Wooden features like decks, fence posts and rails, and other outdoor features where I live are old and the paint is peeling off. Experts tell me it looks like latex paint to them - peeling in long strips, not glossy.

I try hard to minimize site contamination both for my health and the environment, plus I grow lots of food where I am (including with backyard livestock who sometimes eat whatever they find on the ground). For this reason, I want to clean up and repaint these features but with minimal soil contamination.

Since the wooden deck is the largest and most difficult example, I'll focus on that. It is a pressure treated deck, and I'll replace any rotting boards with something like locust wood if I can find it, but it seems like PT is the available option for outdoor woods. An added motive to avoid contamination around the deck is that it's very close to our deep water well. While that drinking water is deep and treated, since petrochemicals and additives like titanium dioxide do not safely degrade, I want to minimize how much regular maintenance contaminates soils there.

Conventional advice for repainting the deck has been to start by pressure washing, and/or scrape all the old paint off first. Everyone I've talked to has acknowledged this will leave paint chips and dust on the ground around and under the deck. I find that unsatisfactory but am slim on ideas, so I'm asking you, how can I minimize soil contamination when cleaning up old paint? Since this is pressure treated, experts have suggested not to sand, just to pressure wash all existing paint off and then stain.

My ideas so far:

  • Use a drop cloth under and around where I'm scraping, so I can funnel and dump all debris into trash to go to a controlled contaminated site (the landfill).

  • First sweep just scrape along the deck with a shop vac, sucking up whatever is loose enough to fall off without much scraping.

  • Sanding I'll try to include some kind of vacuum collection and drop cloth to catch dust.

  • Only after vacuuming and scraping-with-collection, I'll pressure wash (probably low psi, like with a jet from a garden hose) to get remnants off. This seems inevitable that it will go in the soil, and I'll have to accept dilute contamination, which for latex paints shouldn't be too bad.

1 Answer 1


Tarp/drop-cloth coverage of the ground is standard among people/contractors that don't just leave a mess. Use 2 layers if you want to go above and beyond. Be sure to go out (and under) far enough.

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