Wood fences are one of the most popular options for residential backyards. They’re relatively cheap compared to other privacy fence options, they look good, and there are many companies that install them, so you have a choice of contractors to do the job.
However, while wood fences look great when they’re installed, after a few years, they will start showing the build-up of dirt and grime, and they’ll start looking less great. It’s not uncommon for people who have wood fences to look for advice about how to clean a wood fence without pressure washing long before their fence is actually damaged.
The good news is, it is possible, and we’re about to give you all the information you need.
Make Sure It’s Just Dirt!
Before you start figuring out how to clean a wood fence without pressure washing, take some time to take a closer look at your fence, and make sure it’s just dirt you’re looking at.
Most wood fences are made from cedar or treated wood, which will last longer and be more resistant to rot and insects, but even these products will eventually start to break down. Nails and screws can start to rust too, which can affect the structural integrity of your fence.
If your fence is very old and is showing signs of rot and serious damage, it might not be possible to clean it. In fact, any kind of cleaning you do try – including pressure washing – might damage it further.
Wood fences have a finite lifespan, and if yours has reached the end of the road, no amount of cleaning will save it. In fact, you’ll probably waste a lot of time, money and effort, only to have to replace it anyway.
If your fence seems to be falling apart, it’s best not to waste time trying to clean it. Rather call a fence contractor to quote on a new fence for your yard. If not, here’s more about how to clean a wood fence without pressure washing.
Find the Right Cleaning Products
Some of the most stubborn dirt on any fence might not be dirt at all. It might be mold and mildew. Sometimes, you can see green algae growth on fences, but often, mold and mildew are a blackish layer that just looks like other dirt.
A quick visit to the hardware store is the first step in figuring out how to clean a wooden fence without a pressure washer. Speak to the people in the outdoor maintenance section and find a fence and deck cleaner that is designed to move ordinary dirt as well as mold, mildew and algae.
Always read the instructions too, and make sure you pick up any other equipment the manufacturer recommends, as well as safety gear like eye protection. These products are safe to use when done correctly, but you always need to take proper safety precautions.
Make sure that you have enough of the product too. Ask the clerks at the hardware store and read the instructions on the product to estimate how much you will need – and remember that there are two sides to a fence!
Speak to Your Neighbors
Cleaning a wooden fence is a big job, but it’s also one that will require you to talk to your neighbors. Half of your fence is on their property, so you will need to arrange to have access to clean it. They’ll also need to ensure that their dogs and other pets are safely out of the way while you’re getting the job done.
Sometimes, neighbors might agree to split the work and the cost of cleaning a wooden fence with you. However, if you’re the one who wants to do the job, don’t assume they will agree to that kind of arrangement.
Protect Your Plants
If you’re spraying your fence with chemicals, there’s a good chance you’re going to be doing it right next to your plants. You need to take appropriate steps to make sure they’re protected.
Read the product information for the cleaning product you will be using. Sometimes, all it takes is to spray the plants with water before you start. Other products might recommend covering the plants with plastic or a drop sheet. Follow these directions closely, so you don’t do more damage while you’re cleaning up your fence.
Spray and Scrub
Many outdoor cleaning products say that you don’t have to scrub after you’ve applied them, but they usually mean on smoother surfaces like siding. If you want to get your fence clean, you’re going to have to work up a sweat!
Spray the cleaning product you’ve chosen liberally on the fence, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Leave for a few minutes, and then use a coarse bristled scrubbing brush to clean the surface.
Once you’ve finished one fence panel, you can use your hose to wash the remaining cleaning product and the dirt, mold and mildew off the fence. If you leave it there to dry, it’ll just get stuck to the porous surface of the fence again, and you’ll have to go back and start over.
A Natural Alternative
Many people these days are cautious about the chemicals they use in and around their homes, and that’s understandable.
If you’d rather not use harsh chemicals, you can use natural products from your kitchen instead – but you can also expect to do a lot more scrubbing!
Vinegar and baking soda are a natural answer to the question of how to clean a wooden fence without pressure washing. Vinegar is a mild acid, so it’s good for removing mildew and mold, and baking soda is abrasive, so it helps to scrub off dirt.
Again, work panel by panel and rinse as you go to make sure the dirt you scrub off doesn’t settle back in place.
A Milder Option for Cleaner Fences
If your fence is not covered in mold, mildew and algae, and you just want to freshen it up a little, you can use ordinary dish soap and a scrubbing brush to take the dirt off.
Again, as per the other solutions for how to clean a wooden fence without pressure washing, you want to rinse the fence as you go, and even though your fence should be easier to clean, you can still expect to do a lot of scrubbing!
Save Your Back While Scrubbing
As you will have noticed, every answer to the question of how to clean a wooden fence without pressure washing include scrubbing. You just can’t get away from this. If you want the dirt off, no matter what method you use, you will need to scrub.
If you don’t want to feel like you need a whole new spine at the end of the job, you could consider swapping the scrubbing brush for a coarse bristled outdoor broom. The long handle makes it much easier to clean the top and bottom of the fence without too much stooping and stretching. Make sure you wear strong gloves though, or you might end up with blisters instead of back pain!
Sanding Instead of Scrubbing
If it’s been a while since you’ve done any cleaning and maintenance on your fence, there might be a fair amount of dirt built up, but if you fence is still in good shape, there may be an alternative to scrubbing.
That’s because most of the dirt will be on the surface of the wood. Which means you could consider sanding the fence instead of scrubbing the dirt off.
You will need a belt or orbital sander, and the job will still take some time, but there’s less manual labor involved, and the fence will look good as new when you’re done.
It’s important to remember that this is only an option once or twice. You can’t keep sanding more and more of your fence off every year, because eventually, you’ll wear through the boards. So this is really only a solution to the question of how to clean a wooden fence without pressure washing a couple of times.
Protecting Your Fence In Future
Ideally, your wooden fence would have been stained with a few coats of weather proof outdoor stain when it was installed. Then, instead of wondering how to clean a wooden fence without a pressure washer, all you would have to do is hose it off and touch up the stain from time to time.
However, even if your fence wasn’t stained when it was first installed, you can still benefit from stain.
Once you have finished cleaning your fence completely, and it’s had a couple of days to dry completely, use a good quality exterior deck and fence paint or stain to cover the whole fence. You might need to apply more than one coat as the paint or stain soaks into the wood. However, once this is done, next year, you won’t have to scrub again, and you can simply hose and touch up the stain.
Plan for Future Fences
Wood fence has been the go to for backyard privacy fences for many years, but they’re not the only option out there.
New fence types like vinyl fence and composite board fence need much less maintenance than wood fence and look very similar to a classic wood fence.
If appearances don’t matter as much to you, a chain link fence with privacy slats will keep prying eyes out but is much less expensive and easy to maintain.
Vinyl and composite fences cost more to install initially, but you will save on maintenance every year. Plus you will never have to wonder how to clean a wooden fence without a pressure washer again. Which, along with no scrubbing related aches and pains, might make the extra investment worthwhile.
Replace Damaged Boards
While you are cleaning your wooden fence, you might notice that there are some damaged boards on your fence.
Sometimes, to cut costs, contractors use different wood for fence boards to the posts and stringers. This means that fence boards might start showing signs of wear before the pressure treated wood components do.
If you discover that any boards are damaged beyond repair, it’s a good idea to replace them. Damaged boards won’t get better over time, and if there’s a rot or insect problem, it could spread to other parts of the fence.
It’s also a good idea to check any hardware and fittings on your fence. A few well placed nails and screws can make a big difference in the appearance and longevity of your wooden fence. Be sure to check gate hardware too. Sometimes, it might need to be adjusted or replaced, and while you’re cleaning your fence anyway, it’s a good time to do basic maintenance to the fence and gates.
Consider Calling a Professional
Now that we’ve covered all the options for how to clean a fence without a pressure washer, it’s worth talking about one more, that will take all the pain and suffering out of refreshing your fence: you could hire a professional to do the job for you.
Most people don’t want to buy a pressure washer just to clean their fence once a year, and that’s understandable. But there are companies that have all the pressure washing equipment they could possibly need to clean your fence for you, and you don’t have to break a sweat getting the job done!
Hiring someone to clean your fence for you is the easiest way to get the job done, and if you do choose to stain and protect the fence after it’s clean, you will have a much easier time next year.
So if your fence looks dirty, dingy and shabby, but you’re dreading the idea of spending hours scrubbing or sanding it, this might be the solution you’ve been looking for. At least get a quote or two, so you can weigh the cost of hiring a professional against the convenience of getting this done for you.