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.
Before and after
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?
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.
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:
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.
How to pressure wash reclaimed wood
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!
- Spread planks all over the lawn, well-spaced
- Pressure wash one side
- Click the planks over with your foot, and pressure wash the other side
.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
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.
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.
Learn how I created lumber storage underneath my work table HERE
Sand dry wood to further prep
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.
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
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
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 easily with no fancy tools!
Visit many unique reclaimed wood projects to make HERE