Where Is All This Dirt Coming From?

Every day, I vacuum the floors and a bunch of other surfaces in Barefoot Gal. Sometimes twice a day.

And a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Belinda on Rickshaw, a DeFever 46 with a number of high gloss varnished surfaces. She complained about how she was always having to dust them — and it seemed that more dust would settle before she even finished!

What gives? Are we suddenly more sensitive to dust and dirt when we’re on the boat?

I don’t think so. I think it’s just that most of us have gotten used to living with air conditioning, where the outside air gets filtered. Until I was 18, I lived without air conditioning — just windows wide open. And the house was dustier in the summer than winter. That’s just the way it was.

On the boat, the windows (aka hatches and ports) are almost always wide open — usually without even a screen to keep some of the dirt out. That accounts for a lot of dust.

Another reason for more dust, I think, is that we tend to walk more when we’re ashore. And dust and sand ends up on our feet, legs and clothing — not to mention the dog — and then get tracked onto the boat.

And finally, well, there’s a lot less living space. Our house was small by most people’s standards at 750 square feet. But our living space on the boat is about half that. And that means that the dust we track in plus all that fun stuff like the dead skin cells we shed and hair that falls out gets concentrated in that smaller space.

End result? Living on a boat is a lot dustier and dirtier than most of our houses. And while I make reasonable efforts to keep the boat clean, I’m not going to drive myself nuts with trying to always have the boat spotless. It’s a losing battle and besides, there’s too much fun stuff to do!

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39 Comments
  • Ann Chris Robinson
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Household dust is about 90% shed skin cells – a small environment like a boat will have a higher concentration

  • Sylvia
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    It does get dusty! What are your thoughts on your Ryobi? Would you buy another one?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      We love the Ryobi. We had one at the house and liked it so well that we bought another for the boat. No rotating brush (Dave would prefer if it did, I like it as is) but it has good power and is easy to clean. While it’s not wet/dry, if you do happen to suck a bit of water up you can clean it out (sort of a mess but it didn’t kill the vacuum). It runs MUCH better with the (expensive) lithium batteries — we prefer them in the tools too, so just swap batteries around rather than have a bunch of them. BIG NOTE: If using an inverter to charge the batteries, it must be TRUE SINE WAVE not modified. Our 150-watt one that plugs into a cigarette lighter is big enough for the charger.

  • Sylvia Ekedahl Waldsmith
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    The boat does get dusty! How do you like your Ryobi? Would you buy another one? What other kinds of vacuum are other people using?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      Love the Ryobi — see the longer answer I gave to Carole Erdman Grant

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      We love the Ryobi. We had one at the house and liked it so well that we bought another for the boat. No rotating brush (Dave would prefer if it did, I like it as is) but it has good power and is easy to clean. Since it’s powered by the same batteries Ryobi uses for tools, they hold a charge well — especially the lithium ones. While it’s not wet/dry, if you do happen to suck a bit of water up you can clean it out (sort of a mess but it didn’t kill the vacuum). It has a LOT more suction with the (expensive) lithium batteries — we prefer them in the tools too, so just swap batteries around rather than have a bunch of them. BIG NOTE: If using an inverter to charge the batteries, it must be TRUE SINE WAVE not modified. Our 150-watt one that plugs into a cigarette lighter is big enough for the charger. Here’s a post with reader’s recommendations of vacs that work well for them — it’s what convinced us to by the first Ryobi (great if you already have the Ryobi batteries, can be expensive otherwise): http://theboatgalley.com/vacuum-recommendations/

    • Belinda Wolfe
      Posted at 25 March 2015 Reply

      I like my handheld recharable Shark with a roller brush!

  • Diana K Weigel
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Mystery solved!

  • Carole Erdman Grant
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    ….and I am interested in a recommendation of a hand-held vacuum that actually works and whose batteries hold a charge………. just for small jobs, nothing major

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      We love the Ryobi. We had one at the house and liked it so well that we bought another for the boat. No rotating brush (Dave would prefer if it did, I like it as is) but it has good power and is easy to clean. Since it’s powered by the same batteries Ryobi uses for tools, they hold a charge well — especially the lithium ones. While it’s not wet/dry, if you do happen to suck a bit of water up you can clean it out (sort of a mess but it didn’t kill the vacuum). It has a LOT more suction with the (expensive) lithium batteries — we prefer them in the tools too, so just swap batteries around rather than have a bunch of them. BIG NOTE: If using an inverter to charge the batteries, it must be TRUE SINE WAVE not modified. Our 150-watt one that plugs into a cigarette lighter is big enough for the charger. Here’s a post with reader’s recommendations of vacs that work well for them — it’s what convinced us to by the first Ryobi (great if you already have the Ryobi batteries, can be expensive otherwise):http://theboatgalley.com/vacuum-recommendations/

  • Dawn Miller
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Mystery solved. Thank you

  • Maje Brennan
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Our boat gets dusty and dirty as well. I’m tempted to take a picture when I finish cleaning just to prove I’d done it. I’m not sure about your reasoning though. I’ve lived without air conditioning for years. Part of that time was in a small German apartment, not much larger than my boat. As on the boat, I had one each, dog, cat, and husband. When the husband was gone on business, I had less dirt.

  • Rick Swirtz
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Barbara Pastore the answer to your frustrations

  • Rick Swirtz
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    I use a shop vac, it doubles for other chores such as sucking up wet stuff. Plus it is great for filters, crevices, and the floor.

  • Mark Platt
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Since most household dust is actually dead skin cells it would seem that when showering one might need a loufa, and also some lotion. I know a lot of cruisers are a bit lax in the showering department, mostly due to a lack of freshwater, so this would seem to be another “pro” in the list of pros and cons for water makers…

    Another option would be a small cabin air filtration system for the boat. This one from Dometic should help with dust and also reduces airborne bacteria and virus by up to 99%, and eliminates a lot of the odors in the boat.

    Another product with good reviews (though not cheap) is the Arid Bilge system. It is supposed to keep the bilges completely dry and prevent funkiness.

    http://www.dometic.com/USA/MS-11346-Marine/PG-11363-Breathe-Easy-Air-Purifiers/MD-143277-Breathe-Easy-Portable-Air-Purifier/SK-143441-Breathe-Easy-Portable-Air-Purifier

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      I’m not sure how much good an air purifier would do since we keep all the hatches ports and doors open. Also, I doubt we have the electricity for it when away from the dock . . . and we spend very little time at the dock.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      Specs say it draws half an amp on DC, so it’d be 12 AH a day. Possibly doable . . . but it does need to be an enclosed space and that’s a real problem on a boat.

    • Mark Platt
      Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

      The draw is under 7 watts, so power should not be a concern. The filtration would help, but you could be right that constant air flow through the boat might be a challenge.

  • Dawn Lotti
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Thank you…I thought it was just us. The dust is everywhere!!!

  • Marge Cunningham
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    Will be moving aboard in a month or so. My husband & I are just starting to look for a vacuum. We have 3 cats & lots if fur bunnies from these girls. Maybe u should gather the fur & turn into yarn & knit something. Haha

  • Donna Chiappini
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    I can’t handle a lot of dust due to allergies. I don’t know what I would do without Swiffer. I buy a large box at Costco and replace the box with a large zip lock bag. Easy to store. I have the extender handle for tight spaces. Saves my back. I consider this a must have on our boat.

  • Ron Newton
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    I vacuum every day, with my Aussie onboard or not the container is always full of hair or fur.

  • Chuck Burns
    Posted at 24 March 2015 Reply

    You may also be getting dust that is being blown over the Caribbean from the Sahara…

  • Tom Geren
    Posted at 26 March 2015 Reply

    I’m not much of a housekeeper but late-in-life allergies are forcing me into it. HEPA filters are available for Shop Vacs, among others. Without these, a lot of tiny debris is pumped back into the environment, I read.

  • Susie
    Posted at 26 March 2015 Reply

    Apart from vacuuming a microfibre dusting glove with “noodles” is a great way to pick up the dust. We are temporarily living in hot and humid Singapore where AC costs are high so we do as the locals do which is to say have all the doors and windows open all day. Needless to say in the middle of the city we get a lot of dust and dirt. My best friend is now a yellow hedgehog glove or mitt picked up cheaply in a $2 store here. Every couple of days I simply wipe over the furniture, books and TV, it takes just a few minutes to go around our two bed apartment and things look pristine again… a small place to pay for being in such a wonderful city! Amazon have loads of similar products (http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=microfibre+cleaning+gloves&tag=googhydr-21&index=aps&hvadid=51681261526&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=3319205549273308197&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_7skmmjryo8_b).

  • Mark Burrows
    Posted at 27 March 2015 Reply

    Dirt? okay, I have a question, I have a Catalina 36, 1986
    So I have what looks like dirt in the bilge water. Only about a month or so ago, I flushed the bilge area with the hose while changing the bilge pump switch to a electronic switch.
    And Wednesday night before the beer cans started, I looked in the bilge and see at the forward end of the area, it has what looks like black dirt? Each time in the past when I have flushed the bilges to clean the area, I can’t seem to figure were this stuff comes from.

    Mark

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 27 March 2015 Reply

      Any dirt in the boat tends to try to make its way to the bilge area but what you are seeing could also be a bit of mold or mildew since the bilge areas tend to be dark and moist.

  • Liz Aloha
    Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

    I wonder…houses don’t have headliner on the ceiling. Our 25-year-old boat does have headliner, though, and the foam backing has disintegrated. I know the foam backing has turned to dust because when I open the headliner up to do a wiring job or access something hidden beneath it, it rains down an avalanche of dust and I have to stick the vaccuum up inside the headliner before I can continue.

    I have wondered for years if part of our distiness problem is a fine “rain” of dust from that worn out foam backing making its way slowly through the headliner. I’d like to change the headliner, but dread the job.

    Do you think, on older boats, that’s where part of the dust could be coming from? Our boat is dustier inside than outside!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

      That could definitely be a problem. Our boat just has fiberglass (gelcoat) ceilings though and we still get more dirt than I’d believe!

  • Allen Kennedy
    Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

    Sahara Dust.

  • Annie Lindsay
    Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

    RVer’s have the same issue ie the same size pile of dirt after sweeping as you get in a house. Commonsense really – same amount just concentrated into a tiny area so appears to be more.

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

    I agree, where does it come from? Don’t forget the Sahara dust. That’s a biggie.

  • Robert Sayles
    Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

    That is not shocking to me as in the Navy, crossing the pacific, in the middle of the ocean we had to clean as much as we did on shore.

  • Pacific NW Boater
    Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

    Add in a cat and litter box, and you get even MORE dust in a liveaboard boat!

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

      A dog that sheds will up the stuff you’re vacuuming, too! Paz doesn’t shed, but we have to cut her hair every 10 days to 2 weeks . . . and that’s a mess.

    • Denali Rose Sailboat
      Posted at 29 March 2016 Reply

      We use the “Breeze system” for the cat box, no dust, no mess, however, the cat hair, that’s another issue…..

  • Page Escallier
    Posted at 30 March 2016 Reply

    Yes! I hear you! We have a cat and a Yellow Lab (which sheds like crazy). I have resigned to a daily quick sweep, weekly vacuum & quick dusting of major surfaces, with a monthly wipe down of everything else…sometimes I feel like I just have to turn a blind eye…

  • Connie Smith
    Posted at 30 March 2016 Reply

    God bless you.

  • Elizabeth Taylor
    Posted at 30 March 2016 Reply

    At least the vacuuming only takes 5 minutes compare it to the time it would take to do a house & you will realise why we love living on boats. I wash my kitchen floor every day but that takes less than a minute yahoo

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