How to clean a deck without a pressure washer – experts recommend the best deck cleaners to use instead
For better long term results and to reduce damage to the deck, ditch that pressure washer when cleaning your deck
Did you know it's actually best to clean a deck without a pressure washer? Yes, using one will make the job quicker and so much easier, but the strength of the water pressure can also damage the wood by raising its fibers, meaning your deck will just need more cleaning, more often in future.
'Cleaning a deck is best done with a much gentler approach,' says H&G's garden expert Drew Swainston. 'If you are fairly diligent with your routine, you may find that simply using a dish soap solution and a stiff broom is enough to get yours looking as good as new. Failing that, there are some good eco-friendly deck cleaners to use.'
Below, we look at the various options for cleaning a deck without a pressure washer, and answer your questions on safe ways to remove green mold and mildew from a wood deck as you clean.
How to clean a deck without a pressure washer
'Whatever approach you are taking, first clear your deck of all containers, furniture and debris, cut back plants that are overhanging, clear dirt out of any areas where it might have gathered and ensure plants surrounding your deck are protected,' continues Drew Swainston.
'If you aren't using a harsh chemical product, you can protect surrounding plants simply by wetting them with a hose. Otherwise, use plastic drop cloths to protect them. I like these plastic drop cloths from Amazon because they have good tear-resistance, meaning you can reuse them time and again.'
Clean your deck with dish soap
The easiest, and preferable, way to clean a deck without a pressure washer is to use a dish soap solution, which will freshen a deck and is strong enough to remove mild stains.
Simply squeeze dish soap into a bucket and run some hot water over it. Then mop the solution on to the deck.
Brush in the direction of the grain with a stiff-bristled brush (one with a long handle is easier to work with).
Rinse off with a hose, allow to dry, inspect the deck and repeat if necessary.
Clean your deck with deck cleaner
If you are using a deck cleaner to remove more stubborn stains or to clean up a really neglected deck, the key to success is to follow the manufacturer's instructions, and to test it on a small, tucked away area, first. You can use deck cleaners on all your deck ideas, from the main surface to railings.
Most deck cleaner instructions will run something like this:
- Work on a dry, overcast and cool day: this will ensure the deck cleaner doesn't evaporate or get washed away before it's had a chance to work its magic.
- Work in sections: if you have a large deck, keep the areas you are working on manageable, completing entire lengths of timber at a time before moving on.
- Apply deck cleaner to a dry deck: usually generously so that the cleaning is thorough and not patchy. We really rate DeckMAX Composite and Wood Deck Cleaner.
- Wait for the allotted time: usually five minutes.
- Brush in the cleaner with a stiff-bristled broom: in the direction of the grain.
- Apply more cleaner if needed: wait again for a few minutes, brush in again.
- Rinse off with a hose: spray plants, too, if they have been spattered with deck cleaner. Note: not all deck cleaners are designed to be rinsed off, so read instructions carefully.
- Allow to dry: then repeat if necessary.
- Apply a deck brightener: this restores the wood after cleaning to like-new, and helps it better absorb protection, such as stain. We like Defy Wood Brightener, at Amazon.
- Protect the deck if needed: allow the deck to dry thoroughly, for up to three days first. Whether you need to stain the deck or paint the deck, this cleaning process might be all you need, though for best effect, you may need to sand the deck instead.
Which is the best deck cleaner?
If you need something stronger than dish soap, a for-purpose deck cleaner will do the job for you. There are different types and you will need to choose one that doesn't strip off any existing finishes or damage plant life surrounding the deck.
'This means avoiding chlorine bleach-based cleaners,' says H&G's senior content editor (gardens) Holly Crossley. 'No matter what you read elsewhere, don't believe the hype: chlorine bleach will kill mildew on your deck but will also damage both the wood and any surrounding plant life.
'Instead, look for deck cleaners that are safe for plants and pets. Oxygen bleach-based cleaners will remove mildew, but are safe for plants and animals.'
These are our favorites:
Best deck cleaner overall: We like DeckMAX Composite and Wood Deck Cleaner, at Amazon.
Best deck cleaner for painted decks: Starbrite, at Amazon, is non-slip and biodegradable.
Best deck cleaner for mold and mildew: Scotts Outdoor Cleaner Multi Purpose Formula at Amazon – can be used for cleaning patio pavers without a pressure washer, too.
Best wood brightener: post cleaning, Defy Wood Brightener, at Amazon will help restore the wood's color, and help it better absorb protection, such as stain.
Is it better to power wash a deck or use a deck cleaner?
It is without doubt better to clean a deck without a pressure washer because you are unlikely to damage the deck in a way that using a pressure washer can do. If you must use a power washer, ensure you use a low pressure setting, a wide nozzle, and hold the nozzle at least a foot from the surface of the wood, moving constantly with the grain of the wood. Better still, brush on then rinse off an eco-friendly deck cleaner.
What is the best way to clean a stained deck?
After you have swept the deck clean, you can simply use warm, soapy water (made soapy with dish soap or laundry detergent), mopped on, then brushed into the wood in the direction of the grain. That done, rinse the soapy water off, and repeat if necessary. Failing that, use a deck cleaner for more stubborn dirt and stains.
Will vinegar damage my deck?
You may find that you are successfully cleaning with vinegar indoors, but that doesn't mean you should use it on your deck. Diluted it will kill mold, but if it's left to soak into the wood, or used undiluted, vinegar will leech the color out of the decking. Better to use dish soap or a made-for-purpose deck cleaner.
Will bleach damage my deck?
Bleach (and by this we mean chlorine bleach) will damage a deck by whitening the wood unnaturally and even corroding metal elements. It will also harm plant life. Plus, while it will remove algae and mold, it won't kill the mold spores, which will return. Better to use oxygen bleach, which won't harm plant life but is present in the best deck cleaners.
Cleaning a deck without a pressure washer becomes easier with good maintenance year round: if you notice patches of algae, for example, question the reason for their presence and take action if possible to minimize or remove them. It might be that they are caused by poor drainage or a dripping faucet, for example. And even in winter, get out and sweep up debris, especially fall leaves, which can leave stains behind. Regular maintenance year round will make cleaning a deck without a pressure washer that much easier.
Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.
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