The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning a Composite or PVC Deck


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Before & After

You've just made a significant investment in a new deck for your backyard and you decided to go with composite or PVC decking because you believed it was "no-maintenance", meaning that you would never have to sand, stain or paint it. When it comes to composite and PVC decking, this is true and many top decking brands like TimberTech/AZEK and Deckorators, even have 25 or 50-year Fade & Stain Warranties. But this does not mean that your new deck will not require regular cleaning, in the same way your car needs regular cleaning so that the look and quality of it will not deteriorate. And while decking brands offer a warranty against staining, it's important to point out that these are "limited" warranties and will not cover you if, for example, you spill wine on your deck and you fail to clean it up in a timely manner (typically within 7 days!) or if you allow tree sap to soak into your deck.


Also, maybe you have had your composite or PVC deck for some time now and you notice that the color is fading. If you haven't been doing regular cleaning of your deck, this will undoubtedly be due to the buildup of dirt and grime on the deck surface which a good cleaning will cure.


So how do we maintain, that is, clean, our composite or PVC deck? The following article breaks down deck maintenance into the following areas:


  1. Periodic & Spot Cleaning - What you can do to regularly clean your deck including removing tree sap.

  2. Yearly Cleaning - How to perform a yearly Quick Cleaning, Deep Cleaning, or Ultra Deep Cleaning of your deck.

  3. Winter Maintenance - This to consider for the winter.


Periodic & Spot Cleaning


General & Periodic Cleaning

In order to keep your deck looking clean and to avoid having to do too much work when doing your yearly spring cleaning, it's best to do the following regularly:

  • Periodically sweep dirt, debris, dust, and pollen off your deck surface.

  • Periodically sweep leaves off the surface of the deck. Leaves left on the deck for an extended period of time may cause mold to build up on the surface.

  • Remove any tree sap ASAP. See instructions below.

  • Use a garden hose or simply a cloth, to clean paw prints, mud, or other tracked material soon after they appear.

  • Wipe up any small spills that might occur when outdoor entertaining, such as wine spills. Waiting longer than 7 days to wipe up stain-causing spills may void the manufacturer's warranty.

  • Clean up oil, grease, and food spills as soon as possible to prevent staining.

  • Keep a large rubber or outdoor mat under the barbeque to prevent regular grease splashes from reaching the deck surface.

  • Remove any mold and mildew as soon as possible to prevent it from spreading. See "Spot Cleaning" below.

  • Cover your deck with the appropriate cloth or another porous cover when working with cement, stucco, motor oil, or paint to protect the deck surface.


Spot Cleaning


There are times when you have a small area of the deck that needs more than just a simple wipe with a cloth or a rinse with the garden hose. Maybe you have a small area of the deck that has been ignored and has accumulated some dirt and grime, or maybe you have some mud spots that were left too long or you had a raccoon leave their mark in the corner. These are situations where you will need to use a brush to clean. Follow these steps:


Tools and materials required:

Step 1: Wet the area to be cleaned with the garden hose.


Step 2: Fill a bucket with water and add Dawn dishwashing liquid OR simply squirt a small amount of Dawn directly onto the wet area to be cleaned. You just need enough soap to get a decent amount of suds.


Step 3: Use the deck brush to scrub the soap into the area to be cleaned. Do not use a lot of pressure. Firm brush strokes should be enough.


Step 4: Use the garden hose to THOROUGHLY rinse the area.


Step 5: Repeat steps 2 to 4, if needed.



Removing Tree Sap


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In cases where you have dreaded tree sap land on your deck, its best to attack it ASAP although sap stains can be very aggressive stains and as such there's no guarantee of removal. However, you can try to use ONE OF the following procedures in an attempt to either remove or minimize the stain:




OPTION 1: Use warm, soapy water to start. Using a mild, liquid dish soap such as Dawn, add one strong squirt to every liter of warm water. Use warm or hot water in order to help soften the sap. Use a soft new sponge or deck brush to lightly work and loosen the stained spot. When clear, rinse off the area with a hose and allow to try before trying again if needed.


OPTION 2: Try a cleaner such as "Goo Gone". First test it in an inconspicuous area by very lightly scrubbing the area and checking often for discoloration. If safe, try applying the cleaner directly to the sap and use a deck brush to brush it off maintaining a light, scrubbing motion. Rinse with a hose and repeat if necessary.


OPTION 3: If you have large drops of tree sap, place ice in a sealed bag and set the bag over the sap area. Leave on for 20 to 30 minutes. The idea is to get the sap to harden. Once hardened, use a putty knife to very gently lift or chip off as much of the sap as possible being very careful not to gouge or cut the composite decking.


Yearly Cleaning


Don't we all love spring cleaning! Well here is one more task to add to your spring cleaning routine that will help your composite or PVC deck to maintain a long lasting glow and get it ready for you to enjoy through the upcoming spring, summer and fall. If you do this cleaning routine yearly, or you just don't have that much dirt, grit and grime on your deck, you can use the Quick Cleaning Method below. If you missed a year and you find that your deck could use a really good cleaning, then use the Deep Cleaning Method. But if you have missed a few years or your deck has accumulated a lot of dirt, grit and grime, skip right to the Ultra Deep Cleaning Method.


Quick Cleaning


The quick cleaning method simply involves the use of a pressure washer, with or without soap attached. If you choose to use soap in the pressure washer's soap dispenser, then you will make two passes: one pass to spray the soap on the deck and the next pass without the soap to thoroughly rinse the deck.

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Key points to keep in mind when using a pressure washer on your composite or PVC deck:

  • Never use more than 1500 psi. While some manufacturers allow a higher PSI, you almost never need to go higher than 1500. It's better to be safe than sorry with the surface of your deck.

  • Always use a fan tip nozzle. This avoids a concentrated spray that can damage or score your deck.

  • Always go WITH the grain and direction of the board in a sweeping back and forth motion.

  • Always keep the nozzle 6-8 inches above the deck surface.


Deep Cleaning - Simple 5 Step Process


Deep cleaning involves the use of a garden hose, a bucket, a deck brush and soap to give the deck a good scrub with soap and water.

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STEP 1: Remove furniture and loose dirt.

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The first step is to remove all furniture and other items from the deck. Then give the deck a good sweep to remove all loose dirt and leftover leaves from last fall.



STEP 2: Hose down the deck

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The next step is to hose down the deck IN SECTIONS. Or you can hose down the entire deck at once but before you soap and brush each section, give it another hose down if the next section you are working on begins to dry up. The idea here is to keep the deck wet before you soap and brush each section.



STEP 3: Mix soap and water

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For soap you can use a standard deck cleaner made specifically for composite or PVC decking like TimberTech's DeckCleaner or you can simply use Dawn dishwashing detergent. Mix the soap and water in the bucket. If you are using a deck cleaner, simply following the mixing instructions. If you are using Dawn detergent, then use about 1/4 cup for every 4 liters of water.



STEP 4: Scrub the deck

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Now scrub the deck. It's important to do this part in smaller sections especially if it's a sunny day and the deck will dry up quickly. If the deck will remain wet throughout, then you can go ahead and brush the entire deck at once. Simply dip your deck brush into the soapy bucket and start scrubbing the deck. Gently brush in the soapy water by going with the grain and length of each deck board.



STEP 5: Rinse the deck

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Once you have brushed a section or the entire deck, then thoroughly rinse the section or the entire deck with your garden hose. The idea in this step is to remove the soap BEFORE it dries on the deck surface. It's important to get all soap off the deck so take your time with this process. Once fully rinsed, you're done!



Here is the full process:





Ultra Deep Cleaning


If you haven't done a cleaning of your composite or PVC deck in years or you have a lot of built up dirt, grit and/or grime, you might want to consider giving your deck a thorough ultra deep clean. This simply combines a Deep Clean and a Quick Clean.


For this process, you will follow all the steps in the Deep Cleaning section whereby you will give your deck a brush with soapy water and as a last step you will give the deck a final power wash as per the Quick Cleaning section above.



Winter Maintenance

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Can you shovel your composite or PVC deck? Can you use an ice melting agent to remove any ice build up? The answer to these questions is generally "Yes", but let's examine these questions carefully.




Yes, you can shovel your deck, but there are a few things you should and shouldn't do:

  • Never use a shovel with a metal edge on your composite or PVC deck. Only use a fully plastic shovel or a shovel with a rubber edge to avoid nicking, scratching or damaging the deck surface.

  • Always shovel with the grain and length of the boards. Shoveling against the grain or along the width of the board runs the risk of catching and damaging the edge of the board.

  • If its a light snow and hasn't built up, simply use a broom to sweep off the new snow.

Yes, you can use a de-icing agent to remove ice on your composite deck, BUT ....

  • Use only a calcium-chloride de-icing agent which is safe for composite decking and is a commonly recommended compound that is highly effective at melting ice without damaging the composite or PVC surface. It’s also safe for pets who may ingest it when attempting to clean their paws

  • Do not use traditional sodium chloride rock salt or sand as these can damage the surface of your composite or PVC deck.


Summary

It's important to know that "maintenance-free" composite and PVC decking is not actually maintenance free. While they will never require sanding, staining or painting and are fade and stain resistance, they still require regular cleaning to ensure their longevity and look. In this regard, it's important to regularly clean your deck with periodic and spot cleaning along with yearly spring cleaning. This will go along way to helping you to enjoy your deck for many years to come.