Will Deck Cleaner Kill Plants? (What You Need To Know Before You Clean Your Deck)

Keeping your deck clean is important for a number of reasons. Not only does it make your deck look nicer, but if you don’t clean it regularly, dirt and dust can build up and cause the wood to warp or rot.

One question that people often have is whether or not deck cleaner will kill plants. In this blog post we will go over the answer to that question.

Are you trying to clean your deck without killing your lawn or garden?

Many deck cleaners, specifically bleach-based solutions, will kill plants ‌they come in contact with. Even taking precautions is not enough to prevent harm, and water runoff from rinsing or rain will cause mild to severe damage to the plants.

In this article, we explore how deck cleaners can harm plants and how you can recognize a harmful deck cleaner. We also point out a few alternatives you can use to protect your plant life and keep your deck clean.

How Deck Cleaner Can Harm Plants

Deck cleaners need to be strong enough to tackle tough, set-in stains. Not only do they deal with surface dirt and grime, but also anything that has permeated into the wood. Many of these stains get set with heat and pressure, and you rely on a heavy-duty deck cleaner to work them out.

Unfortunately, many of the chemicals strong enough to handle the job are also harmful to plants. They contain potent chemicals like lyes and chlorine that cause immediate damage at the slightest drop.

Your deck is also likely to be close to the plant life in your yard, including your lawn, flowerbeds, and even vegetable gardens.

Without proper care, plants can suffer from burns on their leaves and soil damage, as well as the effects of bleach water runoff.


Odds are, if you had a drop of bleach or lye hit your skin, it would burn.

Plants may have cell walls, but the chemicals are strong enough to break through and cause damage at a cellular level.

This is how you end up with scorches on leaves and stems, and even entire plants (depending on the level of the spill).

Even diluting the chemicals is not enough to prevent the burns from occurring, and you may not notice them until days after.

Soil Damage

If these chemicals miss the plant but still end up in the soil, you’re not off the hook.

Even with hardy plants, the alkalinity of chemicals used in deck cleaner is enough to throw off the pH of the soil. These upsets can cause the solid to become unable to host life, killing the plant and refusing to grow anything else.

This is especially difficult because it does not give you much option to replace the plant. If the soil cannot host new life, you need to find a way to leave the area bare or dress it up with decor.

Bleach Water Runoff

Water runoff is not as potent, but that does not mean it is not harmful.

Water runoff can affect a larger portion of your yard than the immediate effects of the deck cleaner contact.

It depends on the concentration of the runoff. Trace amounts may not cause damage, and some believe that lower doses are beneficial.

Unfortunately, much of the runoff is still potent enough to cause damage by burning plants and throwing off the balance of the soil.

Be on the lookout for scorched leaves or death patches after you rinse your deck or have rain.

How to Recognize a Harmful Deck Cleaner

The most popular variety of chemical deck cleaners is one that uses bleach. These are strong enough to tackle the mess, but they break down over time so there are few long-term effects.

Pay attention to the active ingredients listed on a cleaner. Most of the time, strong chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite (chlorine) and sodium hydroxide (lye) will cause harm to the plants surrounding your deck.

Some deck cleaners blatantly warn against this, so skimming over the ingredients and warnings on the back label will usually pay off.

Alternative Deck Cleaners that Do Not Kill Plants

You have options beyond “get my deck clean but kill my plants” and “save my plants but live in filth”. The modern movement towards sustainability and eco-friendly options provides you with several plant-safe cleaners, including:

  • Oxygen bleaches
  • DIY solutions
  • Biodegradable solutions

These may not be as effective, but they come pretty close.

Oxygen Bleaches

If you want something that provides similar results without risking killing your plants, look to oxygen bleach cleaners like OxiClean.

Instead of chlorine and lye, these cleaners use eco-friendly ingredients like sodium percarbonate.

This breaks down into hydrogen peroxide and soda ash (also known as sodium carbonate). The reaction with organic material causes bubbles to form, and they will pull up mold, algae, and anything else lurking in the deck materials.

These are also minerals that you find naturally in soil, so it’s no bother if they runoff and soak in. Hydrogen peroxide might be unstable, but it decomposes into oxygen and water soon after activation.

DIY Solution

If you want to go the DIY route, grab some baking soda and vinegar from your pantry and get to it.

When used together, these cause a chemical reaction similar to what happens with oxygen bleach. Bubbles are formed, and unwanted materials come up from the wood.

You can also use vinegar on its own if you are not interested in a full-on science experiment, but keep in mind that this might not be enough.

Biodegradable Solutions

Keep an eye out for deck cleaners marketed as biodegradable. As long as they do not contain the chemicals mentioned previously in this article, you should be in the clear to use these pre-made formulas.

Pay attention to reviews and first personal accounts. These should tip you off as to whether your plants are in danger if you use the product, regardless of the claims made on the bottle.

Final Thoughts

Chemical deck cleaners like bleach-based solutions will kill plants. They can also cause harm in other ways, burning leaves and stems and leaving the plant struggling in tumultuous soil.

If this is a major concern, looking into other deck cleaning solutions can help. Check out oxygen bleaches and biodegradable cleaners first, and you can always fall back on a simple DIY in a pinch.

We have plenty of blog posts on this site about home DIY projects. Take a look at our most recent blog posts below:

Will Deck Cleaner Kill Plants? (What You Need To Know Before You Clean Your Deck)
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