The introduction of spring calls for an update of your outdoor spaces, especially decks and patios. Your deck goes through a lot of wear and tear during the harsh winter weather. Now, it’s time to refresh and renew your deck in preparation for summer barbeques and parties.
But what’s the best way to get your deck clean and looking like new?
What works better—a deck scrub brush or a power washer?
Below, we go through the advantages and disadvantages of both so you can choose the method that will work best for you and your home.
Deck power washer
Power washers, also called pressure washers, are high-powered machines that forcefully spray water to remove dirt, paint, mold, grime, mud, and other gunk.
They’re primarily used in outdoor settings on decks, concrete, driveways, building exteriors, and vehicles. Some commercial settings (with a professional cleaning staff) might also use pressure washers indoors, especially in warehouses or garages.
Advantages of a power washer
Power washing is one of the fastest ways to clean an outdoor space. You can have the deck spotless in just a few minutes. Pressure washing requires very little time, tools, or elbow grease.
If you have experience power washing, you can use these high-powered machines to clean your deck in no time.
Disadvantages of a power washer
Despite their speed, power washers are usually best for professionals—especially when working with soft surfaces like wood decks.
Power washers work at extremely high pressures. The water that comes out of a pressure washer is so powerful that it can literally rip through any soft surfaces in its path—including wood and human skin.
Some pressure washers can reach 3000 PSI (pounds per square inch). This is powerful enough to damage wood grain, cause holes in the wood, and even break apart the deck entirely.
This kind of pressure can also cause a safety concern.
There are other side effects of pressure washing wood. For example, the water can actually blast through solid wood and concrete. Water can get trapped in the wood deck, causing expansion, cracking, and molding.
If you plan on staining or sealing your deck after washing, the sealant could inadvertently trap this water inside—causing damage to the color and integrity of the wood. This kind of water damage can cause mold, infestations, and erosion. Ultimately, this can result in long-term damage that requires total replacement.
The same can also happen to your house. If you are power washing your deck, the water can shoot through the siding of your house. If you have a wood frame, the water can soak wall cavities, insulation, and plaster. The water can’t evaporate once inside, creating even more water damage inside the structure of your home.
If you are new to power washing, it might not be a good idea to start with the deck. You can start your DIY power washing with sturdier materials, like metal or stone to get used to the pressure and movement of a power washer.
How to use a power washer
Despite the potential concerns, there are ways you can use a power washer to clean your deck without damage.
Rent or buy a power washer. If you are a homeowner, you’ll want to clean your deck in both the spring and fall. Thus, a pressure washer might be a good long-term investment.
Select the nozzle. You want a low-pressure nozzle, which is usually 15 or 25 degrees. 15 degrees will prep most surfaces, while 25 is best for a simple cleaning. 0 degree is too strong for wood and soft surfaces.
Wash with detergent. You need a cleaner to help get rid of dirt and grime. There are two methods of applying the cleaner. You can pour the detergent directly on the wood and rinse with the power washer, or you can dilute detergent and water in the power washer dispenser. Don’t use a bleach detergent, as this can stain wood.
Rinse with water. You want to make sure the detergent is completely rinsed to avoid damaging or staining the wood.
Start with the lowest setting. When power washing, start with the lowest setting to get a handle on how the pressure feels. If you need something stronger, slowly work your way to a higher setting. Remember that wood is soft, so it can’t withstand higher pressure settings.
Work in sweeping motions. Move in constant motions back and forth. Don’t hold the pressure on one area for too long. You’ll also want to work in sections, moving over each area only once.
Spray from a distance. This makes the pressure less intense and is less likely to damage the wood. If you need to spray close to the wood due to small or tight spaces, use a wide-nose nozzle.
Take safety precautions:
Wear protective glasses, gloves, boots, and long sleeves.
Do not let children or pets in the area while power washing.
Never point the nozzle at yourself or another person.
Be aware of the way the wind is blowing, so the water doesn’t spray back at you.
Avoid washing electrical outlets, windows, screens, or lights.
Don’t spray furniture that can blow away with the power.
Engage the trigger safety latch when not spraying.
Squeeze the trigger to release any pressure before disconnecting or changing hoses.
Using a scrub brush simply means that you get down on your hands and knees and scrub the deck. Usually, you’ll want to use a nylon scrub brush, which is abrasive enough to clean but soft that it won’t do damage.
Advantages of a scrub brush
Hand-scrubbing the desk is hard to mess up. It’s not dangerous like a power washer is, and you’re much less likely to damage the grain or wood planks. It also tends to get the deck cleaner, because you’re giving your deck more TLC.
Disadvantages of a scrub brush
Scrubbing takes a lot of time and elbow grease. What takes a power washer a few minutes can take a few hours with a scrub brush. It also requires much more work and elbow grease.
You might want to sign your whole family up for a day of scrubbing if you choose to go this route.
Mix the concentrated cleaner with water in the bucket.
Wet the deck with a garden hose.
Dip the scrub brush in the bucket.
Get scrubbing! Work in sections so you don’t go over the same area multiple times. This will help speed up the process.
Rinse. Make sure you rinse thoroughly with fresh, clean water. Use a garden hose to spray over the area multiple times.
Pro-tip: Wash your deck during a sunny, low-humidity week. This will help your deck dry faster, which minimizes the risk of water damage. Wait at least 24 to 48 hours after washing before staining or sealing.
Which do we recommend?
A power washer takes much less time, but it can be dangerous—for both you and the wood. A scrub brush takes more time and work, but it’s much safer. In many cases, scrubbing also gets the deck cleaner than a power washer could.
Ultimately, you can power wash your decks if you’re previously familiar with power washing. Otherwise, stick to scrubbing your decks for a deeper, safer clean.
Keep in mind that if your deck is waterproofed, a power washer might not be able to clear dirt as well. For waterproof-sealed decks, you’ll likely want to hand scrub.