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Wash Away Winter Grime: Cleaning Exterior Surfaces

March 3, 2024
Wash Away Winter Grime: Cleaning Exterior Surfaces

Winter can take a toll on the exterior surfaces of your home. Dirt, grime, salt, and other debris can build up and dull your home’s appearance. As the seasons change, it’s time to give the outside of your house a good deep clean. Taking the time for a thorough exterior cleaning will help your home look its best for spring and prevent long-term damage.

Assessing the Exterior

Before I begin cleaning, I take a walk around the perimeter of my house to assess what needs to be cleaned. Some areas that commonly show winter wear and tear include:

  • Siding – Cedar or vinyl siding can get dingy and stained from rain, snow, dirt splashes, and more. Mold and mildew may also grow over the winter.
  • Windows – Windows often have dirty streaks, dust, pollen, and other debris on them. Window sills and frames also collect grime.
  • Doors – Entry doors can have dirty handles, thresholds, and glass panes. The door surface itself may be dirty or have mold/mildew.
  • Outdoor lighting – Exterior lighting fixtures get dusty and covered in cobwebs over the winter months.
  • Decks/patios – Outdoor living spaces get slick and gray from winter precipitation. They need a deep clean and re-sealing before using again.
  • Driveways/walkways – Salt, sand, and chemical deicers take a toll on driveways. Oil spots, tire marks, and weeds are also common.

I take notes on each area that needs cleaning and make a plan of attack.

Gathering Supplies

Cleaning exterior surfaces requires having the right supplies on hand. Here are some must-have items:

  • Power washer – This is the ultimate cleaning tool for larger surfaces like siding, decks, and driveways. Get a model with different pressure settings.
  • Garden hose – Useful for rinsing smaller areas by hand. Attach a nozzle or pressure sprayer for extra cleaning power.
  • Soft brush attachment – For gentle scrubbing of delicate materials like wood and vinyl. Attaches to the hose.
  • Stiff brush – For tougher scrubbing on textured surfaces like brick or concrete.
  • Sponge – Great for wiping down siding, windows, and other surfaces. Get a pack of new, clean ones.
  • Squeegee – After washing windows, use a squeegee to scrape off the excess water. Prevents spots and streaks.
  • Cleaning solutions – Look for exterior-safe cleaners for different materials:
    • Siding cleaner
    • Deck/patio cleaner
    • Mold/mildew remover
    • Concrete/driveway cleaner
    • Glass/window cleaner
  • Pressure washer cleaning solutions – Special cleaners that attach to pressure washers for extra cleaning boost.
  • Protective gear – Gloves, eye protection, old clothes/shoes, etc. to keep dirty water off.

Once I assemble all the necessary cleaning gear, I’m ready to get scrubbing.

Cleaning the Siding

My vinyl siding is the largest surface area to clean on my home’s exterior. Here are the steps I take:

1. Remove debris with a broom

Before washing, I gently sweep the siding with a soft broom to brush off loose dirt and debris. This prevents pushing it into the siding while power washing.

2. Apply siding cleaner

I use a specialty vinyl siding cleaner and apply it with a pump sprayer per the directions. Letting it soak in starts breaking down stubborn grime before power washing.

3. Power wash from bottom to top

Using a wide fan nozzle, I power wash from the bottom of the house up. This avoids streaking from dirty water runoff above. I keep the nozzle 6-12 inches away at a 45 degree angle.

4. Scrub troublesome spots

For any spots that don’t come totally clean from power washing, I scrub them gently with a soft brush attachment. Avoid abrasive scrubbing that could damage the siding.

5. Rinse away cleaner

Once done power washing each section, I rinse it with just water to remove any residual cleaning solution. Thorough rinsing prevents residue buildup over time.

6. Let dry fully

I make sure the siding dries completely before moving on. This prevents water spots or marks. I use a leaf blower on mist settings to speed up drying.

Following this systematic process leaves my siding looking like new!

Cleaning Windows, Doors, and Lighting

Windows, doors, and exterior lighting fixtures all require a delicate touch when cleaning. Here are some best practices:

  • Wash on a cloudy day to avoid water drying too quickly and streaking.
  • Dip a soft microfiber cloth or sponge in a bucket of cleaning solution and wring it out well.
  • Wipe down one small section at a time in a circular motion.
  • Dry immediately with a squeegee or lint-free towel.
  • Repeat until all dirt, debris, and grime are lifted.
  • For lighting fixtures, pay special attention to the undersides and crevices where cobwebs accumulate.

Take extra care around door and window hardware to avoid scratching the finish during cleaning. Check for any loose or damaged caulking around windows/doors and re-caulk as needed for a weathertight seal.

Deep Cleaning Decks, Patios, and Driveways

Decks, patios, and driveways take a real beating over winter. Here are some power washing tips for outstanding results:

Decks

  • Sweep off loose debris with a broom.
  • Use a deck cleaning solution and pre-treat any stained/mildewy areas.
  • Power wash on a low pressure setting with a wide nozzle. Work in sections.
  • For stubborn spots, switch to a 15?? or 25?? nozzle for concentrated cleaning.
  • Rinse thoroughly with just water to remove all cleaner residue.
  • Allow to dry fully before applying any sealants or treatments.

Patios

  • Use a concentrated patio cleaner and let it soak in for 10-15 minutes. This lifts stubborn stains.
  • Adjust nozzle to 25?? and get close to surface for intense cleaning. Take care around delicate materials like travertine.
  • Rinse thoroughly until water runs clear.
  • Check for any cracked or pitted areas in need of repair.

Driveways

  • Sweep away debris before power washing. This avoids pushing it into cracks.
  • Use degreaser for any oil stains. Let soak 5-10 minutes.
  • Adjust nozzle to 20??-25?? and spray at close range for unyielding grime.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Use weedkiller on any sprouting weeds. Focus on edges and cracks.
  • Look for damaged areas like cracks or crumbling concrete and make repairs.

Thoroughly cleaning these high-traffic areas provides a literal clean slate for the new season.

Maintaining a Freshly Cleaned Exterior

After putting in all that elbow grease for a spotless exterior, I want to keep it looking sharp. Here are some maintenance tips:

  • Clean gutters and flush underground drain lines to avoid water damage.
  • Inspect weather stripping around doors/windows and replace if worn.
  • Apply fresh caulk around windows, doors, fixtures, and trim for weatherproofing. Look for gaps or cracks.
  • Consider applying a sealant or waterproof coating to decks/patios for protection.
  • Prune back overgrown trees/shrubs so they don’t rub on the house exterior.
  • Keep lawn edged and freshly mowed. Maintain a perimeter buffer zone between landscaping and the house.
  • Schedule power washing once per year and spot clean as needed. Fall is ideal before winter hits again.

With proper maintenance, I can keep my home’s exterior in tip-top shape year round!

Conclusion

Cleaning the exterior surfaces around my home after a long winter leaves everything looking refreshed and rejuvenated just in time for spring. While it takes some work, the results are well worth the effort. Following power washing best practices and using the right tools and products makes the job go smoothly. Keeping up with minor maintenance between deep cleanings will keep the house exterior in prime condition despite what winter dishes out. A clean home exterior adds curb appeal and prevents long-term damage, making all the scrubbing time well spent.

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