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How do I clean up a stinky water tank?

2010 September 7
Dear Boat Doctor,
I continue to have problems with the foul tank water aboard my boat. I have added bleach to the system several times. It cleans things up, but the smell comes back in a few weeks. Do you have any ideas on how to solve this problem?
Doug Dust
Coral Gables, Florida

Dear Doug,
If the water system fouls quickly after cleaning, it is either not clean enough or it is getting recontaminated. I am assuming that you are shocking the water system correctly. I like to use a cup of bleach per 10 gallons of tank capacity, and I let the bleach sit in the water at least 12 hours. After 12 hours I flush the tank with clean water, and then re-fill with clean water.

It is possible that the water you are filling your tanks with is contaminated, but this is unlikely. It is more likely that some debris is getting into the system. A common way for debris to enter the system is via the deck fill plate; any dirt on the deck can easily leak into the deck fill via a bad seal. The seal on a deck plate is a simple O-ring, but these can compress to the point they don't seal or can be lost altogether.

Deck plate O-rings are inexpensive and simple to replace. A standard 1-1/2-inch deck plate takes an O-ring with the following specs: 1-7/8-inch o.d., 1-11/16-inch i.d. and a 3/32-inch wall thickness. You should be able to find them for less than a dollar at any well-stocked hardware store.