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Do It Yourself: Bleach-free cleaners will protect plants

Sun., Aug. 12, 2012

Q. Our treated-wood deck needs cleaning badly, but my wife has surrounded it with a lot of plants that she values highly. How can I clean the deck without harming the plants, which include small flowering plants and larger shrubs?

A. Some of the most popular, widely sold deck cleaners can be harmful to plants, especially those containing chlorine bleach. Precautions to protect plants can be taken in most cases, and you should read the directions carefully to see what is recommended. But if the plants are very important, you might not want to take a chance with a chlorine-bleach cleaner.

Fortunately, there are deck cleaners that are considered safer for plants and grass. Cleaners that contain oxygen bleach, rather than chlorine, are said to be much less harmful. You can get more information, including sources, by searching for Oxygen Bleach Deck Cleaners on the Internet.

There are also bleach-free cleaners that can do a creditable job. One cleaner of this type is Jomax Patio and Deck Wash – a hose-end cleaner that is sold at some home centers. Jomax is also easy to use. The 32-ounce container is attached to the end of a garden hose and the stream of water from the hose siphons out the cleaner as you flush the deck. Jomax says this cleaner will eliminate mold and mildew as well as remove dirt on wood and composite decks, bricks, concrete and some other surfaces. But even the directions for Jomax specify spraying plants with water before and after use.

If you want to try oxygen bleach and can’t find a ready-made deck cleaner, you can make a version by buying a container of oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean, at a supermarket. Mix about a cup of the bleach with two gallons of warm water and put the solution in a garden-type sprayer. Wet down the deck with a garden hose, then spray the surface with the bleach solution. Let the cleaner work for about five minutes, then scrub any very mildewed or dirty areas with a long-handled scrub brush. Finally, thoroughly rinse off the cleaner. Be sure and read the cautions on the bleach container before using it around sensitive plants.

It would also be wise to take the same precautions you would use with chlorine bleach – soak the plants and soil around the deck before applying the cleaner, then cover small plants with plastic sheeting. Soak shrubs and the soil around them with water. When cleaning is finished, rinse all the plants thoroughly and soak the soil again.

Another option, if you don’t trust any cleaner around your wife’s plants, you can pressure wash a treated deck. If you keep the water pressure at less than 2,000 pounds per square inch, and use a nozzle that gives a fan-shaped spray, it should remove mold, mildew and dirt without damage to the wood. Do not pressure-wash soft woods such as cedar or redwood.

Q. I use chair glides on the bottoms of the legs of my wood chairs to protect floors, but the glides keep falling off after about a month. I have tried both the stick-on type and those with a short nail attached that you tap into the bottoms of the legs. Do you have a solution?

A. Try a double dose of sticking power.

Use the nail-on glides. Buy a small package of epoxy adhesive. This two-part adhesive is very strong and it won’t weaken and loosen if it gets wet from scrubbing around the chair legs.

Turn the chairs upside down and scuff the bottoms of the legs with coarse sandpaper; this will clean the surface and improve adhesion. Wipe off sanding dust and mix a little of the epoxy adhesive on a paper plate or piece of cardboard. Apply a little adhesive to the bottom of a leg with a small stick; try not to get adhesive too close to the edges to avoid squeeze-out. Spread a thin film of adhesive on the nail and tap a glide into the leg. Make sure the glide is seated firmly.

If any adhesive squeezes out, wipe it off carefully with a clean cloth; if you let epoxy cure, it is almost impossible to remove. Follow the same procedure for each of the legs.

Give the adhesive plenty of time to cure, and the glides should stay in place for a long time.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

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