How to clean teak: Top tips for keeping your boat’s decks pristine

Teak decks look lovely as well as being hardwearing, grippy and gentle underfoot. The one downside to real teak is keeping it clean.

To maintain that just-fitted look takes a lot of work, ideally with a weekly hose-down or a bucket of sea water and a gentle wash and squeegee off.

However, for most of us that frequency just isn’t possible so a deep clean at the beginning and end of each season becomes even more important.

There are two golden rules when it comes to cleaning teak: firstly, never use a pressure washer as the power will strip out any softer wood; secondly, never scrub along the direction of the grain or you will wear away the surface and leave the black caulking strips proud of the worn wood.

Traditionally, thick teak decks were cleaned with a flat stone and a bucket of sea water by scrubbing up and down. Nowadays the teak tends to be a lot thinner and there are easier methods that rely on eco-friendly soap solutions or chemicals to loosen the dirt and restore the colour.

The latter usually involves a two-step process with an acid solution to loosen the dirt and bleach the wood, followed by an alkaline one to stop the reaction and restore the colour.

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How to clean teak

Techniques and safety are key here. The chemicals are harsh on skin and the environment so you need to protect yourself with waterproof overalls and gloves. Whatever cleaning process you use, the first step is to wash off any loose dirt and grit, then use a squeegee to remove excess water to leave a wet but not flooded surface.

If using the environmentally friendly approach, apply a copious amount of the detergent to an area about 1m square and then work it into the surface with a circular motion (never with the grain), using a sponge to start with followed by a pan scourer and then, and only if needed, a brush with reasonably soft bristles.

You should see the dirt lifting off in the form of a grey/brown-coloured scum, depending on how dirty the teak is. Give this a good rinse off with the hose on a shower setting, then repeat the whole process until the soapy suds coming off are white with no discoloration.

A final rinse and a good squeegee to remove any traces of detergent should complete the job but check by wiping a wet cloth along the direction of the grain to see if any bubbles form on the surface. If they do, you need to rinse and try again.

The chemical approach is far more dramatic but it’s strong stuff and needs to be treated with caution. Carefully read the mixing strengths (ours was 5:1) – if you make it too strong it can damage the wood and make the black caulking strips go sticky.

Follow the instructions on the bottle. This step invariably involves applying the acid solution first and working it into the wood using a sponge or soft bristled brush in circular motions.

It takes far less effort than a detergent and don’t be alarmed if the wood goes dark brown. Leave it for about 10 minutes for the chemicals to do their bit before giving it a good rinse with water and a squeegee.

Next, apply the alkaline solution with a sponge, working it into the wood. You should immediately start to see a dramatic bleaching action, although you may need to go over it twice to make sure you have worked the solution into every corner.

When you rinse this off, a golden sheen will show through the wood and whilst it’s wet you will be convinced that you have done a much better job than a more labour-intensive clean with soap suds.

However, after 24 hours when it’s all completely dry again, the end result tends to be much the same. The chemical clean may be a touch lighter and requires less elbow grease, but given the environmental benefits of the eco-friendly approach, please try this first.

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