Garden Blog - Blog Post

Scrubbing Up


I’ve spent the last several weekends down on my hands and knees scrubbing. Scrubbing like a washer woman with an apron, a hand brush, kneeling mats and a bucket of cleaner; real good-old traditional scrubbing.

You see, gardening is taking a bit of a back seat while I wage chemical warfare on the patio. Each time we look out of the back windows, the eye wanders over the blotchy dirty expanse of murk that are the patio flag stones stretching right along the back of the house. If you look closely, you can see that the patio stones are meant to be a variety of textures and colours but years of neglect have seen them darken with black spots, lichens, dirt and gunk to the point where the whole lot is a complete eye-sore.

So it was with a big sigh that I finally got sick of looking at that skanky patio and the glare of my glare of attention (akin to the Eye of Sauron) shifted and focussed on dealing with this problem.

The glare of my attention, don’t step into its path

The first port of call to clean the patio was to reach for the pressure washer, which turned out to be about as effective as sneezing at it. The dirt was so ingrained that even after ten minutes of pressure washing (and a whole lot of water), there was no discernible difference between the square that got the treatment, and the one next to it, which didn’t.

Pressure Washing the Patio

The square in the middle has been pressure-washed. Honestly

With the idea of pressure washing as successful as a lead balloon I had to get serious and armed myself with tea, an internet browser and a credit card. I began looking for patio cleaning products online. I immediately avoided the ones where you simply “spray and walk away”, where, “walk away” means, “sell the house, move out and make it someone else’s problem”; life just isn’t that easy and I am very skeptical. I eventually settled on a commercial acid cleaner from a rather inconspicuous label and after some prompting, also ordered the hand brush. A bit more reading around the problem of black spots and people generally agree that domestic household bleach will help greatly, if left on for long enough – which is fine by me – it doesn’t require any more work to simply “leave” it on the patio to do its thing and let the rain wash it away some time after.

A few days later and I was on the offensive. I was sensible in wearing plastic gloves but immediately ignored the instructions as expected. I made up a stronger solution of the cleaner than suggested and carefully poured a slop onto a square stone tile. It immediately fizzed with a most satisfying fizzy-fizz-fizzing sound, I spread this cleaner about the square with the brush and it fizzed some more. It definitely sounded like it was doing some work. I left it on for a bit, then went back a while later to pour a little more of the cleaner on and give it another scrub (lather, rinse, repeat). When all activity looked as though it had calmed down, I washed the stone with water to reveal that it was a warm honey-coloured square – quelle surprise! 

It hadn’t gotten rid of the black spots though, so out came the bleach, a dollop (it was thick bleach) of this and a scrub again around the square and I left it for the rain to wash away whenever. The effect of the bleach over the next few days was like turning up the brightness on this square of stone to the point where it gleamed in the sun.

Before and After Scrubbing

The obligatory “before” and “after” picture.

Job done for this square, just another three hundred or so left to go.

Fast forward some weeks later and I am still mid-way through dissolving the grime from the patio and removing the black spots with the bleach. It’s hard work, it’s a lot of scrubbing but the results are worth it.

Patio Scrubbing Progress

Patio Scrubbing very much in Progress

Once this delightful little job is done, I can then look to arranging the patio pot plants for the summer and setting up the irrigation system, one so fiendishly complex it makes the Levadas of Madeira look amateur.

I’m aware that I’ll need to occasionally re-stock on my scrubbing supplies as acid cleaner can be harsh on brushes:

Dissolved Brush Head

Thank goodness for gloves.

Until then, it’s back down on my hands and knees to continue with the scrubbing, while I make a mental note to get more brushes.

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Sunil Patel

I'm Sunil Patel, this is me. I created the Garden at 13 Broom Acres and I open it to visitors. I also bake and write blog posts giving a "behind the scenes" look into what it's like to maintain such a garden.

Visit the blog, then come and visit the garden. We can have a good sit-down, a jolly chinwag and a relaxing cup of tea with a sinfully generous slice of home made cake.

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lynngator 31/03/2015 - 12:16 am

Yikes, that is a lot of work but you will love looking out on that spic ‘n span patio all summer. Be sure to post a photo when all your pots are blooming and your hands have recovered. Sometimes the dirtiest jobs are the toughest, but the ones that bring the most satisfaction.

Sunil 03/04/2015 - 4:53 pm

Hello Lynn, yes, it’s quite a job but once it’s done, I can have the fun of setting the patio pots out for the summer. There’s definitely a great deal of satisfaction with seeing the grime scrubbed away, leaving the light stone underneath, it should look very bright in summer sun.

Alain 31/03/2015 - 2:31 am

It is a lot of work but it well worth it. That patio is already looking very good.

Sunil 03/04/2015 - 4:54 pm

Hello Alain, thanks, unfortunately, the worst part is that I need to keep on top of the patio cleaning every one or two years so it doesn’t revert back to looking nasty again, but the subsequent times shouldn’t be even half as difficult as this initial clean.

casa mariposa 31/03/2015 - 4:24 am

What a difference! It looks wonderful! Excellent reward for all that hard work. 🙂

Sunil 03/04/2015 - 4:55 pm

Hello Tammy, thanks, though sometimes I wonder if I should have just done a “green patio” and turfed the lot over – right over the top of the original stones, it would look very very strange though.

gardeninacity 31/03/2015 - 10:17 pm

Wow! Very impressive! I’m surprised the pressure hose was so ineffective.I’ll be careful not to step into your glare unless I destroy the Rings of Power first.

Sunil 03/04/2015 - 5:00 pm

Hello Jason, I was also very surprised that the pressure wash really didn’t touch it. While it got the superficial top layers of dirt off, it left all the black spots and in-grained lichens, it was also very blotchy and inconsistent – a bit of a fail. Many things have given way to my attention: overgrown, unwanted shrubs, weed-choked borders, the old pear tree, rampant rhododendrons, the ivy that covered the house and patio walls – it’s a formidable power.

susan maclean 01/04/2015 - 7:27 am

Hi Sunil….. wondered where you’d got to!!! Impressive job (although Mrs lazy would have left it and got on with other stuff, I do admire your tenacity). and you’ll feel so good when the last one is done. Here’s to Summer!

Sunil 03/04/2015 - 5:07 pm

Hello Mrs Mac, sorry – I was on my hands and knees sorting out the patio. I can’t wait to get it all done so I can start setting out the patio pot plants for the summer and actually enjoy it as opposed to slogging away at it. Ho hum.

Jean 03/04/2015 - 2:08 am

A lot of work, but the results are impressive!

Sunil 03/04/2015 - 5:08 pm

Hello Jean, indeed it is and I can’t wait to finish, I think I’m about two-thirds done now. I’m very aware of all the other jobs that are starting to back up because this cleaning is taking so long. Oh well, they’ll all just have to form an orderly queue.

Amanda 25/04/2015 - 10:39 pm

Hello Sunil, I have just found your blog whilst searching for Gertrude Jekyll roses and am hooked! I wanted to say that bleach will dissolve natural bristles, so go for man made brushes, and have you thought of sealing the paving once clean, just in case you didn’t want to re-scrub too soon? With thanks

Sunil 26/04/2015 - 6:27 pm

Hello Amanda, I love these roses, we have three now! Their scent is out of this world, I’ve not smelled better in any other rose. I did wonder about sealing the paving, but it’s a bit late now as all the paraphernalia is back on the patio. I’ll probably give it an end-of-year sub (though not so intensively) and seal it then.


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