Cleaning your deck – Common issues and prevention

Ahhh, spring is in the air and everything looks nice and fresh outside except for your deck.  In this article, we are going to cover the basic steps for keeping your deck clean. While many people like to pressure wash their deck, we do not recommend it in most cases. While pressure washing your deck maybe the fastest way to clean it, it can also do the most damage if you are not careful. With that in mind, let us take a look a quick look at the common issues and ways to keep your deck looking great for years to come.

Normal Maintenance

The best way to keep your deck clean is to sweep it or use a leaf blower every week; even if you do not think it is needed. Make sure you pay close attention to the areas between the deck boards. Why? Well this is the area that dirt, pollen, and other containments gather & can start causing not only wood rot but also mildew and other growths to start. You can also generally spray the deck down with a garden house, sprinkle some laundry detergent over it and use a deck brush to give it a good scrubbing. Don’t forget to follow it up with a good rinsing.

The 4 most common enemies

  1. Water, Snow and Ice
  2. Sun Light especially the UV rays
  3. Mold, Mildew, Algae, and Fungus
  4. Natural & Man Made Containments

Water, Snow and Ice

While one cannot prevent Mother Nature from throwing everything at our decks, by keeping them clean, maintained, and eliminating standing water we can help eliminate most issues. Snow and Ice are two other common issues that can affect many decks. The best option for snow removal on both wood and composite decks is to sweep them off. If you need to use a shovel, avoid using steel shovels and instead switch to a plastic shovel. This can help prevent you from gouging or damaging the surface. For ice buildups, do not chip away at it, instead use a snow or ice melt product that is safe for your product. You should also consider what the product will do to your landscaping & choose wisely.

Sun Light especially the UV rays

Ahhh the sun, after this snowy & rainy winter, many of us are looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the UV light will damage most decks. Wood decks will start turning silver and composite decks will fade. Most composite decking manufacturers add UV inhibitors to help prevent this. Depending on the amount and quality of the inhibitors will decide on how closely the original color will be in the years to come. Wood decks are generally protected with paint or stain to help prevent the UV light from weathering the wood, but they need to be applied regularly. If your wood deck was not sealed originally, there are specially made chemicals for cleaning & brightening the surface of the deck. I have actually had good luck with the Behr brand on my own personal deck.

Mold, Mildew, Algae and Fungus

All of these items are natural organisms. Algae needs a continual source of water to grow, and preventing its growth can easily be accomplished on a normal deck. The other three are common everywhere, but they require a food source to colonize. Among the food sources are wood fibers, grass and tree pollens, and nutrient-rich dirt or dust. These are commonly found on exterior horizontal surface, like your deck. Your decking material, determines what must be done to take care of it.

  • High end composite materials have an antimicrobial protection added & can easily be cleaned up with soap & water. In most cases, the growth is caused above the surface of the deck due to the pollen and other materials allowed to build up. You should check with the manufacturer as for the best way to clean it, as some commonly used chemicals like bleach can ruin the surface.
  • Lower end composites; well I hate to say it, but you get what you pay for. You should check with the manufacturer as for the best way to clean it, as some commonly used chemicals like bleach can ruin the surface.
  • Wood surfaces; if a normal scrubbing (listed above) does not work, you may need to use a 4 to 1 mixture of water and bleach or an available commercial cleaner. Bleach may cause a discoloration of the decking, so you might look into an oxygen bleach cleaner which should help prevent that. If you use a commercial cleaner, please refer to all the directions located on the container, website or MSDS sheet.

Natural & Man Made Containments

This list could go on for miles, but some of the biggest issues I see are leaves, grease from grills, condiments, drinks and spray tan or sun block. Grease, condiments, and condensation rings from glasses can easily be prevented by placing a coaster or appropriate device under these items. Spilled drinks or food should be cleaned up quickly & the area rinsed. Leaves are easily blown off the deck during the fall and winter. The tanning and sun block should never be applied over the deck, if you need to apply it outside, make sure you are on a towel or other such item to prevent getting it on the decking.

A few other items to help keep your deck looking new

  • Do not hose the deck down to clean it, it is better to sweep it.
  • Make sure that the area under the deck slopes away from the house for proper drainage.
  • Make sure that the area under the deck is also clean and has adequate ventilation.
  • A high quality landscape fabric under the deck covered with pea gravel or washed stone, is a good idea to prevent weed growth and moisture problems. Do not use bark mulch or something similar, as that will help trap the moisture.
  • You should have a 1/8” to a 1/4″ gap between all deck boards
  • Make sure your gutters are working properly & do not overflow onto the deck
  • Make sure that your dryer vent does not discharge directly onto or around the deck (if at all possible)
  • A properly built deck will not be perfectly level or slope back towards the house – it should slope a minimum of 1/4” per 8’ away from the house
  • Depending on the location of the deck, and numerous other factors, a wood deck (especially with the materials available today) should be sealed at least every few years & in most cases yearly (this will be covered in another article shortly)

As always, please stay safe; if you feel uncomfortable, do not understand how to complete a task, etc… please call in a professional.

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    This blog is great. Every article so far is packed with information….