How to Clean your Deck

When you‘re getting ready for that first summer barbecue, you may think of cleaning the grill or your patio furniture, but do you ever give a thought to cleaning your deck? You should. Not only will proper cleaning keep your deck looking nice, it will help it last longer and reduce the amount of maintenance you’ll need to do for years to come.

Note: Before you get set up to start your deck cleaning job, make sure there is no rain predicted for the day. It can take several hours to dry completely.

Cleaning Your Deck

1. Clear the deck

The first thing you need to do is move your furniture, grill and other outdoor accessories off the deck so that you can easily get at the wood. If you can’t move them to another area of the house or yard, at least stack them in a corner.

2. Sweep the deck

Before you start lugging out the cleaning solution, you want to get all of the leaves, pine needles and loose dirt out of the way. Grab a shop broom (one appropriate for the outdoors) and start sweeping. If there’s only organic material on the deck, you can simply sweep it into the yard. If not, use a trash can.

3. Protect yourself and any plants

Since many deck cleaners can be toxic, you’ll want to put plastic sheeting over any planters on your deck so that the plants inside them aren’t harmed. If you have furniture remaining on your deck, you will want to cover that as well. You should also protect your body by wearing long sleeves, long pants and rubber gloves.

4. Mix the cleaning solution

The most common solution people use to clean their decks is a commercial deck cleaner, which you can purchase at your local hardware or home improvement store. Be sure to examine the package carefully to be sure it is appropriate to the type of wood your deck is made out of and the grime you are trying to remove. And you may want to choose an environmentally friendly and nontoxic cleaner, since they are safer for your yard and children or pets.
Alternately, you can skip the trip to the hardware store and go with an oxygen-based (not chlorine) bleach and water solution in a ratio of about two cups of bleach to a gallon of water. Never heard of oxygen-based bleach? Sure you have. It’s in products like Tide with Bleach and Ajax Bleach Powder, available at your local grocery store or drug store.

Simply fill a bucket with the water and your bleach solution or the amount of water and deck cleaner specified on the packaging.

5. Apply the cleaning solution to the deck

There are two main ways you can perform the rest of the cleaning, by hand or with a power washer. The method you should choose depends on the time you have for cleaning the deck and the amount of money you are willing to spend.

If you’re going to scrub by hand, which will be cheaper but will take more time, you can apply the solution with the broom you used to sweep the deck or with a garden sprayer. If you’re going to power wash, you can just apply the cleaning solution through the power washer by adding it to the tank.

Whichever method you go with, be sure to coat all the surfaces of the deck, including any stairs or railings (it helps if you move in rows, like you would if you were mowing the lawn). Once you’re finished, let the solution sit on the deck for about 10 minutes.

*Make sure you use the correct power washer and the correct setting and nozzle on said power washer to avoid damaging your wood. Ask an employee at the store where you buy or rent your power washer, or if you already own one, consult the owner’s manual. Only hold the pressure washer as close to the wood as you need to to get it clean. No need stressing your wood further for no reason.

6. Scrub or power wash

Grab a hardy scrub brush or your power washer and apply some elbow grease. (Well it doesn’t take much effort if you are using the power washer actually, hence the name). You want to use the same lawn-mowing type pattern again to be sure to get all of the deck. Concentrate on any heavily soiled areas, but be sure not to scrub too hard and risk scratching or splintering the wood.

7. Rinse your deck

You can rinse your deck with and ordinary garden hose, on which a sprayer nozzle will help greatly, or by filling the power washer with clean, lukewarm water. Again, be sure to rinse every surface of your deck. Also rinse the plastic sheeting that you’ve laid over the plants and/or furniture.

8. Let your deck dry

Drying the deck is definitely the easiest part of the cleaning process, simply because you don’t have to do anything. Just leave that up to the sun. Don’t put your grill, deck furniture, etc. back until the surface has dried completely to allow all of the water to evaporate.

Sealing your deck

Once your deck is clean, you may want to take this opportunity to seal it. The type of seal or stain you should use depends again on the type of wood your deck is made out of and also on the result you are trying to achieve. It also depends on whether there is already a stain or sealant on your deck. In most cases, you will need to strip it off first, which is fairly easy to do if you already have the power washer handy. If you’re not sure, speak with someone at the hardware or home improvement store or hire a contractor to perform the task for you.

Keeping your deck clean

Unless you live in an area with steady treacherous weather, you shouldn’t have to clean your deck more than a couple times a year. Many choose to clean seasonally. A good way to prolong the period between cleanings is to keep your deck properly sealed and treated.


  1. Virgil says:

    What happens if, after applying the cleaning solution, you do not rinse with water at all? Can you still do it later before applying the sealant?

  2. Chris says:

    How can I remove or neutralize decking oil? I have started to strip the deck, but need to get the oil out of the timber. Please help.
    Many thanks.

  3. Barry says:

    I made a boo boo. I put deck sealer on my deck wood and then tried to put some Mini Ax Stainer on top of that rainproof sealer. My problem is that I came out the next day and it refuses to DRY. Can you advise me? Thanks.

  4. Janet says:

    I just finished scrubbing my sealed deck with bleach and water, and it’s got a lot of balls on it now, like dirt balls rolling up. How do I get them off?

  5. Moira says:

    I have a brand new deck that I want to seal. The builders have left a lot of mud on it that I cannot seem to shift with a power washer. Is it possible to use a mild detergent, and can I scrub it with a scrubbing brush?

Leave a Comment