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I suspect as a public policy, the fish are a failure. It is difficult for the average American to comprehend the connection between his driveway and a river nearly a mile away.
Living on the boat, it is considerably more difficult to ignore the connection between drain and fish. For one thing, every morning you can watch the toothpaste spit emerge from a thru hull and dribble down the side of your boat to float in lily pads of minty fresh goodness. Scrubbing down the boat during an average boring passage produces a wake of cheerfully bobbing soap bubbles while dishwashing at anchor results in a bathtub ring of food particles and bacon grease adhering to your hull like the ghosts of dinners past.
So guilt alone drove the family to consider how we could clean things without killing fish. Ultimately, it comes down to that old saw, “The solution to pollution is dilution.”
Dilute Everything – There is not a single soap product distributed anywhere that is not packaged in solutions that are a minimum of ten times stronger than required to do the job. Now the environmentally friendly packages such as Seventh Generation and Simple Green explicitly tell you this. It turns out, though, that the 1:10 ratio works for everything from window cleaner to hair conditioner.
In fact, there are products you can dilute at an even higher ratio. Ivory dish soap, for example, can be diluted in a ratio of roughly 1:30. We put about a half ounce in the bottom of a small bottle and fill it up with fresh water, returning the “source” to the storage locker.
Use Less – Even diluted, you are still using too much. Whenever you can, don't put the soap in water. Don't put it in a bucket or a sink. Instead, apply the soap directly to either the item being scrubbed or a scrubbing device. That little bottle of diluted dish soap lasts us for nearly two weeks through the simple expedient of never putting the soap on either the dishes or in the sink water. We apply it the sponge and can generally make it through an entire meal's worth of dishes with two small applications.
Use Something Else – Very dilute vinegar is a great cleanser. Salt water is surprisingly cleanifying. Elbow grease and fresh water do wonders.
Warm the Water – I have no idea why, but soaps like warm water. You probably know that dish soap positively FOAMS when it hits hot water. However, the same is true of shampoo, laundry soap, and toothpaste. It's hard to get used to brushing with warm water, but you can get much cleaner teeth with much less paste if you do so. For shampoo, foam it up in your hands with hot water before slapping it on your head.
Make Your Own – For Winter Solstice this year, Dr C made soap for all the ladies in his life. From this exercise, we learned a few very valuable things:
- Soap is easy to make.
- Triple the quantity of fragrance you think you need.
- Homemade soap is better for the environment than the store bought stuff since it's made of essential oil, lye, olive oil, and lard. That's it.
- The stuff feels absolutely great on the skin.
Do Without – There are a lot of things we clean in the Real World which just stay dirty on the boat. It turns out that disinfecting everything is probably doing more harm than good in any case, creating nasty antibiotic- and disinfectant-resistant bacteria. There is no fear of that on our boat. I can't think of a single sanitary item on the entire vessel.
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I think everyone should live for a week watching their every effluent, body fluid, and ounce of waste water float behind their home in sludgy, gray pools. It would take a very hard hearted or extraordinarily stupid person to fail get the hint. Soap is not good; it blows bubbles.