Cleaning Cedar Homes, Part II

Cleaning Cedar Homes, Part II

By Terri Perrin with contributors Beth Borrego, Vice President, and Rod Rodriguez, President, of See Dirt Run! Inc. / Published September 2022

Photos courtesy of See Dirt Run! Inc.

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a two-part series. To read Part I, read the August issue, or visit www.cleanertimes.com.



     Soffit vents and gable vents—These present potential points of water intrusion into the attic, which can lead to mold or rot damage later on. Use a brush to address these areas and a soft rinse to minimize the chance of water entry.

     Stripping—A variety of tools are needed to effectively perform this level of the project.

     Hot versus cold water—A hot water pressure washer is preferable to a cold-water unit, not because you will be washing with hot water but because warm water is preferable for properly mixing chemicals. Use the warmer outdoor temperatures to your advantage. Be aware that there are a variety of chemicals suited to stripping failing finishes from wood. The removal method depends on the type of finish.

Be aware:

     Pressure of 1500 psi or less is sufficient to aid in the removal of the softened coating.

     Water from wells and deep city water lines can be too cold for chemical effectiveness. Warmer water helps increase the “solvency” of the solution and speeds up the process.

     During washing, hold the nozzle at about six inches from the wood surface to minimize “furring” (very small, raised wood grain fibers or “hairs”) or splintering.

     Keep the wand moving and don’t make sudden back and forth passes since this causes “stop and start” marks that will scar the wood and have to be repaired by sanding.

     If there is uneven application or overlapping coats of the finish, reapplying the stripper and allowing additional dwell time may be necessary.

     Agitating the remaining coating with a brush can be helpful before washing again and can aid in breaking through multiple coats of finish.

Basic Equipment and Supplies

  • hot-water pressure washer
  • extension lances and proper tips
  • X-jet or M-5 jet downstream injector
  • ladders and stand-offs
  • fall arrest harness and anchor system
  • chemical sprayer
  • buckets and stir sticks
  • pump-up sprayers
  • soft-bristled truck-washing brushes
  • telescopic poles
  • tarps, plastic, clamps, blue tape
  • lift rental (for certain houses)
  • personal protective equipment (PPE), including chemical respirators, waterproof (PVC) jackets and pants, safety goggles, and protective footwear.

     Chemicals: Some of the commonly used chemicals for removing finishes are sodium hydroxide-based. They are used with success on certain oil-based products. Products with an ethylene glycol formulation help with acrylic-based coatings. Some are available as an additive to boost other formulations.

     Warning! Check with the manufacturer before combining any chemicals that are not specifically labeled for mixing. It is always better to buy a product already formulated to do the job. Mixing chemicals is not suggested and may create an unintended liability. For instance, with mixed chemicals, you will not have a specific safety data sheet (SDS) available if needed.

     With the advent of hybrid, water-borne, and acrylic sealers, new ways to clean or remove them must be utilized. In the past, typically the use of sodium hydroxide- or potassium hydroxide-based strippers was enough. Now, additional ingredients which are not yet part of most products on the market today are required.

     Additives such as ethylene glycol or relative derivatives have been introduced, which in addition to the previously mentioned strippers are now part of the arsenal for removing these water-based sealers and coatings. What is the drawback to this new way of removing these products? It now affects a wide range of other products installed on homes, like paint. The need to touch up or repaint these items that cannot be removed beforehand (window trim, for example) has become a consideration in the overall quote as well.

     Given that the range of reactivity has expanded with the additional ingredients needed to accomplish the removal process, the concentration of the neutralizer required has increased as well.

     Caustic products should always be neutralized with oxalic or citric acid or a blend thereof. There are many alcohol-based and non-caustic gel-based products designed to remove acrylic coatings and paints. The latter are not inexpensive, but they are very effective and environmentally friendly options.

How To Bill

     Consider all your costs in every quote—not just your time and equipment needs. This includes travel time to and from the site, setup time, administrative and recurring expenses, loans, leases, insurances (vehicle, liability, workers’ comp, equipment, etc.), communications/internet, and budgets. Each job also requires equipment (some rented), supplies, tools, and fuel consumption rates. Labor hours are a product of production values that one has to determine according to past projects and timekeeping in order to gain an understanding of this calculation. For example, washing takes one worker (how many) hours X square feet. Yes, this is complicated, but in the end, it will help keep you profitable and able to meet your financial responsibilities.

     Your price is going to be a direct reflection of what you have to pay to all your vendors and suppliers as well. Keep a spreadsheet to calculate this to make the quoting process easier and faster. It takes out the guesswork and delivers a line item quote you can then present to your customer and talk intelligently about it, which lets them know you are on top of your business, and they’ll know you aren’t just pulling a number out of the air.

     Regional differences greatly affect pricing, so there is no single tried-and-true formula to determine what you should charge. We do know, for example, that the price you charge to do a deck would be too low to charge for cleaning the exterior of an entire cedar home. The notes you take when assessing the project (see Typical Job, mentioned in the August 2022 issue) should be considered when developing a price that adheres to your company’s balance sheet. And an on-site quote/estimate, rather than over the phone or “sight unseen,” is always recommended.

     Billing is straightforward in many cases, but be aware that some states may have regulations on how you can bill and how often. One example is in three stages:

  • 1st: 1/3 is the deposit to help cover the initial expenses of your quoting time, rentals, and any supplies you need up front to get the project started.
  • 2nd: 1/3 is for payroll to help keep you on track for that in the event the project rolls past a pay cycle.
  • 3rd: 1/3 is the remaining monies and final payment: The balance is inclusive of any remaining monies due plus any add-ons (unless payment arrangements have been made separately from the quote).


     Trim painting is a natural add-on when working on the siding, especially if the paint is in poor condition.

     Decks and screened-in porches are often good add-ons when working on a cedar house simply because they are attached to the dwelling.

     Wood deck furniture is another easy ancillary project and is easily cleaned and sealed for a renewed appearance.

     Fences? Outbuildings? Gazebos? These are huge add-ons that often come after the initial project wash or stripping has been concluded. The results you achieve are going to play a huge part in your customers’ confidence in you, and their budget of what they had as just for the one becomes, “Oh, hey! Can you also clean this…”

Problems To Avoid

     The cleaners or strippers used when working on cedar siding may impact the deck or porch, so it’s important to let the owner know this ahead of time if these areas are not part of the initial quote/project.

     Cedar should never be blasted using a dry media because it yields an undesirable result with uneven grain, similar to that of washing cedar with high pressure.

How To Fix Mistakes

     Fuzzies are patches with a short hair-like substance that is attached to the siding and does not rinse away. A consequence of the chemical process of stripping, these are rough-looking patches where the adhesive bond between the finish and the wood has been broken. There is a similar result obtained with deck stripping.

     Fuzzies have the look of peach skin or crushed velvet, including short and long strands. The strands are easily removed with 3M pads or Osborn brushes attached to a variable speed buffing tool, such as those made by DeWalt or Makita. Although it is possible to seal directly over the strands, it is not recommended as it will yield a less-than-professional result. 

     Beth Borrego, VP, See Dirt Run!, Inc., has been a contributing freelance author for several publications, including Cleaner Times. She was active in the PWNA for many years and served two years on its board of directors; conducted seminars at conventions; has been an instructor for the Wood Restoration class, co-teaching with Rod; and has spoken at several round table events. Beth has also been a guest speaker several times for CETA. Realizing her vision for education in our industry, she launched The Grime Scene, an online BBS Forum for cleaning contractors.

     Rod Rodriguez, President, See Dirt Run!, Inc. Rod started the company in 1999, combining a desire to own a business with the entry into an industry that would enable him to express his meticulous nature. Rodriguez has established high standards of excellence for his company. Having a desire to give back, Rod has also been an instructor for PWNA  in their Wood Restoration classes. He personally trains all employees and manages all large projects. A skilled carpenter, Rodriguez makes beautiful custom cabinetry. He enjoys playing the guitar rambunctiously in his spare time.

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