Best Deck Cleaners

In this article we are going to cover what actually is “Wood Deck Cleaner”. We will compare the different types of deck cleaning options available and what are the positives and negatives of each.

Wood and Deck Cleaners

Exterior wood and deck cleaners are designed to clean and prep your exterior wood prior to an application of a wood stain. These cleaners come in many different concentrates with different ingredients. The main purpose of deck cleaners is to remove contaminants such as dirt, oxidation (graying), mold, algae, and in some cases, a very deteriorated stain that has failed. Deck cleaners are typically made up of caustics soaps that will aid in the scrubbing or pressure washing of your wood during the prepping process. Most deck cleaners will raise the pH balance of the wood resulting in a neutralizing acid (deck brightener) application to cancel the caustic of the cleaner, leaving the wood in a neutral state.

Note: Deck cleaners are not designed to remove old stains. You would need a deck stain stripper for this.

Oxygenated Deck Cleaners

Oxygenated based deck cleaners have really taken hold in the last 10 years. These cleaners contain the active ingredient Sodium Percarbonate. This is a registered ingredient by the EPA for mold and mildew removal. Deck cleaners that contain this ingredient will also contain additional surfactants that will “boost” the overall effectiveness when cleaning exterior wood. These cleaners come in powdered concentrates that are mixed with water then applied to the wood’s surface. Best applied with a garden pump sprayer then scrubbed or lightly pressure washed off.

Pros: Environmentally safe and effective cleaner. Registered mold removal by the EPA. Very cost effective. Excellent at removal of contaminants.

Cons: Must be mixed with water to desired concentration. Only active for 30 minutes. Some need warm water for best results.

Examples: Restore-A-Deck Kits, Defy Wood Deck Cleaner, Gemini Restore Kit, EFC-38

Bleach Based Deck Cleaners

Many of the older deck cleaners contained the active ingredient called Sodium Hypochlorite or what is commonly known as “bleach”. These deck cleaners will contain bleach that “whiten” the wood and some additional soapy surfactants that will aid in the cleaning of dirt and grime. Bleach based cleaners have recently been found to damage the wood’s lignin that help bind the cellular structure of the wood.

Pros: Premixed in liquid form. Excellent mold and algae remover.

Cons: May damage the wood cells. Average cleaner.

Examples: Behr 2 in 1 Deck Prep, Clorox Deck Cleaners, Cabot

DeckStainHelp.com Suggestions:

We really like the “Oxygenated” Deck Cleaners. Since they come in a powdered form they are much less expensive . When you have the combination of Sodium Percarbonate and the proper surfactants, your cleaning will be easier and the end result will be hard to beat.

We suggest in order:

1. Restore-A-Deck

2. Defy Wood Cleaner

3. EFC-38 Wood Cleaner

*Remember, the better the wood is prepped the longer the life of your stain and the overall appearance will be improved.

156 Responses to “Best Deck Cleaners”

  1. Peter says:

    OK, I've decided to wait untill spring to clean, brighten and stain my new mahogany deck on my Victorian front porch.
    The whole house and porch columns, based, sides, steps, etc have just been painted (existing PT wood steps re-solid stained).
    Will spring's clean and wash damage the paint (mostly hi-qualityLatex, oil on metal railings)? I plan to use Restore-a-Deck.
    Thx

  2. Vickey says:

    I have a deck that is probably 20 years old. I had it power washed 5 years ago, but due to circumstances, never followed up with anything else. I need to replace some nails with deck screws. Some splintering has occurred . Structurally sound, but where do I start? This is located in Baltimore, Maryland, for weather concerns. I'm a widow on a budget and will need to do this myself.

  3. Becky says:

    We have a house in Southern Alabama with a covered wrap around porch that is fully stained. We have a build up of pollen (tree farm) that we have tried to power wash off. Still has residue on it. We just want to clean the pollen off without having to restain it. What do you recommend ?

  4. Ann says:

    I have a ipe deck that needs refinishing, I only used cabots austrilian oil on it, but there is a built up in ares, last year I hired someone who has never worked with ipe wood and it is really messed up, they did not get all the old finish off in areas and tried sanding it. I have 1 40 x 40 deck and railing. Do you work with ipe or can you refer someone that does:

    • Ann, use a stain stripper to remove the Cabot then brighten when done. We like the Restore A Deck Stripper for this. Once the wood is prepped, try Armstrong Clark in the Mahogany color.

  5. Rick says:

    I live in Canada. Had a new pressure treated deck built last fall. Do i have to clean just the horizontal deck boards or do the vertical ballusters and bottom vertical skirting boards have to be cleaned also, Thank you

  6. Janey Oliver says:

    I have a big problem. I had a very good professional painter to use your system to clean and brighten my upper deck. He followed the instructions and kept connecting windows wet and rinsed well after the process.i find now that I have spots on the windows around my deck that I can't clean off. I also have spots on the dark siding roof that more than likely won't come off either. Please tell me there is a cleaner that will take care of this. I'm in a very expensive new house and don't want to replace windows because of an inferior cleaner that was supposed to be safe. I purchased this from sherwin Williams who just started selling this product. I intend to go to sherwin Williams with my complaint as well. Please help!!!!! I did all the research and thought I was getting a good product but now I'm afraid to even try the stain.

  7. Albert says:

    I built a cedar deck last year and did the cedar railing this year. What a difference between the wood I installed last year (greyed out). I purchased a Restore-a-deck kit hoping it will help bring the one-year old wood back to its original look before the stain. This being said I have 2 questions : 1/I have black aluminum balusters (common one found at the renovation centers) held by cedar railings and posts, will the restore a deck product affect these aluminum balusters? 2/ do I need to allow clear/brighten the new railing sections also – it is new cedar wood (aside from the aluminum balusters)

    Thanks for the help, Albert (Montreal, Canada)

    • We have never seen the cleaners harm the balusters. Yes prep all wood.

      • Albert says:

        I have black aluminum balusters, black plastic clips holding the 2×4 to the post and aluminum base to the post. What I will do is test the product. I will mix a small amount, test it on some of the parts I have left before I proceed to the entire deck and will let you know.

        Thanks for the help, Albert

  8. Justin says:

    OK, I use the oxygen based cleaner as instructed/directed on the package. It worked great. Except….there's now a white residue on my deck. And what residue did come off, is all over anything and everything around my deck. Including my house and window screens. I used the brightener and it did little if anything to help the residue issue. Took me all day and it looks like I'll have to do it all over again today. Minus the cleaner obviously. Any idea what this would be? Maybe the brightener I bought isn't the correct kind? Had to go to 4 stores to find the brightener. Wish I could post a picture.

  9. Bill T says:

    I need your advise please? I think I ruined my new deck! I built a new Redwood deck in southern Colorado 7 months ago. I left it untreated to "weather" throughout the winter and spring. I purchased the TWP 1500 stain from Seal & Protect. Also purchased 1 gallon of Top to Bottom deck cleaner. I followed the mix directions, I thought? 50/50 water / cleaner, then applied. Followed by rinsing with a pressure washer. Now by deck looks burnt! The wood is black in some areas and brown in others. Looks nothing like redwood anymore. In addition, some areas of the wood have "fur" on the surface. The supplier stated I made the mix too strong and most likely pulled the oils in the wood to the surface. Their recomendation would be to sand the entire surface.
    Please tell me there is another product out there that reverse these adverse effects? Or should allow it to "weather" another year?
    Your expertise would be greatly appreciated

    • You will most likely need to use a buffing pad to get rid of the furring issues. A wood brightener should help to neutralize to discoloration from their cleaner. I would not suggest buying anything from S&P.

  10. Steve says:

    I have a 20-yr-old never-cleaned PT deck with serious mildew crust. I cleaned a small patch with an old jug of Benjamin Moore Moorewood (phosphoric acid). It was sensational….but I ran out. I bought some Thompson's (bleach) and was very disappointed. Ben Moore no longer makes a deck cleaner with phosphoric acid. Can anyone recommend a cleaner as strong as phosphoric acid?

    • That is basically a brightener and not one makes it anymore as it etches the siding and trim causing discoloration. The Restore A Deck Kits will clean and brightener better.

  11. Kathy says:

    This deck has been stained several times. The spindles have dark spots, the handrails have drip marks from previous staining, and the deck is discolored. Some of the old stain is still present in patches. There are spots where the wood appears feathered. So, where do I start and what do I do. I tried cleaning it yesterday. The deck floor turned out "okay". The spindles are dark with black spots. The handrails are dark with the drip stains. I need some direction as I have hours into the deck and it doesn't appear to be much further along than when I started. I tried scrubbing the spindles with a Dekswood solution and it didn't even touch the stains. And now I have found this site and hoping you can give some time saving direction.

  12. Doryne says:

    we have a new cedar deck that we have stained (twice) and a few of the boards are turning black, how come that happened and how do we clean the black off

  13. elena says:

    i used Thomson's deck cleaner and brightened on my cedar deck , the boards look clean ,but have a white hue to it ,did i not wash it of enough or can just stain over it.

  14. Tim says:

    I have a 2 year old cedar deck that has grayed pretty significantly. I want to restore the natural wood colours, and have been advised that I will need to sand it to do so. I would like to use a cleaner and stain that will prevent this graying in the future. Do I need to sand it to remove the gray, or would a cleaner take care of that?

    • A deck cleaner and pressure washing will remove the gray. Use a wood brightener after as well.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks for the reply. I've read that power-washing a cedar deck can make it fuzzy, or even damage the wood – do you have any advice around this? Would it be better to sand it? Also, if I do power wash, I was thinking of doing it in this order: Cleaner -> power wash -> brightener -> stain. Is this correct? Thanks!

        • Pressure washing doe not make wood fuzzy as long as you know what you are doing and you use the proper cleaner and strippers while doing the washing. The only exception is heavily grayed wood. That will always be somewhat fuzzy. Yes on your order!

  15. wjmooney says:

    Is it necessary to use a brightener for pressure treated pine or is a cleaner sufficient?

  16. wjmooney says:

    I want to clean my already stained deck for maintenance and appearance. Can I use the same cleaner I used when it had no stain or is it too powerful and might be damaging (e.g. fade the stain)? If I can use the same cleaner, can it be used for both oil and latex based stains (latex used on railing)? Is the brightener necessary?

  17. murphy says:

    I have cleaned my pressure treated pine deck w/ Behr premium all-in-one wood cleaner, then pressure washed-the deck looks very clean. I am about to stain with twp1500 (per your recommendation). my question is – do i need to brighten the deck before staining? Behr's says it is brightener as well, but I'm skeptical. thanks againin advance.

  18. Rhonda says:

    I have a pine wood deck that was built last fall and I waited till spring to stain it. I used Behr Premium semi-transparent wood stain and sealer. It looked great right after I did it, but it now looks like it has some kind of residue all over it. If it's walked on when wet, any kind of dirt or footprints just stay on there and then dries on top of the residue. The only time it looks good now is when it's wet. What can I do to make it look like it did when I stained it just 3 months ago? Thanks!

  19. DMW says:

    • Deck Location State: Washington
    • Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Mostly sun
    • Wood Type: Probably cedar
    • Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes, underneath (It’s a second-story deck)
    • Reason for Previous Stain Failure: ?
    We bought this house two years ago so it has been at least that long since it was treated. It is about 20 years old, and I assume the deck was built at that time. There is a railing with 1-1/4 X 1-1/4 spindles on three sides, and a staircase. There are several spots on the deck surface where the stain has worn off, and it needs perking up. There are several cracks, but nothing that needs replacing. We were planning to clean the underneath with SW DeckScapes Revive; power wash and sand where needed elsewhere; and then apply the new stain (matching color). Our neighbors used SW DeckScapes and like it except for the water spots whenever it rains. Today, I found your site and see that SW is in the “worst” category. What advice do you have for me?
    Thanks!

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