How to Clean a Wood Deck

Sweep away clods of dirt, cigarette butts, and dead leaves with a broom. Then give the deck a good soaking with your choice of wood deck cleaner.

If your deck has mildew stains, add powdered borax to your cleaning solution; it will banish them without damaging the wood. Click here for more info.

Always follow manufacturer instructions for proper dilution of your selected cleaner.


Before starting to clean, use a broom or other brush to sweep loose dirt and debris from the deck surface. This will make the cleaning process much easier.

Next, move furniture, grills, plants, and rugs off the deck to avoid damaging them or exposing them to chemical solutions. Metal items should also be moved away because leaving them on the deck while cleaning exposes them to rust stains.

After removing loose debris, wet the deck surface with a garden hose to prepare it for cleaning. This helps the cleaner penetrate deep into the pores of the wood and loosen any stubborn stains.

Depending on the type of stain, there are a number of different deck cleaning products available. Most contain chemicals that are safe for decks but some may require more patience than others to work at breaking down stains. For example, a product such as Wet & Forget Outdoor works to break down lichen over time rather than immediately.


Cleaners that feature mildewcide, available in premixed formulas or as a liquid concentrate, eliminate surface mold and mildew growth and penetrate the deck to kill the spores that cause future infections. These products also contain ingredients that bond with the wood grain to discourage future mildew and mold growth.

Avoid chlorine bleach-containing cleaners as they damage treated wood, leave an unnatural whitewashed look, and lighten composite materials. Chlorine bleach also corrodes metal fasteners and screws, stains surfaces, and can be hazardous to plants and pets.

Use a non-toxic wood deck cleaner, such as natural vinegar, baking soda, or oxygen bleach. Mix the product according to label instructions and apply it to the deck surface, paying special attention to heavily soiled or stained areas. Avoid metal brushes, which can scar the soft wood. If needed, scrub with a plastic brush or soft bristle brush. Rinse the deck with a garden hose, making sure to rinse railings and stairs as well.


A lot of wear and tear can take a toll on even the best-maintained deck. A good cleaning can bring it back to its original beauty. For mild dirt and stains, use warm, soapy water (made soapy with mild dish detergent or a made-for-deck cleaner) mops, and a scrub brush.

For more severe stains, use a commercial wood or composite deck cleaner. Mix the product according to manufacturer instructions and use eye protection and rubber gloves as directed. Be sure to cover any desirable shrubs and plants with a plastic drop cloth. Spray the surrounding area with water to dilute any over-spray that lands on desirable vegetation.

For a natural option, use vinegar or sodium percarbonate (available at most hardware stores). Vinegar is plant-friendly and relatively safe to use. When you’re finished, rinse the surface of your deck with a garden hose and a nylon scrub brush to remove any leftover chemicals or scuff marks.


A deck that gets constant use needs a lot of attention to keep it looking good. Sweeping it frequently–daily, if possible–will clear off twigs, dirt, and other natural debris that can grind into the wood surface and make it look dull.

A hose or power washer with a spray nozzle can be used to rinse the deck after cleaning it. This helps to dilute any granular cleaners that may not completely dissolve, and it removes the buildup of pressure that can damage wood and other surfaces on which the deck sits.

Allow the deck to dry completely before undertaking any additional treatments, such as staining or painting. Two to three days should be sufficient for most conditions, but if your deck receives direct sunlight or is subject to high humidity the drying time will likely be longer. If your deck is stained, inspect it after it dries to see if you need to apply a second coat. Click here for the next blog post.

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