Make Your Own Outdoor Cleaner

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?”

1. Mixture using only TSP powder; 2. My own solution of TSP-Plus-style cleaner; 3. Commercial brand of outdoor cleaner. The results will be better if you can apply the cleaner to a dry surface. Of course if you live near Seattle, like I do, that might be a challenge.

From left to right: 1. Mixture using only TSP powder; 2. My own solution of TSP-Plus-style cleaner; 3. Commercial brand of outdoor cleaner. The results will be better if you can apply the cleaner to a dry surface. Of course if you live near Seattle, like I do, that might be a challenge.

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

This entry was posted in Creative Concoctions, Thrifty Yard Tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Make Your Own Outdoor Cleaner

  1. carolyn says:

    Good grief. I love reading your blogs and have picked up some great ideas. But I have to admit that the deck cleaning solution is one concoction I won’t try, even at the risk of having to forego some half-nonfat-half-two-percent-sugar-free-mochas. However, since I now live on the dry side of the state, I probably won’t need it anyway. What I do need and have found a cheap substitute for is a good window cleaner. Our water is hard, hard, hard. Solution: diluted distilled white vinegar. Works like a charm.

  2. savagesisters says:

    Thanks for the window-cleaner tip, Carolyn. Vinegar has so many uses that we’re thinking of writing a post on the subject. Stay tuned.

    Regarding the outdoor cleaner, I can attest that most of the hard work is in cleaning the deck itself, not necessarily in mixing 3 ingredients together to make a less-expensive solution. I’m glad you live where damp decks and sidewalks are not a problem. When I lived in Eastern Washington years ago, I loved being able to leave potato chips uncovered all night long and they’d still be crisp the next morning. We sure can’t do that here on the soggy side of the state. Would you believe I used to consider that reason enough to polish off the entire bag before bedtime?

    ~ by Diana for the Savage Sisters

  3. Cathleen says:

    When I was little (early 60’s!) and the house needed all the windows cleaned, my parents would arm us with a spray solution of vinegar and water, and a bunch of old newspapers.

    We’d spray the windows, and wad up the newspaper for use to clean with. Great results, and no newsprint on anything, contrary to what most would think.

    Don’t know if today’s newsprint does same – hmmm, think I’ll check it out…

  4. lishar says:

    I was looking for this information. Thank you for sharing this article here.

  5. allyn says:

    So where are you getting this TSP Plus and who makes it? I live in Tacoma and can’t find it anywhere….Lowes, Home Depot, Ace…..nobody has it. I found “Home TSP Plus” online at Home Hardware in Canada:

    but I’m not going to Canada & won’t pay the shipping.

  6. MIke says:

    Today’s newspaper ink is made with vegetable dyes, which smear. Yesterday’s daily used lead based ink, which had the added advantage of filling in the scratches of the glass, which was also made with lead, so it was a good match.

    Re: moss killer, any basic or alkaline product will kill it. Bleach is the time honored chemical, but I’ve used hottub or pool chlorine (on sale) to good advantage.making roofs moss free.

    Thank you very much for the 30 Second recipe.

  7. ErinAnn says:

    Have you tried just spraying straight white vinegar on the sidewalks?

  8. savagesisters says:

    Allyn, back when Jennifer wrote this post, TSP Plus was still available at local hardware stores. Apparently it is no longer available in this state. So now even WE have to follow our own recipe for TSP Plus substitute that Jennifer shares in the post. I hope it works for you. ~Diana, for the Savage Sisters

  9. savagesisters says:

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, alkaline and chlorine products do remove slime from sidewalks and decks, but runoff can also kill plants. So we recommend this outdoor cleaner recipe for folks who want to save their flowers and shrubbery. At least, we haven’t had any trouble with it harming our plants. We hope you have the same success.

  10. savagesisters says:

    Thanks for the question. We use straight white vinegar on weeds growing in the cracks of our sidewalks and driveways–IF there’s no chance of it dribbling down a slope to grass or flowerbeds. Vinegar is a great plant killer. Since we have flowers and shrubs lining our sidewalks and decks, we needed a solution that would scrub slime without murdering marigolds. We hope it works for you.

  11. Debbie says:

    Thanks for this info. I knew there had to be a cheaper way to come up with this product. I live near Portland, Oregon, which is almost as wet as Seattle. I have a Trex deck that requires this treatment every spring. I’m wondering if you would list the amounts of TSP, 2-butoxyethanol, and sodium metasilicate you use to make the TSP Plus.

  12. savagesisters says:

    Debbie, thanks for your question. It wasn’t until I tried to answer that I realized how confusing our directions were. (As general editor, I take responsibility for the unclear wording.) A quick call to Jennifer straightened me out, and I’ve edited the recipe. To answer your question directly, the 2-butoxyethanol is an ingredient in LA Totally Awesome Cleaner (we purchase ours at dollar stores), and sodium metasilicate is an ingredient in cleaners labeled “TSP substitute.” I hope that helps. ~Diana for the Savage Sisters

  13. Sophie says:

    Hi, I love your make-your-own idea! I’m like you, always try to do on my own if that makes sense/cents! I don’t see TSP around here in Portland either. Then I’ve just came across with an ad from Ace Hardware yesterday and the 30 sec cleaner is on sale this week. I bought 2.5 gal for $20 which makes 5 batches, $4 for a batch. Just 50 cents over your solution per batch. I think I just saved some time and gas $$$ for searching for TSP and mixing the goods! Idk if they saw your blog, but Ace is trying to compete with you!!

  14. savagesisters says:

    Great, Sophie! We’re all in favor of finding products on sale!

  15. Cathy Moldenhauer says:

    Thanks you very smart ladies!!! I will try the 30 sec imitation and love the savings! My tip for cleaning windows, (It seems too good and too cheap to be true) is one or two drops of dishwashing detergent in a quart of warm water. (like dawn)
    It is miraculous on windows, makes your squeegee slippery and much easier that anything I’ve ever tried. Got this tip from a professional window cleaner, and I’m so thankful!!!

  16. Evangelist Rachel Rodgers says:

    Rachel Rodgers; Spartanburg, South Carollina says;
    certain levels of this substance are claimed to be carcinogenic. Products that include this substance do not have to list it in their list of ingredients when it has been dilluted to a certain degree in the product.
    And I like la’s totally awesome for laundry usage. I’ll probably still use it.

  17. During a previous life when I was a painting contractor we used to get TSP powder at the paint store.
    Gord S.
    Vancouver Canada

  18. Larry says:

    I’m a little confused- the ingredients call for 1 cup (8 oz.) TSP substitute and then 1 1/2 cups (8 oz.) LA totally. How can both be 8 oz and one be a cup and the other one a cup and a half? 🙂

  19. savagesisters says:

    Good catch, Larry. It should read 12 oz. (or so) of LA Totally Awesome cleaner. We’ve made the correction.

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