Simple Steps For Fixing Boat Head Odors

We’ve all experienced it before, the smell from a boat head system that needs to be cleaned. You don’t forget this unique odor.

Marine heads come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Some are more prone to odors than others. But none are exempt from becoming smelly. If your boat has a seawater head you are more at risk for having a boat head odor problem.

What causes the head to smell onboard your boat?

On both fresh water and raw water toilets the odor can come from not pumping out the holding tank enough. When you use the head and let its contents sit, the waste tank will let you know its time to pump your holding tank.

Seawater heads are more likely to have odor problems because of scale deposits.  These deposits form inside the hoses and holding tank causing this horrible odor.

Keep in mind, raw water heads should be flushed two or three times when you first get on your boat for the day. This will get rid of the initial smell they all have.

Routine Maintenance

There are three golden rules to keeping smells away from your boats head system. Like any other form of routine maintenance, devising a regiment is integral for stopping boat head odors in their tracks!

Rule #1 :

Always be sure to regularly pump your boat out, especially in warmer climates. Its easy, go to the pump out station or call the pump out boat if you have one to get it done.

Rule # 2:

Treat your boats holding tank when you pump out. I always recommend splashing some odor treatment in the tank every time you pump out. A product such as, SEALAND’s Toilet Treatment will do the trick. Empty the bottle into the head and flush the toilet. Make sure you put enough in. One bottle treats a 40gal tank, if your tank is larger add accordingly. This helps to keep smells from building up in your boats head.

The nice thing about treating the heads with a product like Sealand is it runs through the hoses. This where a lot of the odor tends to come from. If you have multiple toilets splash some in every head on the boat and flush. Its simple and takes no time to perform this step.

Rule #3:

When basic toilet treatment doesn’t eliminate built up uric scale on the hoses and walls of the blackwater tank, we break out the big guns. Raritan C.H. Hose & Tank Cleaner is amazing stuff. I use it once a month on my boats and it is a safe alternative to performing a muriatic acid flush. Raritan’s cleaner does an excellent job at loosening everything up in the lines and the walls of the tank. I also like to use it as a lubricant for the moving parts within the head.

The one caveat to this product is it is expensive, $100/gal expensive. A little bit goes a long way.

Water softener is another alternative to help prevent anything from sticking to your tank. Two cups through the system should do the trick to help keep waste from sticking to the tanks sides.

Extra love needed to rid your boat head from odors & smells

What if the routine steps above didn’t help to eliminate the smell coming from your boats head? You discover after coming back to the boat the following day it still smells. Its time to roll up your sleeves and start digging deeper into the head system.

Check your hoses

As always, start simple and work your way from there. Lets check the hoses connected to the head. I recommend starting with the hoses is they are usually the culprits for smells in your boats head. Take a damp rag and run it on the hoses for the head. Sniff the rag if it has a smell to it, then you’ve narrowed down where the odor is coming from. These hoses are permeable and the odor will come through them due to their porous nature.

The best recourse would be to replace the hose that has the odor. You should replace hoses every once in a while any way, so go for it and start fresh.

Digging deeper

You performed the rag test and to much chagrin, no smell on the rag…now what? You have to go deeper into the head system. Fun times, I know. You’ll need to look into the inner workings of the head now. The joker valve is a good place to look. This valve has a 3 way slit that lets waste out but not back into your boats head. When flushing it forces waste and water out. When pumping water in it sucks closed, preventing blowback coming into the toilet.

Diagram of a raw water head including joker valve and flapper valve to show where boat head odors come from

If the joker valve is leaking or old and deteriorating it can cause an odor in the boat. While taking it off be sure to check inside the hoses feeding off of it. There may be some deposit buildup. Clean the lines and place your new joker valve on. If this was the part of the head causing the smell then you’re good to go. Your boat should smell like crisp Ocean Air once again. With the odor gone follow the three rules above to maintain a clean odorless head.

If the joker valve and its surrounding hoses aren’t the causes then it may be the flapper valve. Remove the flapper, clean underneath the seal and replace the valve. While you have this disassembled be sure to take a look at the inlet vale and give that a cleaning. **Please note that the flapper valve only applies to a dual action piston pump head.**

A macerator head will have different inner workings but still have a joker valve.

Chances are one of the three elements mentioned above are the root cause for your stinky head.

A vacuum flush head will have a different system than the two previous heads and have their own set of quirks to tackle. Typically, vacuum flush heads run off the boats fresh water supply and don’t have this issue.

Moving Forward

The best piece of advice I can give you is to follow the three rules above on a regular schedule. This will help keep boat head odors at bay as much as possible. If you tried every step above and still can’t get rid of the smell, its best to call in a boat head specialist.

If you have any other smells on board your boat be sure to read one of my other articles on boat smells:

Musty boat smell

Your boat smells like diesel

Your boats water smells like rotten eggs

As always feel free to ask a question below if you’re still having trouble.

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