Deal yourself a clean deck

By James and Morris Carey

For The Associated Press

Spring brings the same old question: Why won’t the deck stay bright and fresh-looking for more than a year at a time?

This is what we do:

• First, we wash our deck with good old laundry detergent and water. Experiment with the concentration to see what works best for you.


We use 1⁄2 cup of detergent in a gallon of hot water.

• Wet the deck with plain water first.

• Then, use a garden pump sprayer to apply a plentiful amount of the soapy mixture.

Use a stiff brush on a long handle to make scrubbing easier, and scrub, scrub, scrub.

• After a quick rinse with fresh water, apply an ample layer of oxalic acid (wood bleach).

We sprinkle it on like applying dry rub to barbecue, the more the better. (Think safety here.

Use gloves and eye protection and wear a filter mask over your nose and mouth. You can get a mask for about $1.50.)

• Scrub the bleach into the wood and mist it with plain water from time to time to keep it wet.


After scrubbing for about 5 to 10 minutes you will notice that the wood is beginning to look much better.

• Repeat this process 2 or 3 times to get your deck looking brand new.

• Rinse with fresh water and let dry for 48 hours.

• Finally, apply a wood preservative.

We suggest one that is pigmented (colored), because these last longer than the clear ones.

Don’t over-apply the preservative. If it puddles you’ve applied too much. Wipe any excess away with an old cloth.


If you use the wrong type of preservative you can get into trouble.


Using on a deck a wood preservative designed for walls or fences would be a mistake.

Wall-type material used on a deck will end up being tracked onto the floors in your home.

It’s important to know about the differences in wood preservatives and to use them for their intended purposes to avoid major heartaches.

These are the two basic types:

• One is used for vertical surfaces (walls and fences). This type is usually very thick and opaque. It is not designed to be walked upon. Walking on this material will remove it.

• The other type is used for horizontal surfaces (decks and furniture). This type is usually semitransparent and is designed for very thin application.

Puddling during application is a very bad thing and should be dealt with immediately. Use a cloth to remove excess material. Puddled materials always result in a sticky mess.

One final tip

A pressure washer can be used for the final rinse.

It isn’t absolutely necessary, but it makes the entire process easier and the result is usually superior.

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