How to Maintain Your Wood Deck
The home you’re interested in buying has a wood deck that you love, but you’re a little worried about how much trouble it will be to maintain. Hopefully, this information will help you to worry less and look forward to having access to the outdoor activities a deck provides and the beauty and value it adds to your home.
Most decks are structurally sound, because they are built of durable woods, usually redwood, cedar, or pressure-treated pine. Redwood and cedar heartwoods have a natural resistance to termites and decay; pine is pressure-treated with a pesticide to give it insect-and decay-blocking power. So your main concern will be cosmetic—keeping it looking as beautiful as the day you bought it, or maybe restoring the beautiful surface you know it once had.
Why Decks Need Maintenance
Wooden decks receive constant exposure to the elements—harsh sun, foot traffic, rain, snow, and ice—but with periodic cleaning and refinishing, you can protect them and keep them looking their best. Wood that is left unprotected will soak up moisture and could be subject to serious damage, like wood rot. Depending on where you live, you may need to treat your deck periodically, maybe even once a year.
Preserving and/or restoring a deck’s great looks is usually simple, regardless of the type of wood. First, you clean it, second you diagnose and treat any discoloration, and third you protect the result with a durable finish.
Step 1: Clean your deck thoroughly
First, use a broom or a leaf blower to clean all loose debris off of your deck. Gently wash down the deck with a garden hose and then apply a deck cleaner. Use a roller, a pump garden sprayer or a bucket and brush. Many deck cleaners contain harsh chemicals, so it’s important to protect your skin and eyes and any surrounding plants or surfaces under the deck. They come in bleach and non-bleach formulas. Either can remove surface and ground-in dirt. Bleach cleaners lighten the wood, while non-bleach ones gently remove dirt and grime without damaging the wood fibers or the wood’s natural color. They are also friendlier to the environment and not as hard on bushes and plants.
Always read the label; manufacturers test their products and know the best way to use them. After the cleaner has set for the recommended time, wash down the deck. A pressure washer is the best tool for the job. You can rent or buy one from a home improvement store. Pressure washers deliver a concentrated blast of water at anywhere from 1,000 to 3,500 pounds per square inch—so be careful. Spraying too long in one spot or holding the nozzle too close to the deck can damage the wood. A deck scrubber attachment makes cleaning large open areas easier. If needed, thoroughly scrub the surface in line with the wood grain
Step 2: Treat any damage or discoloration
Use a sander to smooth rough spots, especially on railings, to prevent splinters. An electric sander will make the job faster and the wood smoother, but hard-to-reach areas may require manual sanding. Pay close attention to stairs or other high-traffic areas where bare-footed children or adults may walk. If an old finish is flaking or peeling, remove with a finish stripper, the least caustic one that will do the job. Be sure to protect surrounding surfaces (siding, plants).
If nails come loose, use longer new ones or deck screws. Don’t just pound the old ones back in. Get rid of debris between the boards. To protect your deck from wood rot, make sure it doesn’t stay wet too long. Repair or replace boards that are badly deteriorated. If you’re cleaning a painted deck, keep a replaced board so you can match the paint at your local paint or home improvement store.
Remove stains and discoloration by using oxygenated bleach. Use chlorine bleach carefully to remove mildew. Acid-based products will remove graying and stains. You can restore the wood by using a commercial deck restoration product that removes aged, gray wood from the surface and revives the wood’s original color and beauty. These are sometimes called “Deck brighteners.”
Step 3: Protect the wood with a finish especially made for decks
Consult with a paint supplier to get the finish best suited to the lumber in your deck. Your options include finishes that contain oil or paraffin, UV blockers and insecticide. There are semi-transparent stains, opaque stains, clear sealers, or paints. Products that soak into the wood last longer, won’t peel off and are great for repelling water. .
Once the deck has dried thoroughly, refinish it with your choice of deck stain or clear sealer. Deck stains come in solid colors that hide the grain of the wood as well as transparent stains that allow the wood grain to show through. Choose one that best matches your house and furniture, keeping in mind that stripping a deck of an opaque stain or paint is a time-consuming project.
A pump sprayer works well to apply stains and sealers, because they are much thinner than paint. After spraying an area, go over it with a paintbrush while the sealer is still wet to work it into the cracks and spread the finish out evenly. When applying stain, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some may suggest going over the stain with a clean white cloth to soak up extra stain. Apply a double coat of paint for good coverage and protection. Then allow the stain, paint or preservative to dry one to two days. Be sure to dispose of old rags and empty product containers properly.
Giving loving care to your deck will keep it looking beautiful and preserve the wood for many years to come. Go ahead and buy that house with the wood deck. You’ll love it!