Around the House: Remove water spots on house siding with vinegar

Zolton Cohen

Q The underground sprinkling system of our new home sprayed on two windows and the siding. There are no yellow or orange iron deposits, just white water spots. What can I use to clean them?
— J.R., Grand Rapids

A The water spots you’re seeing are actually hard-water minerals dissolved in the groundwater. They are left behind as deposits after the water dries. Homeowners who lack a water softening system are used to seeing these white marks on plumbing fixtures, sinks and countertops.

Because the minerals are mostly alkaline, the best way to remove them is to use the chemical opposite: an acid solution. Inexpensive distilled white vinegar, available in half- or whole gallons at your grocery store, is acidic enough to break down the hard-water spots, yet mild enough not to hurt the siding. Still, you should test the spot-removal methodology on a scrap of the siding or in an out-of-the-way area in case it affects the color.

To remove the water spots, try spraying some vinegar on them, let it rest for a few minutes, spray some more and then use a nonabrasive scrubbing pad or soft bristle brush. If the deposits are not softened enough to remove, you might have to let the vinegar soak a while longer.

For particularly troublesome spots, temporarily tape some paper towels to the siding, soak them with vinegar and press them so they cling. Leave everything in place for several hours, then remove and the spots should rinse right off.

One thing you’ll probably notice is that cleaning the hard-water deposits will create a spot that looks different than the siding surrounding it. That’s because, along with the mineral residue you eradicate, some dirt and other material that has fallen onto and stuck to the siding since it was installed will come away as well. So, prepare yourself for the possibility that you’ll wind up washing an entire side of the house to even out the color.

On a one-story home with good access to the siding, this is not a difficult or onerous task — and it makes the house look like a million bucks when you’re finished. Two-story homes, or those built on sloping lots, may offer more of a challenge to reach the topmost portions.

You likely already own most of the materials you need for the project: ordinary dish soap, a bucket, a hose with a sprayer head and a soft-bristle scrub brush. It is worth obtaining a long-handled brush, though, because it helps you avoid stooping or stretching for the lower and upper courses of siding.

To avoid streaking, start washing from the bottom and work your way up the side of the house. Wet the siding first and then scrub with a soap and water solution. Most dirt will come right off.

Spots of mildew might require a bit more scrubbing, and possibly the addition of some TSP (tri-sodium phosphate, a heavy duty cleaner used by professional painters to prepare surfaces for painting).

Rinse with the hose once you’ve cleaned a section. Don’t let the cleaning solution dry on the siding.

Bear in mind that vinyl siding is designed to keep out water that falls from the top down. If you train the hose so it shoots water upward into the bottom or vertical laps of the siding, it might cause leaks. So always rinse — gently — from the top down, as rain would descend.

Zolton Cohen is a former ASHI-certified home inspector based in Kalamazoo. Write to Zolton Cohen, Around the House, P.O. Box 2007, Kalamazoo, MI 49003.

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