The Foolproof Method for Cleaning a Painted Deck

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated December 17, 2021
Gorgeous deck with grey painted boards
PC Photography/ iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Use a gentle approach to get the job done

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​​Your charming wood deck has likely seen a lot of wear and tear since you first started your wintertime deck project many years ago. Be it the weather, scampering pets, or dirty shoes, there comes a point where sweeping isn’t enough to maintain your painted planks. When this happens, you’ll have to give your deck a good cleaning.

However, keeping a painted deck clean requires more love and attention than your typical stained wooden deck. Painted decks are more likely to chip or flake if you use a pressure washer, and you can’t exactly mop the wood without shredding the fibers. Cleaning a painted deck requires a little extra TLC, but rest assured that you can maintain your deck with a few simple steps.

Difficulty: 3/5

Time: 3 to 5 hours, depending on the size of your deck

Tools and Materials Needed: 

  • A long-handled, soft-bristled brush

  • Liquid dish detergent or store-bought cleaning solution

  • 1-gallon cleaning bucket

  • Hose with sprayer

  • Bleach (optional)

1. Clear the Deck and Surrounding Areas

Before you get to scrubbing, you’ll want to remove anything on, under, or near the deck. No one likes accidentally damaging planters or having to toss out patio seating, so pay special attention to the following tips:

  • Remove any outdoor furniture, toys, grills, and other portable items.

  • If there are plants nearby, you may wish to cover ones that are sensitive to soap or bleach. Most plants will not be hurt by the small amount of soap if you wet them with the hose before you start. 

  • If you use the space beneath your deck for storage, remove items that might get damaged from soap or bleach.

2. Choose a Cleaning Device

While you could use a normal floor sponge or mop, the gaps, slivers, and ends of boards will tear it up fast. Save yourself the trouble by using a push-broom instead. Look for one that has a lot of fine bristles—not the widely-spaced and stiff ones designed for clearing away dirt and debris from durable surfaces, as these can leave ugly streaks on your deck boards due to incomplete coverage.

Alternatively, you can also use an extension brush for washing cars, though they aren’t as durable and don’t offer as much coverage as your typical push-broom.

3. Create the Cleaning Solution

Your deck is officially free of obstacles, and now it’s time to prepare the cleaning solution. There are a few soapy cocktails you can use to get your deck in tip-top shape:

DIY Cleaning Solutions

One of the easiest ways to clean a painted deck is to use good ol’ dish soap or laundry detergent, bleach, and warm water. Just avoid using vinegar, which can eat away at and deteriorate the paint, and be sure to choose oxygen bleach over chlorine bleach, as it’s gentler and less harmful to the environment. 

Here’s how:

  • Combine 2 ounces of soap or detergent, 8 ounces of oxygen bleach, and warm water to your one-gallon bucket, filling close to the top.

  • Mix well

  • Consider using a spray bottle to target badly stained, grimy, or hard-to-reach sections of the deck.

*It’s important to note that bleach may stain or damage sensitive types of wood, such as cedar, redwood, cherry, and more. Research the type of wood you have and test the solution in an inconspicuous place prior to using it (like where your grill usually sits).

Store-Bought Cleaning Solutions

There are also gentle all-purpose cleaners designed to clean decks without chipping the paint. Look for solutions that are:

  • Ammonia-free

  • Bleach-free

  • Eco-friendly

  • And specifically for painted decks

4. Clean the Deck

Empty stained deck outside
Iriana Shiyan - stock.adobe.com

It’s time for all hands on deck! Here’s how to effectively clean your space:

  • Prepare the surface: If your deck hasn’t been cleaned for a while, first wet the surface well with soapy water and let it sit for around 10 minutes.

  • Prime the push-broom: Saturate your brush with the cleaning solution.

  • Gently scrub: Lightly work away at the dirt, mold, mildew, and surface stains, working on one deck board at a time. Load up on soapy water frequently so that there is enough to keep it all wet. 

  • Rinse off dirty water: Use a garden hose with a spray nozzle—not a jet nozzle— to rinse as you go so the dirty water does not sit or dry on the boards, which could dirty and stain all your hard work. 

5. Repeat if Necessary

If your deck is super dirty, you might have to go through two cycles of washing and rinsing so it looks its best. After you rinse the deck, let it air-dry completely between wash cycles so that you can see where you need to scrub more. 

Also, letting your deck dry after your first cleaning helps keep the paint and wood from getting so saturated that the paint peels.

Tips to Remember

  • The dirty water will run down under the deck, so clear out stuff under there first to keep it from damaging any valuables.

  • Dirty water that moves down dry siding makes unsightly streaks. Wash away from the house, wet the siding with the hose, and keep the siding wet before rinsing the deck. Then, rinse again immediately afterward to avoid staining any sidings.  

  • You may need to clean the siding first before working on the deck, re-rinsing the siding as you go. If water runs down the siding from the deck, keep the siding wet throughout the process so the dirty water does not stick to it, then rinse that again last. 

  • Avoid pooling water against the side of the house, the ledger board, or the foundation.

  • Never mix ammonia with bleach or other household cleaning solutions that contain bleach, as this creates toxic fumes.

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