Saturday, 9 April 2011

How to Clean a Deck (or how to waste the first two perfect sunny days of the year)

If I ever found out who made decks popular in the mid noughties and directly led to my mum wanting and installing one, I hope I can track them down and punch them in the face. Decks are nothing but hassle. Sure, it's a romantic notion to think of you, the matriarch of the house, sitting there on the back deck, rocking in a rocking chair with a shotgun on your lap and the cat at your feet, but that isn't what happens. What happens is you buy too much horrible hardwood furniture (which you neglect) and leave it in rotting piles on your pine deck (also neglected).

Last year after 6 months of patchy temporary employment, desperate for the last £100 I needed to get a flight out to see my then boyfriend in Seattle, I scrubbed that bastard deck on my hands and knees for a week. I ended up with a chest infection, and by the time I finished the awful thing, British Airways had put the price up by another £1oo.

This year, I was determined to find another, better, way of doing things. And I did, hooray!

If you haven't cleaned your deck since last year, there's a fair chance it currently looks like this:

A gross nasty build-up of algae, mud from peoples shoes, bird shit, my brother's cigarette ash, and the occasional beer spillage.

Well, the good news is you can get it off, although it does take some effort. If you want to get it back to it's original glowing state, it's going to take a lot of elbow grease and some sanding. I didn't want to get it good as new, I just wanted to protect the damn thing for another year.
You will need:

  • a stiff broom
  • a sponge mop (the cheapest one you can find is fine)
  • 2 buckets, one big enough to fit the broom in and the other big enough to fit the mop in
  • deck cleaner. Cuprinol and Ronseal both sell it at hardware stores. I got a bottle of the Cuprinol Decking Cleaner and Reviver from Wilkinsons for £13.99
  • rag/sponge for final clean up
  • Decking varnish/oil/whatever you want to finish the deck with
  • a pantbrush to apply the above
First you need to give the deck a really good brush down with the broom to remove as much lose dirt as you can. If it's been dry for a while, try hoovering it off (I tried this, but the dried leaves just clogged up the hoover). The brushing should also dislodge any thick moss or bird crap.

Now fill your broom bucket (bucket 1) with about 2 inches of deck cleaner. I also add a small squirt of bleach, dish washing liquid, and wood floor cleaner. Dilute it 50/50 with warm water. Fill your mop bucket (bucker 2) with warm water. I used warm water because I work barefoot and it's nicer splashing on your feet.

Take your broom, dip it in bucket 1 and start scrubbing away at the deck, working a manageable area a plank at a time. I worked about 1.5 metres down the deck, 3 planks at a time. Keep dipping your broom in the bucket, be liberal with the detergent and just keep scrubbing. Depending on how dirty your deck is, you'll start to notice nasty dark sludge coming up off the wood. Just keep working, scrubbing up and down each plank and then working in longer strokes in the direction you're cleaning.

It's hard to see because it's so sunny, but there was lots of sludge coming up.

This is where the mop comes in. Without the mop, the sludge would just sit on the surface of the deck. Take your mop and run it along the planks in the direction you're cleaning. Clean it off in bucket 2, and run it over the area again, absorbing as much sludge as you can.

And that's it, just keep going. I changed my bucket 2 water once each 1.5m row, and my bucket 1 detergent about every two rows. When you get halfway, start working from the other end and meet in the middle. There will be a sludge pile here, so take your rag or sponge and clean up the last of the sludge.

Leave your deck to dry.

Looking better!

Finally, you need to apply a finish to your deck, because as soon as you stopped cleaning it, leaves started falling on it, dust started blowing on it, and birds started shitting on it, so you need to protect it. I used a clear product called Deck Protect and Revive or something similar. There's lots of different products, but some of them stain so if you want a more natural finish, go for a clear one. If your deck is still looking nasty, you may need to sand it to get off the patina. Sucks to be you!

I liberally applied my decking protector with a big paintbrush. It took about an hour, and I didn't read the safety precautions, so if I die tomorrow, blame it on the fungicide. The finish was really good- it looked buttery and revived without looking overworked or varnished. Here's a contrast shot:

And that's how you clean a deck without getting on your hands and knees and developing a chest infection from working in freezing sleet.


  1. You did a great job on your deck! It looks almost as good as new! It would be good to clean the deck regularly to avoid dirt and damage from accumulating to that degree again. Did you know that there's a way to clean the deck without pressure so that the varnish and finishes don't peel off or get damaged? There are professional cleaning services who apply great techniques that clean the deck without damaging it with water pressure.

    -- Kylee --

  2. Thank you for sharing! This article is very informative and helpful. I hope other articles will be as good as this article.

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