Our Top Tips for Living on a Narrowboat [HOUSEKEEPING]

Most people grow up in houses and flats, learning all the ins and outs about keeping them clean and tidy! Then later in life, when you grow a sudden passion for narrowboats, you are left high and dry! Some things are pretty common sense and get sorted pretty quick. But some new problems arise you may not have seen before! Unique to boats! Today, we hope to clear a few of these up and give you your narrowboat housekeeping wings 🙂

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Here are our top narrowboat housekeeping tips!

Tip 1: Getting Rid of Spiders on a Narrowboat

We’ve all seen spiders in our houses from time to time and ushered them out of the door in a glass covered with paper. No problem, right? But how about finding yourself housing a small swarm of spiders Arachnophobia style (I’m thinking of the film from the 90s about spiders:)). What to do?

OK, it probably isn’t that bad, but spiders do seem rather attracted to narrowboats. Maybe they dream of sailing the open seas or something! They can be rather annoying, especially if you are scared of spiders.

How to get rid of spiders on your boat?

My tip for getting rid of spiders is to get a mint plant. For some reason mint is like cryptonite for spiders. They hate it! Which is a good thing for us!

Simply buy a mint plant and station it inside your boat. It will scare away spiders and give you some awesome seasoning to use in your cooking.

Another option is to buy mint or peppermint essential oil (the good stuff with actual mint in it preferably). You can drop some drops around strategic places on your boat and Voila, the spiders will be gone! As you are only using small drops around the place a bottle will last ages!

No more scared spider moments on your narrowboat 🙂

Tip 2: How to stop the toilet on your Narrowboat smelling?

Firstly, if you are using chemicals and/or bleach on your toilet, then stop. There is a narrowboat specific alternative that uses bacteria to fight neutralise the smelly bacteria and give you a smell free toilet. You can visit their website HERE. It works really well as long as you only use their natural bacteria based products. If you start adding bleach and such like, it will kill the good bacteria and smells will start up again.

If you need an alternative, you should go with Elsan Green toilet fluid. Some people say it doesn’t work as well, but this is because you need to fully get rid of any nasty chemicals before the Elsan Green can work it’s magic. And no chemical smell.

If you have a pump toilet with an associated black tank on your boat, it is all about keeping your tank clean so that ‘things’ can’t easily stick inside it and stink up the place.

The main thing is to have a thorough pump out procedure to ensure that you get the black tank fully flushed out and clean. The best way is to use a hose to add extra water through the toilet and into the black tank during pump out. As your hose will be pushed down a toilet into a tank, best to use one that you don’t mind getting a bit grubby! As you do this, gently rock the boat if possible to help it swill around and pick up all that extra nasty stuff.

This becomes harder if you have a macerating pump out toilet (meaning it grinds everything up). Your only option then is to pump clean water back into the tank through the outlet and pump out again, repeating until the water runs clear.

Also, try to do shorter flushes on your pump out toilet. Every time you flush you are basically opening up your black tank to let any smells come out! Not nice!

You can use water softener tablets in your black tank to make sure that it isn’t scaling up and causing ‘things’ to stick due to hard water.

With a cassette toilet, use the bacterial related products mentioned above and make sure to thoroughly clean out your cassette after each emptying.

A lot of people are swearing by composting toilets, saying that they can be left for extended periods of time to compost your waste without smelling. When compared with traditional cassette toilets, they can be seen as a luxury though. And you might find that the cost of the composting material might add up, depending on what you use.

If your current toilet is giving you grief, even with the advice above, you should try out a composting toilet instead. I have heard of people literally using compost in their composting toilet and say it has no smell! It’s also easy to dispose of along with regular waste.

If you need a guide to buying the correct type of toilet on your narrowboat, we have one on this website.

Tip 3: Keeping your Mattress dry on a Narrowboat!

The enemy of narrowboats is moisture, if you allow it to build up it can start to rot and rust your boat from the inside. Not only this, but most people wouldn’t want a wet mattress, right? It’s kind of gross, especially when things start to grow on it 🙂

Therefore, make sure to air the underside of your mattress so you don’t have this problem. If your bed base doesn’t have any venting already, you could add some metal vents yourself. If you want to go the DIY route, you could simply drill some holes in the side of the base to allow air in. If your bed base has draws that open up to the mattress at the top, you cook even just leave them slightly open to allow air to circulate around the mattress.

Tip 4: Cleaning the glass window of your multi fuel stove

Most narrowboaters have solid fuel burning stoves in their narrowboat, as they provide a cheap source of heat. Some are wood burning, some coal burning and some do both (otherwise known as a multi-fuel stove).

The problem that you have is it can be tricky to clean the glass viewing window on the front. These get caked up with dust and soot and are generally a pain to clean.

The best thing to do is get whatever cloth you want to clean the window with, dab it in water first and use this to pick up some of the old ash. Wipe your stove’s glass window with this several times over and you will have it looking clean in no time. It’s crazy, I know, but it works! The main reason this is great, is that you don’t have to resort to using chemicals that could be emptied into the canal via your grey water outlets. It’s a win-win 🙂

Tip 5: Stay Organised

Any kind of canal boat has a relatively small living area when compared to a house. To help you keep the boat clean, you should try to keep as many things as possible stored out of sight. This makes it so much easier to do quick and regular dusting and wipe arounds to stay clean. If you have small items cluttered on all your surfaces, the whole process is slowed down as you need to remove these items first.

There are many excellent storage baskets and boxes on the market these days. Try to use these as much as possible to avoid the need to leave loose items lying around. A great example of this would be wall mounted plate racks!

Tip 6: Buy a Magnet!

You might think this is a bit of a strange one! Why would a narrowboat owner need a magnet? Trust me, buy one as soon as you start enjoying canal boats regularly!

Things WILL fall into the canal, and a lot of these things will be metal. Rather than getting all muddy yourself wading around trying to find your lost items, you can fish them out with a magnet instead.

You sometimes see people with magnets on strings at locks and you wouldn’t believe the things they pull out. Windlasses, coins….the list goes on!

Tip 7: Get a Filter for your Drains!

Narrowboats have pumps that help to get grey water out of them and into the canal. These items are quite expensive. The problem is that they can get clogged up and damaged by soap residue and hair if you are not careful!

OK, they might not break, but at the very least there lifespan might be less from this clogging. It puts extra stress on the motor trying to suck out the water. The simple way to solve this problem would be to buy a filter for the plugholes on your shower and all the sinks in your narrowboat. Simple as that, problem solved!! No nasty clogging stuff will go anywhere near your precious whale gulper or clog your pipes leading to annoying cleaning jobs 🙂

Tip 8: Improve your Weed Hatch Game!

When you cruise a narrowboat, you will inevitably get weeds (and other things) stuck in your propeller! This is why the weed hatch was invented, to allow you to easily clean off said propeller with little to no fuss.

The only issue is the fact that you have to stick your hand and half of your arm into questionable water! Not nice! So, we would recommend a nice vet’s glove to make the whole process a little less messy. When vet’s work with cows they sometimes need to stick their hand where the sun don’t shine, let’s put it that way 🙂 So these vet’s gloves are perfect for dealing with weed hatch gunk too 🙂


Have housekeeping tips of your own related to narrowboats? We would love to hear all about them in the comments section below. We might even change the article and give you a shoutout 🙂

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