8 Steps to Eliminate Boat Head Odors

This year, for whatever reason, our head stinks.  And by stinks, I mean “wake me up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night when David flushes” stinks.  SERIOUS stinks!

Way too nice a place to live to have to deal with the

No one wants their HOME to STINK!!

In 15 years, we’ve never had this problem.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that last summer the boat was on the hard instead of in the water. But whatever happened, we’ve lived on this boat for almost 2 months and the head is a never ending source of odor frustration and humiliation.

It didn’t stink when we left the boat for the summer. Before leaving, we totally rinsed out and cleaned the bowl, the hoses and the holding tank with fresh water  – which has always been sufficient.  When we returned to the boat…

The Culprit (otherwise known as The Head)

The Culprit (otherwise known as The Head)

I cleaned the bowl with CP (Raritan’s Cleans Potties), rinsed the hoses and tank thoroughly with fresh water, pumped out, then added OdorLos.  As usual, the first few pumps of seawater elicited quite an odor, but no worries, once the system is operating regularly those all go away.  Except this time they didn’t.

OK, maybe extra vinegar, pumped one pump at a time and left to sit for several minutes as recommended by Don Casey in his Marine Toilet Maintenance article?  (Very helpful article by the way.)  Great idea, no joy.

We performed the normal warm damp cotton cloth around the hoses trick – no odor.  If the rag stinks after doing this, the hose has been permeated with the odor and must be replaced.

Here's the Jabsco Joker Valve, instead of a single slit, there's a 3 way valve.

Here’s the Jabsco Joker Valve, instead of a single slit, there’s a 3 way valve.

When all else fails, maybe the joker valve is corroded?  The joker valve is no joke, it’s the rubber (or whatever) valve through which all waste passes on the way to the holding tank.  It also keeps anything from returning where you don’t want it.

Unfortunately replacing our joker valve didn’t resolve the overwhelming head stink issue this time.  Now what?

We clean out the holding tank vent thinking maybe there’s not enough oxygen getting into the tank – oxygen reacts with bacteria in the holding tank to minimize or eliminate any odor.  That didn’t help.

Don Casey’s Marine Head Maintenance article (link above) references removing heavy scale with a 10% muriatic acid solution.  So out came the bucket and after several 10% solutions of muriatic acid and water and lots of fizzing and hissing, all was quiet.

We pumped more fresh water down and for a time I thought the odor issue was resolved.

Unfortunately overnight, once again I was awoken by THE smell.  It’s a stale urine smell (I know TOO MUCH INFORMATION!) not a normal holding tank smell.  UGH!!!

See the flapper valve, way down at the bottom of the pump?

See the flapper valve, way down at the bottom of the pump?

As often happens, in the middle of the night, David has a brainstorm:  The Flapper Valve!  The flapper valve hasn’t been replaced in few years, maybe that’s the issue.

The infamous flapper valve

The infamous flapper valve

So we dug out the spares, luckily had one in stock, and David installed it – after cleaning the calcium buildup under the seal.

At the same time, he dismantled the inlet valve just to make sure there’s no stinky debris contributing to the problem.  Nope, the inlet valve is clear and the orientation is correct.  Click on the photo for the PDF link to Raritan’s maintenance pages explaining how to repair/orient the inlet valve for a Raritan PHII.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 10.21.00 AM

No smell, but there’s still water leaking back into the bowl.  Only a bit, but there shouldn’t be any once we pump it dry.  Which has to mean the joker valve, which we just replaced is leaking a bit.  UGH!  Will this never end?

After dismantling the joker valve for the second time in a week, David discovers some calcium buildup inside the hose attaching to the joker valve and chisels it out with a flathead screwdriver.  After reinstalling the joker valve, NO LEAKS!  The bowl remains dry.

Adding SuperLube per Raritan's instructions.

Adding SuperLube per Raritan’s instructions.

But the pump, a casualty of the muriatic acid earlier in this torturous process, is protesting loudly.    So while everything is still disassembled, David uses some SuperLube to lube the pump.  Raritan recommends that the pump be lubricated annually and it’s amazing how smoothly it works once it has SuperLube inside. Using vege oil down the bowl once a month, doesn’t really lube the inside of the pump sufficiently, so yes, it really is necessary to follow the instructions above and do it right.

FINALLY, this morning I wake up and realize that I wasn’t awakened by that horrendous odor last night!  HURRAH!  We can use our head again without first making sure there’s no one on any dock downwind of the boat.

Now maybe we can concentrate on finding a weather window to somewhere!  🙂

Anyone with other horror stories that might help someone else solve a future seemingly unsolvable head stink problem?  🙂  Please leave a comment and share!  Cheers!  Jan


  1. Keith Davie says:

    There are times I’m very, very happy our boat came with an Airhead! It’s not perfect, but it sure is easy to maintain! And it never smells.

  2. Thanks for the great information and it will be useful for my next boat trip as well. I don’t like any odors and it happens often to me at home as well as boat trip or rv trip. Now it’s clear to me how to remove the odors perfectly..

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