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How To Clean Mulch? Make Mulch New Again without Replacing

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Mulch is often placed in gardens for aesthetic appeal and to deter the growth of weeds, but after some time, it can build up dirt on its surface and even get moldy and mossy.

Cleaning mulch properly will help keep the surface looking fresh. Cleaning mulch is really not as difficult as it sounds. It can be a dirty job, but the proper tools and techniques make all the difference between a messy mulch pile and a well-groomed garden.

Mulch can be cleaned by using a rake and turning it over to expose the unweathered chips which were lying beneath. Old debris will now feed the soil by adding organic nutrients when it decays. Mulch affected by mold and fungus can be cleaned by spraying a mild bleach solution over the surface and turning it after a few days.

If you have mulch in your yard or garden, there will come a time when it must either be cleaned or replaced. This article will explain the things you can do to clean your mulch without bearing the cost of replacement.

How to Clean Old Mulch?

How to clean mulch

While there are a lot of ways to clean old mulch, the method below should be pretty easy to do if you have the right supplies on hand.

Raking and Tuning over

Remove all debris from your yard by raking or sweeping up everything that isn’t dirt or mulch.

This includes leaves, sticks, and other plant matter that have fallen on it over a few weeks.

 When mulch is raked and turned over it will put whatever debris was on the surface to the bottom of the mulch.

This allows the surface to be covered by an “unbleached” fresh layer of mulch and feeds the soil beneath with organic material as it decays.

Whether organic or artificial, all mulch can go through some process of bleaching where it loses its color.

Turning the mulch can allow unbleached chips to reach the surface and give it a renewed finish without changing or replenishing it.

Applying Bleach Solution to the mulch

Mulch, over time, can foster a good environment for mold and fungus to thrive. This is because as it is exposed to rain and dew, the surface can hold moisture from which fungus and mold spores populate.

Bleach works well to get rid of unwanted fungus and mold on mulch.

If used correctly, spraying bleach on the mulch can kill the fungus without harming plants. 

A diluted bleach solution is sometimes used to sterilize and sanitize plant cuttings and growing mediums. Spray the fungus in the mulch with a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water.

Showing the Mulch with a Hose and Spray Nozzle

The trick to cleaning old mulch is getting rid of the smell. 

Mulch can get a pretty strong odor when it’s been sitting around for a long time, so you’re going to want to give it a good rinsing, which will go a long way toward making it smell better. 

The best way to rinse your mulch is with a hose and spray nozzle, just put the nozzle right over the top of the mulch pile and turn the water on full force. 

You’ll want to rinse all the dirt, so let the water run until you see it draining onto your lawn or garden beds below.

Tips to Clean the Mulch:

Here are some tips for cleaning up old mulch:

  • Remove any dead or diseased plant material that may be mixed in with the existing mulch.
  • Use a garden fork to break up the clumps so that the existing material becomes more porous and loose.
  • Add water to the pile to help loosen it up even more. After about 20 minutes of soaking, use a shovel or pitchfork to mix around the pile thoroughly so that the water permeates all of the mulch.
  • Soak it again for another 20 minutes before turning over the entire pile with a garden fork or shovel.
  • Let it dry out in an open area for several weeks before putting it back around your plants and trees.
  • You can use a tool like a leaf rake to remove the majority of the debris. If the debris is still visible on top of the mulch, you may have to remove what is left using a shovel.
  • Depending on how much debris was in the mulch, you may need to add new mulch to fill in any gaps.

If your mulch looks dull and faded, take a look at this video:

When Should You Clean Mulch?

The answer depends on what kind of mulch you’ve got. 

  • If you’ve bought a coarse, bark-like mulch, you don’t need to clean it out at all. This kind of mulch is designed to stay where it’s put as it decomposes over time, so there’s no need to remove the old stuff. 
  • You’ll want to brush off any surface dirt or small twigs for finer mulches (or if your coarser stuff has gotten knocked around). 
  • If you’re using very fine mulches like pine needles or cocoa bean husks, be sure to rake them first so they can settle in smoothly without leaving big gaps between the particles. Using a pitchfork or similar tool is also important; don’t pull out the weeds with your hands!

The best time to clean mulch is before it gets dirty. However, sometimes that’s not possible. You may have to clean it out of a flower bed or off your porch or driveway. The easiest way to do this is with a garden hose and a broom. 

In addition to looking dirty, mulch can also get dusty if you don’t keep up with its maintenance.

Mulch that isn’t regularly cleaned will start to feel dry and dusty when you touch it, this doesn’t mean that it’s time for an overhaul, but rather just a quick brush-off with a broom or rake will do the trick. 

The easiest way to know when your mulch needs cleaning is to notice how it looks. If lots of leaves or other bits don’t belong there, it’s time for a cleaning. 

If you’re not sure where they came from, go ahead and clean it out. It’s better to be safe than sorry in this case!

After the initial installation of your mulch, things should be fine for about two years, but after that, you’ll want to start checking in on how wet the mulch seems to be over the course of a few different days.

Cleaning Mulch

Reasons to Clean Old Mulch:

There are a few reasons why you need to clean your old mulch:

Prevent Weed Growth

It will help prevent weed growth. If weeds aren’t controlled during their early growth period, they grow bigger, stronger, and more numerous.

Diseases Spread by Insects

Another is that insects and larvae that have gotten into the old mulch could be passing diseases onto your plants. When you clean out the old mulch, you’ll also eliminate bugs like slugs and grubs that may be hiding in it.


A third reason is a general cleanliness: If you have trees that drop leaves or needles, they can get mixed up in the old mulch, and decaying matter can build up over time, creating a thick layer of stuff underneath your mulch that could potentially suffocate the roots of nearby plants.

Moldy Mulch

If the mulch breaks down (which it will have to do if it’s been sitting for too long), mold could grow on top of it. This can lead to all kinds of fungal issues for plants and trees, potentially spreading through their roots and killing them. 

Even if you don’t notice anything right away, there’s also a chance that mold can grow on the surface of the soil and eventually “infect” any new plants you add to your garden beds, a cycle that’s hard to break without removing the problem entirely.

Common Types of Mulches

There are three general categories of mulches: 

  • Organic (include wood chips, bark, or other plant matter)
  • Synthetic (include plastic or vinyl)
  • Mineral (include things like crushed limestone or gravel)

Each has its own set of pros and cons when it comes to how often they need to be replaced or refreshed, as well as which plants they’re best suited for. 

To get you started, here is a list of the most common types of mulches, along with a brief description.

Bark chips 

Also known as wood chip mulch, this type of mulch is made from shredded bark, usually from deciduous trees like oaks or maples.

Like other natural mulches, bark chips help regulate the soil temperature and prevent erosion by keeping water in place after rain or snow.

Black Plastic 

Black plastic looks exactly as it sounds, a thick sheet of black plastic that covers part or all of the ground in your garden.

Plastic mulch is typically used for weed control and for protecting young plants from frost. It lasts up to one to four years before needing to be replaced and cuts down on watering time since it keeps plants warm. 

For best results, lay plastic mulch over the top of soil that has been amended with organic compost.


Gravel makes a great mulch because it’s free, aesthetically pleasing, and available in the right size and shape.

It acts as an insulator against temperature change and retains water, encouraging better root growth. Gravel mulch also makes it easier to water plants without overwatering. 

In addition to its usefulness, gravel mulch is also easy to place around your plants. You can scoop a pile of it out of your driveway or street and spread it around your plants.

How Often Should You Clean Your Mulch?

A mulch clean-up service will generally recommend that you have your mulch cleaned every 12 months. This ensures that your trees and shrubs are not stressed or damaged by an accumulation of fallen leaves and other organic materials. 

Plus, regular cleaning will help maintain the benefits of using mulch, such as keeping weeds at bay.

When deciding how often to clean your mulch, you have to consider how many plants you have in one area, whether they are all the same plants or if they are different types, and how much light they get on a daily basis. 

If you have a lot of different plants spread out over a large area, then you may want to clean your mulch more often. 

Different types of plants will require different amounts of sunlight, so some you may want to clean less often than others.


Cleaning mulch is easy and worth doing to keep your landscaping looking nice. Cleaning old mulches is an easy way to add freshness and health to your garden. With just a little bit of effort, you will be able to clean the mulch in a very efficient manner.

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