Green Machine

Green Machine

Would you believe that you can clean your hull effectively and safely with baking soda?

By Elizabeth Ginns Britten — April 2004


 More of this Feature

• Part 1: SodaBlaster
• Part 2: SodaBlaster

 Related Resources
• Maintenance Index

 Elsewhere on the Web

For some of you, thinking of Texas might conjure images of oil wells and refineries, a place laden with environmental no-no’s. But that’s unfair, since the Lone Star State has more nature tourism acres than the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park combined. Even so, when I first learned about a green-thumb, Houston-based company called MMLJ that’s created a machine that uses nonpolluting baking soda to remove bottom paint, I was caught off guard. But upon hearing that this technique is also supposedly more cost-effective in the long run, is less time-consuming than traditional stripping methods, and eases waste-disposal problems, I had to know more.

In fact, baking soda has long been recognized for its exceptional cleaning abilities beyond household applications. It was used to restore the Statue of Liberty in the 1980’s, chosen for its ability to clean without destroying the integrity of the statue’s surface. In the early 1990’s, when Ford recalled a number of F-150 pick-ups, citing “premature failure of paint coatings,” MMLJ offered sodablasting as a time- and labor-saving alternative to the established hand-sanding and chemical-stripping methods. Later the city of Chicago, which owns approximately 30 of the company’s machines, recognized sodablasting as a time-saving, nondestructive, and eco-friendly way to remove graffiti from buildings.

MMLJ uses a granulated baking soda formula (yes, the same kind used around your house and in your food) to remove antifouling paint. The process involves putting the soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate), a clean, pure substance that’s FDA- and USDA-approved, into a container called a SodaBlaster, where it’s pressurized and then shot at the hull under high pressure. The result is a nontoxic, environmentally friendly way to clean your boat’s hull bottom that won’t damage gelcoat and represents a marked departure from conventional methods like chemical strippers and sanding.

“So let me get this straight,” I said, dumbfounded, after listening to Benny LeCompte, vice president of operations and general manager of MMLJ. “You’re telling me I can clean and remove paint from my boat’s hull with the same stuff I clean my teeth with? The same stuff I keep in the ‘fridge?”

“I know,” he replied, “it almost sounds too good to be true, but it’s not.”

Until recently, sodium bicarbonate was used on rare occasions—if at all—to remove antifouling paint. LeCompte says that for many years MMLJ was so focused on sodablasting in other industries that the marine businesses weren’t “there for them.” And, funny enough, Bill Connelly of StripCo, a Dallas-based company that uses the process and distributes SodaBlasters, adds, “blasting boat bottoms may be sodablast’s best and highest use. The next-best alternative [of chemical strippers and sanding] is so inferior in comparison, it doesn’t even come close.”

Next page > Part 2: The result is a nontoxic, environmentally friendly way to clean your boat’s hull bottom. > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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