Why You Should Not Use Bleach to Clean Your Deck and Top-Rated Wood Deck Cleaners 2020

Many homeowners have used household bleach to clean their wood decks but cleaning a deck with household bleach is not an industry recommended best practice for a variety of reasons. This bulletin explains why bleach is not recommended and it provides suggestions for effective alternatives based on recent surveys of the most effective and top-rated wood cleaners.*

The purpose of wood deck cleaners is to remove dirt, mold, algae and oxidation (graying). Several different brands and formulations of wood deck cleaners are available in the market place and they can be applied using a variety of methods e.g. spray, scrub or power wash.

Because most deck cleaners raise the pH in wood, it is important after using a cleaner to neutralize the pH. This is most commonly achieved using a deck brightener. This bulletin does not include surveys on deck brighteners, but may be included with other products surveyed at a future date,

Based on several wood cleaner surveys conducted in 2020 by various companies, we have listed 11 of their top-rated products below.

Important: Why you should not use bleach

  • Household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) can potentially break down the lignin in wood causing excessive damage to wood cells. The natural pH of wood is slightly acidic, and bleach is a basic solution. As a result, use of bleach on wood shifts the pH from near neutral pH to a basic pH that will damage the cellular structure.
  • Bleach corrodes metal fasteners, screws and nails
  • Bleach can cause damage to surrounding plants.
  • Bleach, after several months, lightens wood's natural color.
  • Bleach does not eliminate the spores from which mold and mildew grow.

Alternatives to Bleach

Hydrogen peroxide is environmentally friendly and a safer substitute than bleach. For tough jobs, hydrogen peroxide kills the mildew on contact within several minutes.

Oxygen bleach is sodium percarbonate, an environmentally friendly and excellent detergent and bleaching agent with a hydrogen peroxide base. Sodium percarbonate is a cleaning and bleaching agent with a strong fungicide effect. It has been tested and found to be more effective attacking the deeper-rooted organic growth on the porous wood surfaces.

Sodium percarbonate is a white particle powder, nontoxic with no contamination, nonflammable, non-explosive, and soluble in water. It is also biodegradable and leaves no harmful by-products or residues that can harm the environment. Sodium percarbonate is effective in cleaning most average wood preparation jobs.

Apply oxalic or citralic acid (deck brightener) after using sodium percarbonate or hydrogen peroxide in the cleaning process. The deck brightener will restore the wood to its natural pH and neutralize the sodium percarbonate cleaner. This will provide a beautiful finish when applying the final stain.

Citralic acid is a specifically formulated blend of acids and surfactant and was designed to neutralize and brighten quickly without unwanted bleaching or damage to the wood. This is the step professional restoration contractors use to achieve that like-new look of fresh cut wood.

Wood cleaners tested or surveyed and their top recommendations

Top rated wood cleaners 2020

  • Simple Green - Oxy Solve Deck and Fence Pressure WasherCleaner Biodegradable deck cleaner product using hydrogen peroxide as its active ingredient. Can be used with a pressure washer or manually. Able to remove tough grease and oils though it may take some applications. Rated #1 rated best for cleaning wood decks from trees.com.
  • Simple Green 18201 – No pressure washer needed. Rated “best overall deck cleaner” from homecleaningforyou.com. Also rated # 1 by bestconsumerrating.com.
  • Restore-A-Deck/Gemini Restore-A-Deck – Cleaner and Brightener in one kit; active ingredient is Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate. Rated #1 and #2 (4.75 of 5 consumer star ratings and 9 of 10 by DeckStainHelp.com review).
  • Defy Wood Deck Cleaner – Safe alternative to chlorine bleach-based cleaners; oxygen-based powder concentrate. Can be used alone for cleaning or following a cleaner to brighten the decks. Easy to use and suitable for all types of wood; rated #3 (4.3 of 5 consumer star rating and 8.5 of 10 by DeckStainHelp.com). Also, Defy Wood Brightener recommended to use after Defy cleaner by trees.com.
  • EFC-38 Wood Cleaner – Powder concentrate. Clean and prep all exterior wood before applying a coating. Rated 3.7 of 4 of consumer star ratings and 7 of 10 by DeckStainHelp.com.
  • Woodrich Heavy-duty Wood and Deck Cleaner – Affordable, excellent coverage; provides the strength necessary to strip most semi-transparent stains and sealers, dead grey wood, mold, mildew and heavy accumulations of grime. Contains a sodium percarbonate but is not like a straight percarbonate cleaner. EFC-38 was designed to remove aged and failing oil-based wood finishes. Rated “best budget cleaner” from homecleaningforyou.com. Also rated “best for wood decks” from bobvila.com and #2 by bestconsumerrating.com.
  • Wet & Forget Moss, Mold, Mildew and Algae Cleaner 800003 – Great for high humidity areas; no bleach and phosphorous. Removes mold and algae stains; no rinsing or scrubbing required. Rated “best biodegradable” from homecleaningforyou.com; “best for mold and mildew” from bobvila.com and by bestconsumerrating.com.
  • Spray Nine 26901S Deck Cleaner – Multi-purpose, eliminates bacterial odors and suitable for carpet cleaning. Rated “best heavy duty” from homecleaningforyou.com.
  • Spray and Forget SFiG-J Deck Cleaner - Economical, no rinsing required, non-corrosive. No bleach, phosphates, lye, or acid. Non-caustic, noncorrosive, and nonacidic. Eco-Friendly and biodegradable. Rated “best eco-friendly” from homecleaningforyou.com and by bestconsumerrating.com.
  • Scotts Plus OxiClean Outdoor Deck Cleaner – Fast-foaming action works great for cement, stone, vinyl and brick. Safe to use around plants and fabrics, no chlorine bleach and phosphate. Rated “best spray” by homecleaningforyou.com and by bestconsumerrating.com.
  • SunJoe SPX-HDC1G Deck Cleaner – Biodegradable and non-toxic, versatile and easy to use. Rated “best all purpose” from homecleaningforyou.com and rated best deck cleaning solution by bestconsumerrating.com.

Product recommendations based on the below 2020 surveys

    1. Trees.com
    2. Homecleaningforyou.com
    3. Deckstainhelp.com
    4. Bobvila.com
    5. Bestconsumerrating.com

    Other Resources

    1. Chicagotribune.com
    2. Washingtonpost.com
    3. Askthebuilder.com
    4. Britannica.com
    5. Deckstainhelp.com
    6. Angieslist.com

    Disclaimer: The information contained in this bulletin is provided in good faith and should be used for general information only. Viance, LLC makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied about the completeness, accuracy, suitability and fitness for purpose of the deck cleaning products mentioned in this report. Viance, LLC expressly disclaims, and does not undertake or assume any duty, obligation, or responsibility for any decisions, reactions, responses, actions, failure to act, by you or any other person or party as a result of or in reliance on, in whole or in part, the information contained in this bulletin, or for any consequences or outcomes arising from or caused by any such decisions, reactions, responses, actions, or failures to act. This bulletin does not cover other products or surveys that may have been conducted this year and does not imply other products are not as effective.

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