Cleaning Your Fences

By Sharon Naylor

July 1, 2011 5 min read

Fences take a beating during the summer months. Heavy rains splash soil onto the bottom portions of vinyl fencing, and wooden fences become dried and discolored, perhaps even spotted with lichens or bird droppings. Inspect your fencing now to see which sections need to be cleaned and which need repairs before rust and rot set in during the winter months. Now, in cooler and less humid weather, is an ideal time to freshen your fences so that they look as attractive as possible.

*Vinyl Fences

Vinyl, or PVC, fencing surrounding your property or garden requires careful cleaning methods to avoid scratching the surface and creating permanent damage. Start with a simple hosing to remove any soil or pollen buildup, and then assess the nature of your fence's cleaning challenges.

Check the manual for the brand of fence you own to see whether the manufacturer recommends a specific brand of cleaner. Follow the instructions carefully, and in the case of chemical cleaners, always wear rubber gloves to avoid getting powerful chemicals on your skin. It's also wise to wear a filtering mask to avoid inhaling particles and chemical fumes. To prevent eye damage from chemical splashes, wear protective goggles at all times, and keep chemicals away from children and pets.

The best way to remove algae stains is to use soft-scrubbing scouring liquid from the supermarket and scrub with a soft-bristle brush. Wipe away the cleaner with a dampened microfiber cloth, and rinse away the residue.

Grease stains or wax crayon marks from a playful child can be removed by dampening a soft cloth with mineral spirits and applying slight pressure while rubbing in a circular motion. Hose the area thoroughly, and allow the fence to air-dry.

To remove tree sap, visit your local hardware store to purchase trisodium phosphate and apply it sparingly to the affected areas. Use a cloth dampened with warm water to scrub off the sap, using a circular motion. If the sap still won't budge, use a plastic scraper and soft-bristle brush to help loosen it from the fence before cleaning with the solution, rinsing and letting the fence air-dry.

Before using a power washer, check your fence's manual to be certain that the construction can take the powerful pressure.

*Wood Fences

According to Bergen Fence, high-quality wood fences can be cleaned with a high-pressure nozzle on your hose or with a rented pressure washer. Often, you only need to spray your wood fence with a powerful water stream to knock off dirt and bird droppings.

For more challenging wood fence messes, spray on a commercial wood cleaner with a garden sprayer, found at your local hardware store. According to Home Depot, you should pay special attention to the manufacturer's specific mixing ratio of cleaner to water, as well as the exact application time. If a solution is too strong or left in place too long, it can cause discoloration and degradation of your wood fence. Rinse with a high-pressure water force to remove all chemical residue.

If you don't own a quality pressure washer, you can rent one at your local hardware or home supply store. The experts at Home Depot recommend using the lowest pressure level to avoid damaging your fence. Make several passes over the fence boards or rails to keep the water pressure moving, because constant pressure in one spot can gouge the wood surface.

"If you prefer an all-natural solution over using chemical wood cleaner, you can do so with your hose or pressure washer," says Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green," "by using a ratio of 1 cup of white vinegar to 1 gallon of water, or 1 part white vinegar to 16 parts water."

Using cleaning solution and a spray bottle, clean the bottom of your fence and work your way up. A sweeping motion is most effective when cleaning your fence this way. Then finish the job with a dry bristle brush to work away any remaining soil or residue. Let the vinegar solution sit on the fence for five to 10 minutes, re-spraying the fence lightly during that time to be sure it remains moist, not drying the solution into your fence. Rinse the fence with a regular hose, and allow it to air-dry.

If your fence has lichens on it, be sure to wear a mask as you spray or scrub it clean, because they will release spores when disturbed.

*After Cleaning

When your fence is fully cleaned, inspect the connections to check for loosened areas that need to be re-nailed. Your refurbished fence will look great and stand strong through the winter.

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