Cleaning Untreated Aluminum Steps

Aluminum is a light, but strong material that is common for outdoor applications because it is weather-resistant. It is weather-resistant in the sense that it doesn’t rust, but it does form a natural layer of oxide through the process called “oxidation”. Oxidation is a confusing process because it is a form of corrosion, but, unlike corrosion that occurs on other metals, it does not weaken the aluminum – it actually strengthens the material. Oxidation creates a protective barrier against water and rust, but it can make the aluminum less attractive overtime. If you know how to properly clean aluminum stairs, it will decrease the chances of severe oxidation.

Step 1: The first step is to make sure that all debris including mud, dust, and leaves are all cleared off the steps. To do this, you must start at the top landing of the steps with a stiff-bristled broom, and sweep all the debris over the side of the platform or down the steps one by one; the stringers that run along both edges of the steps may make it difficult to push the debris over the sides. The stiff-bristled broom is recommended to clean out the grooves of the step treads, but don’t try to scrub the treads with the broom as it might scratch the aluminum.

Step 2: After sweeping the debris off of the aluminum stairs, rinse it with water and mild detergent such as dish soap. Use a generous amount of dish soap over the length of the staircase, and put a concentrated amount on tough spots. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Next, hose off or lightly pressure wash the steps to remove the soap and dirt. It is suggested to use filtered water if possible because unfiltered water may contain sulfur, chlorine, fluoride, and other minerals that could damage the aluminum over time. Make sure that all dish soap is washed off before the steps are used because the soap and water makes the aluminum slippery.

Step 3: If there is still dirt on the stairs, use a towel and dish soap to scrub the area. Do not use steel wool or scour pads because these materials can scratch the aluminum and give it a dull appearance. Do not use harsh cleaners like baking soda or alkali-based cleaners as these can cause discoloration. If you want to try a new type of cleaner, test an area on the underside of the staircase to see if it discolors the aluminum.

Step 4: If the aluminum has already oxidized, try spot-treating the oxidized areas with an aluminum cleaner like Aluma Kleen or Aluma Bright.

Cleaning Powder-Coated Aluminum Steps

The process to clean aluminum stairs that are powder-coated is similar, but the powder-coating is a little more delicate than the aluminum. If the aluminum steps are powder-coated, there is less chance of oxidation because the powder-coating provides an extra layer of defense. However, if the coating is scratched, oxidation spots can still form.

Aluminum switchback ramp with powder coating

Step 1: Brush off the steps, moving from top to bottom, with a stiff-bristled broom. Do not try to scrub the steps with the broom as it might scratch the aluminum.

Step 2: The most efficient way to clean outdoor aluminum steps with a powder-coated finish is with a pressure washer using filtered water on low pressure. Use a mild detergent such as dish soap, and DO NOT use chlorine or harsh cleaning solutions. High water pressure and harsh cleaning products can damage the powder-coated finish. The commercial cleaning solutions will clean the surface, but they also remove micro layers of finish. The layer might later become hard and crack while losing its protective barrier.

Step 3: As stated above, use a soft brush or cloth to clean the surface; do not use anything that has hard bristles or a scratchy pad.

Step 4: To keep powder-coated steps looking nice, try a high-grade, non-abrasive car wax that contains U.V. blocker and/or U.V. inhibitors. Be sure to wipe off residual wax because it could bake in the heat and cause permanent staining. It is recommended, as with any other product applied to the staircase, make a test area on the underside of the steps. 

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