Decks are a valuable addition to homes, but many people aren’t comfortable using a power washer to clean their wooden deck. And with good reason: if used improperly, they can cause permanent damage that’s expensive to repair. Fortunately, you can remove stains and clean your deck without a pressure washer.
In this article, I explain how to clean your wood deck naturally, including nontoxic ways to remove stains like rust, mold and mildew, grease, algae, leaves, pet urine, and bird poop. I also provide tips to maintain your deck, so it continues to add beauty and value to your home.
Step 1: Clear off everything from the deck.
It’s important to remove all furniture, grills, and outdoor toys from the deck before cleaning it to avoid damaging the wood. Dragging these items across a wet deck may scar or gouge the wood, and metal items left on the deck may cause rust stains. Additionally, keeping these items on the deck during cleaning exposes them to the cleaning solutions, which may damage them.
Step 2: Sweep to remove debris.
First, use a broom to sweep the area where your deck connects to your house, then clean the deck railing, the top of the deck, and the stairs to remove dirt and leaves. If you notice a sticky mess such as gum or sap, use a putty knife to gently scrape it away. If your deck is a second-floor deck, clean the underside as well to prevent moisture buildup. By clearing the deck of debris, you’ll ensure that the cleaning process is more effective.
Step 3: Treat deck stains with nontoxic ingredients.
It’s a good idea to treat stubborn stains before using the DIY deck cleaner recipe. This helps keep the stains from setting deeper into the wood. There are several common household ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar, salt, and hydrogen peroxide that can remove stains and discoloration from your wood deck without damaging it. The treatment to use depends on the stain.
- Rust: Squeeze lemon juice over the stain then apply table or sea salt to cover it. Let it sit overnight, then scrub with a brush.
- Mold and mildew: Spray the area with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water, or a mixture of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water. Apply to the area and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Scrub with a brush or broom and rinse thoroughly.
- Grease: Sprinkle a thick layer of baking soda or cornstarch on the stain and rub it into the area with a nonmetal brush. Cover it with a piece of paper or cling wrap and leave the powder in place for a few hours to pull out the grease. Sweep it away.
- Algae: Spray the area with a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water and let it sit for 30 minutes. Scrub with a nonmetal brush and rinse. Repeat if necessary.
- Leaves: Combine equal parts vinegar and water and a few drops of liquid dish soap. Apply this to the area and let it sit for 30 minutes. Scrub with a nonmetal brush and rinse.
- Animal or bird poop or urine: Use a putty knife or plastic scraper to remove solid waste. Spray the spot with equal parts vinegar and water, and let that soak for 30 minutes. Scrub the area with warm, soapy water and rinse.
Step 4: Prepare a homemade deck cleaner.
To make a homemade deck cleaning mixture, add 2 cups of powdered oxygenated bleach to 5 gallons of warm water in a bucket, or use 1 cup of homemade oxygen bleach for every 1 gallon of water. Mix the solution well and you’ll have an effective and eco-friendly cleaner for your wooden deck.
Oxygen bleach is a non-toxic cleaner that is safe for pets and plants. Unlike traditional chlorine bleach, it doesn’t produce harmful fumes or leave behind toxic residue.
Step 5: Apply the deck cleaner and let it foam.
To apply the homemade deck cleaning solution, work in sections, pouring the mixture onto your deck and allowing it to sit for about 15 minutes. Reapply the solution as needed to keep the area wet during this time. You may notice some bubbling as the deck cleaner tackles stains and grime. When 15 minutes is up, use a nonmetal brush or push broom to scrub the surface, working in the direction of the wood grain. Repeat this process on the rails, stairs, and any other parts of the deck that need attention.
Step 6: Rinse with a hose.
To rinse the deck, use a garden hose to thoroughly rinse the surface from top to bottom, including the railings, surface, and stairs. Insufficient rinsing leaves the cleaning solution in place and may lighten your deck’s surface. Also, rinse any tarps you used to cover nearby items during the cleaning process to ensure they don’t dry with a layer of grime on them.
Step 7: Let it dry.
Factors like weather, temperature, and humidity affect the drying time, but using a push broom to remove standing water can speed up the process. It’s recommended to wait at least 24-48 hours before using the deck again, and longer if the weather is cool or humid.
Tips to Maintain Your Wooden Deck
- Sweep your deck weekly to remove debris that can trap moisture on the surface and cause mold and rot. Shovel snow off your deck during winter to avoid damage from added weight and warping caused by melting snow.
- Prevent water damage by cleaning your gutters and downspouts at least once a year to keep overflow from pouring onto your deck, which can weaken and erode the wood.
- Inspect your deck every Spring for signs of insect damage, rotting deck boards, and loose screws and bolts. Replace any damaged materials and tighten any loose hardware.
- If you plan to seal or stain your deck, deep clean it as directed and let it dry for at least a week. To test if it’s ready for sealing, sprinkle a teaspoon of water on the wood in a shady spot. If the deck absorbs the water in 5-10 minutes, it’s ready. Wait at least 24 hours after rain to seal your deck.
Plan to deep clean your deck every Spring after the last frost, then maintain it with regular attention throughout the year. If you live in an area with mild winters, you may want to deep clean your deck in the fall, too.