My Boat Smells Musty! [Why & How to Fix Boat Odors]

Boat odor is probably an issue you might have to deal with if you’ve kept your boat under sloppy conditions, locked up in your garage.

If you own a boat, you’re most likely to reside in coastal regions, where the weather is humid more than half of the time. Tropical areas are more prone to growing mildew as well, especially in enclosed spaces, where there is little to no ventilation.

There are many reasons why your boat may start to smell a little funky.

Although, being safe than sorry is a good habit, sometimes if you’re not educated on boats, it happens anyway. Here are a few tips on getting rid of boat odor.


Airing it out is an important step to keeping your boat fresh and not smelling musty.

Taking your boat out to sea and then bringing it back and keeping it in a sheltered area is a very unhealthy way of preserving your boat. Especially if you know that you won’t be taking it out any time soon.

Before storing it, leave it exposed to fresh air and let it completely dry out, expose it to the sun and let the water evaporate completely before keeping it inside.

Check for any sort of leak or damage that may be causing the boat to retain water, fix the damage before locking your boat up.

Clean your boat up after taking it out to avoid any seawater smell.

If your boat has any sort of cloth material in it, remove it and dry clean it before putting your boat back. Sometimes the cloth may also be steam cleaned, especially in the case of carpeting, air dry your carpet it before laying it on the base of your boat.

If you’re storing your boat in a cabin, use chlorine dioxide gas treatment to clean up the space that you are loading your boat in, for the best possible safeguarding.

Freshen your holding tank

After bringing your boat back from bay, flush out your holding tank. A holding tank is the part of your boat that holds wastewater and sewage that may have accidentally found its way on your boat. Pump out the holding tank and treat it with the appropriate treating fluid.

Start off by wiping out the inside of your tank with a damp cloth, if the cloth starts to smell after wiping, there is a chance that your hosing is ruined and you might need to replace it.

If there is any stagnant water in the hosing lines, make sure to release it. Sometimes, your lines will retain trash and debris in it, you have to be sure to wash it out and relieve them of any sort of waste substance to keep your boat pleasant, when in storage.

Use the cleaner to thoroughly wipe out the insides of your holding tank and make the smell go away avoid any further mildew development on the surface of your tank.

Another common way is to replace your valve. Finally, spray water into your tank and remove any residue that may have remained.


Another common source of bad smell in your boat is the fuel tank.

Engine rooms can be really easy to clean. Buy a good degreaser from your local shop and use it to get rid of any grease buildup that may be on the surface of your engine.

Grease buildup can look horrendous and smell absolutely disgusting.

There are also chances for a leak in your tank, first clean it and then you will be able to find the damaged spot a lot easily. You have two options that depend entirely on your affordability, if you can afford to fix the leak, amazing, but if you cannot, the second suggestion would be oil absorber sheets, lay the sheets down in the engine and use bilge absorbers for the bilge. You will have to replace the sheets regularly, to avoid any further leakage in your engine room and maintain maximum cleanliness.

You can buy these Oil Absorbent Pads from Amazon by Clicking Here.

You will also have to clean the bilge. The bilge is the outer surface of the ship’s hull where the bottom curves to meet the vertical sides. Clean the bilge using a good cleaner to get rid of any odor and avoid it from getting wet to maintain the freshness of the boat.


Best Pontoon Boat Anchors

The anchor locker and hatchet can be a common source for bad odor.

The line is very prone to get wet and it can easily get covered in vegetation and muck, and it keeps growing over time if kept locked up in storage.

The requirement for cleaning the holder and wiping the interior is mandatory for a good experience on the boat, the next time you use it.

To go for a complete cleaning, use a solution of vinegar and water, and rub it all over the hatches, this will make it easier to remove any gunk and gross pieces of leafy material that may have accidentally gotten stuck on the hooks of your ship.

If the anchor line has gotten stiff, soak it in a tub with fabric softener to help remove anything gross on the line. It will also make the line smell better and feel good to the touch. You should hose off the line and anchor holder thoroughly once you’re done with the cleaning part for an absolute refreshing of the surface interiors of your boat.

Theses may seem like small differences but it positively affects the overall hygiene of your boat.

The toilet

The toilet of your boat can get quite disgusting, the main reason for that could easily be that the flushing mechanism of the toilet is being done by saltwater, obtained from the sea.

Seawater contains residue which can simply get built up inside the channels and hoses of the toilet, the depositing can make the toilet harder to flush, then the calcium deposits lead to complete blockage of the pipes making it impossible to flush, this deposit can emit a disgusting odor that will most likely diffuse into every part of your already small boat.

There is a discharge hose connected to the toilet where the odor has the highest tendency to get trapped, once this happens it becomes incredibly dreadful to use the toilets. In fact, using the toilet becomes completely intolerable. The ultimate solution to this issue is to replace the discharge hose and get a new one.

The solution to avoid this entire mess is to develop a mechanism in your ship that allows you to use freshwater to flush your waste rather than using saltwater, thus, not letting the blockage happen in the first place.

Drink cooler

Your boat’s drink cooler might seem like an unlikely source to have odor develop from, but it does happen more than people can imagine.

Drink coolers are usually used for storing fish and drinks. Fish can be the ultimate reason for odor gathering up inside your coolers.

People like to use a mixture of soap and water to clean out this smell. If the smell is a little stronger use a solution of chlorine with soap and water along with chlorine to remove the strong odor.

Nevertheless, if the odor is really bad, this will not work, in this case, you will need to use an odor treatment chemical solution. You will most likely have to do dilute the solution before using it to avoid erosion. You will let it sit according to what the instructions say, then afterward you use a wet cloth to wipe off the leftover solution.

To avoid the smell altogether, make it routine to plastic bag any smelly foods before storing them in the cooler to hinder any sort of bad odor forming in the first place. Make sure to keep these cleaning instruments inside the boat to be ready for any sort of odor emergency.

The interior

This part of the boat is most unlikely to produce any bad smell, but keeping it neat should be on your list.

Use murphy oil; mix water with the oil as mentioned on the bottle, rub it on the interior wooding to act as a catalyst for any grime, this will weaken the hold of the dirt and grime. Then use a mixture of lemon oil for a further clean and the additional feeling of freshness on your wood. Make sure you get oil that does not contain antiseptic because it will definitely cause the wood to wear out.

If the filth is too strongly stuck to your wood and has turned into a cement-y texture, use a sand block to sand down on the spots that have the buildup. Rub it, nice and strong till the stuff is the same height as the wood’s surface. Then use the lemon oil and rub it over the spot as hard as you can till the muck gets off. If you want a cleaner finish, use treatment solutions to get rid of the oil as well, as any amount of oil is a magnet for dust gatherings.

Getting rid of mold and mildew

Mold is a type of fungus that is the main reason for odor on your boat or within your boat. It can create really unhealthy conditions for the people that may be living on the boat.

Mildew is very similar to mold and it makes a thin and dark layer on any surface that it starts to reside on. They usually form when the boat is left damp and not thoroughly aired out. It is the kind of material that becomes extremely resistant to any sort of weather making it really difficult to get rid of.

It’s common for mildew to grow on boat seats when they haven’t been used for long periods of time. I have a guide on how how to specifically clean vinyl boat seats.

What you can use to reduce dampness inside the boat is controlling the humidity, and you can control humidity with the help of a dehumidifier.

You can find dehumidifiers for relatively cheap on Amazon. I’d recommend this one.

This can be really good even whilst storing the boat as it works best in spaces that are closed off. Another attempt to limit mold growth inside your boat is to manage the air circulation properly. An area that is most likely to be correctly ventilated will allow the inhibition of mildew and mold.

Finally, keep your boat clean, don’t leave food lying around, dust off places that are prone to gathering dust.

Saltwater and freshwater

Saltwater is the enemy of keeping your boat dry. Salt has the ability to retain water wherever it stays lying around. When something in your boat gets wet because of saltwater, make it a point to dry off that space almost immediately and then clear off the salt residue from that location.

Saltwater can cause the growth of mold at a faster rate than freshwater.

Regardless, even if you leave any freshwater lying around on your boat the water will seep into the boat and cause mold and mildew to start forming on the surface.

In bathrooms, after you’re done showering, leave the curtains open to dry off the leftover water droplet, wipe off the water from the floor. Dry off the water heads, leave open the window to let the air circulate. After you wash your clothes, make sure they completely dry off before storing them.

Ozone Generators

Ozone generators are the ideal machine used for cleaning out any bad smells. This will extinguish any musty smells.

Enerzen Ozone Generator 40,000mg Industrial O3 Air Purifier Deodorizer (40,000mg...
  • COMMON USES: Deodorize cars, boats, dumpsters, kitchens, bathrooms,...
  • EASY OPERATION: Turn the timer knob. Leave the space. When ozone...
  • WARNING: All ozone generators are meant to be operated in unoccupied...

They are a natural, Eco-friendly way of getting rid of mold and mildew, that can cause the bad odor to develop in your boats.

The oxidizing power of ozone is nearly 3000 times stronger than any bleach solution. It is the second most powerful oxidant. It will help treat the air inside the boat. It lessens any smoke damage that may be caused by the engine. It helps in reducing any residual food smells.

The best place to use the ozone generator, is the basement because this is the location where air circulation gets to the least.

You can also bring animals onto the boat because of this device because it also helps reduce any bad smell caused by animals. Use it near a ventilation system and it will help work wonders in your boat.

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