Doing the dishes, pressure washer style.
By Mark Clement
Because deck cleaning—that I’m trying to re-brand as deck brightening because I can see all the dirt coming off in my mind’s eye and the ever-awesome wood grain being re-exposed as I write this; also, I am a dweeb—is a job with a number of moving parts. While I discuss some of those in the scintillating Part 1 of this 2-part series I want to focus on actually getting the deck clean here in Part 2 and touch on some of the things I find that make it easier and really bring out the beauty of the wood.
Note: We’re not talking about removing a finish in this piece. Just cleaning up the deck itself.
By “right” I mean successfully sifting through the alphabet soup of products on the shelf at the home center—or where I prefer to shop for items like this: A professional paint store. Hopefully a few links below make that selection easier while the next part gets you in the right mindset.
First thing to suss out is that detergents are not magic. You have to match up the right detergent with the right stain. In other words some products clean dirt while other products clean algae and mold and there are some “all-in-ones” out there too. Then there are deck brighteners which are often used after a finish stripping or some all-in-ones which can bleach the wood.
And there’s also this: Tri Sodium Phosphate. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
If your deck is in full sun, there aren’t a lot of trees and leaves and standing water around, chances are you just need to clean dirt, so get a deck cleaner for that.
If you’re under a forest canopy you almost surely have both dirt and algae and a product that’s been recommend to me is 30-Seconds Cleaner. It also says it does a number on dirt and grime while being easy on surrounding plants and grass.
To make things extra confusing, the best deck cleaner I ever used was a powdered cleaner that you mix with water. Surely the same formula no longer exists, but it made the wood look like it was just installed so you can try a powder like this or like this.
The next thing to do is to lower the adrenaline level about 50% as it relates to “power” washing. The thing that does 90 % of the work, in my opinion, is the detergent. It’s no different than soaking dishes to make them easier to clean. Apply the detergent according to the instructions and let it dissolve the dirt. Re-apply as needed. It’s easier to watch my YouTube videos than it is to scrub a stuck-on stain.
Scrubbing with a deck brush sounds like some Cinderalla-level chore but I find it immensely satisfying to see all the dirt come up.
Last, you can probably get away with rinsing with a hose, but this is where the pressure washer comes in. It’s enhanced rinsing and it’ll work better and faster than a hose. Use a wide fan on the tip and never get the tip closer than the width of a deck board or you risk blowing up the wood fiber. As a rule of thumb, I try to work one board at a time as I rinse.
Now, Tri Sodium Phosphate. Clorox says that you can add a little bleach to a solution of TSP (or use their deck cleaner) to take care of stubborn stains. The thing about TSP is that it is an incredible cleaner but it is caustic. Plants need to be wrapped and rubber boots, gloves, long sleeves need to be used. It costs 3-dollars for a box, so doing a little test can’t hurt (the deck).
Clear as mud? Let me know if I can answer any questions.