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How to Clean Teak - TeakDecking Systems

A major portion of TEAKDECKING SYSTEMS business is replacing existing teak decks that have been worn out through improper maintenance. Amazingly, many of these decks were destroyed not through neglect, but because their owners cleaned them too often and too thoroughly.

Overuse, or improper use, of two part caustic cleaners shortens the life of teak decks by actually eating away the teak. These cleaners should only be used when everything else has been tried. If they must be used, follow their instructions carefully. If you need to use such cleaners, protect your skin (hands, arms, bare feet, legs, and eyes). The caustic cleaner will also attack surrounding paint. The paint can be somewhat protected by wetting down the surfaces before starting and continuing to flush them during the cleaning process. Remember to flush topsides below scuppers and drains to prevent damage to the paint as the deck drains down the side of the hull. After using a two part cleaner, be sure to rinse the deck thoroughly. Any remaining cleaner will continue to "eat" the deck and surrounding surfaces.

Clearly, we do not recommend two part cleaners except, perhaps, as a last resort. TEAKDECKING SYSTEMS has developed three eco-friendly acid-free cleaners that are designed to be thorough, yet gentle. Please review the TeakDecking products on our website to determine which product is best for your application. DO NOT USE CHLORINE BLEACH in an attempt to bleach the decks. Chlorine will attack most caulking products, turning them to goo.

The wood should be scrubbed across the grain with a 3M scotchbrite scrubbing pad or a polypropylene bristle brush. Scrubbing with the grain tears the soft grain out of the planks, leaving the surface rough. A rough, weathered deck exposes more of the wood to environmental deterioration. On larger areas, use of rotary cleaning machines with dispenser tanks and polypropylene bristle brushes is appropriate.

Even with care, in time the surface of the wood will become uneven. When this happens, the decks should be lightly sanded with a sanding machine to smooth the surface. This will actually increase the life of the deck by exposing less wood to the elements and preventing the grain from trapping dirt or air carried corrosives.

As the deck is drying after having been cleaned and flushed, notice any areas that remain wet after the rest of the deck has dried. Wetness may indicate a spot where the caulking in a seam has broken away from the teak, or a bung that has gone bad. If so, these failures should be repaired immediately to prevent water from getting under the deck. Once water is under teak, a number of things can happen, and none of them are good. If you can't make an immediate repair, duct tape the opening to seal it temporarily.

The Nature of Teak Decks

The wood from which teakdecks are made was once a living organism. Unlike marble, ceramic, metal, or synthetic materials, wood is organic, thus porous, and must be cleaned with chemicals and equipment that will be effective, yet will cause the least damage to the surface.

Additionally, the caulking or sealant used between the teakwood boards or planks must be taken into consideration when cleaning, since some types of chemical cleaners affect the caulking adversely. The fastening system used when the deck was originally installed can also be affected by cleaning chemicals, resulting in premature corrosion of metal fasteners, and the absorption of that corrosion into the pores of the wood, causing staining.

If the deck being cleaned already has problems such as loose or missing caulking seams or wooden plugs, it is all the more reason to be selective in the use of cleaning chemicals, avoiding, or at least greatly restricting, the use of corrosive cleaning compounds such as acids or caustic sodas. While it may be true that these types of cleaners produce dramatic results with a minimum of effort, they are also extremely damaging to the wood, (which indirectly causes caulking seam failure), to metal fasteners, and even the steel deck underneath.

The action of these types of cleaners appears to be so effective because they actually remove some of the wood in the process. Over time, enough wood is removed to compromise the integrity of the adhesion between the wood and the caulking, or the glue around the wooden plugs covering the deck fasteners. From that point on, the failure is greatly accelerated and becomes irreversible by simple cleaning. Continued use of these cleaners makes the deterioration cumulatively worse.

Types of Soil

Generally, there are three types of soil most commonly encountered on the teakdecks of a vessel:

One group includes greasy and oily soils, which can come from sources ranging from lubricating greases to food and beverage spills.

Another group is what could be described as just plain "dirt" and includes everything from a variety of dust to the soot from the ship's incinerator or engines.

A third group combines some solids and liquids, and the primary example of this is salt water residue. Whether salt water collects by condensation from the sea air or by spray from seawater directly, the water evaporates and leaves behind solid salt particles.

Matching the cleaning compound to the type of soil on which it is most effective is important to obtaining the best results.

A cleaning compound with a degreasing component is going to be more effective on greasy soils than one not containing a degreaser, whereas for dry types of soil, or "dirt", a cleaner with degreaser provides no particular benefit.

As we have already mentioned, acid type cleaners do not "clean", but actually remove part of the surface on which they are used, which makes them seem very effective, but especially on wood, are very damaging, and will not only make future cleaning more difficult, but will shorten the useful life of the deck.

Cleaning Products

Most cleaning compounds consist of the same basic chemicals. Depending on the purpose for which they are intended, there may be variations in the concentration of the different ingredients in the formulation, or perhaps a different type of chemical used to give the compound specific characteristics.

In order to cover a very broad range of applications, there are what is referred to as general-purpose or all-purpose cleaners, and for very specific applications, there are specialty or use specific cleaning compounds.

The great majority of commercially available cleaners fall into the general-purpose category. A good general-purpose cleaner will contain detergents, alkaline builders, and most likely, a degreaser of one of several types.

Detergents have the effect of reducing the surface tension of plain water, thus making the water "wetter" to enable soils to be released and held in suspension more easily. Alkaline builders increase the ph level of the compound to an effective aggressiveness for the application. Degreasers aid in loosening soils that require a solvent other than a detergent.

Certain cleaning compounds that are sold as use specific cleaners may contain added chemicals that produce very dramatic results with a minimum of effort. But these cleaners are also so aggressive that they must be handled and applied with a great deal of care, and may damage the surfaces on which they are used.

Compound sold as "deck cleaners", which contain high concentrations of acids or caustic sodas, fall into this category.

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