Spring cleaning: What boat dock owners should know

Spring cleaning: What boat dock owners should know

As spring approaches, the itch to get out on the open water becomes harder and harder to resist. Before the boats return to the lakes and rivers, though, docks and other structures that those boats rely on must first be cleaned and repaired.

Like any other structure that is situated near a body of water, boat docks pick up dirt, grime and all sorts of slime that can eat away at the dock’s expected lifespan. This is more true if the dock or part of the structure has been left in the water over winter. Even docks that have been stored away until boating and recreation activity friendly weather returns are not spared from becoming dirited and sometimes falling out of repair.

But there is no better time than spring to get a little cleaning done around your waterfront property. Here is what probably should be checked and cleaned during boat dock spring cleaning before it’s put back into the water or ready to secure your boat for another fun season out on the water.

Clean off algae and any slimy material

Boat docks that stay in the water over winter tend to accumulate all sorts of unwanted slippery substances that should be removed come spring. This includes algae and other slime that can make docks treacherous for people who walk on them.

That’s a possible liability for the property or dock owner, so it is best not to leave any slippery areas of the dock space uncleaned once peak use season hits.

And, as we mentioned above, even docks that have been placed in storage can come out on the other side of winter with their own share of dirt and dust. To keep the dock lasting longer, it’s best to clean all this off, too.

Dock material determines how to clean

How best to clean your boat dock this spring will primarily depend on its decking material.

For example, a floating dock that has decking made out of unpainted, untreated, natural wood needs to be cleaned differently than a dock with decking that is made out of pressure treated wood.

Natural wood can be cleaned using a pressure washer to simply spray off unwanted, slippery grime with water. You might notice this is a popular cleaning method among larger commercial dock operators who have large areas of decking to clean. This process does require some additional care, though, so as not to damage the wood by exposing it to pressure that is too intense.

If you do not have access to a pressure washer, or don’t want to risk damaging the wood on your dock, then you can also make a safe mixture of hot water, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Use this mixture to scrub the decking with the help of a brush.

Pressure treated wood does not have as many cleaning options. The mixture above, as well as other oxidizing agents, could react poorly with the pressure treated wood areas and cause toxic chemicals to be released into the water. These chemicals could be harmful to both people and aquatic life. For these reasons, it’s best to use only water to pressure wash or scrub with a brush when cleaning off pressure treated wood.

How to correctly use a pressure washer

Before you head out with the pressure washer to clean your dock, you should know how to correctly use the equipment to avoid causing damage. It’s easy to cause damage to docks using a pressure washer, too, as they are very powerful. For pine and cedar wood, don’t use a pressure more than 600 PSI.

One tip for making pressure washers safer for use when working with wood docks is to add a fan tip nozzle that decreases the force of the water gushing out. It’s also best to keep the tip of the nozzle at least one foot away from the surface of the decking to avoid causing damage.

Be careful what cleaning products you use

However, not every method and substance you might think about using to clean off your boat dock is actually safe for the environment. Dock owners should be careful to properly research what soaps and other cleaning products can be used in lakes.

The Environmental Protection Agency has lists of Safer Choice cleaning products that indicate whether a product is environmentally safe to use. You can even sort the lists to show only products that are safe for outdoor use, since some products made specifically for indoor use may not be appropriate for your dock.

Don’t forget to check with local agencies and regulators for other cleaning or chemical restrictions, as these can often be more strict than federal rules.

Stain, finish and repair wood out of the water

If your dock needs any stain or finish updates, or perhaps some repairs, then it’s best to do that either while the boat is in storage or in late fall and winter when water levels are lower.

Some stains and finish chemicals may be harmful to the environment, so that’s why you don’t want the dock to come into contact with the water. In fact, some municipalities may outright ban certain types of stains and finishes, so be sure to check local regulations. Better yet, find products that are specifically meant for docks.

For those who do stain their docks, though, it’s recommended to go through this process annually because it helps protect the wood and extend the life of the boat dock.

Cleaning and maintaining aluminum docks

So far, we’ve only truly covered wood docks. For other dock materials, such as aluminum, there are other best practices for cleaning as spring settles in. Owners of aluminum docks may brag a little about how low maintenance and long-lasting they tend to be when compared to docks made out of other materials.

But they still need periodic cleaning.

A mixture of baking soda and hot water can be used to scrub away dirt and slime on aluminum docks, as can many of the Safer Choice products that are found on the EPA website. Make sure the product is meant for cleaning aluminum, of course.

Learn more about dock care

If you would like more tips on how to care for your floating or stationary boat docks, then head on over to our blog. There, you can find pointers for everything from maintenance, installation and custom projects.

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