Dirty steps clean

I spent too much time last year paying attention to plants and not enough time to other components of my garden: my "stream", the pergolas, the deck. I'd like to think that these things being made of sturdier stuff than plants such as wood and stone don't need much care. Unfortunately my year off has left some of them looking rather bad.

For instance, my deck stairs. They're quite dirty, stained with tannins from decaying leaves, and have pretty decent patches of algae and mildew. Not attractive. Time to do something about it.


We love the composite deck that we had built 5 years ago with one exception: mildew. Ugly black spots form on the decking, and it needs to be removed.

I also keep potted plants on the stairs along the wall, and although it looks great during the summer:

It leaves stains under some of the pots. (I could use feet under the pots to raise them, allowing air to flow under them and reducing the likelihood of stains, but that makes some of the pots less stable, and having a pot fall down the stairs is not fun.)

Here are another few looks at what I'm up against here:

One of the main reasons I didn't clean the deck last year was what's underneath it:

The deck cleaners that work the best are not safe for plants, so rather than kill or damage the plants under here I end up doing nothing. This year I decided that a clean deck was more important than the plants.

I'm still going to take precautions though, because ideally I want a clean deck and living plants, so I'll cover them with plastic:

With the plants protected, the first step is to wet the surface of the deck:

Then spray on the cleaner, scrub with a stiff brush, wait a couple of minutes, and rinse. It sounds so simple, but the "scrub" part of those instructions are the problem. It's a bit of a workout.

The upper step has been cleaned, the lower one (on the right) has not. It's not pristine, but it definitely looks better. The pot and mildew stains are faded, but still present:

Most of the algae is gone, but I admit that I was getting pretty tired of scrubbing toward the end and slacked off a bit in that area.

I have to admit that the stairs do look a lot better, even though they're not yet mildew-free:

The stains have actually faded a bit more in the couple of days since I did this cleaning, but when I do the main part of the deck I'm going to try a no-scrub product to see how that works.

I can't wait to get the pots of plants back into position, and green these steps back up -- in a good way though, not with the algae again.


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The Sage Butterfly  – (June 1, 2011 at 8:42 AM)  

Wow...that was a job...but it looks good. I use those plastic round pot 'coasters' I find at Lowe's, Home Depot, or Bed, Bath and Beyond...they add a bit more stability.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (June 1, 2011 at 10:30 AM)  

Nice job! Would a pressure washer have worked here?

Alan  – (June 1, 2011 at 10:43 AM)  

They say not to use pressure washer on composite decking, as it may be damaged. I will probably test this out sometime soon, as I have plenty of scraps and places where a little damage wouldn't be a problem.

Linda  – (June 1, 2011 at 11:05 AM)  

Have you thought of using plates under the pots? or any sort of dish that would hold the water when it drips out of the pot.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (June 1, 2011 at 11:09 AM)  

Alan, I wasn't sure about that. On a lower setting, it should be OK.

I seem to remember reading that at least some manufacturers of composite materials have changed their formula to prevent or reduce mold. I know it used to be a huge issue with Trex.

Our raised beds made of ChoiceDek have shown no signs of mold yet, knock on wood (bad pun :-)).

Alan  – (June 1, 2011 at 11:29 AM)  

Crafty: I'm not a fan of saucers under pots usually, but I may need to try something. I think the saucers will leave a stain too, but probably less of one.

Cat  – (June 2, 2011 at 7:08 PM)  

Looks great - always feels good to tackle a big project!

Composite Decking  – (June 15, 2011 at 8:35 AM)  

Very efficiently written information. It will be valuable to anybody who uses it, including me. Keep doing what you are doing – i will definitely read more posts.

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