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Prepping Your Wood Deck – Cleaning 4.8/5 (12)

How to prep and clean your wood deckExterior wood decking when left neglected oxidizes from the Ultra Violet rays from the sun. This will patina the exposed layer of wood cells turning the deck gray. Cleaning the deck first will a deck cleaner will remove this layer of graying wood cells while removing accumulated dirt, grime, mold, mildew, and algae.

Prepping your wood deck is the singular most important step when it comes to getting maximum performance out of your deck stain. Failure to prep and your stain will fail faster then it should and will not give the wood it’s natural beauty.

This article will go over the needed steps to properly clean your deck prior to applying the stain.

  1. Make sure that the deck is clear of all furniture and grills prior to starting.
  2. Decide first if you should use a deck cleaner or a deck stain stripper. Use a deck cleaner if the wood is gray and dirty. If you have am old deck stain that needs to be removed then you should use a deck stain stripper as the deck cleaner is not aggressive enough to remove stains.
  3. Pre-wet the deck first before applying the deck cleaner. Take precautions to wet all vegetation and the surrounding house. The majority of deck cleaners will not harm plants as long as you pre-wet and rinse off any residual cleaner that comes in contact with the plants.
  4. Wait about 5-15 minutes to let the cleaner activate. If needed, mist the deck with water to keep the cleaner from drying on hot days.
  5. Using a stiff scrub brush, starting agitating the deck until the wood comes clean. Using a pressure washer at 1000 psi or less will speed this process up.
  6. If any stubborn areas persist then repeat the process.
  7. After deck is thoroughly clean make sure to rinse the house, deck, plants, etc to remove all of the loosened grime.
  8. Using a Wood Deck Brightener will give the wood and added boost in appearance. The brightener neutralizes the deck cleaner and “brightens” the wood to a more natural state.
  9. Let wood dry a minimum of 24-48 hours before applying a deck stain or sealer.

Deck Cleaning Tips: deck cleaner reviews

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182 responses to “Prepping Your Wood Deck – Cleaning”

  1. Tiffany says:

    I stripped and brightened my cedar deck about 3 weeks ago now. Due to kids' events, work, and continual intermittent rainy weather, I have yet been unable to stain it. I will be using TWP 100 stain. What do I need to do at this point before staining? Should I be repeating any steps once it's sufficiently dry?

  2. Kitty says:

    If it is Hot sunny day do I need to wait 48 hours after applying brighrener before staining

  3. Sarah says:

    I have a newer deck that I am going to clean and stain. Should I sand before the cleaning or after?

  4. Amie says:

    We're getting ready to strip/clean/brighten/stain a porch, deck, and gazebo–a lot of area. I have a one-gallon bottle of Flood Wood Cleaner and a one-gallon bottle of Wolman Deck & Fence Brightener, both from about four years ago, on hand. We will definitely need more product than that! If I use what I have on hand in addition to something like the Restore-A-Deck products, will the difference in performance (in terms of cleaning and brightening) be noticeable? We are trying to keep costs down but don't want to do anything that would jeopardize the results. This project is too expensive and too big for mistakes! Thanks for any help!

  5. Kim says:

    My husband pressure washed our deck a week ago with deck cleaner. It left a film and fuzzies all over the deck. I have been sanding to get it clean and nice looking. My question is – do I have to redo the cleaning solution after sanding or can I wet it down and use the brightener? Thanks for your help.

  6. Jeff says:

    I stripped my cedar deck of the previous Wolman semitransparent stain, using their stripper. I sanded the fuzzies and it looks like new. Do i need to use a deck brightener, or can I stain it as is? If I use a deck brightener and apply a water based stain do I have to wait 24 hrs to stain, or can the deck still be slightly damp?

  7. Jared says:

    I am about to stain my new deck this weekend and it is going to be pretty cold in Wisconsin. I plan to stain on Sunday when the high it 56F. Friday and Saturday both have a high of 50F. Should I clean my deck a few days earlier so that it has extra time to dry in the cold temperature? The other thing I need to consider is the white pine tree next to my deck is shedding its needles right now and may continue to drop after I clean the deck.

  8. pandablomp says:

    Hello! I am in the process of cleaning a very large deck and am planning to stain it, but I only have a short time per day to work on it. I've noticed that the areas I cleaned 2 weeks ago are looking grayish (less so than before, but moreso than the newly-cleaned areas). I'm not sure what to do, since I can't change my schedule to move any more quickly, and I feel like I'm going to end up in an endless cycle of re-cleaning. What can I do about this? Can I stain parts of it at a time (i.e. clean one railing and stain it, and then clean the floor and stain that, etc.)? Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • It is not really possible to do deck maintenance in stages like this and have it all turn out \”evenly\”. Best to do all the cleaning at once and stain all within 2-14 days after. Sorry but it will be very hard to do it the way you are doing it and have it turn out properly.

  9. Jamie says:

    If I have stripped the stain off my deck with Restore-a-Deck, but don't plan on restaining until spring (temperatures and rain are preventing me from wanting to right now), should I wait to brighten after a spring cleaning? I didn't know if I needed to brighten a certain amount of time after stripping or if it is okay to wait until spring when I stain.

    Thanks and great website! Really helped with my deck project 🙂

  10. Anna says:

    I installed a new floor and handrails to my deck August of 2104. The posts, railings and steps are painted with a Cabot solid color chestnut brown acrylic deck stain – they were not replaced. Is power washing and/or deck cleaner recommended on the entire deck? And deck brightener too? Also I want to paint the railings, handrails, posts and steps white. But I want to stain the new wood floor a dark color stain that shows the wood somewhat. A company I am getting a price quote from uses Amstrong Clark products. Is this a good choice? I live near the shore in NJ and my deck gets a lot of sun. One more question…one application or two this year? Thank you.

  11. Abby says:

    I have a brand new deck that I'm going to stain this weekend. I'm planning on cleaning it tomorrow since it will be a sunny day, then staining it this Saturday. We're supposed to get rain the next 2 days, then have plenty of sun Friday, Saturday & Sunday. Is it ok that the newly-cleaned deck is going to get some rain before I stain it? I'll make sure it's totally dry before I stain Saturday. But I wasn't sure if the rain would effect a newly-cleaned deck. Thank you!

  12. Matt Wilson says:

    My deck has aluminum spindles around the whole deck. Is it necessary to protect these prior to cleaning? Will be using a pump sprayer to apply cleaner and power washer to clean deck.

    • Matt, it has a lot to do with the spindles, not the cleaner. Some have a protective coating on them that the cleaners will not harm while others do not and the cleaners can create spots. There are some many different manufacturers of the spindles that it is impossible to say for sure without actually testing.

      • Matt Wilson says:

        Sorry, I just posted this same question in a different forum, didn't notice this response. Not clue if they have a protective coating. They are plain black and after one hot summer and a Canadian winter they look in great shape. Is there any way to "test" them to find out? What will the spots look like and how long would they take to set in?

        • Usually if they have a smooth finish then they have the protective coating. Rough or a powder finish, they are not protected. The cleaner or brightener would react be creating \”spots\” that could be lighter or even darker on the spindles.

  13. Adam says:

    I have a 2000 square foot deck that i have been rebuilding in phases. I am now nearly done, and some of the pressure treated pine boards i have installed are now over a year old and have grayed, and developed small black dots on them. I understand that i must clean and brighten the deck before i can stain everything. I plan on using the restore-a-deck system. You guys recommend using a stiff bristled brush, along with a pressure washer at 1000 psi to aid in the cleaning. My pressure washer is 3100 psi with no pressure adjustment. Will it suffice if i use a wide fan nozzle and keep my distance? I know pressure washers can easily damage a deck, but would my pressure washer be effective if i kept my distance?

  14. Matt Wilson says:

    I cleaned & brightened my deck yesterday morning. It looks pretty good, but I noticed some fuzzies, particularly on the cedar part of the deck. I've read a simple palm sander should do the trick, but I'm curious if I would have to re-brighten after, or just a good rinse and read to stain?

  15. Troy says:

    I am painting my deck with a deck-over type paint. I power washed it to clean it and get the debris and mildew off the wood. It was painted previously, not stained. Some spots had to be sprayed down to the bare wood. Do I need to use a deck cleaner since I power washed it already, or is a power wash good enough?

  16. Meg says:

    I used messmers deck stain and some of it sprayed onto my trees. We rinsed them off but I'm worried that they will die. Is there anything I can do or should they be ok?

  17. Sara says:

    I just finished using RAD stipper on my deck and would like to use the brightener but it's going to rain tomorrow and then dry for several days. Should brighten it now or after the rain? I'd prefer to do it now since it will rain later next week and I want to try to fit drying and staining between the rainy days. Thanks so much for your advice.

  18. Cheri says:

    I have a new cedar deck. I read allot of comments below. I'm curious if the spindles and rail need to be cleaned and brightened as well a the floor. Also, how long should you let new cedar weather. My deck is in full sun.

    • Yes all new wood needs to be prepped. As for weathering, we normally wait 2-4 months, but this varies based on the stain brand you choose. Just one coat of stain for new cedar.

  19. Michelle says:

    If I clean and brighten my deck and it rains do I need to do it over again?

  20. Yvette James says:

    We put a new cedar deck on 12 months ago. We now want to stain it. The deck had grayed over the winter. I have cleaned the deck with Thompson's 3in1 (no bleach) wood cleaner and rinsed it well – amazing the gunk that rinses off! The cedar deck now has cedar color areas (as expected) but also white color areas (not expected). Why the white areas? Shall I clean it again with the Bher cleaner prior to applying the Bher semi-transparent deck stain?

  21. carolyn says:

    Our deck is old, we power washed it, but it had mold on it I think, it was slick when wet. I was told to clean it again with TSP and then rinse that off, then wait to dry again before I stain or waterproof. is the TSP washing necessary?

  22. Cynthia says:

    I sanded my deck to remove a sloppy paint job done by the previous homeowners, then cleaned it with Olympic deck cleaner. The forecast is calling for rain for the next several days and I don't know when I'll get to stain. How long can I wait to stain without damaging the wood?

  23. Sue says:

    Do I need to use a deck cleaner, or is a pressure washer just as suitable?

  24. Bob says:

    I have a 4-year-old deck. It doesn't get a lot if use so it's not overly dirty just light wear. I wash it annually with a foaming cleaner and restain with Armstrong Clark Stain. Should i be using such a deep cleaner every year or is there something less harsh that wont strip off the stain.

  25. Ron says:

    I just power washed my redwood deck and cleaned it with Olympic Premium Deck Cleaner. Now it looks WHITE with no color of Redwood at all. Did the cleaner ruin my color on my deck? Is there something I can do to fix it? Nervous, nervous, nervous.

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      Brighten the deck and then stain it. It should come back.

      • Ron says:

        I forgot to say I brightened it as well. It dried completely white. I will go ahead and stain it and hope all the beauty comes back. Thanks for your reply….you help a ton of people.

  26. Jeff says:

    does washing new cedar with dawn dish soap before you stain it, clean it effectively?

  27. Richie says:

    I have a cedar deck I stained with Wolman F&P two years ago. The stain is holding up well, but starting to wear due to weather and foot traffic. I would like to clean the worn areas with Wolman Wood Clear and Brightener and reapply the same F&P product to coat and protect the cedar.

    Do I need to use a stripper and go all the way down to bare wood or is the cleaner/brightener sufficient when prepping wood and reapplying the same product previously used?

    • You should be good with cleaner/brightener as long as it preps evenly. Meaning you do not want some areas bare and some areas with stain still on. This could result in an uneven appearance.

  28. AceoStar says:

    I powerwashed my 15 year old deck about 4 weeks ago and then had lots of rain. It hasnt rained in the past week, but I spilled a good little splash of water on the deck while giving it another final clean. Should I go ahead and add brightener this weekend then look for the next dry weekend to stain?

  29. Celina says:

    We just sanded our Cedar deck today. We have a cleaner and brightener to use before staining. The sanding took care of all the black/mold so was wondering if I need to still clean it or just brighten now?

    It's supposed to rain in two days, should we clean and brighten before or after the rain? Will the water be a problem for the newly sanded cedar? I always thought once you go down to bare wood it's not supposed to get wet.

    Thanks so much!

  30. Karen says:

    About to stain (w/ATM) a pressure treated pine deck 3 years old. Some black mold due to wet winter last year, I attempted to remove by spraying with vinegar and follow up with baking soda/water mix. Hired a guy to stain who has sprayed it with a cleaning Clorox and pressure washed it. It doesn't look very clean and there are still gray spots from the mold on some rails.
    Overall it looks cleaner than before but before he stains it is there anything else I need to do to prep it for optimum outcome?
    The main prob for my east facing deck is rainstorms, weather not so very bad here in AL.

  31. Aaron Buckman says:

    Is there any harm in applying stain a week or two after cleaning? There are only so many free hours outside of our day-jobs…wanting to stain boards & didn't know how long it is acceptable to let boards sit untreated. My thought is it doesn't matter too much as long as free of debree. Ideally, wouldn't let any dirt accumulate, but it is impossible for me to complete the desired two coat application on consecutive days.

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      We always try to stain 48 hours after prep if possible but up to 2 weeks if the weather does not cooperate. Longer than two weeks and you may need to reclean.

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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 in consideration that wood and deck stain results may differ due to prepping procedures, different wood types, exposure to UV radiation, natural weathering, etc.