A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Clean Your Boat but Save the Ocean

Safe products mean healthy ocean life

By Lauren Heine

(Lauren Heine writes about environmentally-friendly products that are safe and effective.)

I am fortunate to live on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a land full of forests, flanked by islands, and surrounded by ocean. Taking a boat out to see a breaching whale, a jumping salmon or a curious sea lion poking its head out of the water makes my heart sing.

But when people are cleaning their boats, the products they use may not leave those same ocean creatures singing in return.

Back at the dock, boats need to be cleaned. Larger boats, like the ones that take people out for viewing tours, need extra cleaning. Much of all this cleaning involves chemical products that drain off into the ocean and are highly toxic to the fish and other animals.

Most products are designed to be safe for us humans. Sometimes, the label warns us to wear gloves and protective glasses. But there’s little attention paid to whether these same products are safe for marine life, which is where these chemicals quickly end up. And fish and dolphins don’t wear gloves and goggles.

(And the cleaning products we use at home can also end up in the oceans after they’re flushed down the drain.)

Design for the Environment

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program called Design for the Environment (DfE) that allows manufacturers to put the Df3 label on environmentally safe products. DfE uses the EPA’s extensive expertise to evaluate every chemical in a product and to label only those products that have met the program’s highly protective standards.

By allowing use of the logo on products, EPA empowers consumers to select safer chemical products that do not sacrifice quality or performance, and that are safer for people and the planet.

DfE labels chemical products ranging from all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, and carpet and floor care products to marine products including boat wash, engine flush, hull, bilge, awning, canvas and black streak cleaners.

If you go to the DfE website you will find over 2,500 products that carry the logo. Many of them are household name brands. Marine product companies and products with names such as West Marine, Spray-Nine, Kinpak, Snyder, Warsaw, Thetford and Triton Marine all carry options that display the DfE logo.

Green Chemistry

Another EPA program, Green Chemistry, is engaging some of the best and the brightest in order to take novel approaches to producing environmentally-friendly products.

Knowing the damage that unfriendly chemical can wreak on the land, sea and air around us, I find it a pleasure to buy these kinds of products because I know that they are designed with the wellbeing of the planet in mind.

And especially when it comes to cleaning boats, where you see these chemicals draining straight into the ocean, it’s good to know that there you can buy cleaning solutions that perform beautifully while ensuring low toxicity to humans, animals and aquatic life.

For all your household cleaning

So, whenever you’re shopping for cleaning products – whether it’s for a boat or just for home use, look for items with the DfE logo, or ask for them. You’ll be promoting green chemistry.

I’m reminded of the famous remark, attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” And many of the products we use end up punching our fellow animals in the nose – especially those who live in the ocean.

What you can do: Here’s a list of cleaning products for boats that carry the DfE logo. You can also select products for any number of purposes, from dish soap to inkjet toner, by selecting a category here.


Lauren Heine, Ph.D., is Consulting Science Director, Clean Production Action and Principal, Lauren Heine Group LLC. With experience and expertise in green chemistry, green engineering, sustainable business practices, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, she advises organizations seeking to integrate green chemistry and engineering into product and process design and development activities. She has co-authored and directed the development of tools and databases that promote green chemistry in product formulation including CleanGredients and the Green Screen for Safer Chemicals.