Best ways to softwash wood / timber structures & garden furniture
There are many species of wood included under umbrella terms such as oak and pine. And the density of the wood can vary dramatically, even though we may call it by the same name.
This varying density influences the ability of wood to absorb softwash chemicals. The denser the wood the less chemical will be absorbed.
Because there are so many varieties of wood – and so many sub-species within each variety – it is impossible to know all the effects that different chemicals will have on "wood". Only a company specialising solely in timber treatment could build up such an experiential database. And even then a test patch before treating the entire surface would be highly recommended.
For example, Pitch Pine is extremely dense, which makes the wood hard and heavy, whereas Scots Pine is the opposite – yet they are both called "Pine".
We've found substantial differences in the effect of treating wooden sheds, fences, decking, garden furniture and cladding because, even though on a cursory first glance they may look similar, the wood used in their construction may be quite different.
So the rule, as always, is treat a small, out of the way test patch first. Get your customer's approval of the result they can see on the test patch, and their permission to continue, before softwashing the entire wood surface.
Quick tip: Scroll to the foot of this page if you are looking for information on how to soft wash outdoor wooden garden furniture.
Some important points re pressure (aka jet or power) washing
When treating light green algae on easily accessible timber structures such as decking, fences and wooden sheds – many contractors choose to lightly jet wash and then treat the wood with Benz Bio Cleanze. This will certainly provide the customer with an excellent result and is an acceptable approach to softwashing many wooden structures.
Imagine trying to do that on the property below, in which you can see Ben softwashing cedar tiles, which are badly contaminated by green and black algae, with Bio Cleanze:
It would likely not be financially viable to jet wash this building prior to softwashing because of the extra time it would take and, probably, the need to use a cherry picker or similar high reach equipment. There's also the risk of damaging the tiles (shingles) by jet washing to be considered.
Ben treated the cedar tiles on this job with Bio Cleanze at 30:1 (he used this relatively high concentration because of the severity of the infestation). He first concentrated the spray on the flat "face" of the tile to kill the worst of the green and black algae. The following day he sprayed it again, this time concentrating on the lapped joints.
By treating twice and allowing 24 hours for the algae to partially break down Ben gave the softwashing chemical the best chance of doing a good job in the time available.
An even better approach would be to wait seven days before applying the second treatment, although the logistics of a contract (travel time, access, and so on) may preclude this.
As with the softwashing business in general, the principles are simple but the permutations of chemical-material compatibility, accessibility, the expectations of our customers and their wilingness to pay, can be complex.
Quick tip: Be aware that jet washing any wooden surface, or timber structure such as decking, can sometimes cause an unsightly "striping" effect. This can be particularly apparent around hand rails, gate panels, etc. Striping is usually due the operator using excessive pressure. Skillful use of the jet washer is therefore called for. We emphasise the use of light jet washing, carried out with skill and care.
Jet washing before treating with Bio Cleanze will take longer than just applying the chemical. So every contractor must weigh up the equation of time, cost, need, and quality of result. There's no hard and fast rule and ultimately we all learn the way that suits us, and each particular contract, through practical experience.
On large cladding jobs, such as the property in the above photo, large fences, etc, jet washing prior to softwashing with Bio Cleanze will probably not be the most effective approach. This is because of the increased labour costs and the potential for causing damage (striping, and physical damage to tiles - shingles). And so it is often a better approach to use other softwash cleaning methods.
How to remove green algae from wood using Benz Bio Cleanze
Our experience suggests that, in general, treating with Bio Cleanze is usually the best way to softwash wooden structures such as decking, fences, sheds and cladding that are contaminated by green algae. Simply spray on and leave the algae to die and fade away over time through natural weathering. Offer your customer repeat annual maintenance applications to keep their property permanently clean – and give you a nice source of easy repeat business.
Cleaning wooden decking and walkways such as boat jetties: We've found that, generally, first giving the surface that will be walked on a light jet washing ( aka pressure washing or power washing) removes the worst of the heavy algae and produces the best final result.
The jet wash will remove the majority of heavy green algae from the decking surface. This means that Bio Cleanze has less organic growth to kill and therefore there will be more unused chemical left to provide long-term residual biocide protection against re-colonisation.Quick tip: A sales point for annual maintenance treatments of any wooden walkways , eg timber decking and timber jetties, is that of health and safety. Timber covered in green algae can be very slippery and presents a real safety hazard.
Any commercial establishment such as a cafe, restaurant, or boat club will know they must prevent their customers hurting themselves or face claims for injuries. So you can show a genuine financial advantage to these establishments from using your softwashing service.
Benz Bio Cleanze can be applied directly to heavy green or black algae without first jet washing, or treating twice, but you need to consider the following factors:
- Much of the softwashing power of the active ingredient will be used up in killing the green or black algae. This means there will be less active softwash ingredient remaining in the wood to provide the immensely valuable long-term residual biocide protection against re-colonisation by green and black algae.
- The green or black algae may turn white, leaving a whitened appearance to the wood that some customers don't like. This will often fade in time. It can usually be removed by jet washing but we don't recommend this approach as jet washing after applying Bio Cleanze will remove some of the active ingredient from the timber surface, lessening the residual biocide effect that helps prevent re-contamination.
- Quick tip: After the algae has been removed by treating with Bio Cleanze – or Benz Lightning Cleanze – it may expose previously coated (i.e. with paint, varnish, or other products) sections of timber that may then look unappealing. These can be re-coated or left for the remaining coating to wear off over time.
- Be aware that there may be grey stains or residue remaining after application, although this is rare. The best practice is to let your customer know about this in advance, so they are prepared if it happens. At the risk of sounding repetitive, always first treat a small, out of the way test patch if you are at all uncertain about the most effective treatment before softwashing the entire property.
In the photo of a test area below you can see the effect on cedar wood tiles that were contaminated by green algae, after only three days, through treating with Benz Bio Cleanze at 30:1
Long-term protection against re-colonisation – a big advantage of using Bio Cleanze to treat timber
- The active ingredient in Bio Cleanze is well-known to be a powerful wood preserver, which can protect timber against wet and dry rot.
- Thus, by using Bio Cleanze to treat your customer's timber structures you are offering them a valuable additional service above and beyond the initial cleaning.
- You can make this feature of Bio Cleanze a powerful sales point when tendering for a contract, which may be sufficient for the customer to choose your service over the competition.
- Remember that other cleaning companies are likely only offering jet washing or sodium hypochlorite treatments. So tell your customer that neither of these approaches to solving their problem will help preserve their timber from wood rot, nor offer long-term residual biocide protection against re-colonisation by green and black algae.
How to remove green and black algae from wood using Benz Lightning Cleanze
As when treating with Bio Cleanze, we've found that, generally, first giving very heavy contamination a light jet washing ( aka pressure washing or power washing) removes the worst of the heavy green or black algae and produces the best final result. Alternatively, be prepared to give the surface two chemical treatments.
Quick tip: If there's only light algae contamination a single treatment with Lightning Cleanze may be sufficient by itself.
There are several reasons why, in general, we do not recommend using a sodium hypochlorite product as a first choice to softwash wood:
- Chlorine is used by pulp mills to break down the fibres of wood in the paper-making process. So treating wood with sodium hypochlorite is never going to be the best way of cleaning wood because of the potential for inflicting long-term damage on the wood fibres.
- The colour that remains after softwashing wood with sodium hypochlorite can have a "bleached out" look. Some customers may not mind this; some may even like it, but many will not. So proceed with caution and get your customer's approval of a small test patch for the result they are likely to end up with before cleaning the entirety of their timber property.
- Sodium hypochlorite kills the green and black algae (thus making it a more effective treatment than jet washing alone) but, because of it's chemical nature, cannot provide long-term residual protection against re-colonisation.
An exception where Benz Lightning Cleanze can be the best choice is when softwashing timber wall cladding, including cedar tiles (shingles): Timber wall cladding often turns very black and it may be impossible to to restore the surface effectively using Bio Cleanze alone.
Also, it may be too expensive or impractical to carefully jet wash. Fortunately, treating with Lightning Cleanze at 10:1 usually produces a dramatically fast result. So treating timber with Lightning Cleanze can be the most effective approach for some contracts.
Important: We recommend thoroughly rinsing the surface immediately before applying Lightning Cleanze and immediately after it has done it's work to minimise chlorine damage to the wood.
And, assuming your customer is willing to pay a bit extra for the best possible job, after rinsing Lightning Cleanze from the surface treat the timber cladding or cedar tiles (shingles) with Bio Cleanze at 50:1 (40:1 in winter cold). Bio Cleanze will provide valuable long-term residual biocide protection against re-colonisation by green and black algae as well as a degree of protection from wet and dry rot.
The photos below show the before and after effect of treating cedar tiles (shingles), which were badly contaminated with black and green algae, with Benz Lightning Cleanze.
You'll notice that the cedar tiles (shingles) have whitened after treatment. We told the customer about this in advance, so they knew what to expect, and they were very happy with the result.
Now, having pointed out the possible shortcomings, if the use of Lightning Cleanze is indicated for a particular contract – as was the case for the property in the above photos – let's look at some ways to protect the wood.
How to protect wood - timber when soft washing with Lightning Cleanze
There are a some unscrupulous contractors who use very high concentrations of sodium hypochlorite to softwash wood - timber structures. They achieve a very fast result, get paid, and disappear.
They are giving the softwashing industry a bad name as their methods can seriously damage their customer's timber property. Using high concentrations of sodium hypochlorite in a softwash solution also carries inherent, and serious, risks to the health of the operator, their customers, the general public and of course children and animals. Please don't do it.
This is a similar situation to the way unscrupulous caustic soda dippers destroyed vast amounts of valuable old furniture during the paint stripping craze by using too high a concentration of chemical and leaving the wooden furniture immersed in it for too long.
Techniques to protect timber from damage when softwashing:
- Always pre-soak the wood with fresh water before soft washing wood with Lightning Cleanze. The water will soak into the wood and ensure the softwash solution stays on the surface, where it is needed to kill off the contamination by green and black algae.
- Thoroughly rinse Lightning Cleanze softwash solution from the wood after no more than one hour. Do not leave to soak in as the sodium hypochlorite can damage, or at the very least weaken, the structure of the wood.
- Never use highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite to softwash wood as the potential for causing long-term harm to the surface increases proportionately to the strength of the mix. Lightning Cleanze is much kinder to wood as it is formulated to offer the highest possible cleaning effectiveness while eliminating the majority of the risk inherent in highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite.
- We recommend applying LIghtning Cleanze at 10:1, which you'll find sufficiently strong for most of the timber infected with green or black algae that you may come across. If the infestation is particularly serious you could go to 5:1 but in our experience this is rarely needed if the guidelines in this article are followed.
- Whenever possible choose Bio Cleanze as your first choice to softwash wood.
How to treat outdoor wooden garden furniture
If the contamination is severe, give the garden furniture a very light jet (aka pressure or power) wash first.
The furniture will require regular maintenance treatments of Bio Cleanze / Perma Cleanze going forward if it is left outside, every 6-18 months depending upon local conditions.
We are not aware of a best time of year to treat outdoor wooden garden furniture, as long as the ambient temperature is ideally 8 degrees or above for several hours following treatment (to allow Bio Cleanze / Perma Cleanze to work effectively).
Quick tip: Wood varies in density and it's response to treatment at any given ambient temperature. The algae will disappear from some wood surfaces very quickly, whereas on others longer may be required. Our suggested dilution rates are based on the fact that people will be sitting on the chairs and may eat from the table. Tell your customer not to use the furniture until the treated garden furniture is completely dry.
Clck the links below to read articles related to soft washing wood - timber structures
We hope this information is helpful and inspires you to succeed in your softwashing business.
Ben, Leo & Fiona
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