Like other chemical cleaners, outdoor deck cleaners can contain toxic ingredients. Moreover, due to the proximity of outdoor decks to grass, trees, and home gardens, it is important to understand the chemicals you are using before spraying your deck.
Many deck cleaners contain harmful ingredients that can kill plants. Chemical bleaches, such as those containing lye and chlorine, can be damaging to the plants in your garden. However, options such as oxygen bleaches and homemade cleaners provide more eco-friendly choices.
This article will cover the most common types of bleaches, as well as potential ways that deck cleaners can cause harm to your garden. This article will also list alternative cleaners for your deck that will keep your plants healthy and safe.
Will Deck Cleaner Harm Plants?
There are many different deck cleaners available for purchase; the active ingredients of your cleaner will determine how it affects your yard and garden.
Chemical bleaches and oxygen bleaches are the two most popular options for outdoor deck cleaners. While chemical bleaches are considered more harmful to plants because of the various chemicals they rely on, oxygen bleaches are considered a more gentle outdoor cleaner that will not harm nearby plants.
Chemical bleaches use strong chemicals for their cleaning properties. Sodium hypochlorite, a form of chlorine, is a common ingredient in chemical bleaches. Sodium hydroxide, or lye, is another chemical found frequently in bleach-based deck cleaners. Unfortunately, both sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide can be damaging — even lethal — to plants.
When plants are exposed to strong corrosive chemicals, such as chlorine and lye, this can affect the plant in several ways:
- The plant itself can be burned. High concentrations of chemicals will damage the cells in your plant, causing scorched patches to appear on its leaves and stems.
- The chemicals can affect the soil around the plant. When the chemical concentration in the soil becomes unbalanced, soil can become inhospitable to growing plants. Your plants may die if the chemicals are not diluted safely.
Chemical bleaches can, therefore, have a big impact on the health of your garden when used improperly. The strong concentration of chemicals in these cleaners can lead to plant injury or even death.
Additionally, chlorine and lye have strong disintegrative properties and can contribute to the breakdown of wood fibers in your deck.
Often, the boards used in outdoor decks are treated with a variety of other chemical preservatives. When the fibers break down, these chemicals are released from the wood and can make their way into your garden instead.
However, not all deck cleaners cause harm to plants.
Oxygen bleaches present an alternative option to chemical bleaches when choosing which deck cleaner is right for you. Oxygen bleaches, such as OxiClean (link to Amazon), rely instead on ingredients such as sodium percarbonate, and are considered more eco-friendly than chemical bleaches.
I recommend looking at this Charlies Soap Non-Toxic Cleaner (link to Amazon) for cleaning your deck. Actually, it’s a great biodegradable cleaner for anything indoors or outdoors. And, safe for plants!
A more in-depth review of oxygen cleaners will be provided later in this article. First, let’s look at the effects of bleach run-off that can occur after spraying your deck.
Will Bleach Water Hurt Plants?
As discussed above, accidentally spraying plants with bleach while cleaning your deck will harm your plants. However, run-off from deck cleaners can also affect your garden if you are not careful. High concentrations of bleach run-off will harm your plants; low concentrations may not.
If the bleach has been properly diluted, trace amounts of bleach may not cause damage to your plants. Chlorine is an essential mineral for plant growth, and because of this, some gardeners claim that watering plants with small amounts of bleach can be beneficial for your plants.
On the other hand, high concentrations of bleach, such as those found in deck cleaners, are toxic to plants.
An overload of bleach can cause scorched leaves, poisoned soil, and plant death if the concentration of bleach in your water solution is too high. Improper use of chemical bleaches near your garden may result in damaged or dying plants.
Watch this cool time-lapse video of what happens when you put bleach on plants.
Is OxiClean Toxic to Plants?
OxiClean is a type of oxygen bleach. Oxygen bleaches are much less corrosive to plants than chemical bleaches and are regarded as environmentally friendly.
Sodium percarbonate is the active ingredient in oxygen bleaches like OxiClean. When activated, sodium percarbonate breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and soda ash (sodium carbonate). The reaction of the hydrogen peroxide causes bubbles to form on the wood of your deck, and pulls out algae, mold, and other causes of discoloration from your deck boards.
Neither hydrogen peroxide nor soda ash is considered to be environmentally harmful.
Soda ash is a naturally-occurring mineral in soil and water and is not viewed as an environmental hazard when released at low levels. Hydrogen peroxide is an unstable chemical and will decompose into molecules of oxygen and water after it is activated.
For a quick overview of how oxygen bleaches are used to clean outdoor decks, you can watch the video below:
Non-Toxic Deck Cleaner Options
If you are searching for non-toxic options for cleaning your outdoor deck, oxygen cleaners present an excellent choice. Their ingredients are regarded as gentle on the environment, particularly as compared to chemical bleaches that contain lye or chlorine.
Oxygen cleaners are safe to be sprayed in low doses on grass, flowers, and other plants. Furthermore, oxygen cleaners do not contain the disintegrative properties of chemical bleaches, which will keep the boards in your deck from breaking down.
There are several great non-toxic cleaners available:
- Scotts Outdoor Cleaner Plus OxiClean – comes in a liquid concentrate, which you can easily add to your power washer to scrub out moss, mildew, and other stains without harming any nearby plants.
- Deckbrite Wood Cleaner and Coating Prep – is another option for users looking for a powder concentrate cleaner. This cleaner comes in crystal granules, which can be mixed with water to create up to seven and a half gallons of cleaning solution. Its high-strength formula will allow you to clean your deck with minimal elbow grease required.
- Simple Green Deck and Fence Cleaner – If you are looking for a gentle, pet-safe solution, this presents another option for anyone trying to remove algae, mold, and grime from their deck. This cleaner comes as a liquid concentrate and can be applied effectively with a manual application or by using a pressure washer.
- Charlie’s Soap Indoor & Outdoor Surface Cleaner – You already know my favorite choice. You will need a spray bottle with this one, but it doesn’t even have bleach in it. Making it the safest, most natural, option.
For homeowners on a budget, you can also try to whip up a DIY deck cleaner at home rather than purchasing pre-made cleaners.
When vinegar and baking soda are combined in a solution, the chemical reaction behaves much like oxygen bleaches. Bubbles form in the solution, lifting out algae, mold, and other substances from your deck.
On its own, vinegar can also be effective at cleaning away the grime collected on your deck.
For a peek at how to use vinegar as a deck cleaner, watch the video below:
Vinegar and baking soda are extremely eco-friendly, but may not be as aggressive for removing stains and mold as other bleaches. If you are particularly concerned about your garden, consider trying vinegar and baking soda before moving on to harsher options.
Unfortunately, many deck cleaners contain chemicals that are harmful to plants. Chemical bleaches contain ingredients, such as chlorine or lye, that will damage or kill plants when applied improperly.
Oxygen cleaners provide a more environmentally-friendly option for keeping your deck presentable. They are safe for use around gardens, and there are several great, easy-to-use products available. Vinegar and other DIY cleaners may also be effective for cleaning grime out of your deck.
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- HomeAdvisor Decks (local professionals)
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