Swab the Deck: Your Deck-Cleaning Guide

by Michael Franco
cleaning terrace with a power washer - high water pressure cleaner on wooden terrace surface

Cleaning a Deck at a Glance

  • Step 1: Clear furniture
  • Step 2: Sweep
  • Step 3: Hose the deck
  • Step 4: Scrub with cleaning solution
  • Step 5: Rinse
  • Optional: Remove mold and algae

The arrival of nicer weather brings with it so many pleasant things to do — like spending time outside on your deck. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where mild weather is a given year-round, your deck can serve as something of an extra living room. Keeping your deck clean, therefore, should be a part of your normal home maintenance routine.

This May Also Interest You: How to Stain and Seal Your Deck

Not only is a clean deck more enjoyable than a dirty one, but spending the little bit of time it takes to keep it scrubbed up can actually extend its life. So let’s get cleaning!

What’s the Best Way to Clean Decking?

You should give your decking a big clean at least once a year, with smaller cleanings throughout the season.

First, clear off all furniture and other items. Then, give your deck a good sweep. If this is your first time on the deck this season (or if it's been a while since you've cleaned it up), there will probably be lots of leaves, dirt and other bits that have accumulated. Don’t forget the edges, corners and the spaces underneath your railings, if you have them.

Next, get the garden hose and start rinsing. Spend a little extra time on any really dirty spots. The goal here is to loosen any grimy buildup and get rid of dust and other light dirt. You can also use a pressure washer for this step. Depending on your decking material, though, you’ll want to be careful not to do any damage. Choose the lowest setting and keep the spray nozzle a few feet from the deck’s surface. Don’t forget to rinse between the decking boards to get rid of any sneaky twigs or leaves.

Using Homemade Deck Cleaner

The next step is to scrub the deck with a cleaner. You can buy a cleaner specifically made for decking or make a homemade deck cleaner. If you purchase one, make sure it is safe for your specific decking material.

There are a number of deck cleaners you can make up yourself. A gentle cleaning solution simply uses dishwashing liquid and water. This is best to use if your deck isn’t really that dirty, or to quickly give it a refresh every month or so.

A hardier solution uses water, ammonia-free dishwashing liquid, rubbing alcohol and oxygen bleach. Very important: You must use ammonia-free dishwashing liquid. If ammonia is mixed with bleach, it can cause toxic fumes. The recipe for this cleaner is as follows: 1 gallon warm water, 2 tablespoons ammonia-free dishwashing liquid, 1 pint of rubbing alcohol and 1 quart of oxygen bleach. Be sure to use oxygen bleach, not chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach can damage wood decking.

Another homemade deck cleaner that is safe for both wood and composite decking is made with vinegar. Combine 1 gallon of water with 1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda.

Once you have your cleaner, swab the deck! Use a brush to scrub it in and create a lather. It’s best to let it sit and work its magic for about 10 minutes. Then, rinse thoroughly using your hose or pressure washer.

Mold and Algae Solution

If you have spots of mold or algae, it’s best to use a ready-made product designed to treat and disinfect these problem areas. A second benefit is that most of these sprays will also protect your decking from future outbreaks. Again, make sure whatever you purchase is suitable for your deck material. A homemade alternative to this is 1 cup of borax mixed with 1 gallon of water.

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What’s the Best Cleaner for Wood Decks?

We’ve talked a bit about cleaning wood and composite decking, but here are more specifics. If you have a wood deck, complete the sweeping and initial rinse steps above. It’s best to use a 5-gallon bucket when making up your cleaning solution. You can use one of the recommended homemade cleaners above or purchase a wood decking cleaning product. When scrubbing the deck, be sure to go with the grain. Rinse your deck really well so no cleaner remains. If you plan to stain or seal your deck, wait at least 24 hours to ensure the wood is very dry.

How Do You Clean Composite Decking?

Your composite deck can be cleaned quickly and easily. Again, follow the steps for sweeping and rinsing as listed above. The vinegar-based homemade deck cleaner works great on composite decking, especially if you have any mold. Scrub your cleaner into your deck and rinse really well. Rinsing away the cleaner is especially important with composite decking because you don’t want to create a film or buildup on the deck’s surface. To keep your composite decking in tip-top shape, you should clean it like this a minimum of twice per year.

Great work! All that’s left is to replace your patio furniture and plants when your decking is completely dry. And, of course, get the grill going.