All You Need to Know About Driveway Cleaning
Say goodbye to driveway stains and hello to curb appeal! We've got solutions for every unsightly mess that will ever mar your property's front entrance.
Nothing is quite as aggravating as discovering that the delivery guy’s van leaked oil on your driveway, or that the dried leaves you didn’t sweep up last fall created stubborn brown stains that won’t rinse away. But your home’s curb appeal doesn’t have to suffer a setback. With the right supplies and a little elbow grease, you’ll soon have your driveway looking good again. Whatever the stain or discoloration on your driveway, we’ve got the best driveway cleaning techniques to solve it.
Auto-Related Oil and Solvent Spills
Motor oil, brake fluid, and gasoline spills are more visible on concrete than asphalt (asphalt’s black coloring hides the stain some), but it’s still imperative to promptly clean them off both types of driveways to prevent serious stains. What’s more, auto-related oils and solvents can interact with asphalt’s petroleum base so that it deteriorates and softens.
On either type of driveway, first soak up as much of the fresh spill as possible with an absorbent product, such as kitty litter. Give it a few hours to absorb the excess spill, then scoop up the litter and sweep the area. To remove the rest of the spill, use one of the following driveway cleaning techniques for your specific hardscape material.
- Asphalt follow-up: After absorbing the excess spill, spray a biodegradable oven cleaning product on the affected area (make sure it specifies “biodegradable,” so that you do not splash or rinse away any caustic chemicals into your lawn) and let it sit for up to 30 minutes before rinsing away with your garden hose. Just as oven cleaner dissolves tough grease in your oven, it will break down the remaining oil or solvent, allowing you to safely rinse it away.
- Concrete follow-up: Unlike asphalt, concrete’s slightly porous surface allows spills to seep into its tiny holes. The best way to remove the remaining product from concrete is to dissolve it and then draw it out. Mix a moisture-absorbing product into the liquid TSP to create a thick paste. (We recommend corn starch for small spills or for larger spills, diatomaceous earth, available for purchase online and at swimming pool supply stores.) Spread the paste over the affected area, be it a fresh spill or an old stain. Work it into the concrete surface with a stiff-bristle nylon brush. Spread an additional thin layer of the paste on top and let it dry completely. The TSP will break down the oil or solvent components and the absorbing product will bind them. The paste could take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on outdoor temperature and humidity. Use a putty knife to scrape away the dried paste and then rinse with a hose or power washer. Old stains may require more than one application to remove.
After a winter of snow and slushy roads, it’s nearly impossible to keep automobile tires from tracking dirt and mud on your driveway where it hardens like a rock as it dries. If you have a power washer, this is a good time to take it out; if you don’t, you can clean away the dirt and mud with a stiff-bristle push broom and a garden hose. This driveway cleaning technique works equally well for both dirty asphalt and concrete driveways. First, sweep away loose dirt and bits, then dampen caked-on mud and let the water soak in a few minutes before scrubbing the loosened mud with the push broom to break it up. Depending on how much you have to remove, this could take a while. The trick is to use plenty of water.
Decomposing Organic Matter
If you neglect to rake up the mess of organic matter that has spilled onto your concrete driveway, piles of mulch, fallen leaves, and pine needles can leave harmless yet unattractive brown stains behind. (These only appear on concrete, since darker asphalt can mask the color.) As they decompose, they release tannin, a colorful byproduct of the natural decaying process. While the color will eventually fade from concrete, you can help hurry the process along with a little bit of driveway cleaning.
Sweep the concrete surface, then spray the stained area with a garden hose to rinse away dirt. In a large plastic bucket, mix ½ cup of liquid dish detergent into 3 gallons of hot water. (Or, for the best results on tannin stains, use a powdered laundry detergent that’s advertised as being good at removing food stains.) Slowly pour the solution onto the tannin stains and work the liquid into the concrete using a stiff-bristle nylon brush. Rinse with the garden hose and, while the concrete is still wet, sprinkle powdered laundry detergent over the stains and scrub again. Leave the detergent on for a few minutes then rinse away. Repeat if necessary.
Paint splatters left behind from a furniture project you brought outdoors a nuisance on both concrete and asphalt.
- If dealing with a latex-based paint spill, you can often remove it by wetting the splatter with water, sprinkling on household scouring powder, scrubbing it with a stiff-bristle nylon brush. Rinse with a garden hose.
- Oil- and acrylic-based paint splatters are tougher to remove. If you have an asphalt driveway, the best solution may be to coat the driveway (or just the paint-splattered area) with an asphalt sealer, which will renew its black surface and cover splatters. That’s because the solvent that removes oil-based paint can actually damage asphalt, making it only suitable for concrete driveways. Removing paint from concrete is similar to removing it from an old piece of furniture you’re refinishing—strip it off! Pour or brush a paint-stripping solution on the splatters, and work it into the concrete with a stiff, natural-bristle brush. Leave it on for the time specified by the manufacturer and then rinse it away. Since you’ll be rinsing the paint stripper away, it’s a good idea to use a product that’s safe for the environment. Low-VOC strippers (such as Citristrip, available on Amazon) are good choices for the job.)
While not an issue on black asphalt driveways, rust is an eyesore on concrete—and happens as quickly as overnight. Just leaving a paint can out on the driveway during a rainstorm can result in a dark rusty circle by morning. Fortunately, muriatic acid will remove rust stains without much trouble, but this harsh acid (available at most hardware stores) requires extra safety precautions when using it. Wear long rubber gloves and protective eyewear, and follow the motto you learned in high school science class: “Do how you otter (ought to), add acid to water.”
By slowly pouring ¼ cup acid into a bucket already filled with 2 cups of cold water, you’ll minimize the risk of splashes. If any solution does splash onto your skin, rinse it off promptly to avoid irritation. Then, carefully pour the mix onto the rust stain and gently scrub the surface of the concrete with a stiff-bristle nylon brush. Allow the driveway cleaning solution to remain on for a few minutes before rinsing away with a garden hose. Heavy rust stains may require two or more treatments.