The difference between deck cleaning and deck stain stripping is simple. With deck cleaning you are simply washing the wood to remove any dirt, grime, mildew, and graying. With deck stripping the same contaminants are removed but you are also removing any old remnants of deck stain. In many cases deck stain stripping is better because you are removing old deck stain in addition to other contaminants like dirt and graying.
Another difference between the two techniques is the chemical used. With deck cleaning, a wood cleaner is used which helps loosen dirt and gray wood fibers prior to washing with a scrub brush or pressure washer. With deck stain stripping, a stripping agent is used which softens most transparent and semi-transparent deck stains so they are washed away along with dirt, graying, grime, etc. This makes the case that deck stripping is better because it goes a step further. In some instances there may be old stain remnants that are not visible on the surface but could still keep the new stain from penetrating the wood pores properly. Removal of all contaminants including old faded stains is the key to a longer lasting finish.
It is widely agreed upon that deck stain stripping is better and easier than deck cleaning because the deck stripping chemicals do a better job of cleaning altogether. Although wood cleaning products do a nice job with moderate dirt and graying, deck strippers are more concentrated and do a better job of loosening all contaminants prior to washing. If you are not sure which to use or not sure if there is an old stain on your deck, it is best to use a deck stain stripper just to be safe. Deck cleaners will work on most contaminants but will not remove most failing deck stains like a deck stripper will.
In both instances a wood deck brightener should be used following a deck clean or stripping product. The cleaning and stripping products are caustic and will raise the pH level of the wood and make it appear very dark. Once the wood is cleaned, applying a wood brightener will make the wood more acidic which results in better stain penetration and it will lighten the wood back up increasing its natural beauty.
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