Buyer’s Guide: The Best Deck Cleaners

Maintain your deck with a cleaner tailored to its material composition. Ahead, read our top tips and recommendations for choosing the right solution.

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The Best Deck Cleaner Option

Photo: depositphotos.com

Outdoor decks are beloved spots for entertaining and relaxing, but like all exterior structures, they eventually get dirty. Left that way, they can become old and weathered before their time. To keep your deck looking great, clean it annually—ideally in spring or early summer—then follow up with a sealer for extra protection from the elements.

For superior cleaning results, be sure to choose a solution suited to your deck material. Keep reading to learn how to select the best deck cleaner for your needs and find out why the following products are among the top picks on the market today.

  1. BEST OVERALL: STAR BRITE Non-Skid Deck Cleaner & Protectant
  2. ECO PICK: Simple Green Oxy Solve Total Outdoor Cleaner
  3. BEST FOR MOLD AND MILDEW: Wet & Forget Moss, Mold, Mildew & Algae Stain Remover
  4. BEST FOR OIL AND GREASE: Oil Eater Original Cleaner/Degreaser
  5. BEST ALGAE CONTROL: CITRA-SHIELD EXTERIOR ALGAE CONTROL SYSTEMS 
  6. BEST FOR VINYL AND PLASTIC: MOLD ARMOR CLEANER
  7. ALSO CONSIDER: Karcher Multi-Purpose Pressure Washer Detergent Soap
  8. ALSO CONSIDER: DEFY Wood Brightener
The Best Deck Cleaner Option

Photo: amazon.com

Before You Buy Deck Cleaner

Cleaning a deck doesn’t just improve its appearance; if the deck has mold or mildew growth, treating it with an appropriate cleaner can actually prolong the useful life. Using a deck cleaner before applying a stain or sealer to the deck can protect it from weather damage and harsh UV rays. In short, it’s an essential tool in any deck maintenance arsenal.

Types of Deck Cleaner

Deck cleaners are designed to remove a host of eyesores—grime, grease, stains, mold, and mildew—from different types of decks, so choose one specifically suited to both the decking material and the kind of grime or debris you need to remove. Some deck cleaners are meant for use in pressure washers, while others are sprayed or brushed on the deck. No-rinse options contain ingredients that continue to clean or protect the deck even weeks after the initial cleaning.

All-Purpose Wood Deck Cleaner

All-purpose wood deck cleaners contain detergents to dissolve surface dirt, spills, and grime. They’re available premixed for easy application right out of the container or in concentrated crystal or liquid form to dilute with water before use.

These cleaners are suitable for use on exterior-type woods, such as cedar, teak, and redwood, as well as wood decking that’s been pressure treated with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) or copper azole (CA).

Users will typically apply a deck cleaner with a sprayer or deck brush, spread it evenly with a mop, and rinse with a garden hose. In some cases, additional scrubbing with a deck brush may be required to remove stubborn stains.

Gentle All-Purpose Deck Cleaner

Painted wood decks, which are often coordinated to match the trim on a home, come with special cleaning issues. Harsh cleaners can damage the painted surface, dull the sheen, and lead to cracking and peeling. A gentle ammonia-free deck cleaner is usually the best choice for a painted wood deck. The product may also contain surfactants to help prevent the need for staining.

The label should specifically state that the cleaner is safe for painted surfaces. Most cleaners for painted decks come premixed and should be sprayed or squirted onto the deck, lightly mopped to clean away dirt and grime, and then wiped dry with clean, soft rags.

Restorative Wood Deck Cleaner

Wood decks, especially cedar and redwood, eventually begin to dull and take on a weathered, gray appearance—even when sealed. Rusty streaks can also appear around screw heads or along the wood grain.

If this describes your deck, purchase a cleaner advertised to “lighten” or “brighten.” Sometimes called “restorative cleaners,” these products contain bleach, oxalic acid, or oxygenated components, such as sodium percarbonate, to lighten the wood and fade stains.

These cleaners are usually sprayed onto the deck, worked into the grain with a deck brush for even coverage, and rinsed with a garden hose.

Composite Wood Deck Cleaner

Composite decking is manufactured from wood byproducts and plastic and comes with an impermeable surface designed to resist rotting and decay. Wood deck cleaners may be too harsh for composite decks, especially if they contain brightening ingredients that can strip the sheen and leave a dull, unattractive look.

A deck cleaner made specifically for composite lumber (either premixed or as a liquid concentrate) will often contain surfactants. These ingredients leave a thin protective layer on the surface to help repel staining. Composite deck cleaners are typically sprayed onto the deck, brushed with a soft deck brush, and rinsed with a garden hose.

Vinyl Deck Cleaner

Long-lasting and resistant to weather damage, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) decks, commonly referred to as “vinyl decks,” feature nonporous surfaces that withstand most exterior all-purpose cleaners. Avoid cleaners that contain bleaching ingredients and no-rinse deck cleaners that leave behind a film, as they may dull the surface. Today’s robust vinyl decks are well suited to the same cleaners that are also safe for plastic and composite decks.

Mildewcide Deck Cleaner

If you live in an area with frequent rain, mold and mildew can grow on your wood deck. Left untreated, these fungi will thrive and eventually destroy the wood’s cellular structure, leading to rot and decay.

At the first sign of flat black or green mildew spots or grayish-white powdery mildew stains, look for a cleaner containing mildewcide (either premixed formula or as a liquid concentrate).

Note that it’s essential not to rinse off these cleaners. Leaving the solution on the wood allows ample time to kill the fungi and then seep into the deck’s surface to reduce the chance of future mold or mildew growth.

Deck Cleaner and Sealer

Most deck cleaners only feature detergents and don’t impart any type of sealer to the deck. However, some contain ingredients that bond with the wood grain and leave behind a temporary film that discourages dust and dirt for a few weeks or months.

A small number of deck cleaners not only remove stains, grease, and dirt but also act as a water repellent that offers a modicum of weather resistance to the deck—think of how an automatic car wash leaves a film on a vehicle’s surface that temporarily sheds water. While these one-and-done combo products save time, they are not a replacement for an actual deck sealer. The water-repellent benefit will eventually wear off.

Eco-Friendly Deck Cleaner

Several of today’s deck cleaners are eco-friendly and contain ingredients that won’t damage surrounding grass and plants. Some include nontoxic household ingredients like vinegar to help break down grease, or baking soda, which acts as a wood brightener on weathered wood.

Oxygen bleach and peroxide are other common household ingredients found in environmentally friendly deck cleaners. When applied with a pressure washer, these milder cleaners can effectively remove deck stains and brighten wood without posing a toxic danger.

Even eco-friendly cleaners can irritate the skin, however, so wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when applying any deck cleaner, and thoroughly rinse off splashes that get on the skin. It’s also important to wear protective eyewear to prevent the solution from splashing into the eyes.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Deck Cleaner

You’ll often want to use a deck cleaner at the start of the summer season to remove mildew and leaf decay stains and refresh the deck for the upcoming outdoor entertainment season. Deep cleaning is also an essential step before sealing or staining a deck.

Keep in mind that the best options for a specific deck may not even be labeled as a deck cleaner but rather as an exterior house or siding cleaner that’s suitable for use on decks. Keep reading to learn more about the important factors to consider when selecting the best deck cleaner for your deck.

Premixed vs. Concentrated

Premixed liquid deck cleaners are the simplest to use: Just pour into a pump sprayer or a bucket and then spray on or apply with a deck brush.

Concentrated deck cleaners come in both powdered granule and liquid form and must be diluted with water before application. You can also use an undiluted concentrated liquid deck cleaner in the attached dispenser of a pressure washer (follow manufacturer directions for dilution rate settings) or in a hose-end sprayer, both of which dilute the solution during application.

Coverage

In general, a ready-to-use gallon of liquid deck cleaner will treat approximately 250 to 500 square feet of decking, but that can vary depending on the amount of soil, mold, and stains on the deck. Applying deck cleaner via a pressure washer is more effective in powering away stains than a hose-end dispenser because the water pressure is much higher in a pressure washer.

Pre-wetting the deck with a garden hose can soften some dirt and debris so the deck cleaning solution will treat a more extensive area.

Safety

Some deck cleaners contain ingredients that may negatively affect nearby plants and lawns. The best way to reduce damage is to rinse off plants or grassy areas after cleaning the deck. Some products may suggest wetting down plants and grass before cleaning the deck and then rinsing them off again when finished.

Using a pressure washer comes with a few additional safety issues, as the intense pressure of the water leaving the nozzle can be strong enough to cut the skin on bare feet and legs and even remove chunks of soft deck wood. When using a pressure washer, the general rule is to start with the pressure at the lowest setting and gradually increase it until the pressure is high enough to do the job successfully.

Application

A pressure washer is often the most popular way to apply deck cleaner, but you can also use a pump sprayer or a hose-end sprayer, followed by scrubbing the decking with a stiff deck brush to remove stuck-on debris. Another method is to dilute concentrated deck cleaner in a large bucket of water and then apply it to the deck with a scrub brush.

While many deck cleaners call for rinsing after application, others are designed to remain on the decking to saturate the wood with mold- and algae-fighting ingredients. Some contain polymers that form a protective film on the surface, and these products should also not be rinsed off the deck.

Our Top Picks

To qualify as a top pick, a deck cleaner should be powerful enough to remove the stains typically found on a backyard deck. Specialty deck products—such as deck brighteners and mold removers—should address those particular concerns and leave the deck looking new and refreshed. While the best deck cleaners will vary depending on the user’s needs, the following products are well suited to give a dirty deck a new, cleaner look.

Best Overall

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: Star brite Non-Skid Deck Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

Painted wood decks and wood composite decks require a gentle cleaner like this option from STAR BRITE, which contains noncaustic chelating detergents but still helps to eliminate spills and dirt without scrubbing.

While STAR BRITE is manufactured as a deck cleaning product for boats, the gentle formulation makes it an excellent choice for residential decks. Apply the premixed liquid to a wet deck with a pump sprayer or a soft deck brush.

Once rinsed away, the cleaner leaves a microscopic layer of polymer protection to help repel future stains and spills. The 1-gallon jug cleans and treats a deck up to 1,000 square feet.

Eco Pick

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: Simple Green Oxy Solve Total Outdoor Cleaner
Photo: amazon.com

Prioritize eco-friendliness when cleaning your deck with Simple Green’s solution—a recipient of the EPA’s “Safer Choice” award. This nontoxic, concentrated liquid cleaner comes in a 1-gallon jug and, once diluted, safely and effectively treats up to 6,400 square feet of decking, masonry, siding, and many other exterior surfaces.

This Simple Green product can be applied manually or via a pressure washer. For the best results, mop or spray on the solution, let it sit for up to 7 minutes to effectively dissolve grime and dirt, and then rinse with plain water. For extra safety, spray nearby plants and lawn to wash away any residual solution.

Best for Mold and Mildew

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: Wet and Forget Moss, Mold, Mildew & Algae Stain
Photo: amazon.com

From Wet & Forget, this specially formulated mold and mildew removes comes in a liquid concentrate to dilute with water for easy application with a pump sprayer, a deck brush, or a hose-end sprayer. Simply saturate the wood decking evenly and let it dry—no scrubbing, mopping, or even rinsing is required.

Mildewcide in the solution works to kill and remove any existing mold while also conditioning the wood to prevent future mold, moss, and mildew growth. The 1-gallon jug treats up to 2,250 square feet and is safe for use on walkways and most types of siding.

The Wet & Forget formula doesn’t contain chlorine bleach or acid, so it’s safer than some other algae-remover products. However, it’s still important to avoid contact with foliage and rinse plants with clean water if the solution inadvertently splashes while cleaning.

Best for Oil and Grease

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: Oil Eater AOD1G35437 Original Cleaner Degreaser
Photo: amazon.com

Thick, greasy stains and spills need the power of Oil Eater’s degreasing cleaner to easily dissolve and rinse them away. This professional strength concentrated liquid removes oil and grease on multiple surfaces, including decks, walks, and siding. Nontoxic and noncorrosive, the powerful cleaner is well suited to decks with iron railings or stairs.

Dilute the Oil Eater cleaner with water in a bucket and then apply it to the deck surface with a deck brush. Users can easily adjust the concentration of the cleaner to suit the extent of greasy stains. Mix a 1:1 (cleaner-to-water) ratio for tough grease and oil deposits, or mix a mild 1:20 ratio to wipe down light residue. The ability to adjust the strength makes Oil Eater versatile enough for light, medium, and heavy-duty deck-cleaning tasks.

Best Algae Control

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: CITRA-SHIELD EXTERIOR ALGAE CONTROL SYSTEMS
Photo: amazon.com

Several deck and exterior cleaners remove algae, but CITRA-SHIELD goes the extra mile to prevent regrowth. CITRA-SHIELD comes in a 1-gallon jug of full-strength cleaner—just pour it into a pump-type garden sprayer and saturate the deck with the solution. There’s no mixing, scrubbing, or rinsing required.

This cleaner bonds with algae stains to gradually destroy the fungus. Within 1 to 3 days, the mildest algae stains should begin to fade, and darker stains will fade in up to 6 weeks. Before cleaning the deck with CITRA-SHIELD, spray down the surrounding lawn and plants. Immediately after application, rinse the foliage again to ensure any solution has been rinsed away.

Best for Nonporous Decking

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: MOLD ARMOR CLEANER
Photo: amazon.com

To clean vinyl or PVC decking, consider MOLD ARMOR’s offering, which treats dirt and stains on nonporous plastic surfaces without dulling their sheen. This multipurpose exterior cleaner contains bleach for powering away mold and mildew and a surfactant that keeps the ingredients from running off the vinyl surface before it has a chance to work.

MOLD ARMOR comes in a 1-gallon jug of concentrated liquid that can be diluted and applied with a pump-type sprayer, a sponge, or a roller. When diluted, the product will clean about 1,000 square feet and is suitable for use on multiple exterior surfaces, but don’t let it dry on glass. If the cleaner comes in contact with glass, quickly rinse it off. Likewise, wet down nearby plants before using this cleaner and again afterward to rinse off any errant spray during application.

Also Consider

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: Karcher Multi-Purpose Cleaning Pressure Power Washer
Photo: amazon.com

If you’re planning to use a pressure washer to power away dirt, stuck-on debris, and stains, check out Karcher’s multipurpose detergent. It’s formulated for use on decks and assorted other wood surfaces, including outdoor fencing. The concentrated liquid comes in a 1-gallon jug and makes 20 gallons of cleaning solution when diluted. Applying it with a pressure washer reduces cleaning time and virtually eliminates scrubbing.

This multipurpose exterior cleaner contains sodium tripolyphosphate, a powerful cleaning agent that penetrates wood grain for a deep and thorough clean. During the application process, wear protective clothing and keep pets and children away from the area. Also avoid getting the solution on plants, and to be on the safe side, rinse any nearby foliage with plain water after cleaning the deck.

Also Consider

The Best Deck Cleaner Option: DEFY Wood Brightener
Photo: amazon.com

For those looking to both clean and brighten a weathered wood deck before applying a fresh new coat of deck stain, DEFY’s wood brightener is a worthy option. This cleaner treats decks up to 1,000 square feet, and it removes dirt, rust stains, and the dark tannin stains left behind by decaying leaves. It’s suitable for use on all types of wood.

DEFY brightens old weathered wood and opens the wood grain, so deck stain penetrates the wood more evenly, making this concentrated cleaner well suited to prepping a deck before staining. It is available in a 1-gallon jug that makes 5 gallons of cleaning solution when diluted with water. Apply with a pump-type garden sprayer, and make sure to thoroughly rinse the deck with plain water after application.

FAQs About the Best Deck Cleaners

A backyard deck is an extension of a home’s living area, but a dirty surface can ruin the atmosphere. Decks will look their best when cleaned with a detergent that’s capable of removing stains, dirt, and mold. For those new to deck cleaning, a few questions are to be expected.

Q. What should I use to clean my wood deck?

A commercial deck cleaner is usually the best choice. Choose one that’s specially designed to remove the type of stains present on your deck.

Q. Should you pressure wash a deck before staining?

Pressure washing is an optimal way to remove old dirt and grime when prepping the deck for staining.

Q. Is it better to sand or power wash a deck?

Both methods are valuable. Sand a deck to smooth out roughness before staining or sealing. Power wash a deck to remove dirt, grime, and mold.

Q. How do I clean my deck without a pressure washer?

If no pressure washer is available, use a deck cleaner and scrub the wood manually with a deck brush. A hose may be necessary for rinsing away the cleaner after application.

Final Thoughts

Deck cleaners make quick work of removing dirt and stains, and, depending on the product, they can also brighten wood, act as long-term preventives for algae growth, and even eliminate some weathered graying from the surface. They’re relatively inexpensive and save time when prepping a deck before staining or sealing.