Is your garage door looking a little worse for the wear? Wind, rain, or shine — your garage door endures exposure to the raw elements on a daily basis. Over time, buildup of dirt and grime can start to take its toll on your garage door’s finish and detract from your home’s curb appeal. However, a garage door can last upward of 20 years if you take great care of it.
Put an hour or two into cleaning and maintaining your garage door a few times a year, and you’ll expand its lifespan and keep it in good working order for all 1,500 times it will open and close annually. Follow this simple 5-step plan on how to clean your garage door properly to keep it running like a charm for eons to come.
First: Know your garage door material and warranty info
Is your garage door made of wood, steel, aluminum, wood composite, vinyl, or fiberglass? You’ll need to find out before you start cleaning it. If the previous owners of your home purchased your door or you’ve forgotten which kind you bought, look for a sticker on the top panel of your garage door. That sticker should have a model number for the door, which you can then quickly type into Google to find out what type of garage door you’re working with. Once you’ve figured that out, keep these unique garage door cleaning requirements and maintenance needs in mind:
Wood: Poorly cleaned and maintained wood garage doors are prone to wood rot and warping. They should be cleaned annually to prevent this. When these doors show signs of chipped paint or a dulling finish on stained wood doors, they should be sanded down and repainted, or re-stained and properly sealed.
Wood composite doors: Also known as faux wood or wood-plastic composite (WPC), these garage doors retain the look of wood without requiring as much maintenance. WPC doors are generally rot, moisture, and insect-resistant, making them one of the most low-maintenance door materials available. One annual cleaning can keep this material in top shape for years to come.
Steel: You can paint or add a durable composite to a steel garage door to enhance its durability and match its color to your home. However, steel doors are more vulnerable to dents and rusting compared to other materials. Cleaning your steel garage door at least twice a year will reduce rust and the need to repaint — especially in snow-prone areas where salt is used on the roadways. After cleaning, you’ll want to apply a coat of wax to help your steel garage door last longer.
Aluminum: Aluminum garage doors won’t rust but they do tend to show every ding and dent. Similar to what you can do with steel, it’s possible to paint aluminum doors to your desired color with the appropriate exterior paint. To take care of your aluminum door, a once-a-year cleaning should suffice.
Vinyl, also known as polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Second only to wood-composite in durability, vinyl garage doors are easy to clean and difficult to dent or break. However, these doors don’t come in as many color options, and darker shades tend to fade. While vinyl doors don’t require paint, you can paint certain varieties with an acrylic-based paint if desired. You’ll only need to clean durable vinyl doors once a year; however, periodically cleaning off visible dirt as needed will prevent uneven fading.
Fiberglass: Fiberglass garage doors are less likely to dent or bend, but they can crack or break on impact and become brittle and yellow with age. Fiberglass won’t rust either, and the material is physically lighter than other door materials, which puts less strain on your garage door mechanics. A once-a-year cleaning is all most fiberglass garage doors need, although it’s advisable to clean off visible dirt as needed to prevent premature fading.
Aside from knowing what your garage door is made of before cleaning it, you also need to check out your warranty information. Some garage door warranties require that you clean and maintain your door on a regular schedule, or you may void your warranty. For example, while your door material may not need cleaning more than once a year, your warranty may require that you perform maintenance twice a year, or every three months.
Let’s get to cleaning that door!
Once you know what type of material your garage door is made of, how often it needs to be cleaned, and whether or not it requires waxing or sealing after cleaning, you’re ready to get to work.
Step 1: Remove excess dirt from the exterior
Goodbye, grime! Your first step to clean your garage door is quite simple: Hose it down. You may be tempted to get more aggressive and use a power washer — but doing so could damage your garage door surface. If you have wood, metal, or composite material, a power washer will dent, bend, gouge, and chip your paint, even at the lowest setting. And it takes just as much time to power wash your door as it does to simply rinse it down with a sprayer attachment on a garden hose. Here are a few garden hose nozzles we love to get the job done, if you don’t already have one:
- Solid brass heavy duty twist nozzle – (Home Depot $8)
- Multi-function hose nozzle with smart throttle – (Home Depot, $22)
- Orbit 7-pattern pattern nozzle – (Lowes, $8)
Step 2: Apply a mild detergent
Next, remove any dirt and grime that didn’t come off with the hose using plain ole’ soap and water. You don’t need any heavy-duty cleaners, just a detergent with less than .05% phosphate, such as most laundry detergents and dishwasher liquids. Add 1 cup of the detergent to a 2-gallon bucket of water, and wash down your door with a non-abrasive sponge or car washing mitt.
For door materials that also need waxing (including most custom-painted doors), apply a coat of hydrophobic liquid spray wax, such as Griot’s Garage Best of Show Spray Wax ($15 per refillable spray bottle; $50 per gallon). After the door is dry, spray on the wax, lightly buff, then wipe it off with a microfiber drying towel.
If you notice that the appearance of your garage door is faded or dull, consider restoring it with a specialized cleaner and a UV protective clear coat, like those found in Everbrite’s garage door renewal kit ($50 per kit).
Step 3: Lubricate your garage door mechanics (but NOT with WD40)
Duct tape and WD40 have gained a reputation as the fix-all duo that can solve any household problem — but WD40 is not the way to go when you’ve got a garage door that’s squeaking, stuck, or hard to open.
WD40 is great as a lubricant for small household jobs, but it is too thin and does not have the proper chemical makeup to be the long-lasting lubricant a garage door needs. Due to its chemical makeup, WD40 actually acts as a detergent that washes out the existing, durable lubricant and then dries up, causing the door mechanics to stiffen and stick even more.
Instead, you should use a 40-weight, non-detergent oil, or a mixture of wheel-bearing grease and 10W-30 oil. For additional guidance on this step, garage door company DDM Garage Doors, in operation since 1982, provides full instructions on how to properly lubricate your garage door
While most WD40 varieties won’t work long-term for lubricating your garage door, there is one type that may do the trick. WD40’s white lithium grease is specially formulated for heavy duty lubrication on metal-to-metal applications, which would include garage door springs, tracks, and hinges.
Whichever lubricant you choose, it’s always best to consult your garage door warranty, and a pro garage door installer before performing any maintenance on your door’s mechanics.
Step 4: Check your weather stripping
Well-maintained weather stripping along the bottom of your garage door is vital for keeping out weather, moisture, and rodents. Like the rubber around your car doors, garage door weather stripping is typically made from a rubber compound. This compound needs to be cleaned and lubricated more frequently than your garage door surfaces and mechanics.
When lubricating your garage door weather stripping, first clean it with an all-purpose household cleaner and a non-abrasive rag. Next, apply a dielectric grease lubricant to revive and protect the weather stripping. Dielectric grease has even been known to soften and recondition rubber weather stripping that’s in the beginning stages of cracking or drying out.
Do not use a petroleum-based lubricant (like WD40) on rubber garage door weather stripping, as this will cause the stripping to dry out and crack. Do this at least three times a year or every three months.
Step 5: Test the garage door opener auto-reverse safety feature
While not every garage door has an automatic opener, if you do have one, it’s in the best interest of your and your family to test its auto-reverse safety feature every time you do your annual (or bi-annual) cleaning.
“Checking the eye beam sensors of your garage door opener will make sure that the sensitivity controls are operating correctly to ensure child safety,” explains Kurt Thompson, a top-selling real estate agent in the Leominster/Fitchburg area of Massachusetts. “As a safety test, put a roll of paper towels under the garage door then hit the close button. The garage door should hit the roll of paper towels and instantly reverse back up without crushing the cardboard center.”
If your garage door fails this safety test, it means that the down force control limit needs adjusting. Consult your garage door opener manual on how to make the adjustments, then do a force control test following the instructions in the manual. Repeat as needed. If the garage door opener continues to fail this safety testing, bring in a garage door repair specialist, or consider replacing the garage door opener.
When you check your garage door’s safety features, take a look at its cables to ensure that they aren’t twisted, fraying, or rubbing directly against any metal that might lead to future fraying. Also keep an eye out for any signs of rust or oxidation on the cables — these are signs of weak spots where the cable may eventually snap. If you notice any damage to the cables, contact a professional garage door specialist to have the cables replaced.
Maintain your garage door now, save money later
When you keep your garage door pretty, polished, weather-tight, you’re taking direct action to extend its lifespan. By investing in annual or semi-annual cleanings and inspections, this critical feature that keeps the contents of your garage safe and dry will continue to do its job while reducing frustration. When the time comes to get a new door, expect to pay around $1,100 — until then keep your bucket of sudsy water, garden hose, and proper garage door lubricant at the ready for periodic maintenance.
Header Image Source: (Erik Mclean / Unsplash)