Deck cleaning is typically necessary only once a year ahead of the summer season, but the exceptionally wet summers some regions are experiencing can wreak havoc with your backyard timber. All wood exposed to the elements is prone to growing algae and mold, as well as accumulating debris and dirt as a byproduct of frequent rain.
If your deck is constantly getting soaked and is not looking its best as a result, you don't need to bring out the harsh chemicals. Read these expert tips on how to clean decking using natural ingredients that won't harm your garden first.
1. Use baking soda
Baking soda is a time-tested favorite effective for cleaning a wide range of surfaces, and it is a great option for refreshing decking wood and removing stains. Simply sprinkle it on the areas you want to clean, work in with a stiff brush, and leave on for a couple of hours. 'Baking soda can be sprinkled over stubborn stains to help lift them', says Chris Bonnett from GardeningExpress.co.uk (opens in new tab). Afterwards, wash off with a hose or best pressure washer.
2. Try a water, soap, and vinegar solution
This is another supremely effective combination for tackling stains – but it's especially useful for removing mildew that forms after excess exposure to moisture. 'Once the vinegar solution has sunk in, scrub the area with a brush until you see results,' says Chris. 'This method may have to be repeated a few times to achieve a thorough clean.' Using a pressure washer in combination with this solution will likely require fewer applications.
3. Use oxygen bleach – it's less harmful than regular bleach
Bleach is effective at cleaning wood and lifting stains, but, as Chris points out, 'the use of harsh ingredients and toxic chemicals outdoors can poison nearby grass, plantings, and wildlife, so only use as a last resort and with caution.' Common chlorine bleach can also cause more problems than it solves by staining or fading the wood, especially cedar.
Oxygen bleach, on the other hand, is gentler and easier to use and will still help lift mildew and stains from your deck. Oxygen bleach can be bought in any supermarket or hardware store and 'is a dry powder that uses oxygen ions to break up dirt, meaning no nasty or harsh chemicals make their way into the environment.'
Chris's top tips for cleaning a deck with oxygen bleach is: 'The deck will need rinsing to open the pores in the wood. After this has been done, the oxygen bleach powder will need to be mixed with water, brushed evenly across the wood, and left to soak for at least ten minutes. Rinse the solution off with a hose and watch any dirt or mold trickle away with the water.'
Are natural decking cleaning solutions safe for my garden?
This is a very important thing to note: opting for natural cleaning agents for your deck or wooden furniture is safer than bringing out the big chemical guns, but they're still not completely safe for your plants or soil. These are still chemicals, they're just going to be less concentrated and potent than in commercial cleaners, and biodegradable, which means they won't linger in your soil.
You should still take care not to get these ingredients on your plants (unless they're weeds, in which case you could save yourself weeding by killing them with the vinegar/baking soda/bleach). Also, avoid cleaning your decking too often to minimize impact from the chemicals – learn how to paint decking instead and seal it with a protective coating.
Anna writes about real estate, interior design, and gardening. Her work has appeared in Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, and many other publications in the US and the UK. Before embarking on her writing career, Anna taught English at university level and is the author of a book called London Writing of the 1930s. She currently splits her time between London and the Midwest US. She is an experienced outdoor and indoor gardener and has a passion for growing roses and Japanese maples in her outside space.
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