Eliminating Diesel Odor in Cushions

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We purchased our boat in late September and have been trying to eliminate diesel odors (I think) in the aft cabin cushions. We cleaned them and used an odor counteractent but the odor remains. The zipper is frozen and we fear that if we remove the foam and dry clean the fabric we will never get the foam back with out lumps. Has anyone solved this problem? On haul out we will replace dripping packing gland and have placed gasket foam on the cockpit lockers to keep water out. The engine was cleaned and will give it another go round. No fuel is leaking, can odor come from fuel hoses? We also removed the panels in the aft cabin and found no fuel leaks. Jim Brener, Wind Spirit #504

  • We have had great success in airing out all of our cushions by taking them off the boat and home for the winter! We have lots of room in our basement to stand them up and lightly spray them a few times with Lysol spray to rid them of the odors from the diesel fumes. I also wipe them on the plastic side with Clorox and water to rid them of any mildew and/or smells! Good luck. BTW, this also helps air out the entire boat. We remove everything so in the Spring we can clean and get organized again! Palmer & Carol Esau, Cheers #471

  • The only time we had any kind of diesel fuel odor in the aft cabin was when our fuel tank had a pinhole leak and diesel was leaking. Have you checked the tank? Allen Wissner

  • I'd take your cushions to an upholstery shop. They can fix the zipper so you can take the foam out . Then dry-clean the fabric. The foam may be the problem - if so replace the foam. Yes, your boat is of the age that your fuel lines should be replaced. Look at any bend and if you see small cracks it's definitely time to replace them. I did mine a few years back and mentioned it in the Mainsheet. Ron Hill, APACHE #788

  • I know a few hog farmers who raise their livestock in confinement buildings over pits with slatted floors. The mess down below is generally anaerobic and stinks to high heavens when one stirs it. Get a little on your hands and you'll know it for a week or so. If you really find the smell of diesel fuel objectionable, perhaps I could send you a jug of this stuff and you could spread it around in your bilge. I'll guarantee that afterward, you'd never notice the diesel smell.
Seriously, I suspect that the greatest problem will be getting the residue of the diesel out of the cracks and crannies. I would think that a good biodegradable industrial high strength detergent (like Castrol's 'Super Clean' -- I think it is -- available at Wal-Mart and Kmart for $5 - $7 per gallon) would remove most of the stuff. The problem would be penetrating the deep cracks and crannies, which probably soaked for a long time in the fuel. I'd not be afraid to try thorough cleansing with full strength Castrol detergent (full strength it is much like Gunk 'Engine Brite', for example, and can actually strip greasy surfaces clean enough to paint), then try to eliminate residual odor by using something like Febreze (Proctor and Gamble). If you can find it in bulk (it ain't cheap in the small pump-spray bottles), I think you might have some real success. I have used it on many stinky things--it really seems to kill odors. With the wood, if you clean it thoroughly with strong solvents (acetone, etc) and get the surface oil out, it will still probably weep odors for a long time. A possibility would be to clean it as well as possible on the surface, then fully encapsulate the wood in a good sealing barrier coat -- maybe two part paint, polyurethane, etc. I did this in a building some years back which had extensive fire damage. Everyone said that the odor would never be removed without complete removal of all interior. I had the surfaces cleaned thoroughly, then painted with several coats of "Kilz' or the like – a sealer-primer. Thereafter, the interior was finished as usual (incidentally, scorched paneling was merely sanded, then varnished), and all odors were immediately gone forever. Fire damage and diesel fuel are obviously much different, but both can create very obnoxious odors, and both are expected to bleed through any surface.
This problem is largely curable, but one may only speculate as to the effort which will be involved and degree of success which may reasonably be achieved. Keep in mind that things like laminated flooring may be successfully dealt with only by removal and replacement. Other wood may need removal as well (if for example its location and/or installation will not allow compete cleansing and sealing). The price of the boat should truly reflect this fact.
Finally, there is a way which you could definitely remove ALL diesel from the boat. Simply saturate and flush the affected areas repeatedly with ether. It will carry off the diesel. If you could contain the ether after flushing in a separate container, you could then let it evaporate, leaving the oil behind, and then recondense and use over (this is a common method for extracting oils from grains). Only problems I see include: You will need to maintain the ether in a liquid state until after flushing, meaning you will need a refrigerated and/or pressurized container large enough to contain your boat and keep the ether below its very low boiling point; a brand new Catalina may be cheaper; you will need a reservoir where the ether will be allowed to boil off, then return for re-liquefying and recycling through the boat; the whole idea is infeasible; and you will probably explode the boat and anything within a few hundred feet into oblivion.
There may be someone on the list who can advise you of a suitable non-flammable solvent, liquid at standard temperatures and pressures, which could be pumped over the affected areas, then gathered and separated from the oil, then recycled (in other words, a safe solvent which would allow a prolonged saturation and flushing at normal temps and pressures). For some reason carbon tetra-chloride comes to mind as a possible candidate, but I have never used it since high school, it may be unavailable, and it may be illegal these days--I dunno. It could be caustic, as well. Maybe the stuff used in parts cleaning benches? BarSol? Perhaps someone will have some insight into the ideal solvent for such an undertaking.
Larry Dill