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Spring Clean Your Deck Without Damaging It

Which methods are best to clean and protect your deck without damaging it? Pressure washing vs. chemical cleaners, chlorine bleach vs. oxygen bleach, staining vs. sealing, water vs. oil based?
Spring is here and it’s time to get your deck ready for the summer! But how do you clean your deck without hurting it? Here are a few way to get your deck ready for the summer without causing damage:


The first step is to clear your entire deck. Clear the deck of any furniture, rugs, grills, planters, etc. Don’t be tempted to try to work around your BBQ or table, move it all off your deck.

Next, remove any nearby vegetation that is growing onto your deck, like tree branches, vines, or bushes. Then, sweep off any remaining debris, leaves, and branches with a broom (leaving organic materials on your deck traps moisture and can cause wood rot).

Finally, use a putty knife to “floss” out any debris between the deck boards to promote water flow and prevent wood rot.


Once your deck is cleared, you need to inspect your deck for any damage.

Check the decking for any loose or raised boards, splintered boards, or raised nails. Replace any bad boards and replace any raised nails with a larger nail or screw to get more of a “bite” into the deck frame. Check the deck railing for any loose posts, caps, rails, or balusters. If you see any signs of damage, replace or repair the problem areas.

Composite decking and handrails may not require as much maintenance as a traditional wood decking, but you still want to inspect the support structure below. Bounce up and down on the deck and see if the structure seems weakened. Look underneath your deck for any loose lag bolts, deck fasteners, or wood rot. If you see any structural damage, contact a professional deck builder to make repairs before using your deck.


After repairing your deck, you need to wash it clean of any dirt and mildew. But how should you wash your deck to avoid damaging it?

PRESSURE WASHING VS. CHEMICAL CLEANERS. Cleaning your deck with a pressure washer can save you time and doesn’t use any harsh chemicals. Pressure washing a composite deck is usually fine, however pressure washing a wood deck can quickly damage the deck by leaving large gouges or make your deck looking “fuzzy” by raising the wood fibers. If you must pressure wash, use a low pressure setting (around 800 psi), use a wide nozzle (40 degrees or more), hold the nozzle at least a foot away from the deck surface, and keep spraying in a constant motion to avoid gouges.

Most people find that scrubbing their deck with a long handled stiff bristled brush and deck cleaners is the best option. But what kind of cleaners should you use?

CHLORINE BLEACH VS. OXYGEN BLEACH. Cleaning your deck with diluted chlorine bleach is usually the most effective at killing mildew, but it’s also the most effective way to damage your decking material. Chlorine bleach breaks down lignin, which is the glue that holds the wood fibers together, causing visible damage as well as preventing your deck stain or sealant from properly bonding to the wood. Chlorine bleach can also damage nearby plant life, siding, paint, and walkways.

Deck cleaners containing oxygen bleach remove mildew and other residue from the decking without destroying the wood. They are also non-toxic for plants, pets, and people, because they simply break down into oxygen and soda ash. However, unlike pressure washing or chlorine bleach, you might need to do a bit of scrubbing with a long handled stiff bristled brush to get your deck as clean as you’d like it. Before you start washing, test the cleaner's strength in a small area first. It should kill the mildew and remove the dirt in 10 to 15 minutes. If it takes longer than 15 minutes, the mix is too weak; if it takes less than 10 minutes, the mix is too strong.

After washing and rinsing your composite deck, you’re done! Now just bring back all of your furniture and enjoy your summer outdoors. If your deck is wood, let it dry for 2 to 3 days before doing any sanding, staining, or sealing.


If your wood deck has grayed, you can sand the cedar when it's dry. You can rent a large random orbital sander with 80-grit paper and use a handheld random-orbit sander along the edges and handrails. Before you start, make sure every exposed screw or nail is safely below the wood surface. Sand lightly until all the gray is gone and blow off all remaining sanding dust. Then you should seal or stain your deck. But which should you use?

SEALING VS. STAINING. Typically, decks should be re-sealed or re-stained every 1 to 2 years to protect against water and UV damage. If you want the natural color of your deck to shine through, then you can use a clear deck sealant to protect from water damage. However, if you want to add some color to your deck, deck stains protect your deck from water damage and UV damage because most deck stains contain a sealant and the added color pigments actually protect your deck from UV rays. Both deck stains and sealants can be water or oil based.

WATER-BASED VS. OIL-BASED. Oil-based stains are used by many professionals and last longer that water-based stains, however oil-based stain can only be cleaned up with paint thinner and can only adhere to wood previously treated with oil-based products. Water-based stains are less durable than oil-based, however water-based products are more environmentally friendly, can be cleaned up with water, and can adhere to wood surfaces already treated with either water or oil-based stains. When applying either water or oil-based stains, make sure the temperature is between 50 to 90 degrees F, do not apply in direct sunlight, make sure the coat only three or four boards at a time to prevent lap marks, and apply two thin coats rather than one thick coat.


Beyond repairing, cleaning, and staining, there are other things you can do to get your deck ready for spring. Why not consider modifying or adding to your deck before the season starts?

Adding some outdoor lighting, like string lights, porch lights, or handrail lighting, can make your outdoor living space useful for more hours of the day and night. Planter boxes are relatively easy to build, simple to maintain, and a great way to incorporate greenery into your deck. Built-in benches are another add-on that can help make more efficient use of your space. Finally, simply replacing your deck furniture with a new set can make a huge impact on the overall look of your deck.

For more ideas on how to update your deck, go to:; for help with repairing and replacing your deck, contact us at:

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