Deck Stain Reviews Ratings
Deck Stain Reviews Ratings
Deck Stain Reviews Ratings

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 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.

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196 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.

  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.

    • Janey, I am not sure which product(s) you used. I would suspect it is more an application error or issue.

    • Guin says:

      If you haven't already called your homeowner's insurer, do so now. There is no fix for deck cleaner etched windows. The same thing happened to us and the cost to replace the etched French doors and windows was over $60,000 but our homeowner's policy covered most of the replacement cost.

    • mary says:

      Believe it or not good ol' wd-40 will remove both

  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?

  20. John says:

    I have just had a deck made with pressure treated wood. It has an uneven color and there are some bright green spots here and there. I live in SE PA. I have two questions:
    1. How long to wait till the wood is dry? (today is 9/21) It's damp to the touch
    2. What do you recommend for prep before staining?
    3. What stain to use? It gets only afternoon sun.

  21. Clarisse says:

    Hi, I would like to clean my new deck with the recommended Restore-A-Deck Kit.
    My deck is 10 feet up in the air and underneath i have concrete slab pavement. Will the chemical products in the Restore-a-Deck damage / stain my pavement ?
    Thank you for your insight

  22. Tcollins says:

    If I use Oxyclean to clean my cedar siding, do I need to neutralize it with a brightener?

  23. Brenden says:

    I'm about to start prepping my 8 year old deck which has been re-stained/ssealed at least 3-4 times. It's in pretty rough shape. I am reading all about using a deck-cleaner and stain removers and possibly power washing it but I haven't seen one mention about scraping and/or sanding the previous stain away, which is peeling and flaking bad;y. I just assigned that would be the way to go. Should I spend the time sanding the entire surface lightly of course, to gmeove the old stain? LOr can I skip this step entirely with a good cleaner/stain remover? Thanks!

  24. Dan says:

    We have powder coated iron/steel railings on our cedar deck. Do I need to protect them from corrosion if I use Restore A Deck Cleaner/Brightener?

  25. Da Dinger says:

    Good info.

  26. Sandra says:

    Hi, i just had a new pressure-treated deck buikt in DC. I will wait at least a month, as you advise, before staining it. Am planning to use Armstrong Clarke, probably Amber although i have yet to test samples. My question is when it comes to cleaning the deck before staining it, could I use Golden Care cleaner? It is a non-toxic cleaner and brightener in one that I used very effectively on my teak furniture.

    • Never heard of it. It is probable fine but it is not possible to have a fully fictionally cleaner and brightener in. A cleaner is a \”base\” and a brightener is an \”acid\”. The two cancel each other out to get a neutral pH balance.

  27. minn says:

    yes information I've been looking for

  28. Alan says:

    I have a large "Cigar Tree" (Catalpa Tree) in my yard. It produces large beans and flowers. Both of these are very dirty and seem to have a heavy black oil on them. I have a white powder coated aluminum deck. Is there a cleaner that will easily remove this black film? I powerwash and use a floor buffer with simple green but it is a weekly project this time of year and the deck is large. Is there a product out there that will disolve this oil and clean my deck more easily?

    Love the shade….hate the tree!

    Alan Bergmann


  29. MikeG says:

    We have a 3-yr old pine deck that we cannot get rid of the mold/mildew no matter what we try. We used RAD and TWP first time around 3 yrs ago. This year we cleaned it (RAD) and then decided to strip it, so used RAD to strip and brighten and waited for the weather to clear (>5 weeks lots of rain in MD) in order to stain w/TWP again (different color). Now the deck has developed lots of black spots/patches! Looks like some type of mold/mildew. We've tried RAD cleaner to get rid of it – did not work. Then we tried Wet and Forget first, then on different sections of the deck we've tried Mold Armor, Mold Stain Erase, Storm System Step 1, and NOTHING is working to remove the mold/mildew. Results have been very frustrating = some lightening or nothing at all, despite lots of scrubbing…! We're totally perplexed and don't know what to try / do next.

    Any suggestions/recommendations would be much appreciated!

    • Might not be mold. Please post a picture in our forum area.

    • DDavis says:

      MikeG, We built a deck just over 3 yrs ago and have found that the 2×8 ACQ pressure treated lumber we bought for joists were just not treated properly. They were looking pretty bad within a year and we knew that we would have to replace them early. Similar to what you describe, the lumber has "White Rot" fungus and quite a bit of black areas that won't clean up at all. We have two joists that are rotted through and need replacing now. The other lumber we bought for the deck still looks great. We were at Lowes last week and heard about someone else in our area (north Alabama) who had bought pressure treated pine about the same time and has the same problem with White Rot and rotting through. We understand that they are in communication with Georgia-Pacific (who agreed that it shouldn't be rotting) and are pursuing replacement under warranty. I was also told that the treatment process has changed since – it's no longer ACQ. Not sure whether they determined if it was a (very large) bad batch or a bad process.

  30. Joel says:

    My step-father tried to clean a cedar deck installed last Fall with Penofin cleaning product, but he made the mistake of not keeping the cleaning product damp before spraying it off the deck surface. In the unseasonably warm weather we've had in the Northwest this year, the Penofin cleaner dried on the deck surface and has left a splotchy white residue. He was told to reapply the Penofin cleaner a second time to clear that residue but that has not worked. Is there any way to get that residue off the wood short of sanding it? Thanks for your help.

  31. jackson says:

    i treated my new red cedar deck and railing with penofin red label and every thing turned black, the penofin rep said this was caused by natural mildew in the wood reacting to the oil and was common with cedar. How can i treat new cedar materials before i begin another project to stop said reaction and any thoughts to clean the existing deck

    • The Penofin rep is not being honest. They have a history of turning dark or black with their stain. You need to strip off the Penofin then brighten the wood. Use Restore A Deck products. Try TWP or Defy Extreme. Neither will turn black.

  32. jackson says:

    I built a new red cedar deck and railing 3yrs ago and stained with penofin red label which soon started turning black, the penofin rep told me that it was due to a naturally occurring mildew commonly present within cedar reacting to the oil based stain. How can I treat new cedar materials to avoid this reaction and also how can I rectify the existing black deck so it will match the new construction. Talked to TWR and Defy and neither will apply over penofin so it looks like i`ll be using penofin to completion of the project

  33. Cindy says:

    I have pealing semi-transparent Behr stain to remove, please tell me what is the best cleaner to use. There is mold/mildew as well. Which of the top 3 products would you recommend to remove this Behr stain. What a mess it has created! :-(

    Thanks for any advice!

    • Cleaners will not remove this. You need a stain stripper and even they can have a hard time with a Behr stain.

      Restore A Deck stain Stripper

      Make sure to brighten the wood when done.

  34. Shane says:

    I used Olympic deck cleaner on my 11 month old cedar deck. It caused it to have a white film on it. The white film comes up when I rub my hand on it with a little force. I followed instructions, only left solution in it for a couple of minutes before rinsing. Should I now sand everything or use a hard brush? This is a decent size deck. My project just got a lot more time consuming. Please help, thank you!

  35. John says:

    I had been looking for a good cleaner to use on my deck before staining and after I read your post I decided that I would go with the Restore a Deck Cleaner and Brightener package. Now that I have use this, to the exact directions on the bottle, I have been left with a WHITE DECK! Not the "natural wood" color this product said. It looked great when it was still wet but once it dried it lost all its color! What can I do? I power washed after applying the cleaner and rinsed thoroughly after applying the brightener just like the directions said. Not sure what to do now… any suggestions?

  36. Alfred says:

    Getting ready to stain our pine PT deck for the first time. I live in Centerville OH. It's a 950-sf deck with 3 sets of steps. It was built in May/Jun 2014, so it's now had over a year of weathering. Hope to receive the stain (two 5-gal containers of TWP 1520 Pecan stain) as well as two Gemini Cleaner/Brightener Kits today or tomorrow. I hadn't ordered a pump sprayer, but having done a little more research and looked at online videos, it appears the pump sprayers are the way to go for cleaners & brighteners. Lowes has a "Smith 2-Gallon Plastic Tank Sprayer" for ~$30 which gets very high marks, and they have them in stock, so I plan to get that one. Here are my questions pertaining to the cleaner/brightener: (1) Is there a particular order I should go? … such as all the railings first, then the steps, then the deck floor?, or does it matter whatsoever? (2) Should I spray everything (deck railings/steps/floor) all at one time and then power spray everything, OR should I do small sections and work my way across the deck that way? (3) I plan to pump spray the cleaner & brightener on (and not use a scrub brush), and then power spray the cleaner & brightener off, OR is it better to apply it and scrub brush it into the surface? (4) Lastly, I have what appear to be some chalk lines on the deck from when the deck was built. They've faded some, but are still present. I just read something which indicates I should've probably lightly sanded them off right after the deck was built, then it would have time to weather and the pores reopen, but now I don't want to do any sanding (since I'm getting to stain the deck within a week or two). Will the cleaner/brightener remove the light lines on the deck? … or will the TWP 1520 Pecan stain 'cover' them adequately? Sorry for all the questions. Look forward to the feedback to my questions! Thanks!! -Al

    • 1. Does not matter.
      2. Do in sections so it does not dry out. Maybe 200-300 sq. feet at a time.
      3. apply the cleaner, agitate some, then pressure wash off. You do not need to agitate or high pressure wash the brightener. Just rinse off the brightener.
      4. Since it has been a year the prepping should remove the lines.

      One more tip, do not mix the powders in the sprayer. Mix in a 5 gallon bucket and watch for undissolved crystals at the bottom. Make sure you do not pour them into the sprayer. This will avoid clogging.

      • Alfred says:

        Great! Thank you VERY much for the responses on each of my questions, as well as the tip about mixing the cleaner and brightener. Awesome website and advice. Thanks!! -Al

        • Alfred says:

          I'm back. Got started last weekend with a pressure washer rental, and after three return trips due to faulty wand (no o-ring) and no pressure, I knew I'd run out of daylight. Going for it again starting this Fri morning. I wish there was a good video to see someone use the Gemini Restore-A-Deck cleaner and brightener on a new, weathered deck; especially the cleaner. If there are any good videos out there, please let me know. I couldn’t locate anything on these issues, so I want to ask these questions before I begin.

          1)Cleaner. Once I mix the powder in the water, do I have to use the solution within a specified period of time? Can I use it a few hours or days later with the same effectiveness?
          2)Cleaner. For the railings & spindles, is it better to scrub/agitate them, or can I use a pressure water for the entire deck (to include the railings & spindles)?
          3)Brightener. Should the deck be dry before I apply the brightener, or is it okay to still be wet (which it will be once I get done cleaning it)?
          4)Brightener. Following the cleaning process, what’s the MINIMUM amount of time I should wait before putting on the brightener solution?
          5)Brightener. Following the cleaning process, what’s the MAXIMUM amount of time I can wait before putting on the brightener solution? (I’m asking in case I have to apply the brightener at a later time or date (if that’s even feasible).)
          6)Brightener. Once I mix the powder in the water, do I have to use the solution within a specified period of time? If I have any leftover, can it be used later (hours, days, weeks, months)?
          7)Brightener. I know it says I can’t/shouldn’t allow the cleaner to dry. Is it okay if the brightener dries before I rinse it off? I’m trying to determine if I need to apply the brightener in sections then rinse each section as I go, or if I’ll be able to apply brightener to the whole deck (950 sf) and then rinse it.
          8) Do you know of any good internet links to videos of someone demonstrating the Gemini RAD cleaner & brightener products?

          Thanks (AGAIN) for all your help!

          • 1. Just hours. Goes bad after 2-4 hours with the cleaner
            2. Pressure washing is fine
            3. Apply the brightener while still wet after the cleaner
            4. Right away is best
            5. Right away is best
            6. Does not go bad. You can premix and use when ready
            7. Apply to whole deck then rinse after 10-20 minutes.
            8. No idea

  37. Larry says:

    I washed the deck with a 2 step cleaner and brightener. The deck is nice and clean and bright except for some green algae spots. Do I sand those areas? If yes, do I reapply the cleaner and brightener

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*This is first and foremost a help site from our experience as wood restoration contractors. All stain and prepping manufacturer directions were followed with our reviews and ratings. We offer no guarantee of similar results. Take inconsideration that wood and deck stain results may differ due to prepping procedures, different wood types, exposure to UV radiation, natural weathering, etc.