AD It Yourself

7 Expert Cleaning Tips for Spiffing Up Your Deck or Patio 

TLC for your outdoor space
A clean deck is more than an unsullied entertaining space—it KO allergies banishes pests and extends the life of patio.
A clean deck is more than an unsullied entertaining space—it KO allergies, banishes pests, and extends the life of patio.Illustration: Julia Abbonizio/Getty Images

As your outdoor space is coming out of hibernation, it likely needs some TLC. You may be tempted to procrastinate on the task, but it’s essential to clean your porch, patio, or deck before the onset of summer, a.k.a. patio season. No one wants to eat BBQ surrounded by dust. “Cleaning a patio deck will help preserve the longevity of materials,” says Sarah Barnard, LEED and WELL AP–certified interior designer. “In some cases, patio maintenance may minimize the effects of common outdoor issues like wood rot or invasion of pests, which may cause problems that can carry into the interior.” Don’t get stuck footing an exterminator bill because you let an outdoor mess spill into the home.

Regular cleaning of your outdoor space has upsides beyond aesthetics—it can potentially keep allergies at bay. “If you haven’t been using it regularly since last summer, you may have a lot of dirt, dust, and other allergens that can cause [health] problems,” says Kate Diaz, co-owner of Swanky Den, a home products resource. Diaz notes that it’s also a good idea to clean this space regularly throughout the summer to keep it sanitary.

Before you start, check the weather. Diaz points out that one of the most common mistakes is attempting to clean in unstable weather. A chance of rain before the cleaning job is over can cause a bigger mess. Here seven expert outdoor space cleaning practices to get your patio, or deck, ready for summer.

Pressure wash your deck

Start with the most time-intensive task: Pressure washing. Since it removes mold, it also extends the longevity of your outdoor digs. Pressure washing the space is critical for a sanitary and aesthetic presentation, says Chris Ager, cofounder of home repair marketplace He notes that both concrete and wood benefit from a high-impact cleaning. What’s more, pressure washers typically use less water than garden hoses, Barnard stresses. To extend the lifespan of your wood deck, stain the wood after the pressure washing is complete, and the area is dry.

Before you start, remove all furniture and accessories from your outdoor space. Decking can be pressure washed with a variety of different solutions—the most popular choice is a 50-50 mixture of bleach and water, Diaz says. Eco-friendly alternatives include  Simple Green Oxy Solve and Wash Safe Industries Supreme Clean. Whichever you opt for, wear safety goggles, a respirator, rubber gloves, boots, and long pants and shirt to minimize skin contact with the cleaning solutions, she says. 

Start from the top of the deck and pressure wash away from the house, to keep the water from pooling. Use a wide spray nozzle to cover a large area, Diaz suggests.

Mop and sweep regularly

Pressure washing will get your patio and deck squeaky-clean, but it’s not a cleaning habit you’ll do regularly, especially amidst ongoing water shortages. To maintain your outdoor space, sweep the deck weekly to minimize buildup. “Try sweeping with a stiff broom and spot cleaning with a long-handled scrub brush as needed,” Barnard says. “Always scrub with the grain to avoid scratching or damaging the surface of your deck,” she adds. Mopping once a month helps remove stubborn dirt, debris, and cocktail spills.

Scrub your outdoor rugs

To preserve the integrity and vibrancy of outdoor rugs, deep clean them a few times per season, and spot clean them as needed, Barnard advises. 

Step 1: Roll up your rug and take it outside, then unroll and give it a good shake. (Consider putting on a face mask to avoid inhaling dust particles.) If you’re in an urban setting where a backyard is not an option, run a vacuum to suck up dirt, or use a dry brush to release loose debris. 

Step 2: Drape your rug over a railing or lawn chair to prevent water from pooling on the surface. Once flat, scrub the rug gently with a natural fiber scrub brush dipped in soapy water. Although most outdoor rugs are made from materials that can withstand a scrub brush, a soft sponge or washcloth can be used for more delicate rugs. Rinse suds with clean water. Repeat the process as necessary. Leave out in the sun to dry. 

Step 3: Once dry, place the outdoor rug on a clean surface. “Furnishings on top of rugs can make dents that are hard to get rid of,” Barnard says, so you might play musical chairs with your lighter furniture every few days to keep dents from settling in. Reversing the effects of heavier imprints can be more challenging; however, a “combination of steaming and fluffing affected areas can help minimize imprints from rugs,” Barnard says.

Step 4: When the outdoor rug is not in use for an extended period of time, store the rug away from moisture and direct sunlight. Make sure to clean it again before putting it away for the season. 

Clean the grill

“Cleaning the grill before firing it up is necessary for food safety,” Chris Ager says. A paste of baking soda and water is perfect for soft abrasive scrubbing. Finishing with a vinegar-based cleaning solution further combats lingering bacteria and germs, he adds.

For deep cleaning, Diaz recommends using a wire brush to scour gunk and residue on the grates. “You can use a degreaser for the hood, interior, and firebox to help break down any grease or food residue,” she says. Let the grill dry completely before using it again.

Debug porch lights 

Debug light fixtures using a toothbrush dipped in vinegar. It might be helpful to carefully remove the light bulbs, so you have more wiggle room to clean the crevices—just be careful not to get liquid into the light bulb socket. For a deep clean, grab your gloves and opt for a diluted bleach solution to tackle stubborn dirt or built-up grime. Wipe away the vinegar or bleach solution before replacing the light bulbs, Diaz says.

For Devin Shaffer—lead interior designer at Decorilla, an interior design firm in San Francisco that uses virtual and augmented reality technology—commercial glass cleaner Zep Ammonia Free Glass Cleaner is the secret weapon of choice. “I use it on all glass surfaces, including mirrors, light fixtures, photo frames, and kitchen appliances, as well as on outdoor lighting, outdoor tables, and exterior window surfaces,” he says. 

Focus on faucet traps and outdoor hoses

Check outdoor hoses for leaks. If you do have a one, the trickling water will slowly erode the soil around your house and can cause serious damage, Diaz says. “Faucet traps should be cleaned periodically because they can accumulate a lot of dirt and bacteria over time,” she adds. Her method of choice: Fill a bucket with hot water and vinegar, and let the traps soak for a few hours. After they have soaked, scrub them with a brush and rinse with clean water.

Spruce up the sitting area

The elements—rain, wind, and sun—can tarnish your furnishings, primarily through accumulated dust and mold damage. To deep clean these items, Barnard suggests using a dry cloth to remove any surface dust. Then vacuum to remove stubborn muck (think wicker crevices) before starting a soap treatment.

“A mild, environmentally-safe soap and water is often enough to wipe down furnishings,” she says, noting that a vinegar-and-water solution is extra helpful when dealing with mildew. For fabric items—like upholstery and pillows—a solution of soapy water, applied with a scrub brush, helps treat stains on textiles that can not be machine-washed. To keep the fabric from growing more mold, leave the fabric in bright sunlight to dry. Make it a habit to vacuuming outdoor cushions at least every few weeks to preserve your hard work, Barnard suggests.