Clear The Decks!

Chances are, your lovely deck was built from tough and sturdy lumber — redwood, cedar, pine or something durably pressure-treated — and it looks just fine to you. And it’s true, that with good quality materials and workmanship, your deck can enjoy at least a 30-year life-span, barring hurricane, tornado or some other disaster.

But will your deck be safe and healthy into its teens and on beyond?

It will, if you begin a common-sense maintenance routine now! In addition to twice-a-year inspections for splinting, rusting and missing or protruding nails, give your deck a top-to-bottom spring cleaning.

The annual deep-cleaning described below will help ensure that your deck looks great, resists mildew and keeps you more than a slip-and-a-slide away from a civil lawsuit!


That grease you spilled next to the grill last summer isn’t going away if you don’t help it on its way. Those leaves that came down late last year and spent the winter under a thin snow-pack are already making a cozy home for various mildews, molds and fungi.

That’s right: if you’re slip-sliding across your deck when it’s wet, then much of your deck-dirt is really a colony of living, growing organisms. You wouldn’t dream of having algae and other slimy company on your hardwood floors or living in your carpet! So now’s the time to roust it out of your deck.

A dirty, slippery deck — even if it doesn’t look dirty — is dangerous. Why court a lawsuit?

So clean your deck each spring! That will wash away the scum and keep mildews from moving in quickly.

It takes a bit of time and just a little elbow grease. You can hire a cleaning done for about $500, or you can do it yourself, with commercial deck cleaners or just using water and bleach.

Here’s how!

Step #1 Clear the decks!

That means first making the deck area off-limits to youngsters and pets while you’re cleaning it.

You can do this chore on your hands and knees, but it’s so much easier to use a regular garden sprayer that hasn’t yet been used! If you don’t have a sprayer, a good broom and a sturdy pail will work effectively.

If you’re making your own cleaning solution, mix one part bleach to two parts water, fill the sprayer or the pail, and set it aside.
Remove everything from the deck and give the area a good, thorough sweeping. Make note of problem areas that might need extra attention and make repairs before you apply the solution.

If you’ve got border shrubs, plants or flowers, cover them well with plastic so they’re not bleach-damaged.

With wide, multi-level decks that are railed all around and separated by stairs, I’ve found the deck-cleaning task much easier if I work left to right, top to bottom. That directs the inevitable after-sweep residue gradually downward, and ensures that no spot or rail is left unwashed.

If you’ve never deep-cleaned your deck, or it’s been a few years, then the visual difference between your old dirty deck and your new clean one may be dramatic! Be sure to clean the entire area before moving on to the next.

Step #2 Dress Down and Pre-Soak

Be sure to wear old clothes, old shoes and a pocketed apron or garden belt to keep your gloves, scrub brush and a tissue or two handy. I like to walk the area first with my sprayer, and pre-wet any particularly offensive spots. These can usually be found under benches, under flowerpots and along the area where the deck meets the house. Give each spot a once-over with your scrub brush.

Apply the bleach-water solution lightly to the entire surface, left to right, top to bottom. Once you’re sure everything is covered, let the mixture sit on the deck for at least 10 minutes, up to 15 minutes for seriously grungy decks.

If you’re doing a multi-level deck, or multiple decks, this is the time to grab your broom and sweep the next target down once more.

Step #3 Rinse and Go … or Go Again

Rinse the rails and decking carefully — top to bottom, left to right –with a hose, and allow to dry. In the meantime, use a clean, damp rag to wipe down deck furniture, flower pots and other accessories that routinely occupy your deck.

Give the finished product a critical look before moving on to the next chore. Re-do obvious problem areas, and don’t hesitate to re-soak, scrub and re-rinse the entire deck a second time.

If you haven’t sealed your deck in at least two years, apply a coat of commercial sealant when your deck is dry to repel water and help slow the growth of unwanted organisms.

When you’re done, your deck will look and smell like the clean and fresh play-place you want for your family … all for a fraction of the cost you’d have paid a commercial firm to do it!

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