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Jan 15

Old MacDonald Had Some Barnwood

Posted by C. Mason Hearn in safety, repairs, preservation, millwork, hardwood, exteriors


What are the pros and cons of pressure-washing old barn wood, versus using a scrub brush?




Good question.   The best method depends on the condition of the wood and your intent in regards its eventual use.

Pressure washing, in most instances, may seem the easiest, fastest way to clean the surface of old wood (whether you are trying to remove the aged patina, mildew, paint, etc).  If there is old paint on it, there may be concerns regarding the hazardous release of toxins from lead-based coatings (harmful to people and the environment).  Refer to the EPA RRP rule for handling any coatings applied prior to 1978.

The other major issue that I'd be concerned about regarding power-washing any wood (new or old), is that anything other than the very lowest pressure settings are likely to pit and splinter the wood.  I have seen plenty of decks and exteriors destroyed by unprofessional use of pressure-washers.  So if you DO opt for pressure-washing, do so using appropriate detergent additives to do the work, rather than relying on high-pressure blasting power.  If it's enough pressure to remove paint, it is enough to destroy the surface of your wood.

A light hand scrubbing with a soft-bristle brush will treat your wood much more gently.  I often use a diluted bleach mixture (1:10 commercial bleach such as Clorox, to water) and a couple tablespoons of tri-sodium phosphate ("TSP", available at most hardware stores) to clean and brighten weathered / dirty wood.  This WILL take the "barn wood" silver patina out of the wood.  It will also burn skin, eyes and clothing, so be sure to wear appropriate protective gear.

You certainly want to try a sample of whatever cleaning formulation you use on a small piece before going hog-wild with your efforts. 

 I know this won't be as easy as power washing, but sometimes shortcuts just don't do the trick!  Good luck with your project.


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