How To: Make a Homemade Deck Cleaner That Works Like a Charm
Keep your platform for outdoor fun looking great for pennies—without harming nearby plants.
An outdoor deck sees lots of traffic. Muddy shoes, spilled food, and wet dogs can leave it dirty, stained, and smelly. Even if the deck isn’t a party platform, it’s up against the elements—pollen, leaves, and algae all take their toll. But you needn’t use a harsh, expensive deck detergent to restore it. For a refreshed deck in under half an hour, mix up a batch of eco-friendly homemade deck cleaner, apply it with a deck brush and a little elbow grease, and then rinse away all manner of dirt and grime.
- Clear off the deck and spray it down with a garden hose.
- Prepare the deck-cleaning solution.
- Generously apply the cleaning solution, then scrub to a light lather.
- Rinse the deck off with a garden hose.
For full instructions on making and applying homemade deck cleaner, continue reading below!
Safety Tips To Know Before Making Your Own Homemade Deck Cleaner
- Make a homemade deck cleaner that is safe for plants. The use of harsh ingredients and toxic chemicals on an outdoor deck can poison nearby grass and other plantings, so it’s advisable to use only non-toxic cleaners. OxiClean contains sodium percarbonate, a hydrogen peroxide derivative, works well for removing a wide variety of tough stains and spills. Best of all, it’s eco-safe and biodegradeable—it won’t harm plants or pollute the environment.
- Do not use homemade deck cleaner with your power washer or pressure washer. Power washers and pressure washers have tiny nozzles that create intense water pressure, so any granular cleaner that doesn’t wholly dissolve can clog the nozzle, rendering the washer useless. With this DIY deck cleaner recipe, the active ingredients do all the cleaning work, and intense water pressure isn’t required. A regular garden hose is more than sufficient to rinse away the cleaner.
- Wear gloves when making your cleaner to protect your skin and hands. Cleaners and boosting agents, such as Borax, may cause skin irritation in high concentrations. Even though this DIY deck cleaning solution isn’t toxic, it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves while mixing and applying the solution. If splashes do get on skin, simply rinse them off.
- Do not mix ammonia-based ingredients with bleach. Some products can be safely combined, but don’t mix a product that contains ammonia with a bleach solution. Combining these two ingredients creates toxic chloramine gas that can cause eye, nose, mouth, and respiratory irritation.
- Allow this bleach-based cleaner to dry completely before applying treatments. Additional deck treatments, such as staining, painting, or sealing the deck, should be undertaken only when the deck is completely dry to prevent the bleach ingredients from reacting with other chemicals. It’s also a good idea to wait until the deck dries before undertaking deck repairs, such as replacing rusty screws or reinforcing deck boards.
- Store your homemade deck cleaning mixture in a well-ventilated area. This DIY deck cleaner isn’t considered a toxic chemical but it will still create an odor, which some may find disagreeable. Since it’s designed for outdoor use, keep it outdoors until using it to clean the deck and then dispose of any leftovers. Make a fresh batch each time you clean the deck.
- Keep your solution out of reach from children. Kids are curious, and a bucket of warm sudsy solution may look like something interesting to play with. While this homemade deck cleaner is mild—as far as deck cleaners go—it’s still a cleaner and, like all cleaners, should be kept out of the reach of children.
STEP 1: Clear off the deck and spray it down with a garden hose.
Clear the deck of whatever furniture, grill, gardening containers, and other miscellaneous outdoor equipment you can easily stash elsewhere. Spray the deck amply with plain water from your garden hose to loosen and soften mud and debris, making it easier to remove.
STEP 2: Prepare the deck-cleaning solution.
- For the best homemade wood deck cleaner, pour 2 gallons of warm water into a plastic bucket large enough to accommodate the head of a deck brush. (You can get away with using a regular broom, but a specialized deck scrub brush—a broom-like tool designed to reach right into the grooves between boards—works best.)
- Into the bucket, add 2 cups of powdered oxygen bleach (e.g., OxiClean, found in the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store), which is milder than liquid chlorine bleach.
- Stir gently until the powdered bleach completely dissolves.
- Add 1/4 cup of liquid dish soap and stir just enough to disperse it through the solution.
While the ingredients suggested here are relatively safe and won’t damage garden greenery, it’s a good idea to wear goggles and rubber gloves to protect sensitive eyes and skin, should the homemade deck cleaner accidentally splash.
STEP 3: Generously apply the cleaning solution, then scrub to a light lather.
Liberally saturate the deck surface by dipping the brush into the homemade cleaning solution and sloshing it over the planks. Starting at one end and working your way to the other, clean your deck with the brush to work up a light lather, rewetting the brush’s bristles as needed. Give the solution 15 minutes of dwell time to allow the oxygen bleach to work.
STEP 4: Rinse the deck off with a garden hose.
Spray off the DIY deck cleaner with the garden hose. Let your deck dry naturally and completely in the sun’s rays before redecorating it.
Deck Maintenance Tips
- Banish mildew with Borax. If your deck surface has visible mildew stains, add 1 cup of powdered Borax to the solution at the same time you add the oxygen bleach. Borax is a natural mineral compound that won’t damage nearby landscaping plants. Apply the solution as instructed above.
- Treat stains with oxygen bleach paste. To treat a stubborn stain, mix just enough warm water with a small amount of powdered oxygen bleach to make a paste. Apply directly on the stain with a stiff-bristle brush and leave it on for 30 minutes, then rinse.
- Sweep away dirt promptly. A light sweeping—daily, ideally—will clean your deck of loose dirt, leaves, and other debris before it can be ground into the wood surface. If you don’t like to sweep (who can blame you?), consider using a cordless blower. Essentially, this is a lightweight, easy-to-use leaf blower that makes quick work of clearing twigs, dirt, and the natural debris. We recommend those made by Black & Decker, such as the 20V Max Lithium Cordless Sweeper.
- Apply a penetrating sealer once a year. Wood is a product of nature, and even pressure-treated decks will eventually succumb to harsh UV rays, wet/dry cycles, and temperature fluctuations. To add years of useful life to your deck, treat it annually with a good penetrating sealer. The best time to apply a sealer is after a thorough deck cleaning!
Now that your deck is clean as new, take a look around you. If wood handrails, balusters, even outdoor wooden furniture seem less than fresh, mix up some more DIY cleaner to safely restore them and you’re fully prepared for any outdoor gathering large or small.