Brick pavers are a strong material perfect for creating patios, garden paths, driveways and even pool surrounds. But without maintenance, brick starts to look worn and dirty, and can even become loose or uneven.
CREDIT: KRITSADA PANICHGUL
By Kristina McGuirk
Frequent sweeping is one of the best ways to keep brick pavers looking good. But pavers can get soiled with muddy shoes, windblown dirt, food spills, and standing water—and these require a bit more elbow grease. Here's how to clean brick pavers so they keep their crisp lines and natural color.
Before You Start
The cleaning methods discussed below are for unpainted, clay brick pavers only. Some cleaners and scrubbing tools may damage paint, so look for specific cleaners and directions to best care for those surfaces. Concrete brick pavers can be treated similar to clay brick pavers, but look for commercial products approved for cement and concrete. A home improvement store that sells cleaning solutions should be able to help.
Just a few supplies and bit of elbow grease can keep your patio or garden path looking new.
What You'll Need
Stiff-bristle scrub brush
Handheld sprayer or bucket and sponge
Low-power pressure washer (optional)
Additional mortar or sand for joints (optional)
How to Clean Brick Pavers
Step 1: Check the Weather
When using a solution to tackle paver grime, the Brick Industry Association (BIA) recommends cleaning when the temperature is above 50 degrees and will stay above freezing for a week. Avoid cleaning in high temperatures so that water and cleaning solutions don't dry too quickly. Cleaning solutions that dry on brick often result in residue that you'll have to scrub away again.
Step 2: Clear the Area and Make Repairs
Relocate planters, furniture, and other items on or obstructing access to pavers. Remove moss growth and pull out weeds and other plants sprouting between pavers. Be cautious not to loosen pavers when uprooting big weeds or damage the bricks or joints with sharp weeding tools. Your goal is to fully expose the brick for an even clean, which may mean trimming back encroaching overgrowth from landscaping. Consider covering nearby landscaping to protect it from overspray and cleaning solutions.
If there are damaged bricks, uneven pavers, or mortar that's worn away, now is the good time to make those fixes, too. For brick installations that use sand in the joints, do not replace sand until you're done cleaning. Finally, sweep away large debris like rocks, twigs, or chunks of dirt.
Step 3: Pick a Cleaning Solution (or Two)
The BIA recommends checking with brick manufacturers for maintenance advice, since cleaning methods vary based on the specific material, installation, and what needs to be cleaned from the paver. However, if that information is not available, the BIA has a basic guide for brick types and cleaning methods. It also discusses how to tackle specific stains.
Start by identifying cleaning solutions based on what you're trying to do, whether that's getting an overall clean or spot-treating a specific stain (or both). Water and mild dish soap is a popular cleaning solution because it's easy to find at home and it won't damage brick, but it will tackle stains. The BIA recommends using hot water for surface cleaning with a detergent.
White vinegar and water, another common household cleaner, can also be used on mildew. For brick pavers that get a greenish or blackish hue from moss and lichen, damp shady environments, or water run-off, the BIA recommends bleach and water (mixed with a one-to-one ratio) or commercially available biocide treatments.
There are also a number of commercial cleaners available at home improvement retailers. Products should indicate if they work for brick or masonry, but you can also look for stain-specific cleaners too. Simple Green is a popular brick-friendly cleaning product that can tackle oil, grease, or rust that builds up on locations like driveways.
Avoid harsh, acidic cleaners if you don't need them—the BIA notes these cleaning solutions "may not be appropriate for pavements containing joint sand stabilizers or polymeric sand-filled joints." If you're not sure what you're trying to remove from the brick's surface, start with the least harsh cleaner first, like detergent and water. Then work up to more powerful solutions.
Choose an inconspicuous spot, like under a chair or table, to test the cleaning solution before going forward with all the pavers. Follow the steps below to clean the area, and give the spot time to dry, too, in order to make sure nothing looks funny or discolored later.
Step 4: Wet the Brick Pavers
Before you apply most cleaners to brick, coat the area with water. "Saturating the surface prior to cleaning reduces the masonry's absorption rate, permitting the cleaning solution to stay on the surface of the brickwork rather than being absorbed," says Charles B. Clark, Jr., vice president of engineering services for the Brick Industry Association. Stopping absorption not only allows the cleaner to stay on the surface to break down grime, but it also prevents cleaning solution residue from settling into the brick.
Step 5: Apply Cleaning Solution and Scrub
Put on gloves to protect your hands, especially when working with a short-handled brush. The BIA recommends working in small, manageable sections to avoid letting the water primer or cleaning solution dry. Apply the cleaning solution as directed on packaging, or with a sponge and bucket, handheld sprayer, or watering can designated for cleaning solution, depending on the size of the area.
Most solutions need to sit on brick for a few minutes so the cleaner can loosen dirt and hard residue like stuck-on food particles. However, follow directions for commercial products, and consider giving something like a vinegar solution a little time to work on particularly dense mildew or mold. Then scrub the surface with a stiff-bristle brush to dislodge and remove the grime, being careful not to brush away sand intended to remain between pavers. Do not use steel brushes because they can scratch the brick.
You can use a pressure washer for cleaning and rinsing newer brick pavers, but it is not recommended for older bricks or damaged mortar. "In general, using a low pressurized water cleaning device is appropriate," says Clark. "Low pressure is categorized by less than 400 psi." When pressure washing, the BIA recommends a wider degree nozzle (15 or 40 degrees) and maintaining a minimum distance of 12 inches between the nozzle and the brick. Do not spray directly into the joints between the pavers because it can dislodge sand and mortar that keeps the pavers in place.
Cleaning mildew or lichen might take a few attempts; don't get discouraged if you have to go through the process more than once to revive especially dingy pavers.
Step 6: Rinse Surface
After cleaning brick pavers, rinse the surface with a regular hose. You can use a low-pressure power washer if you want extra cleaning power for stuck-on gunk, but be sure not to aim it between pavers. Don't let water linger after rinsing. Sweep water off the pavers in places where water gathers, especially if it's a spot previously suffering from mildew buildup.
Step 7: Refill Joints with Sand (Optional)
If there's sand (not mortar) between the brick pavers, you'll likely need to add more after pressure washing. You might even need to touch up the sand if you pulled out weeds before cleaning, or if it's simply been a while since the pavers were installed.
Once the pavers have dried (give it a day or two), refill the spaces between bricks with sand. Brush the sand into the joints and sweep away excess on the surface. Hose down the area to settle the new sand between the pavers.
Kristina McGuirk is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and editor who covers kitchens, bathrooms, home improvement, decorating, and more for BHG.com.