Use Elbow Grease To Remove Bird Droppings From Deck

Q: Last year, I didn't mind the arrival of a blue jay family in my back yard. However, this year they frequented a different tree - one that hangs over my back deck, which is now covered with their mess. How do I remove the droppings from a redwood deck? A friend suggested oxalic acid and TSP, but in what proportions? Do they pose hazards? Can the leftovers be stored with other cleaning supplies, or are they hazardous in combination with anything else (in the way chlorine and ammonia are)? What would you recommend?

A: Mr. HandyPerson's rules of engagement for such problems are simple. Always start with the least harmful, toxic or dangerous solution, then move cautiously to stronger remedies as needed. Have you tried plain water and a stiff scrub brush? This has generally worked well for me and my neighborhood pigeons.

If there is still some visible residue after this, try a little mild liquid dish soap and water, with the brush, rinsing afterward with clear water. If there is still a serious discoloration, you could try any of a number of different brands of deck washing solutions, available at hardware and building supply stores. Go with one that is biodegradable and that is the least harmful to surrounding vegetation.

TSP (trisodium phosphate) is a very harsh chemical and must be used with precautions such as gloves and goggles. And oxalic acid is, well, acid! Using these kinds of solutions for bird droppings is like using a bulldozer to plant tulip bulbs. More than likely, you don't want stuff like that dribbling off your deck into the shrubbery.

Q: The paint on our deck is peeling. This has happened in the past. We rub off the peelings and repaint. The whole surface is now quite irregular. What should we do now?

1) Should we remove all the paint? With a chemical peel? Which one? With a scraper? Which one?

2) Should we repaint? Is there a special brand of paint that isn't subject to peeling?

3) Should we strip off all the paint down to the wood and varnish? Won't the wood be splotchy?

A: You sure ask a lot of questions, but I feel you have a good heart, nonetheless, and your priorities in order.

The answers to your questions are:

1) Yes, no, never mind, yes, and a good, high-quality paint scraper with replaceable blades available at paint and hardware stores.

2) Yes, yes.

3) No, yes.

Now that we're all thoroughly confused and out of breath, here's a translation: You need to remove as much as possible of the old paint by using a paint scraper and sanding. If this is a small job, you can do this by hand. If it's a bigger job, you might want to purchase or rent a power sander to speed the process.

Then, you need to apply a quality exterior primer to the entire surface, and when that has dried according to directions, you can paint the deck with a durable, high-quality exterior porch and deck paint. Talk to your paint dealer about the highest-quality, water-based primers and exterior paints, since they are easier and safer to work with than oil-based primers and paints.

Trying to save a few bucks by purchasing cheaper brands will backfire on you by forcing you to go through this whole process again years sooner than would otherwise be necessary.

Tip of the week

Fern in Oakland, Calif., writes: "So far (fingers crossed), the persistent doves that were determined to nest in my rafters have been deterred by small aluminum pie tins from the grocery store, attached by strings and hung on small nails hammered in the rafters. The combination of the noise of the tins clanking together in the wind and the way the aluminum catches the light seems to freak them out. It's been successful so far. Your column is good and much needed."

Thanks, Fern, for your kind remarks. I expect that this tip may not be to everyone's taste, but it sounds kind of festive. Hope it continues to work for you.

Mark Hetts' home repair column runs as space allows in the Home/Real Estate section. Send questions and comments to: Mr. HandyPerson, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.