bleach reacts with lots of different things and can put out nasty fumes. If you re-use a bottle from something else (particularly if it had ammonia or vinegar in it) be sure it is VERY WELL rinsed out, including the spray nozzle. Never mix bleach with anything other than water.
The heat and humidity aboard a boat makes it easy for germs to multiply. And while you never want to get sick, it’s even worse if you’re a day (or more) from medical care. A few quick sprays of bleach water can go a long ways towards keeping everyone on board healthy.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget surfaces that pets may come in contact with. They are just as susceptible to many germs as you are. Whenever I refill Paz’s food and water, I give her dish a quick spritz of solution, let it sit a minute in the sink to do its work, then rinse it and wipe it out.