It never ceases to amaze me how quickly algae, moss, and mildew grow on my deck and sidewalk here in the Pacific Northwest. And as if the ugly appearance weren’t bad enough, the brownish-green slime becomes slippery with every rain shower, as my backside — and pride — can attest!
So when I saw ads for a product that claimed to clean decks, sidewalks, house siding, lawn furniture, and other outdoor items in just 30 seconds, I thought I’d found the answer. It was even on sale for $10.99 a gallon (plus tax). I purchased several gallons.
Although it effectively cleaned the deck, I ran out of cleaner before I ran out of sidewalk. Faced with the decision to return to the store and clean out my wallet too, I muttered, “Good grief. This could easily end up costing me six months’ worth of lattes.”
I was frustrated and exhausted, and I couldn’t even treat my fatigue with a double-super-skinny-real-caramel-sauce latte because I didn’t have enough money for that and more cleaner too. But the half-cleaned sidewalk bugged me, so I decided to justify a second trip to town by letting my almost-16-year-old daughter practice driving.
When I climbed into the car, she wrinkled her nose. “Mom, you smell like Auntie’s swimming pool!” (No, not Diana’s pool; another auntie’s pool. The only thing Diana has this month that resembles a pool is her flooded crawlspace, but that’s another story).
My daughter continued to sniff in my direction. “You are so not going to town like that. What if one of my friends smells you?”
Call me vain, but going to a public place while emitting the odor of an over-chlorinated swimming pool is not my idea of having a good time.
What’s a Savage Sister to do? Why, make her own outdoor cleaner, of course! My nose already told me that the commercial brand contained bleach (eau-de-chlorine), so I wasn’t surprised when I read the ingredients list: sodium hypochlorite (plain old Clorox), TSP (trisodium phosphate), and “inert ingredients” (water).
I began to experiment with different concentrations, and eventually my persistence paid off. Soon, over the hiss of milk frothing for a much-needed latte, I could hear the ka-ching of future savings.
The Savage Sisters’ Outdoor Cleaner
1 gallon warm water
1-1/2 cups (12 oz.) TSP Plus* liquid or similar concentrated de-glosser/degreaser
8 cups (2 quarts) liquid bleach
1 plastic bucket (I use a 5-gallon bucket)
(TSP Plus* no longer seems to be sold in our area, so here’s our own substitute concoction:
1/4 cup powdered regular TSP
1 cup (8 oz.) TSP substitute (look for phosphate-free liquid cleaners with “TSP Substitute” on the label)
1-1/2 cups (12 oz.)–or so–of L.A. Totally Awesome Cleaner®
This recipe for the substitute concoction equals 2-3/4 cups liquid but is about the equivalent strength of 1-1/2 cups of commercial TSP Plus.)
Mix warm water and TSP Plus (or your own “TSP Plus” mixture) together. Add bleach and stir.
Spray or sponge onto the soiled area. If necessary, scrub heavily soiled surfaces. Extra-tough jobs may require repeat applications. Thoroughly rinse the surface with water.
Tip: I save empty fabric-softener and liquid-laundry-soap containers (the kind with the no-spill spout) for storing the cleaner. The opaque plastic helps keep sunlight from breaking down the cleaner while the spout keeps spills and drips to a minimum. Empty bleach bottles work too. Remember to use a permanent marker to label the contents and indicate the concentration (if applicable).
A note about the photo: During a few short hours in January when the deck wasn’t soaked from record-breaking rains or covered with snow or wind-blown tree branches, I cleaned 3 decking boards so you could see the difference in products. My attempt would have worked better if the wood had been totally dry before application, but finding a dry day in January around here is about as likely as my switching to decaf lattes.
The center bottle in the photo is TSP substitute (sodium metasilicate) which I used to mix up my own concoction to approximate TSP Plus. When I was ready to do the demonstration, I discovered I was out of TSP Plus and so were the two hardware stores nearby, so I did the Savage-Sister thing and mixed up my own.
Cost breakdown: As of this writing, TSP Plus costs around $8.00 per container in our area, which is enough to make 2-1/2 batches of the Savage Sisters’ Outdoor Cleaner. Add in the price of household bleach, and the cost to make each one-and-a-half-gallon batch of cleaner is about $3.50. Since I was out of TSP Plus and had to mix up an emergency substitute, the cost ended up being around $2.90 for the batch. That version was a bit cheaper but didn’t work quite as well because it was missing 2-butoxyethanol, one of the ingredients in TSP Plus.
No matter what the climate is where you live, we hope this cleaner will save you enough money to enjoy a cup of coffee any time you want.
The Savage Sisters take a dim view of carelessness around chemicals and encourage you to exercise caution when concocting and using your cleaner. Remember to also wear gloves, safety glasses, and coveralls, and always be sure the area you’re working in is well-ventilated.
Be sure to test outdoor fabrics for color fastness before using the cleaner on them. TSP may discolor certain metals and wood (such as chrome and unsealed mahogany) and may etch the glazing on ceramic tile as well as cause grout to disintegrate.
Avoid getting cleaner on nearby plants, grass, children, or pets. Any foliage at risk of overspray should be soaked with plain water prior to the application of TSP and rinsed down afterward.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding any other precautions we haven’t already mentioned. (Many products shouldn’t be mixed with bleach.) Be aware of any local or state ordinances in your area regulating the use of TSP.
And finally, be sure to read our Legal Babble page.
* The active ingredients in TSP Plus are TSP, 2-butoxyethanol (found in cleaners such as LA’s Totally Awesome Cleaner® and certain oven cleaners), and sodium metasilicate (found in cleaners such as phosphate-free TSP substitutes).
Written by Fiercely Frugal Savage Sister Jennifer
© 2009 The Savage Sisters