Best cleaners are simple and easy to make

Jan 16, 2017 by Alene Keenan

Last month, I discussed various cleaning products found on yachts, and the importance of taking precautions with strong chemicals. Using the proper dilution strength and tools, and knowing which surfaces products are intended for, are crucial to working safely.

I grew up using basic soaps and homemade cleaning products along with chemical cleaners, scouring powders, window sprays, and polishes. There are many “new” and “improved” formulations of those products on the shelves today. As a former biochemistry major, I wondered about all of the changes. As it turns out, more than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in foods, personal care items, drugs, household cleaners, and lawn care products. The number grows by about 2,000 each year.

Relatively few chemicals are thought to pose significant risk to humans, but we can’t assume that common household cleaners are safe just because they are easily available. Most are not required to provide information about long-term toxicity, yet still are harmful to the lungs, central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

Aerosol sprays contain propellants that linger in the air. Chemical scents are toxic to humans and pets. Some fabric softeners and antibacterial cleaners make people susceptible to developing asthma. And whether these products are rinsed into the drain or the grey water tank, they eventually go into the water to cause damage to the ecosystem.

I have developed sensitivity to certain cleaning products, and my view on household cleaning products has changed. I’m starting the New Year off by cutting down on health risks and making my own formulas. Here are some of my favorites.


The basic recipe for an all-purpose mild soap-and-water cleaner for wood, marble or stone is 1/2 teaspoon of pH-neutral unscented dishwashing liquid (the white kind) and 2 cups warm water.

Mix gently to keep the bubbles down. Sponge over the hard surface. Rinse completely to remove any soap residue. Buff with a soft cloth. Do not let these surfaces air-dry.

This cleaner can also be used in a spray bottle and applied to a cleaning cloth.

It works great for cleaning hard surfaces in the galley, heads, hallways and most furniture. If residue remains, reduce the amount of dish liquid.

For streak-free glass, add half a cup white vinegar to 2 cups water, add a quarter cup rubbing alcohol (70 percent concentration) or vodka (safer for your skin), and add 1 to 2 drops of a citrus essential oil.

In the galley

The best cleaner for a cutting board is to pour coarse salt onto the board and scrub with half a lemon, cut side down. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then rinse and dry. Then cut up the rind and drop it into the garbage disposal to freshen that, if the engineer says it’s OK.

To clean the microwave, pour a cup of water into a microwaveable bowl or measuring cup. Cut one lemon in half, squeeze the juice into the water and drop both lemon halves in. Microwave on high for 3 minutes so the water boils. Let the bowl sit inside the closed microwave for 3-5 minutes so the steam can loosen the gunk. Then just wipe with a clean cloth.

For the garbage disposal, pour half a cup of baking soda and 1 cup of white vinegar down the drain. Let it bubble and fizzle while a kettle of water boils. Pour boiling water down the drain.

To clean inside the refrigerator (or any similar surface), use a solution of one part water and one part vinegar. (This works great on wood, too. Just be sure to dry it off after cleaning.) For a more delicate version, use just 2 tablespoons of vinegar to two cups water.

Cleaning products for onboard.


For a great basic disinfectant, mix one part water to one part rubbing alcohol or inexpensive vodka. Decant into a spray bottle. Spray onto cloth (not on surface).

Use this to disinfect after cleaning a hard surface, especially points of contact such as door knobs and light switches, cutting boards, bathrooms, etc. It also works great on stainless steel.

For a non-toxic disinfectant, mix 3 tablespoons liquid castile soap or 2 tablespoons mild dish soap with 2 cups water and 30 drops tea tree oil. Mix together in a spray bottle.

To get soap residue and scum off tubs, tile and glass, mix one part vinegar to one part dish liquid. Spray, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then start to clean. It works best if you can spray to rinse it off.

This can also be used in the toilet if the engineer says it’s OK.

For a mild abrasive cleaner, mix 2 tablespoons baking soda to 2 cups water.


The best stain remover I know is one I make myself. Take two parts hydrogen peroxide and mix with one part dish liquid. It’s way safer than chlorine bleach, but hydrogen peroxide still may discolor, depending on the fabric or treatment. Test the remover in an inconspicuous area of the fabric first. If it’s OK, spray on the stain, rub it in, and rinse it out. It can also be used as a pre-treatment for stains.

Those are a few of my favorite tried-and-true recipes. They are gentle, safe and work well for basic cleaning and upkeep of most luxury surfaces onboard. Do yourself a favor and resolve to work smarter, not harder, this year. And stay safe by using the mildest protects to protect yourself all year.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at Comments are welcome at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

View all posts by Alene Keenan →