The easiest way to clean reclaimed wood

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

The easiest way to clean reclaimed wood

If you too collect old wood, this post will guide you on the easiest way to get reclaimed wood prepped and cleaned up, ready for your next DIY project!

Collecting reclaimed wood is most definitely one of my hobbies since I build with reclaimed wood SO much.

So as you can imagine, I end up with all kinds of reclaimed wood in all kinds of conditions, covered with green mildew being the most common.

In fact, some of the reclaimed wood is so dirty, you may even think to turn it down!

Coming up with an easy way to clean reclaimed wood was a must.

Since using this method, I don’t turn down ANY wood any longer, thanks to how easy this is.

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

Before and after

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I most recently came across this great old fence wood with a whole lotta reclaimed wood that needed some work.

The above plank is generally the condition I land wood. It’s generally full of black or green mildew for the most part since a lot of my wood gathering is from gathering wood from old cedar fences.

The bottom plank is the cleaned cedar plank from the same fence!

Doesn’t even look like the same wood, does it? Would you have brought that top plank home?

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

My first attempt to cleaning reclaimed wood was to use a scrub brush with a bucket of soapy water.

I’ve also attempted using diluted bleach in water with a decent pair of protective gloves. Works in a pinch. But oh my goodness… the scrubbing involved is super labour intensive!

There had to be a better way… and turns out, there is.


Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

So I decided to pull out my beloved pressure washer and see how that would work out…

Your first thought may be, pressure washers put too much water on the wood. However I’ve found the exact opposite to be true.

Pressure washers gives a powerful burst of water that’s so short term, the wood dries so quickly, you won’t have any issues!

So toss out the scrub brush this round. Here’s my own easy method of cleaning reclaimed wood using plain, safe water that works every time without a ton of effort!

This post contains some Amazon affiliate links in which I earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases through these links, at no extra cost to you. Thank-you for helping to support my blog!

The easiest way to clean reclaimed wood

 

How to collect wood for free

 

Collecting wood is a hobby that will serve you well if you wish to build your own DIY projects. And you’d be surprised how easy it is to find in just the right places!

One of my most memorable wood scavenging moments was when my family farm’s barn came down. Luckily the new owners allowed my brother and I to scavenge some wood for keepsake purposes! But what. a. day. I mean, where do you even begin?

In another case, I was taking my dog for a walk, when I came upon a small trailer in someone’s driveway, stuffed with fence planks. I bravely knocked on the door and asked where it was going. When he responded with, “The dump!”, I must have gasped out loud because his next question was, “Do you want it dropped of on your driveway instead?!” Easy yes that day!

So keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to ask. I have never paid for any of my reclaimed wood in 15 years.

Where to look for free wood

 

  • Collect from falling down fences
  • Scavenge free pallets
  • Watch for piles of debris by renovators
  • Check out burn piles… before they are lit!
  • Put a call out to friends

4 wood scavenging posts you’ll enjoy:

 

When the family barn came down

The rotten fence lottery win

Scavenging from a neighbour’s barn

Easy way to take fence planks apart

collected reclaimed wood in driveway

 

After collecting wood, now you have this big pile in your driveway! Good on ya! And what lucky neighbours you have…

But now comes the work. While free wood is cost-free, it does require a little labour. So throw on your gloves, put on those safety glasses, and let’s get that wood build-worthy.

Removing the nails

 

Reclaimed wood, especially if it came off a fence, can be riddled with wood or staples.

Storing wood with nails is very dangerous, so please do remove the nails where you found the wood if possible, or at the very least, as soon as you get them home. Please don’t delay this step.

Read more:

How to easily remove nails from pallets or fence boards

How to cut apart pallets


Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

How to pressure wash reclaimed wood

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Have you ever tried scrubbing old wood? It’s a LOT of work! So I do one better, and that’s pressure wash it.

Pressure washing is the fastest, easiest way to clean the mildew off reclaimed wood. But you’ll also want to take some care not to clean too deeply or you may remove all that decadent patina, the very reason you’re collecting old wood to begin with!

  1. Spread planks all over the lawn, well-spaced
  2. Pressure wash one side
  3. Click the planks over with your foot, and pressure wash the other side

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

 

.I like to pressure wash about 5 planks at a time so I don’t have to backtrack too much.


 

How to dry wet wood

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One time I had this entire yard filled with freshly pressure washed wood planks, but I left them on the lawn to dry.

BIG mistake. The dampness from the grass warped nearly every one.

So now I haul all the wood to the sidewalk, and lean the planks against the house, facing south. The boards are spaced and spread out so air movement can get through.

After several days, once dry, they are stored inside. Hopefully before it rains.

metal rack full of reclaimed wood

How to store reclaimed wood

 

So now that you’ve decided you want to store wood, you’ll need a little bit of space for all kinds of random planks! Here’s a few ways I store mine.

Read more:

Landing the red metal rack for wood storage

Stack them to dry in a pile

TV rolling stand wood storage

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

Learn how I created lumber storage underneath my work table HERE

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

Sand dry wood to further prep

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So now that your wood is clean and dry, it’s time to give it a light sand before building with it.

I cut the wood down to the desired size for a project first, then give it a light sand with an orbital sander along both sides and the cut edges.


Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

Here’s the astonishing before and after of two cedar planks from the same fence.

The top plank hasn’t been touched yet, which is all full of mildew.

The 2nd cedar plank has been pressure washed, then lightly sanded.

Isn’t it gorgeous?! You seriously cannot get this outcome any other way!

Video on pressure washing reclaimed wood

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Click above to watch a short video on how easy it is to clean reclaimed wood with a pressure washer!

Visit the full post on an Adirondack pallet chair makeover HERE

Learn the easiest way to clean reclaimed wood that just requires clean, safe water using a pressure washer! Includes how to prep, clean, dry, and store reclaimed wood! Click to read the full tutorial.

The outcome

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And let me tell you what a complete and utter joy it is to pull out a clean plank when you’re ready to build something! Aren’t those cedar plank wood tones gorgeous?! Who knew they were black with mildew at some point?

I made something really cool that I’ll be showing next week when a few more are complete. Until then, you know I just can’t publish a post without some pretty projects… so…

Other wood prep posts you may enjoy:

How to take pallets and fences apart without fancy tools!

How to take pallets and fences apart easily with no fancy tools!

Learn everything you've ever wanted to know about pallet wood! Is it safe? Learn how to choose wisely.

Is your pallet wood safe? Find out how to choose wisely.

How to protect chippy barn wood to retain the patina using Tough Coat.

How to protect chippy barn wood to retain original patina

How to treat or refinish wood surfaces. A side-by-side comparison of waxes and hemp oil.
Refinishing wood projects with waxes and oil… a comparison with project samples

How to condition new or rusty metal, preserving the original finish and bring out more lustre.
How to condition rusty metal

Visit many unique reclaimed wood projects to make HERE

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Categories: Junk Drawer, Reclaimed wood projects
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20 thoughts on “The easiest way to clean reclaimed wood

  1. Ah, the pressure washer! I love it but I think it hates me! The setup, connecting, leaking, tangling, coiling! Every spring I get itchy to clean up yet brace myself at the same time and mine isn’t nearly as monstrous as yours. Bring on Spring!!

  2. The difference is like night and day! I appreciate this post because I have some old picket fencing I’d like to do something with, but it’s got a pretty nasty “patina”…now I know how to rid of that without breaking my back…thank you! I can hardly wait to see what you decide to do with all of these beautiful planks!

  3. Being someone over 50 myself, I love this idea. And I just rent my power washer from the local hardware store when I need it. No room at my little cottage to store it. Thanks!

  4. i recently started stripping the vinyl ugly wall paper from my small bath…of course the vinyl came off easy but the paper backing not so much it looks like they use something other than paste to put it up and it is going to take me a year (having back issues surgery coming soon) to wet and scrap it off also it was put right on the wall board with no a speck of primer. so i would put that fence board on the walls so i wouldn’t have to remove the dam paper ha ha xx

  5. Pulling out ours this weekend. I don’t know how we ever lived without a pressure washer. Our cedar fence was looking terrible but after a few hours using our pressure washer the cedar looked like new again. You must’ve been the talk of the neighborhood that day while your reclaimed boards dried on the lawn!

  6. What a great answer to my recent thoughts of how to clean reclaimed boards! I have a wall (maybe two) I want to plank with the neighbors old fencing they offered me. This was shortly after you said your neighbor gave you some fencing. (wow) Love your blog!

  7. Loving this! I’ve been wanting to do some stuff with reclaimed wood, but I’m always hesitant since I mean, I don’t know where that’s been!! But this is a great tutorial here, now I’m a little less wary of using reclaimed wood.

  8. Hi Donna, I live in Northern California in a drought with water use restrictions. I’d love to use a pressure washer to get my wood done so well, but I have to be careful. I wonder if it uses less water to spray the wood with the hard pressure and get the crud off quickly, than to scrub it with a brush and have to keep changing the bucket. Any thoughts? Thanks!!

    • Pressure washers use very little water. If you can line the boards up, turn on the water, do your spraying and turn it off you will probably use less water than with a bucket and brush.

  9. dear Donna i would like to commission you to make me a dining room table from those pallet slats of wood i want a six foot long table just nailed to frame and two by fours at legs about 4ft across not stained just natural and sanded. i m on a very did i say very cheep budget. but it will help to move some of that wood. if your interested contact me siamesegueu@hotmail.com I love what you can do with wood.Susie

  10. Hi there I recently had a bunchanged of reclaimed wood I was able to grab and I want to make a coffee and side table. However that would mean fresh cut ends. Do you have any suggestions on what to do with the fresh cut ends? What do you do in your projects to hide them?

    • Hi Arianna!

      I do my best to hide the fresh cuts when necessary, but other times, I allow them to just be a part of the project.

      That said, you could always experiment with watered down stains made from craft paint that will ‘dull’ the fresh cuts some. I’ve done that with success too.

  11. Donna, I recently was gifted with two of the heaviest, old wooden doors, with the most gorgeous chippy paint on them. How do I clean that without removing all the chippy character? I can use a garden hose with no pressure I suppose. And I want to use them to make an outdoor arbor so maybe they don’t need a lot of cleaning?

  12. I have an big old house that I can get the old wood off of it and I am going to use it for my tiny house for my siding. What you think? and also use it for other projects to. So I am glad that I found your site on how to clean the wood. But i don’t know what to put on the wood to preserve it when I put it on my house. Do you have any Ideal? I would appreciate if you could tell me what to use. I don’t want to paint it I want to keep the old look. Thank you kathy

    • Hi Kathy! I think using the old wood for your tiny house would be fabulous! I’d suggest to visit a local paint store for expert advice on how to best preserve it. I don’t seal smaller projects however for a house, I would certainly be looking into something as that is a long term commitment. Hope you get the right advice!

  13. I just discovered your page today. I’ve only in the last couple weeks started experimenting with painting on old wood we have around the shop. I’m interested in learning how to make “not yet old” wood look like it’s old. Is there a process for doing this?

    Also, your ideas are very creative. I look forward to creating more art using whatever wood I can find. Thanks.

  14. Ok, I have pallets of barn wood from buildings I tore down. Using the 1 x 6 x 11′ on two walls in the Master Bedroom, 1 x 4 x 8′ on a knee wall in the Master bath, and other siding on the Western wall of the kitchen. Also a salvaged barn door as the entrance for the Master bedroom. Making a fireplace mantle with a cross beam, The rest of the siding will be used on the 3 season wellhouse as wall art. Question: is this too much reclaimed wood to be using? We are selling in Spring.

    • Hi Sten! Love your ideas, they sound fab!

      Regarding the amount of wood, it’s hard to say. I like to have sections where there is none so it doesn’t take over. As in, reclaimed wood maybe here but not against or touching other reclaimed wood to break it up abit. A feature wall is a nice addition though!

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