Water Quality photo identifier

Water Quality Program

Hull Cleaning and Boat Washing

IT'S A FACT: It is illegal to perform underwater cleaning of hulls with soft, toxic coatings (ablative and sloughing). You can face a fine of up to $10,000. (RCW 90.48.080, WAC 173-201A)

Most boats used in marine waters have hulls coated with soft toxic paints (ablative or sloughing) to keep aquatic organisms from attaching. These coatings contain toxic chemicals, like copper, that are poisonous to salmon and aquatic life. Toxic chemicals are released when you disturb or clean soft toxic paints. In 2018, antifouling paint containing copper will be phased out of use on recreational boats.

If your boat hull has soft toxic paint, do NOT clean it in or near the water, or near a stormdrain.

Know your hull's surface before you clean it. If it has soft toxic paint, take your boat out of water to a facility that collects all discharges and debris. To do this work yourself on land, use a tarp and vacuum sander to collect all debris, and dispose of it properly.

Protecting Washington's Waters Infographic

What’s the alternative?

New, hard coatings and epoxy-based hard paints are now available for boat hulls. They provide a slick surface and they are safe for in-water cleaning. The surfaces discourage organism growth, last longer, and minimize harm to the environment. Best of all, these surfaces can improve your boat's performance and save fuel costs.

Many alternatives to copper-based paints are already on the market. Northwest Green Chemistry is working with boaters to develop a scorecard of paints and costs to help boaters select coatings.

Washing Your Boat

  • Wash with fresh water and spot clean to prevent dirt buildup. Do not allow soaps or detergents to enter into the water. Soaps may add nutrients that promote algae bloom and can lead to a decrease in oxygen available to fish and other aquatic animals.
  • Look for catch basins or other collection systems at posted wash areas at local marinas. Pull the boat out of the water to clean the hull and be sure to capture any sediments and dispose of properly. Soft, ablative paints contain toxic materials such as copper, tin, mercury, chromium and lead that are harmful to marine life.
  • Do not allow excess cleaning products to enter into the water. The most damaging pollutants are those that persist and tend to increase in concentration as they are transferred through the food chain.
  • Use less harmful cleaning methods, including baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and good old-fashioned elbow grease.
  • Look for the words "phosphate-free" and "biodegradable" on the cleaning products used onboard. Buy only what you need. The smaller the product size, the smaller the potential spill. To find safer cleaning products for your boat, search the EPA's Safer Choice products website.

We have determined that in-water hull cleaning may cause pollution (violation of water quality standards). We have also determined that it is not practical to issue NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits to divers who clean hulls commercially. See our advisory for divers and boat owners which contains this information and should be posted at several areas in a marina. Read studies by University of California and learn more about antifouling issues.

Relevant Laws

Report all spills to 800-OILS-911 and 800-424-8802

Resource Manual for Pollution Prevention in Marinas

Hull Cleaning Advisory

Department of Ecology boater education news release

Washington State Parks Boater Education