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Be careful with that pressure washer

By Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

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Reader Joe Helms wonders whether he should wash his deck with a good cleaning solution or go ahead and pressure wash. He’s getting conflicting advice.

I shared a few suggestions – including some tips on how not to mess up with a pressure washer – learned the hard way.

I told him in an email to start with the cleaner. It's easier on the deck and on the person doing the cleaning. Power washing a deck is not as quick and simple as it seems in all those helpful how-to videos.

If your deck is heavily coated with mildew and green slime, though, if the cleaning solution and scrub brush don't work, then it could be time for a power washer.

Read the owner’s manual and safety tips, of course.

Use a delicate nozzle, and hold the tip several feet away from the deck as you get started. If you get too aggressive, you can damage the wood. You might create a sort of “fuzz” of raised wood fibers even if you’re careful.

Clean a few boards at a time. Work with the grain, the length of the board. As in painting, you’ll have to work to avoid streaks and lap marks. Be patient and methodical: If you labor over one spot, and skip quickly over others, the difference will show.

There are dozens of ways you can mess up. Here are a few:

Do not aim a pressure washer directly at a window overlooking your deck. The water can break the window and, even if it doesn't, it might blast right around the closed sash into the house.

Don’t use a pressure washer from a ladder if you can avoid it. The powerful blast can throw you off balance. I've seen recoil from a washer wand tip over a friend on a stepladder. He was only 2 feet off the ground – but could have been 20 feet up.

You know not to operate a gasoline engine in an enclosed space. CO2 kills. Also, watch the hot exhaust from a gas-powered machine. Don’t burn yourself – or the plants around your house. Don't back into a hot muffler while you're concentrating on washing. Don't position the engine close to greenery. Exhaust can defoliate your favorite azaleas.

Wear stout shoes. Be careful to keep your toes out of the way when cleaning your deck – and appreciate the extra protection if you forget.

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