Tips for disinfecting any hard surface with bleach -- the correct solution, some things not to do, and other helpful info.

Disinfecting With Bleach

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.

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  • Bruce Bibee
    Posted at 22 August 2011 Reply

    On the 1:10 dilution instructions, what is the starting strength of the commercial bleach solution? Is this a standard worldwide? Here in the Philippines it seems that many things are diluted to make better profits for the seller so it would be useful to know what the ‘standard’ is. Note that I am assuming that we are referencing a solution as you mentioned ‘Clorox’ (possibly ‘Zonrox’ here) and not a dry powder that one is converting into a solution. I am sure that my dearly departed wife would have known this, but I never had deal with such things having been well taken care of. One would think that the powder would be better for storage as one would not be storing all the water and it could be made as needed. Is this the same stuff one gets in bulk for swimming pools (never had a pool but friends bought some kind of chlorine powder in bulk for their pools)?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 23 August 2011 Reply

      Bruce —

      The 1:10 refers to starting with standard liquid laundry bleach, no scent. It’s pretty much the same strength all over the world — I’ve bought it in North, Central and South America and Africa and it’s always been just about the same.

      I’ll have to get back to you on what strength it is, and how you’d use powder bleach or bleach tablets (pool chlorine).

      UPDATE: Standard liquid laundry bleach is 6% here in the US.

      If you want to use chlorine “powder” (the pool company I talked to said that the tablets can be used, but have to be crushed and it’s a pain to do it) to make bleach, you have to start with calcium “hypochlorite” and not “sodium.”

      The US EPA then gives the following formula for making standard laundry bleach, which you could then further dilute for a disinfecting spray:

      “Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately 1/4 ounce) for each two gallons of water.”

      For those not from the US, one teaspoon is equal to 5 ml.

      But be careful with the powder — the fumes are quite caustic and you have to be careful to avoid inhaling them.

  • Diane Dashevsky
    Posted at 23 August 2011 Reply

    Just a small correction to your article…we used to use bleach/water (same mix ratio) as a disinfectant when I had my exotic bird store…according to the manufacturers, the bleach/water solution will only “be good” for 24 hrs – so we mixed it daily as needed. I realize that means you usually have quite a bit of waste when you empty a nearly full spray bottle…but bleach generally is inexpensive and you use so little in the mixture. I’d rather toss it when done rather than have it not do the “disinfecting” job!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 23 August 2011 Reply

      Thanks for adding that — I’ll correct it in the article! (UPDATE: It’s been changed in the article above).

  • Brittany and Scott
    Posted at 21 January 2012 Reply

    Amen on the bleach!! I am also a big fan of a bleach solution in a spray bottle and use it to clean everything!! Also have a vinegar mixture in a different spray bottle to clean as well. Good stuff Carolyn! 🙂

  • MaryJo Boyle
    Posted at 21 January 2012 Reply

    Hi Carolyn,
    I have gunk in my galley drain and I suspect there’s more of it farther down where I can’t see, possibly building up in the pipes.
    Do you have any suggestions as to how to clean that out?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 21 January 2012 Reply

      Got a bunch of ideas for you — see Slow or Stopped Galley Drain for the full article — but the number one thing to do is pour boiling water down the drain. It’s amazing how much gunk that will take care of!

      If there’s still gunk, the soda/vinegar trick will usually clean it out. Be sure to press down on rags over the top so that all that great foaming action goes DOWN the drain where it will clean the gunk out.

      Good luck!


  • Candy Ann Williams on Facebook
    Posted at 21 January 2012 Reply

    I love Clorox. To me nothing smells better than putting on a freshly laundered white t-shirt that has been cloroxed or crawling between fresh clean and bleached sheets. 🙂 If I could I would beach everything-LOL!

  • Candy Ann Williams on Facebook
    Posted at 19 June 2012 Reply

    My husband just got the coolest plant mister (green that goes with our boat) and he was asking me how much Clorox he should put in the water so he could mist the drain board, cutting boards, etc. ….again Carolyn to the rescue! Thanks for your tips!

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 19 June 2012 Reply

    Great minds . . .

  • Candy Ann Williams on Facebook
    Posted at 19 June 2012 Reply


  • David and Alex
    Posted at 05 February 2013 Reply

    great info, thanks for posting. I always wondered how to use it, diluted, on a “daily” basis without accidentally harming either the fabric or my lungs.

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

    i was surprised when we got our new Raritan elegance toilets, instructions said to never put bleach in them. guess it could eat the rubber seals or something.

    • Helen
      Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

      Bleach is highly corrosive. Vinegar is a great cleaner and safer for the environment.

      • Carolyn Shearlock
        Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

        Vinegar is wonderful for cleaning and I use it all the time. However, anything that I’ve read says that it does not disinfect — that is, kill germs that cause food-borne illness nearly as well as a bleach solution. Yes, it will kill some germs, but not nearly as many as bleach. So when it comes to things like a cutting board that’s been used to cut meat or chicken, I’ll spray and wipe it down with a bleach solution.

  • Behan Gifford
    Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

    Bleach is cheap, and it does disinfect, but it is also a terrible thing to put overboard. It would be nice if the article mentioned that a responsible boater could look into a lot of alternatives for the job first (alternatives that will probably work fine, if requiring a touch more elbow grease or maybe not being quite as cheap?) before reaching for the bleach. The only “downside” mentioned is damage from overspray, but really there’s a much bigger problem!

  • Mike Little
    Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

    I would check out a product called StarSan. It’s a food grade sanitizer (safe for consuming and great for fresh water holding tanks and toilets) and completely natural and eco-safe!

  • Becky
    Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

    I’m confused….if bleach comes at 6%, and we dilute it 10%….do we dilute it 4%?
    –and, if adding it to water makes it last only 24 hrs….. if it comes diluted already, why doesn’t THAT last only 34 hours?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

      Maybe I wasn’t clear — you use 10% of the 6% bleach solution, to make a solution that is 0.6%. And at that lower concentration, it dissipates much more quickly. Plus the bleach from the store is in a lightproof and air-proof container, whereas the very act of spraying some of the diluted bleach solution puts fresh air into the bottle, which makes it dissipate just that much faster.

  • Kim Zimmer
    Posted at 23 September 2014 Reply

    does the vinegar cleaning solution degrade over time like the bleach solution?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 23 September 2014 Reply

      Nope, not that I’ve noticed. Although I don’t dilute vinegar as much — maybe 50/50 with water (I don’t measure, just guesstimate).

  • CherylAnn Falconer
    Posted at 24 September 2014 Reply

    My cleaning cupboard only has 3 Natural products, 1. Tea Tree Oil= disinfectant, cleaner, Super Mold killer. 2. Citra Solve= powerful cleaner. 3.Marine Digest It = for the heads. All are natural cleaners, kind to your environment and smell amazing. They are cost effective as they can be diluted to what ever strength you like.

  • Sonny Dyle
    Posted at 24 September 2014 Reply

    Check out “pool shock” for long term emergency use. One small bag will purify thousands of gallons of water and will store indefinitely .

  • Sharon
    Posted at 30 September 2016 Reply

    I’m concerned about putting bleach in the river. Wouldn’t peroxide be safer for marine life?


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