How To Clean Your Boat's Freshwater Tank (Plastic & Aluminum)

Cleaning the fresh water tank in your boat is one of the most essential things you should do regularly to ensure smooth sailing. You need safe and clean water onboard to drink, bath, cook and clean. This can only be achieved by maintaining a clean water system. Today, I will guide you step by step on how to clean your freshwater tank, both plastic, and aluminum.

How to clean your boat's freshwater tank:

  • Drain the tank completely
  • Measure 1 teaspoon/gallon of household bleach (aluminum) or vinegar (plastic) into the tank and add fresh water until it’s full
  • Let it sit for 24 hours to sterilize, then drain the water
  • Fill with fresh water and drain repeatedly until all the bleach/vinegar odor is gone

This job should take you anywhere from 5-10 hours.

After this process, your tank should be clean and safe to put in fresh water for use. The problem is that sometimes your tank needs more than this method to be clean. Continue reading to find out how you can leave your tank sparkling clean.

Dirty freshwater tank with black streaks and grass

On this page:

How to ensure the water tank is uncontaminated and squeaky-clean, the freshwater tank refill, filtering and sterilizing the incoming water, related questions.

Sanitizing your fresh water tank will greatly help in removing the strange odor and bad taste of the water onboard. It will greatly reduce the occurrence of coliform bacteria and will ensure the health of everyone onboard.

Fortunately, keeping the water tank in a better condition to provide good-tasting and drinkable water is very easy.

To start with , check if there’s detritus accumulation on the tank. You can do this from the equipped with inspection and cleaning ports on the tank.

To check , put on a sanitary glove and swab inside the tank with your finger. If it’s slimy or emits an odor, your tanks should be cleaned with detergent and sanitized.

If you haven’t cleaned your water tanks properly in a long time, you might find a thick even stubborn crud layer in the bottom.

Even though removing the tank out of the boat and steam-clean it works great, many of the times it’s not practical. For tough cases though, you should probably steam clean them.

Otherwise, you can use the following steps:

  • Empty all the water in the tank
  • Add a few inches of ice cubes in the tank
  • Add a small amount of water for the cubes to slide the bottom of the tank
  • Take the boat in a place with wave action for the cubes to slosh on the bottom of the tank. - The cubes will scrub the bottom as they melt
  • Remove the water filters to avoid the clogging and then flash the tank until everything is clear
  • Make sure you flush with clean water to avoid sanitizing again later

What to Use to Clean Water Tanks?

  • For the first rinse, steam cleaning is the most effective way. If your tank is in bad shape, steam cleaning is the way to go.
  • If you don't have a steam cleaner, use a pressure washer instead.
  • For steel and aluminum tanks , you can use bleach to flush the system.
  • For plastic tanks , you can use vinegar or lemon.
  • You can also get a special Water Tank Flush, which works well, but is more expensive.

This last one works surprisingly well. The organic acids will dissolve any debris. Vinegar, however, won't leave any odors.

Some tips on using bleach

Plastic tanks may retain chlorine flavor, so I'd recommend trying to use vinegar before trying anything else. Also, if you're using bleach, I would disconnect all the outlets. If it gets into your lines, your water will taste like chlorine for a while. It doesn't hurt, but it doesn't taste nice either.

After cleaning the tank from the buildup, it’s time for sanitizing the water system: “System” because it does no good to clean the tank and leave the pump, lines, and others.

You can sanitize the system by adding home bleach 1 teaspoon per gallon or precisely 8 ounces per 10 gallons of the water in the tank.

CAUTION : This bleach is to sanitize the system, it’s not fit for drinking!

Pressurize the water with the system open but turn off the end outlets. Let it sit for 24 hours;

After that flash the water with each outlet starting with the furthest from the pump. Do this with all the outlet and repeat the flush until all the bleach smell is gone.

Warning : for Aluminum tanks, you should not sit the bleach for more than 24 hours. Also, you should not repeat this process for more than twice a year.

At this point, the system is clean and sanitized. It’s now time to fill the water tank with fresh water from different sources; you can get from outside sources or use the onboard water maker to refill the tank (water from the onboard maker is often sterile and pure).

If the water is coming from outside source however you must take extra caution. For starters, make sure the fill cap is in good condition to avoid water leaks into the tank with contaminants. It makes no sense to clean the tank and put in contaminated water from outside.

Ensure the hose pipe that you are using to fill in your tank is FDA rated to use for potable water. Also, before you put it directly into your tank, let the water run first to flush the hose. Understand: a hose with water in the sun can be a home to many living organisms.

Note: A better solution is to have your own horse which you flush after use and store safely.

Also running water will help you to know the condition of the water from the source. If the water looks dirty, don’t fill in your tank with it. It might be contaminated with things like cyst, bacteria or even metals, there is no need to take chances.

Tip: the key to having clean water onboard is usage. Keep the water flowing in and out of the system regularly to reduce the chance of it becoming stale.

IF you are getting water from an outside source that you are unsure of its safety, you must take extra caution to make sure you are getting quality and clean water. You can guarantee this if you use sterilizers and filters.

When buying a water filter, make sure that it has met all the Microbiological Purification Standards. With this, you can eliminate all the cysts, viruses and bacteria from the water.

Alternatively, go for an Ultraviolet Sterilizers. With this, the water is sterilized by UV lamp that produces UV radiation to kill bacteria.

In addition, add a filter to remove other contaminants.

Chemical water treatment

A good alternative to treat the onboard fresh water in the tanks is by use of chemical products. There are different varieties you can find out there although you be cautious to read on the label because different products have different usage. You might find some that just remove the smell and taste of the water while other sterilizes the water to make it bacteria free.

Often, Iodine and Chlorine based products are better solutions to make questionable water safe to use. If this is not available, use home bleach; ½ teaspoon for 5 gallons and let it sit for 30-60 minute and it will be good to drink.

Checking if the water is safe for use

The best way to determine if the water in the tank is safe for use is to have it tested. Visit a local lab. if you don’t know any visit your local health department and they will direct you.

This method though is only valid only for the water in the tank. Alternatively, purchase a self-testing kit, which although they are not as accurate they can indicate if there is a problem with the water.

How to empty holding the tank on the boat? There are two ways that you can empty the holding tank; one, go at least three miles offshore and empty the tank there or go to a fuel dock with a Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) and a waste pump to empty it for you.

How to install a freshwater tank on a boat? The freshwater tank should be installed close to the middle of the boat. Have a small water pump and enough hose. Get the measurement where the hose should run and fit it. Add a T connection to the pickup line on the pump and run one hose into the tank and the other outside of the boat. Next cut the drainage outlet, place the tank to the selected location and fix everything tight and the tank is ready for use.

How to prime a fresh water pump on a boat? To prime water pump on your boat, start by ensuring there is enough water in your tank then checking the filters and screens to make sure they are working alright. Next opening an outlet like the facet to let the air out and it will prime.

Pinterest image for How To Clean Your Boat's Freshwater Tank (Plastic & Aluminum)

John Robbins

One teaspoon in 1/6 of an ounce. One teaspoon per gallon is 1.67 ounces for 10 gallons, not 8 ounces! That is way too much bleach.

Elina Brooks

Thank you for letting us know that steam cleaning is the most effective way to clean a fuel tank, especially if it’s in a bad shape. My dad owns a fishing boat, and he was thinking of getting a new fuel tank for it soon. I’ll be sure to tell him about this before he gets a custom order for his aluminum fuel tank soon. https://www.mycarrenterprise.com/boat-fuel-tank

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How To Clean Sailboat Water Tanks? (An Easy Guide)

sailboat water tank bleach

As a sailboat owner, having access to clean, fresh water is essential.

But how do you ensure that your sailboat water tanks are clean and safe to use? Fortunately, cleaning your sailboat water tanks is a straightforward process.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of how to clean your sailboat water tanks, from why it’s essential to do so to the steps involved in sanitizing the tank.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Short Answer

To clean sailboat water tanks, the first step is to empty the tank and rinse it with fresh water.

Next, mix a solution of 1 cup of bleach and 1 gallon of water and pour it into the tank.

Allow the solution to sit in the tank for 1-2 hours and then rinse the tank thoroughly with fresh water.

Finally, use a brush to scrub the inside of the tank and rinse it again with fresh water before refilling.

Why Cleaning Sailboat Water Tanks is Essential

Cleaning the water tanks of a sailboat is essential for a number of reasons.

Not only does it ensure that the water being stored is safe for use, but it can also help protect the tank itself from damage caused by contaminants, algae, and bacteria.

In addition, regular cleaning and maintenance can help the tanks last longer and remain in good condition.

Without proper cleaning, the tanks can become corroded, contaminated, and clogged, leading to costly repairs.

In short, cleaning the water tanks of a sailboat is essential to ensure that the water stored is safe to use, and to ensure the longevity of the tanks.

Preparing the Sanitizing Solution

sailboat water tank bleach

When it comes to cleaning the water tanks of a sailboat, the most important part of the process is to create a sanitizing solution.

To do this, you need to mix two parts hot water with one part bleach.

This mixture should be stirred until the bleach is completely dissolved in the water.

Once this is done, the solution is ready to be used.

It is best to use hot water for the solution, as the heat helps the bleach to break down any bacteria and other contaminants in the tank.

Additionally, this solution should be made fresh each time you clean the tank, as the bleach in the solution can break down over time and become less effective.

It is also important to use a gentle bleach, as stronger versions can cause damage to the tank.

Once the solution is prepared, its time to move on to the next step of the process.

Filling the Tank with the Solution

When it comes to cleaning the water tanks of a sailboat, filling the tank with the sanitizing solution is one of the most important steps.

To create the sanitizing solution, mix two parts hot water with one part bleach and stir until the mixture is completely dissolved.

Once the solution is ready, fill the tank with the mixture and let it sit for at least 24 hours.

This will give the bleach enough time to effectively sanitize the tank and kill any bacteria or contaminants that could be present.

It is important to make sure that the solution is distributed evenly throughout the tank, as this will ensure that all areas of the tank are properly sanitized.

Additionally, make sure that the solution is not too concentrated, as this could be potentially harmful to the surrounding environment.

Once the solution is in the tank, let it sit for at least 24 hours before proceeding to the next step.

Letting the Solution Sit for 24 Hours

sailboat water tank bleach

When it comes to cleaning sailboat water tanks, allowing the sanitizing solution to sit for at least 24 hours is of the utmost importance in ensuring that the water stored is safe for use.

During this period, the bleach works to break down any harmful bacteria or other contaminants that may be present.

It is important to note that the tank should be kept sealed during this time to ensure that the solution can properly sanitize the tank.

If the tank is not sealed, the solution may evaporate before it can do its job.

During this period, it is a good idea to periodically check the solution and add more if necessary.

Also, it is important to make sure that the temperature of the solution does not drop too much, as this can reduce its effectiveness.

Therefore, it is best to store the tank in a sheltered area with an ambient temperature that is not too far off from the temperature of the solution.

This will help to ensure that the bleach is able to do its job properly.

After the solution has sat for the requisite 24 hours, it is time to empty the tank and rinse it thoroughly with fresh water.

This will help to ensure that any residual bleach is removed, thus making it safe for use.

It is also a good idea to use a brush to scrub the inside walls of the tank before rinsing it, as this will help to remove any remaining dirt or debris.

Doing this will help to ensure that the tank is properly sanitized and safe for use.

Emptying the Tank

Emptying the tank is an important step in the process of cleaning sailboat water tanks.

To do this, start by turning off the power to the tank.

Then, open the valve on the tank and allow all the water to drain out.

It is important to ensure that all the water is completely drained before moving on to the next step.

If any water remains in the tank, it will be difficult to clean it properly.

Once the tank is empty, close the valve and disconnect any hoses or pipes connected to the tank.

This will help prevent any of the sanitizing solution from entering the plumbing of the boat.

Finally, make sure to open the tank access port and allow any remaining air to escape.

Once complete, the tank is now ready to be filled with the sanitizing solution.

Rinsing the Tank

sailboat water tank bleach

Once the tank has been filled with the sanitizing solution and left to sit for at least 24 hours, it is time to rinse it out.

This step is essential to ensure all of the solution has been washed away and the tank is safe to use.

The best way to do this is to use fresh water and a hose or faucet.

Make sure to get all of the corners and crevices of the tank, as this is where bacteria can hide and thrive.

Be sure to rinse the tank until there is no more chlorine smell present, as this is a good indication that the solution has been washed away.

Once the tank has been rinsed, it is ready to be scrubbed and sanitized.

Scrubbing the Inside with a Brush

Once youve filled the tank with the sanitizing solution and allowed it to sit for at least 24 hours, the next step is to empty the tank and rinse it thoroughly with fresh water.

After this is done, youll need to take a brush and scrub the inside of the tank.

This is important as it will help to remove any residue that may have been left behind after the sanitizing solution has done its job.

Its best to use a brush specifically designed for cleaning sailboat water tanks, as this will help to ensure that no damage is done to the inside of the tank.

When scrubbing, make sure to get into all the nooks and crannies of the tank, as this is where bacteria can hide and build up.

Youll want to move the brush in a circular motion to help dislodge any residue that may be stuck to the walls.

Be sure to also scrub the lid of the tank, as this is a place where bacteria can often hide.

Finally, rinse the tank thoroughly with fresh water after scrubbing to remove any remaining residue.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your sailboat water tanks are properly sanitized and safe to use.

Cleaning the tanks periodically will help to prevent any buildup of bacteria and keep your water safe and free from contamination.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning the water tanks of a sailboat is an essential task that must be done periodically to ensure that the water stored is safe to use.

By following the steps outlined above, you can easily and effectively clean your sailboat water tanks.

So the next time you find yourself needing to give your water tanks a good clean, remember the steps outlined here and you’ll be sure to have safe and clean tanks in no time.

James Frami

At the age of 15, he and four other friends from his neighborhood constructed their first boat. He has been sailing for almost 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge that he wants to share with others.

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How to Clean a Boat Water Tank

Last Updated: January 2, 2024 References

This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Megaera Lorenz, PhD . Megaera Lorenz is an Egyptologist and Writer with over 20 years of experience in public education. In 2017, she graduated with her PhD in Egyptology from The University of Chicago, where she served for several years as a content advisor and program facilitator for the Oriental Institute Museum’s Public Education office. She has also developed and taught Egyptology courses at The University of Chicago and Loyola University Chicago. There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 21,828 times. Learn more...

Having a fresh water system on your boat is super convenient if you tend to go on long boating trips. You can use it to cook, clean, or even take showers while you’re out on the water. Unfortunately, boat water tanks can become home to mold, bacteria, and algae, giving the water an unpleasant smell and taste or even making it unsafe to drink. Keep the water on your boat fresh and clean by cleaning out your tank and disinfecting it with bleach at least once a year.

Emptying out the Tank

Step 1 Turn on your boat’s water pump.

  • The location of the pump and water tank varies from one boat to another. If you’re not sure where to look, consult a schematic of your boat or your owner’s manual, if you have it.

Step 2 Open your taps and let the water run out.

  • Listen for air coming out of the taps. This will tell you that the tank is empty.

Step 3 Shut off the pump to keep it from burning out.

  • Many boats have pumps that automatically turn on after the water pressure drops below a certain level. This is meant to keep your water moving as the level in the tank gets lower. [4] X Research source

Removing Dirt and Residue

Step 1 Open the cap on the tank.

  • In some cases, the cap might be difficult to remove. You may need a special tool to open it. Consult the user manual for your boat or your specific water system. [6] X Research source

Step 2 Use a flashlight to look for dirt in the tank that needs to be cleaned out.

  • If you’re able to get your hand in through the opening of the tank, feel the inside walls. If they feel slick or slimy, that’s a sign of bacterial buildup.

Step 3 Scrub out the tank with a long-handled brush or power washer.

  • If you use a power washer, you’ll need some angle attachments to get into hard-to-reach corners.

Step 4 Turn on the pump and drain the tank.

  • If you emptied the tank completely the first time, it will probably take a few minutes for the water to start flowing again since there will be air in the pipes.

Disinfecting the Tank

Step 1 Turn off your pump and hot water heater.

  • Consult your user manual if you’re not sure where the water heater is located.

Step 2 Remove and clean any filters or faucet aerator screens.

  • To remove your faucet aerators, unscrew them with a wrench. Clean the aerators with hot, soapy water and a scrub brush. If there are a lot of mineral deposits on the screen, you can remove them by soaking the aerator in white vinegar for a few minutes before scrubbing it. [12] X Research source
  • If your pump has a protective mesh strainer, leave that in place. It will help protect your pump during the cleaning process.
  • If your water tank has a vent hose and screen, detach those as well. Clean them with hot, soapy water if they appear dirty.

Step 3 Measure out enough 5% bleach to make a 50 ppm solution in your tank.

  • You can use this chlorine calculator to determine the correct amount of bleach to use: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/health-topics/environmental-occupational-health/water-quality/chlorine-dilution-calculator .
  • For example, if you have a 50 US gal (190 L) tank, you’d need to use about 6.7 fluid ounces (200 mL) of bleach.

Warning: Never mix bleach with other household cleaners, since it could create toxic chlorine fumes. Always use bleach in a well-ventilated area.

Step 4 Mix the bleach with 1 gallon (3.8 L) of water.

  • Combining the bleach with water before you pour it in will also help prevent corrosion if your tank is aluminum.

Step 5 Pour the bleach and water mixture into the boat tank.

  • Alternatively, you can fill the tank with fresh water before adding the bleach to the tank.

Step 6 Top off the tank with clean, drinking-quality water.

  • If your tank has a vent, let a little of the water and bleach solution spill out through the vent in order to sanitize the vent line. If the vent is exterior, put a bucket or other container under it to keep the bleach solution from entering the water outside your boat.

Step 7 Switch the pump back on and let the water run until you smell chlorine.

  • It may take a few minutes for the pump to push all the air out of the lines and get the water flowing again.

Step 8 Let the bleach solution sit in the tank for 12 hours.

  • If you don’t have time to let the bleach stay in your water tank for a full 12 hours, try to leave it for at least 4 hours. [18] X Research source

Step 9 Refill and drain your tank 2-3 times or until you can’t smell bleach.

  • If you still smell a hint of bleach after flushing and refilling the tank twice, add 1 teaspoon (4.9 mL) of hydrogen peroxide per 20 gallons (76 L) of tank capacity and flush the tank again. The hydrogen peroxide should neutralize the remaining bleach.

Step 10 Replace the filters and vent screen.

  • Start with the tap farthest from the pump and work your way to the closest one. Make sure to let the air out of each tap to get your system working properly again. [22] X Research source

Expert Q&A

  • Even with regular cleaning, the water on a boat can quickly take on an unpleasant smell and taste. Try adding a little lemon juice to the tank to keep your water fresh longer and improve its odor. [23] X Research source A solution of about 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of lemon juice per .26 gallons (0.98 L) of water can effectively disinfect drinking water. [24] X Research source Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

sailboat water tank bleach

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  • ↑ https://youtu.be/FM93IVN5fjk?t=9
  • ↑ https://youtu.be/FM93IVN5fjk?t=18
  • ↑ https://www.sailmagazine.com/diy/let-it-flow
  • ↑ https://youtu.be/-Ov-24uJ8oE?t=101
  • ↑ https://youtu.be/-QzsEvw67ec?t=141
  • ↑ https://www.practical-sailor.com/blog/decontaminating-a-tainted-water-tank
  • ↑ https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/a28198674/how-to-clean-dirty-faucet-aerator/
  • ↑ https://youtu.be/-Ov-24uJ8oE?t=254
  • ↑ https://www.pbo.co.uk/gear/boat-water-tank-treatments-tested-20504
  • ↑ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/15339874_Lemon_juice_as_a_natural_biocide_for_disinfecting_drinking_water

About This Article

Megaera Lorenz, PhD

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Decontaminating a Tainted Water Tank

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Those of you who missed our report on how a weak winterizing solution can create a Sandals Beach Resort for waterborne bacteria may be noticing a pungent odor coming from your galley tap. Regardless of the cause of your water woes, our favorite chemist-sailor Drew Frye has spent most of the winter coming up with some simple steps to ensuring you have fresh-tasting water as good as any bottled variety on board this spring. Here he offers a step-by-step guide to decontaminating that foul-smelling tank.

With careful monitoring and pre-filtering of dockside water and maintenance of tank water, this procedure should only be required when contamination is suspected, or to start off fresh with a clean tank. Regular inspections, filtration at the dock, and maintenance doses of chlorine or treatment tablets when needed will prevent future problems. Using a proper mix of glycol if you winterize will prevent one of the common causes of contamination.

First the tank needs to be clean. Look inside with a flashlight; is there any sediment on the bottom or scum on the walls? Feel the walls; are they slick, evidence of healthy bacterial growth? It all must go. Hopefully there is reasonable access, for there is no substitute for a good hand scrubbing and rinse-down with a high powered hose. Machine dishwasher detergent works well as do long handled brushes. A power washer can help, but some angle fittings will be needed and it won’t do the job by itself. Once you’ve taken care of any growth, the next step is sanitizing.

There is a standard sanitizing procedure for recreational vehicles (ANSI A119.2 section 10.8) that works just as well for boats. We’ve added a few details, but the bones of it come straight from the code and have been reviewed and accepted by the U.S. Public Health Service.

  • Turn off the hot water heater until finished.
  • Remove any carbon canisters or micron rated filters. Remove any faucet aerator screens. Wire mesh pump protection strainers should stay in place. The plumbing will very likely slough off a layer of bacteria during later flushing steps.
  • Clean and remove the vent screen and flush the vent hose.
  • Use either following methods to determine the amount of common household bleach needed to sanitize the tank.
  • Multiply gallons of tank capacity by 0.13; the result is the ounces of bleach needed to sanitize the tank. This is 1/8 cup of plain bleach (4-6 percent sodium hypochlorite, no fragrance) per 10 gallons.
  • Multiply liters of tank capacity by 1.0; the result is the milliliters of bleach needed to sanitize the tank.
  • Mix the proper amount of bleach within a 1-gallon container of water. This will provide better mixing and reduce spot corrosion of aluminum tanks.
  • Pour the solution (water/bleach) into the tank and fill the tank with potable water.
  • If possible, allow some solution to escape though the vent. (If the vent is exterior, prevent any spillage into local waters.) This will sanitize the vent line.
  • Open all faucets (hot and cold) allowing the water to run until all air is purged and the distinct odor of chlorine is detected. Leave the pressure pump on.
  • The standard solution must have four hours of contact time to disinfect completely. Doubling the solution concentration reduces the contact time to one hour.
  • When the contact time is completed, drain the tank. Refill with potable water and purge the plumbing of all sanitizing solution. Repeat until bleach is no longer detectable.
  • If the smell of bleach persists after two refill and drain cycles, add a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide per 20 gallons and mix. The peroxide will oxidize the hypochlorite to chloride (salt) and oxygen, neutralizing the bleach. Any excess peroxide will be harmless to drink and will have no taste. Peroxides are common ingredients in commercially available water freshening preparations like those we tested. Don’t use vinegar, which can ferment, undoing all of your hard work.
  • Replace all filters and the vent screen.
  • Note for aluminum tanks: Some sailors are afraid of using bleach in aluminum tanks for fear of rapid corrosion. This shouldn’t be a concern for infrequent cleaning when the recommended dosage and time is observed. As an alternative, we found PuriClean to be an effective sanitizer, and it was non-corrosive toward aluminum.

Liveaboard sailors who care about water quality will appreciate our new four-volume eBook Onboard Water Storage, Treatment and Production , which covers everything from tank selection to filtration to cheap and easy water testing. With minimal investment in filters, we drink pure fresh-tasting water from our own tanks following the process described in this series. You can follow Frye’s other experiments and sailing adventures at Sail Delmarva .

RELATED ARTICLES MORE FROM AUTHOR

Excellent article. Will let you know the results.

We follow a similar regiment, we filter all water as it comes on board, have a small filter in the galley for drinking water. We use AquaFresh at each filling. If the witnerizing is done well, we “bomb each tank with a lot of AquaFresh before running thru our system before filling tanks for use. This past year, the yard did not winterize well and we had a serious issue. This was solved using swimming pool grade chlorine many times stronger than bleach added it ad filled alltanks leaving it for a few days, we emptied the tanks with a sump pump to prevent anything from contaminating the fresh water system. then we applied hydrogen peroxide to remove any chlorine. and pumped that throught the system. We then filtered the fill up, used aquafresh and have pristine potable water tanks.

Gary The Aquafresh used in your tanks, not familiar with this product. I know the toothpaste. Is it a solution or are you referring to filtering the incoming water with an AquaFresh filtering system?

Good description of procedure; one math nitpick. Your dilution ratios (for both metric and gallons) come out to a 1/1000 dilution. “1/8 cup per 10 gallons” falls a bit short of that, being 1 oz / 1280 ounces. Should have been more like 1/8 cup per 8 gallons.

Thank you Drew for this article. I have a situation not covered by your article. Last week I inadvertently added 2 oz of FPPF Marine diesel Fuel Treatment to an empty 21 gallon plastic freshwater tank. (The filler caps for diesel and water are way too close together!!). I immediately flushed out the tank three times with fresh water. There was till some residual odour. With winter approaching, it’s soon time to anti-freeze the plumbing systems. Question: what more should I do now or in the spring to ensure safe potable water for next season? Thanks! – Chris

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How to Clean a Boat Fresh Water Tank...

How to clean a boat fresh water tank.

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The water in your boat’s fresh water tank won’t always stay fresh. When it sits in the tank with poor circulation, it eventually takes on an unpleasant odor. That’s why it’s important to regularly clean out the tank the right way, every time. Here’s how to clean a boat’s fresh water tank.

Drain the Tank

sailboat water tank bleach

It’s important to adequately prep for proper drainage. You’ll not only want to have a designated place to drain out the water, but you also should make sure that the place your draining won’t lead to nasty water spilling somewhere you don’t want it. In addition, try to drain your tank somewhere that won’t negatively affect the environment. Then, you can remove the old water to prepare for cleaning. Turn on your water pump, open all of the taps, and let the water drain out.

Clean Out the Tank

sailboat water tank bleach

The key to cleaning a fresh water tank is to allow the new, clean water to do the work. It will be the carrier of the cleaning detergent, the rinsing agent, and will continue flowing through the tank until there’s nothing but a clean tank and more freshwater left.

The question here is, what kind of cleaning agents should you use? Do you use bleach, or should you go with another product?

Be wary of bleach if you’re concerned about the environment. You also shouldn’t use bleach anywhere that could affect the marine life. If you do decide to use bleach, just be sure you have a proper place to drain it after cleaning.

Instead, add the appropriate cleaner—one designed for this specific purpose and with the environment in mind. You can find a plethora of boat cleaning options here at BoatLIFE for the cleaning of your tank!

Mix in your cleaner and fill the tank with enough water to dilute the cleaner to an appropriate amount. You can then turn off the pumps and the taps to allow this cleaner some time to go to work. Leave it overnight for the best results.

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Drain and Rinse

sailboat water tank bleach

Drain the tank somewhere safe, repeating the draining process. Then, rinse with fresh water. Smell the water coming out if you’re still unsure; if it has the odor of bleach or cleaner, rinse again.

Keep in mind that even after a thorough cleaning, your fresh water tank will still not be suitable for drinking—after all, the freshwater you keep in there will tend to stay. However, you can use fresh water for other purposes on the boat, including rinsing its surfaces, especially if you’re sure to keep changing it out periodically.

Keep Your Boat Clean!

Now that you know how to clean a boat’s fresh water tank, are you looking for more great ways to keep your boat in top shape? Investing in boat cleaners will do the trick. BoatLIFE offers the boat accessories, sealants, and restoration products you need to help keep every aspect of your boat in top condition.

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Bleaching Fresh Water Tanks / Bad Move ?

sailboat water tank bleach

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Our sailboat is 10 years old and we puta very small amount of clorox bleach in our stainless fresh water tanks then flushed with fresh water in attempt to clean them out. Months later we noticed, when inspecting interior of all 3 stainless tanks, that rust type bubbles are forming on the bottom seams of the tanks. Could the bleach have caused this corrosion? If they start to leak at the edges is there any caulk...etc that can be used to stop any leaks or are the tanks done for? All comments welcomed.  

You should not have damaged the stainless steel in any event. You might discolor it, but even that is unlikely. I'd check those bubbles out a bit closer as there may be a coating on the inside that's breaking down. A photo wouldn't hurt if you can provide one.  

sailboat water tank bleach

Also, if the rust is at the seams, it may be due to the fact that welds are generally far more prone to corrosion than unwelded stainless. I seriously doubt that a small amount of chlorine bleach would bother stainless tanks much, especially if you flushed the system with fresh water shortly afterwards.  

sailboat water tank bleach

More likely is crevice corrosion in the stainless from being in an aneorobic environment and the welds are the first thing to fail. Diluted beach, properly washed out afterwards will not cause such a problem. Tanks will need to be pulled and re-welded. An interior coating of epoxy suitable for potable water should prevent a re-occurance otherwise you will have to contend with this again down the road.  

BTW, one epoxy well suited for coating the interior of potable water tanks is CeramKote 54. It is designed specifically for potable water systems.  

MAS epoxy support told me that their low viscosity resin is suitable for potable water applications. For what it's worth. They do not have any NSF certifications though.  

sailboat water tank bleach

I agree with Camaraderie: Stainless Steel is very susceptible to crevice corrosion. That is probably what is occurring here. I has nothing to dowith the bleach.  

Excellent - well that at least makes me feel better that we didnt screw it up as we used 8oz bleach per 10 gal h2o then flushed system. We had the same looking rust deposits on a leaky water heater we just removed - so it must have been devloping for 9 yrs 7 months (when new) then with our luck decided to leak months after we purchase boat. Getting back to sailing dog and brak comments, i now know the right thing per cam is to rip them out to weld which we will do at some point but I do have pretty good access to the interior of the tanks through a 12" port and just plan to use for showering - thoughts on temp fix - after good cleaning and light sand can we apply epoxy to the seams and hold off on rewelding till later date? Or is that just compounding problem? Thank you for all for your time and insight.  

I'm not convinced that you necessarily have crevise corrosion as, unless you're running about with your tanks pressed up at all times, the environment is not anaeroebic. I'd investigate further as to what exactly is bubbling and, if it is crevise corrosion, I'd sand, treat with ospho, and seal with epoxy. It beats the joys of removal. The tank may well already have a coating and that may be what you're seeing fail at the welds-it's the most likely spot for any type of failure regardless.  

doug...temp fixes are fine as long as they are working...just be sure your underlayment is dry and you don't have rot starting beneath the tanks.  

I doubt it is crevice corrosion...more likely, it is related to the changes caused by the temperature of the welding process...  

Pics? "rust type bubbles" sounds wired....  

The finest tank sealant I have encountered is two-part polysulphide. I bought it in wee two-part tins. I used it to repair, in-situ, a stainless tank that was leaking like a sieve. That was 11 years ago, and it still does not leak, at least does not leak from where I was able to get to the welds. It sits for months, and there is not even a drip. If you are serious about trying it, I will find the name of the manufacturer. There are some tins of it in my old garage. Never fill a stainless tank right to the brim. Keep it oxygenated. Leave a free surface and make sure the breather is open. I would avoid anything bearing chlorides in there. Chlorine is not good news to stainless, and is normally death to it if there is no oxygen around. I would be particularly worried if a stainless tank was filled to the brim and chlorine was in there, even if the breather was open. The breather is likely to be too small to keep the tank oxygenated.  

If it is oxygenated there Saildog, certainly. It can be messed up very promptly if it's not. Chlorine feasts on the stuff, where there is no oxygen around. At least it feasts on the stainless I have, anyway.  

sailboat water tank bleach

Calder says the bleach breaks down and goes away within hours in a O2 enviro, simply leaving the fill cap off is enough to clear the bleach, no purging necessary.  

Calder is correct. And the dirtier your tank is, or the more rust it has in it, the faster it will use up the available free chlorine in the solution. Treatment can be made much more effective, in terms of sanitizing the tanks, by making the water solution slightly acidic prior to chlorination. Acidic solutions allow more chlorine to become "free chlorine" molecules and thus sanitize better. A simple swimming pool test kit is sufficient to test pH and available chlorine. The water can be made acidic by the introduction of white vinegar.  

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sailboat water tank bleach

How To Clean Boat Water Tank? Without Removing It

How To Clean Boat Water Tank

Cleaning your boat’s water tank isn’t more complicated than cleaning anything else. You don’t have to be a professional or have special skills to do it.

The surprising thing is that a lot of boat owners still choose contractors to clean their boat water tank(s), which can cost up to many times the price of a DIY solution. To help you get the task done let’s walk through a simple step-by-step boat water tank cleaning process. knowing that boat water tanks come in different shapes, sizes, and places, some are reachable to remove or accessible inside to clean, and others are hard to get to. But regardless of its reachability or accessibility, and what materials are the tank(s) made of. There is always a convenient way to get the job done.

To make the task easy I will present two methods:  Cleaning the water tank without removing it.  Removing and cleaning the water tank.

Let’s begin with Cleaning the water tank without removing it:

How To Clean Boat Water Tank Without Removing It.

Cleaning the water tank without removing it is not as difficult or complicated a process as some think. Let’s see how:

  • Remove all filter cartridges, aerators at all outlets .
  • Turn off the water heater from the electrical panel. (If installed)
  • Drain the tank completely through every faucet.
  • Fill half of the tank with hot water. A  temperature that does not cause any damage to the tank and water lines (check the manual). approx 50 Celsius – 122 Fahrenheit will be fine.
  • Shake the tank safely as possible. Take the boat for a short trip, about 30 minutes, to churn the hot water inside the system, which helps loosen the stickiness of sticky filth inside. Or try any appropriate way to shake the tank.
  • Drain the tank completely through every faucet. Drain it as fast as you can. Do it while the boat is moving if possible. To prevent any sediments from remaining inside.
  • Fill half the tank with water and an appropriate cleaner. Bleach damages aluminum tanks and has some environmental concerns. Read more about bleach in The Guardian If your choice is bleach Do Not Use More than (approx half an ounce ( 15 Ml ) of household bleach per gallon of water).
Bleach alternatives are a mix of lemon and vinegar ( approx 4OZ – 120Ml ) per gallon. Or my favorite one the regular dish soap will be an effective and inexpensive solution.
  • Fill the entire system with a cleaning solution. Run the water from each faucet until you can see or smell the solution at each outlet.
  • Close and plug all faucets, outlets, and aerators.  Plug all aerators and the tank’s air breathers. Leave the system pressurized with the cleaning solution in it for 4 to 12 hours.
  • Drain the entire system and flush it thoroughly.   Flush it with potable water. Fill and drain at least 2 times, or until you are sure there is no cleaning solution left in the tanks.”
  • Clean and reinstall all aerators, and filter cartridges . Install new ones as appropriate. ( Recommended )
  • Fill the tanks with potable water.  

That’s How you clean a water tank on a boat without removing it.

Now your waters are clean and potable. You may still smell or taste something strange for a while as a result of the cleaning solution or chlorination but it should not be strong or very noticeable, otherwise, you are fine. 

For additional protection, you can install Drinking-Water Filter & Purifier Systems. And keep in mind you have to clean the tanks once a year at least to keep the supply of potable water available.

As for the water tanks that you can remove , cleaning them is not complicated, just follow the following steps:

  • Remove any filter cartridges and any aerators at faucets and outlets.
  • Turn off the water heater (if installed) from the electrical panel.
  • Remove all hoses and fittings connected to the tank. 
  • Remove the water tanks following the instructions manual.
  • Brush, scrape, and wipe the tank from the inside wherever your hand can reach. Use a stick and wrap a rag over the top for places far from your hand.
  • Install the tank in place and connect the lines.
  • Fill the entire system with a cleaning solution (approx. one ounce per gallon).
  • Run the water from each faucet until you can smell bleach at each outlet.
  • Close all the faucets and outlets and plug all aerators and the tank’s air breather, and leave the system pressurized with the solution in it for 2 to 6 hours.
  • Drain the entire system, and flush it thoroughly with potable water (fill and drain at least 2 times) until you are sure there is no residual solution left in the tanks. 
  • Clean and reinstall all the aerators and filter cartridges or install new ones as appropriate.
  • Fill the tanks with potable water. 
  • How to clean a boat’s fuel tank
  • How To Clean Boat Holding Tank
  • How To Clean A Boat Engine Compartment

Boat Water Tank Cleaning Tips & Nots

  • Algae, bacteria, and other contaminants can thrive in the entire water system, not just the tanks.
  • Make sure there is no sediment left at the bottom, a yellowish layer on the inner walls, or any blackish green spots or dots anywhere you can see inside the tank
  • If you removed the water tank(s) and cleaned it with your hands; no need to use more chemicals or keep them in the system longer.
  • Bleach in these concentrations ( Half an ounce – 15 Ml ) and durations will not harm the tanks, plumbing, or pumps. And it will not require a lot of water to clear it out.
  • Bleach causes damage to aluminum tanks and has some environmental concerns.
  • Bleach causes damage to some types of watermakers. Read the instructions in the watermaker manual.
  • The freshwater in your boat water tank will not always be fresh;
  • During the cleaning process, it is noteworthy that repair and maintenance should be carried out if necessary.

Related Questions

How to know if the boat’s water tank is bad?

How to know if the boat's water tank is bad.

The boat water tank is bad if there are doubtless signs such as; odd water smell or taste or color, jammed pumps, clogged filters, visual inspection – sediments and dirt, or through water test . 

How often should a boat water tank be cleaned?

boat fresh water

You should clean the boat’s water tank at least once every two years – annually would be better. Or after a longer storage time than usual. Or if there are signs that a cleaning procedure is needed. 

Final thought

Boat water tank problems can appear in several ways, the water tastes bad, looks dirty, has an unpleasant odor, water testing, or any combination of the four.

The freshwater in your boat water tank will not always be fresh; bad water source, bad filtrations, Leak into the tank, poor water circulation, rust flakes, paint chips, etc. 

Which will eventually lead to contamination of the water with bacteria, algae, or chemicals. 

That’s why it’s important to regularly clean out the tanks the right way, every time.

I hope this guide was helpful. Bookmark this page to remember and come back to it whenever you need it. Share this post to help someone else.

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Can you put bleach in aluminum water tanks?

  • Thread starter Rick
  • Start date Aug 29, 2006
  • Forums for All Owners
  • Ask All Sailors

I've used a small dose of bleach before to freshen my water tank as Peggie the Headmistress as taught us, but those tanks were all plastic. Can bleach also be used in boats with aluminum tanks? I've heard that this is a no-no and that something like hydrogen peroxide should be used. Does anybody know for a fact?  

either will work Rick Either will work and lots of folks use bleach in aluminum tanks with no apparent ill effect. Having said that, bleach does react with the aluminum, even those with coated al tanks, and can lead to premature failure, particularly if one adds too much bleach. This isn't an issue of the majority opinion but rather simple chemistry. Peroxide solutions are safer for the tank(s) and actually provide a longer residual level of disinfection for a number of reasons not worth going into here. It also doesn't impart a bad smell or taste like chlorine does. The only real argument against using peroxide is that it is difficult to find in the proper concentration as the typical drug store variety is not concentrated enough to be effective, regardless of the quantity used. If you can find 26% peroxide solution, it's a viable alternative; otherwise, it's a moot point and chlorine bleach is your only option. Don  

Peggie Hall HeadMistress

Peggie Hall HeadMistress

Adding a little bleach to each fill is not a good idea regardless of whether your tanks are plastic OR metal, 'cuz it's also damaging to the rubber parts in the water pump and also hoses. But even though the solution used to recommission tanks is strong, it does no damage because it only stays in the tank for a few hours, and then is thoroughly flushed out.  

chuckwayne

welcome back, Peggy! nm  

H2O2 Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is corrosive to steel, iron, copper and its alloys, nickel, nickel-copper alloy, lead and silver. It is NOT corrosive to aluminum, certain aluminum alloys (e.g.aluminum-magnesium) and some stainless steels (316 stainless steel and austentic stainless steels). The degree of hazard associated with hydrogen peroxide depends on concentration. Drying of concentrated hydrogen peroxide on clothing or other combustible materials may cause fire. H2O2 may attack or ignite some forms of plastics, rubber, or coatings. Hydrogen Peroxide is a key component in a so-called “liquid bomb”, and may be on a terrorist watch list.  

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IMAGES

  1. How To Clean Your Boat's Freshwater Tank (Plastic & Aluminum)

    sailboat water tank bleach

  2. How to clean your boat water tank

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  3. How To Disinfect Your Boat With Bleach

    sailboat water tank bleach

  4. Sail cleaning 101

    sailboat water tank bleach

  5. How to Sanitize a Water Tank With Bleach

    sailboat water tank bleach

  6. Can You Clean a Boat with Bleach Including Fiberglass and Vinyl Seats?

    sailboat water tank bleach

VIDEO

  1. Cleaning Your Fresh Water Tank

  2. Sailing 12' dinghy

  3. JustTeak: How To Clean and Protect Teak on a Boat

  4. Practical Tips

  5. How do I DEFEAT Saltwater Ich?

  6. How we fill our water tanks

COMMENTS

  1. Bleach in water tanks

    With tank empty, pour chlorine solution into tank. Use one gallon of solution for each 5 gallons of tank capacity. (Simpler way to calculate: 1 quart bleach/50 gal water tank capacity) 2. Complete filling of tank with fresh water. Open each faucet and drain cock until air has been released and the entire system is filled.

  2. Proper water tank sanitizing bleach amount

    This calc is for 550 gal and the Hypo is 12.5%. I believe standard household bleach is 5%. So using the equation I get .667 # of hypochlorite or 16.5 oz at 12.5% multiply by 2.5 to get 5% solution requirement and get 46 oz. This is also a shock dosage at 200mg/l. max drinking water is 5mg/l with a minimum of 2 mg/l.

  3. Keeping Water Clean and Fresh

    A concentrated formula, Star brites Water Shock is intended to clear up any odors and tastes that tank cleaning leaves behind, and to sanitize the tank. It is also recommended for routine freshening at a lower dosage. Bottom line: We don't believe this outperforms the ANSI bleach sanitizing procedure (below).

  4. Bleach into water system?

    Put a few gallons of water into the tank then add 1 quart Clorox or Purex household bleach (5-7% sodium hypochlorite solution ) per 50 gal water tank capacity. 2. Complete filling of tank with fresh water. Open each faucet and drain cock until air has been released and the entire system is filled.

  5. How To Clean Your Boat's Freshwater Tank (Plastic & Aluminum)

    Drain the tank completely. Measure 1 teaspoon/gallon of household bleach (aluminum) or vinegar (plastic) into the tank and add fresh water until it's full. Let it sit for 24 hours to sterilize, then drain the water. Fill with fresh water and drain repeatedly until all the bleach/vinegar odor is gone.

  6. How To Clean Sailboat Water Tanks? (An Easy Guide)

    To clean sailboat water tanks, the first step is to empty the tank and rinse it with fresh water. Next, mix a solution of 1 cup of bleach and 1 gallon of water and pour it into the tank. Allow the solution to sit in the tank for 1-2 hours and then rinse the tank thoroughly with fresh water. Finally, use a brush to scrub the inside of the tank ...

  7. Best way to clean out the water tank (bleach)?

    Mix the bleach within a 1-gallon container of water. This provides better mixing and reduces spot corrosion of aluminum tanks. Pour the solution (water/bleach) into the tank and fill the tank with potable water. If possible, allow some solution to escape though the vent. (If the vent is exterior, prevent any spillage into local waters.)

  8. Ask the Expert: Cleaning Your Boat's Water System

    Use an eighth of a cup of bleach for each 10 gallons in the system; add the bleach to a gallon of fresh water and mix the solution. If the boat has aluminum water tanks, you may choose a non-chlorine sanitizing product. Pour the mixture into the water tank, and then fill the tank. Open all the faucets, and pump water through the entire system ...

  9. What to Use to Clean Water Tanks ?

    Add bleach to the tanks, fill with water to the top (!), cap, and let sit a couple days. This kills every bit of mold in it. Drain. Use a garden hose and spray nozzle to wash the mold off the walls and baffles. Drain. Get as much of the particulates out as possible, flush thoroughly.

  10. Best way to clean out the water tank (bleach)?

    Clean and remove the vent screen and flush the vent hose. Sanitize the tank with bleach: gallons of tank capacity X 0.13 = ounces of bleach needed (ie. 1/8 cup/10 gal); or liters of tank capacity X 1.0 = milliliters of bleach. Mix the bleach within a 1-gallon container of water. This provides better mixing and reduces spot corrosion of aluminum ...

  11. Disinfecting SS water tanks with bleach?

    2. Multiply liters of tank capacity by 1.0; the result is the milliliters of bleach needed to sanitize the tank. • Mix the proper amount of bleach within a 1-gallon container of water. This will provide better mixing and reduce spot corrosion of aluminum tanks. • Pour the solution (water/bleach) into the tank and fill the tank with potable ...

  12. Sanitizing Fresh Water Tanks

    This applies if it is a new system, one that has not been used for a period of time, or one that may have become contaminated. (1) Prepare a chlorine solution using one gallon of water and 1/4 cup of Clorox or Purex household bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite solution). With tank empty, pour chlorine solution into tank.

  13. How to Clean a Boat Water Tank (with Pictures)

    3. Measure out enough 5% bleach to make a 50 ppm solution in your tank. The cheapest and easiest way to sanitize your boat water tank is with household chlorine bleach. Use a 5% chlorine bleach product and pour enough into a bucket or other container to make a 50 ppm (parts per million) solution, based on the size of your tank.

  14. Decontaminating a Tainted Water Tank

    Multiply liters of tank capacity by 1.0; the result is the milliliters of bleach needed to sanitize the tank. Mix the proper amount of bleach within a 1-gallon container of water. This will provide better mixing and reduce spot corrosion of aluminum tanks. Pour the solution (water/bleach) into the tank and fill the tank with potable water.

  15. How to Clean a Boat Fresh Water Tank

    In addition, try to drain your tank somewhere that won't negatively affect the environment. Then, you can remove the old water to prepare for cleaning. Turn on your water pump, open all of the taps, and let the water drain out. Clean Out the Tank. The key to cleaning a fresh water tank is to allow the new, clean water to do the work.

  16. Bleaching Fresh Water Tanks / Bad Move

    83 posts · Joined 2007. #1 · Feb 25, 2008. Our sailboat is 10 years old and we puta very small amount of clorox bleach in our stainless fresh water tanks then flushed with fresh water in attempt to clean them out. Months later we noticed, when inspecting interior of all 3 stainless tanks, that rust type bubbles are forming on the bottom seams ...

  17. Fresh water tank treatment

    5. Refill tank with clean fresh water and drain again through every faucet. 6. To remove excess chlorine taste or odor which might remain, prepare a solution of one quart white vinegar to five gallons water and allow this solution to agitate in tank for several days by vehicle motion (iow, go sailing and tack a lot). 7.

  18. best way to clean a water tank?

    Prepare a chlorine solution using one gallon of water and 1/2 cup (4 oz) Clorox or Purex household bleach (5% sodium Hypochlorite solution ). With tank empty, pour chlorine solution into tank. Use one gallon of solution for each 5 gallons of tank capacity. 2. Complete filling of tank with fresh water. Open each faucet and drain cock until air ...

  19. How To Clean Boat Water Tank? Without Removing It

    Fill the entire system with a cleaning solution. Run the water from each faucet until you can see or smell the solution at each outlet. Close and plug all faucets, outlets, and aerators. Plug all aerators and the tank's air breathers. Leave the system pressurized with the cleaning solution in it for 4 to 12 hours.

  20. What do you add to your fresh water tanks?

    Oct 9, 2006. #7. Hydrogen Peroxide. I use 1 oz. of store bought hydrogen peroxide per 10 gallons of water.u000bI never have an algie problem and the water is safe to use to wash whatever I need to wash. I use bottled water for drinking, but you can use your tank water for brushing teeth, etc.

  21. Adding Bleach to RO Water

    Re: Adding Bleach to RO Water. "To disinfect a storage tank or other large volume of water, thoroughly mix non-scented NSF-approved household bleach (5.25% chlorine) in the reservoir at the ratio of 1 gallon of bleach for every 1,000 gallons of water (i.e., 1 quart for every 250 gallons of water). This will give a chlorine concentration of 50 ppm."

  22. Can you put bleach in aluminum water tanks?

    Aug 29, 2006. #2. either will work. Ricku000bEither will work and lots of folks use bleach in aluminum tanks with no apparent ill effect. Having said that, bleach does react with the aluminum, even those with coated al tanks, and can lead to premature failure, particularly if one adds too much bleach.u000bu000bThis isn't an issue of the ...

  23. Cleaning fresh water supply lines

    Posts: 2,844. Re: Cleaning fresh water supply lines. 1 cup of bleach (unscented) per 100 gallons. Run all taps until you can smell the chlorine. Leave them for a while (overnight, at least). Run your tanks dry, refill, run them dry again. A more permanent solution is to replace them with PEX.