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Article by Michael A / October 28th, 2022

Can Pressure Washing Damage Wood

Wood is a sturdy and attractive material that can add warmth and character to your home’s interior and exterior surfaces. However, keeping it clean can also be challenging, especially if it’s exposed to the elements. Pressure washing is a popular way to remove dirt, grime, and other build-up elements from surfaces like decks, patios, and fences.

pressure washing wood decking

If you’ve ever seen a pressure washer in action, you know that it packs a serious punch. That high-powered stream of water can blast away even the toughest stains and grime. But before you start blasting away at your wood surfaces, you should understand whether all that power is suitable for wood.

If you’re wondering whether pressure washing can damage wood, the short answer is yes, but only if you’re not careful. That’s why it’s best to leave it to the professionals to pressure wash wood surfaces for you. Read this guide to learn more about pressure washing wood.

What Are the Best Practices When Pressure Washing Wood Surfaces?

Whether you need to pressure wash your wooden fence, deck, or siding, it’s always best to follow the proper practices to avoid damaging the wood. Here are some tips that pressure washing professionals recommend:

Use the Appropriate Tip Selection and Pressure Setting

Unlike concrete, wood surfaces are soft and do not require you to use maximum pressure when cleaning. When pressure washing your wood surface, experts recommend that you select the correct pressure that will be gentle on the wood.

Professional cleaners will usually keep the pressure at its lowest. If your home has hardwood like Ipe, it can tolerate a pressure of 1,200 pounds per square inch (PSI). However, if your deck or any other surface has softer wood, like spruce and cedar, the cleaners will use 500 to 600 PSI.

You should also select the right tip to avoid ruining your home’s wood surface. In most cases, you should use a rotating or fan tip with a 40 to 60-degree spread.

If the pressure washer has a narrower tip, the pressure at the spot you’re washing will be higher. The impact is that the risk of damage will be higher. As such, it’s advisable to use a tip with a wider fan.

Before you start cleaning your wood surface, you should test the pressure in a spot where damage would be inconspicuous, such as the corner of the deck. If you notice any damage, reduce the pressure until you find a level that cleans without harming your wood surface.

Keep The Right Distance

The pressure from the washer is strong enough to damage the wood if you hold it too close to the surface. That’s why pressure washing experts always recommend keeping the pressure washer at least 18 inches away from any wooden surface.

Placing the pressure washing tip too close to the wood surface could cause permanent damage. For instance, if you’re pressure washing your cedar siding, holding the pressure washer too close could cause the wood fibers to rise and create a fuzzy surface. You should still hold the tip far from the wood even if the pressure washer’s PSI is low or if it has a wider fan. 

You should never pressure wash in one spot for too long, as this could also lead to damage. Instead, move the pressure washer consistently across the wood surface.

Get the Washing Technique Right

It might be difficult for you to get the washing technique right if you have no experience in pressure washing wood. It’s ideal to start the washing process with a low pressure setting and keep leveling it up a little bit. This will ensure that you clean the wood surface without causing damage.

Remember to keep the pressure washer tip away from the surface and ensure that the wand is about 12 inches from the surface. Move the pressure washer in a sweeping motion and ensure you clean evenly by pivoting the wand using your arms.

If you want your cleaning to be more even, start by cleaning the visible edges or hotspots. When washing the grain, avoid going against it, as this could cause the pressure washer to gouge the wood. Instead, go with the grain when pressure washing your wooden surface.

Don’t Forget Wood Sanding

Even with minimal pressure, wood fibers can rise slightly from the board. You should spot sand the raised fibers to prevent them from damaging the wood surface by causing splinters.

You can use medium-grit sandpaper to sand the pressure-washed surface and remove any raised fibers lightly. Once you’re done, vacuum up the debris and wipe off any remaining dust with a damp cloth.

What Problems Can You Experience When You Don’t Pressure Wash Wood Correctly?

Although pressure washing will leave your wood surfaces clean and free of dirt, mold, and mildew, it’s possible to damage the wood if you don’t pressure wash correctly. Some of the problems you’re likely to experience include:

Wood Splintering

Wooden surfaces are prone to splintering, especially if the pressure in your pressure washer is too high. You’re likely to notice this problem if a section of your wood surface has split-apart signs. Pressure washing is likely to exacerbate the damage and expand the split. 

If you pressure wash and notice that your wood surface has started to splinter, sand the surface lightly using medium-grit sandpaper. This will help to remove any raised fibers. You can also use a wood sealer to cover up the damage and prevent it from happening again.

Composite Wood Fragmentation

Using high pressure when washing your wooden surface can take chips off your composite wooden surface. You might notice this problem if you pressure wash your wood surface and it starts showing signs of wear and tear.

This would be a huge loss, especially if the company that installed your composite wooden floor does not offer warranties for damages related to pressure washing. You will incur extra costs to repair or replace the damaged composite wood.

To avoid this fragmentation of your composite wood floor, always pressure wash your composite wooden surface with low pressure. You can also use a pressure washer with a pressure regulator to help you control the pressure.

Wood Denting

You’ll likely experience wood denting if you use high PSI on softwoods. The pressure can easily dent these woods, making it difficult to get them back into shape. Even if you decide to sand the hard grains, the damage to the surface could be extremely deep, going several millimeters into the wood.

As a result, you will have to sand away too much wood after a single pressure wash. You might even need to sand the entire deck or any other surface to match the gouge you create when sanding the damaged area. If you don’t work on the whole surface, like on a deck, there will be pooling in some areas.

Tiger Stripping

You will experience this problem if you use the wrong pressure washing technique, specifically if you don’t pressure wash along the wood grains. When pressure washing wood, you might be tempted to expedite the cleaning process and wash in a zigzag motion. The result is that you will create a tiger-stripping effect on your surface.

The worst thing about this damage is that it’s permanent and might be too deep for you to sand it out. Tiger stripping is unappealing to the eyes.

Even worse, it causes indentation and soft grain removal, allowing water to sit in the dents for a long time. The water will freeze during winter, and the expansion will cause the wood on your surface to crack. You shouldn’t try to cover the tiger-striped boards using stain or any film because they will most likely peel off after only one winter.

Wood Fading And Discoloration

A poor pressure washing technique can remove your favorite stain from your decks. Stain removal due to pressure washing will damage your surface’s aesthetic appeal. You will incur additional costs for reapplying the stain to ensure it looks good again.

The pressure from the washer is also likely to strip away the natural oils in the wood, which will cause the wood to lose its color and become dull. If you have applied paint to the surface, pressure washing will also strip it away. You can avoid all these problems by following the right pressure washing techniques, including minimal pressure.

Hire a Professional Washing Company

Your wooden surfaces are too precious to risk damaging them through incorrect pressure washing. It would be best to hire a pressure washing company that uses the right techniques. And if you’re looking for such a company in Houston, Advantage Pro Services should be your first call.

We have been offering professional home maintenance and cleaning services to Houstonians for over 20 years. Our professionals are experienced in different cleaning services, including pressure washing wood. We will ensure that your deck, exterior walls, fences, and patios are pressure washed without any damage.

Contact us today to schedule a pressure washing appointment.

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