The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Key West porch

Outside cleanup in Key West | Power washer or generator? Pick one

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Twice a year Ranger Ed and I give into the temptation to whine about living in Key West. Welcome to the semi-annual outside cleanup.

Up north y’all call it “opening the pool” or “getting ready for winter.” Rake leaves; mulch plants; test the snow blower; shock (or cover) the pool and drag out (or in) the lawn chairs. Maybe pick up some plants at the local nursery. Petunias for spring; mums for fall. You know the drill.

We do that stuff on a tropical island, too. Well, except maybe for the pool; we never cover the pool except for hurricanes. Oh, and the petunias. Even though they’re sold down here at the end of the road, fact is, it’s too hot and humid for them and the roots kinda boil to mush.

Outside cleanup on a tropical island includes chores not usually found on a mainland list and they involve black, brown and green slimy growing stuff. Think mold and mildew on steroids. On the gutters, in the corners, on the concrete, on the aluminum awning struts, on the deck screens, the eaves and the haint blue porch ceiling; and my personal favorite, on every white, painted surface — and if it’s particularly aggressive it’ll happily grow up the outside walls.

Combine that living plant life with dead dinosaur petroleum fumes from cars and airplanes and the semi-annual cleanup requires muscle groups significantly more challenging that a couple dozen squats at the gym.

Outside cleanup
Imagine hand scrubbing all that white paint. Welcome to our semi-annual outside cleanup on a tropical island.

Look, if you’ve got someone to do this for you — say a live-in and unexpectedly helpful teenager or a handy person whose name you will not share for fear of losing said person to a neighbor — or if you’re younger than the ranger and I (and a lot of folks are), then spring and fall cleanup, even on a tropical island, is not whine worthy.

Over the years, we’ve reduced what used to be four days to three. Day three is mostly putting things away and completing the small repairs discovered as we worked from the back of the house to the front fence and curb. Oh, and making a list of all the big repairs, like repainting the pool deck; replacing boards out back where they’ve rotted through and deciding whether that new crack means the house falling down is imminent or just normal settling.

We finished the fall clean up mid-week with a minimal amount of cussing, probably because we work on parallel paths. I clean the front fence; ranger does the tree trimming. Ed pulls everything out of the storage bins and sheds and I sort what he doesn’t hide from me into the trash. We both rake (mine is green; his is black), but we do opposite sides of the house and meet in the middle.

Key West outside cleanup: 3 tips

We’ve learned three things over the years. Feel free to add your own:

  • Heaven love me a power washer. If I could only afford one tropical island “must have,” I’d choose a power washer over a generator. OK, that’s an exaggeration, considering a generator is life-saving for post-hurricane life. We managed without a generator after Hurricane Irma. But get along without a power washer? Nah. Plus, power washing is the only fun thing about outside cleanup. Even if we do have to touch-up paint where we got a bit too enthusiastic.
  • Jomax. This saved us two days of scrubbing by hand every picket of the fence, the outside house walls and every white-painted surface from gutters to ground. It cuts through the mold, mildew and coral dust glued on by dinosaur fumes. If you are totally green and crunchy, skip right past this one. The rest of you? Mix up a sprayer full of Jomax (five percent) with water (80 percent) and household bleach (15 percent). Leave on for a few minutes, grab the power washer and prepare to be amazed. The stuff is safe to use around plants; it’s human toxicity is relatively low compared to other household cleaners. Its active ingredient (ortho-phenylphenol), plus the bleach, is toxic to aquatic organisms so, for heavens sake, don’t overdo its application or let it run off into the storm drains. A little, a very, very little, goes a long way.
  • It’ll all look great for 24 hours. Maybe a week.
Key West home repair

Living in Key West: Could you?

Though most folks love visiting Key West, not everyone is cut out to live in Key West. Wonder if you could make it here? Check out these related posts:

Living in Key West Part 1: Things no one tells you

Living in Key West Part 2: Coping with grills and termites

Living in Key West Part 3: Cat hair, garbage cans and fresh water Conchs


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