If you have a deck connected to your home, maintenance is important to keep it looking good and structurally sound for years to come.
While there are many options for decking materials, most home owners opt for traditional pressure treated wood deck boards. While they are the least expensive option, they do require more maintenance and upkeep over the years.
One of the most critical aspects of deck maintenance is staining and sealing the wood. Even though the wood is pressure treated to resist water damage, it still needs to be protected against rain water absorption and UV rays from the sun which will damage and fade any wood.
If you build a new deck as a DIY project, you should wait several days before attempting to stain and seal the wood. Pressure treated woods has been soaked in chemicals that make the wood very wet. You can see this when you attempt to drill or cut the new wood. The wood may even feel damp when you pick it up at the home improvement store. In any event, the wood needs to dry out somewhat before applying a stain. However, do not let it go unprotected under the sun for more than a few weeks before staining it.
For existing decks with years of environmental damage, there is a process to bring it back to life before restaining a deck which I will discuss here.
How to Restore a Deck
Repair and Replace Deck Boards
Before you begin cleaning, look over the deck board and remove and replace any that are damaged. This may require some effort because whether you have used screws or nails, they can be a bear to get up with a drill or nail puller.
Many home experts recommend using deck screws specifically designed for outdoor decks. I followed their advice when I built my deck several years ago. I figured I would need to replace boards every few years and backing out screws would be a lot easier than pulling out nails.
However, I will never use them again. With every board I replace, I nail it in with 2 inch shank/ring nails.
From my experience, the deck screws break for whatever reason. Maybe it is the pressure treated wood that eats away at them or just the strain from the drill powering them into the wood. All I know is that after they have been in the wood for a few years, if you try to remove them, more often than not, they snap off leaving half inside the wood.
So from this point forward, only ring nails. These types of nails do not pull up over time.
You also might want to use a palm sander to take the top layer of the wood off particularly if you have several years of different types of stain. This is somewhat of a tedious process, but is worth the hours and hours on your knees to get the wood ready for the new stain.
How to Clean Wood
There are products you can buy in the home improvement stores specifically designed for cleaning and brightening decks before staining the wood. Some products do both, while others are simply a cleaning agent. If your deck is more than 10 years old and faded, you will probably have to use both. The deck whiteners do work, but it is important that you clean the deck boards of dirt, debris and any mildew first.
If you look on the ingredient list of the deck cleaners sold in stores, it is basically normal household stuff. Since this stuff can be as much as $20 for a gallon, here is my recipe for a homemade deck cleaner that works just as well.
Homemade Deck Cleaner
Cleaning with bleach is a great way to start a homemade cleaner. Mix up 1 part bleach to 5 parts water in a bucket. Add a scoop of washing detergent to create one of best cleaning products at a fraction of the cost.
First, wet the entire deck floor with water from the water hose. For the actual application of the cleaner, you can either use one of the backpack type pump sprayers used for pesticides or you can do what I do and simply mop it onto the deck in small areas.
For the railings, you will need to apply it wish a sponge or rag, or simply pour some of the homemade deck cleaner into a 1 liter spray bottle and apply it.
Allow the cleaning solution to set for at least 10 minutes, but do not let it dry on the surface.
Now you will need a hard bristled deck brush to scrub the deck after you have wet it with the cleaner. For the railings, use a smaller brush that is not attached to a pole such as a tire cleaner.
You may have heard somewhere that it is a good idea to use a pressure washer to clean a deck. If you already own one, you can give it a try, but be careful because it can damage the wood. I personally advise against it. Scrubbing the deck boards with a hard bristled brush or broom will accomplish the same thing.
Once you have gone over the entire deck with the cleaner and brush, rinse it clean with the garden hose.
Allow the deck to dry in the sun before proceeding with a deck inspection to make sure there are no dirt marks, mildew or mold left on the deck. If you missed an area, repeat the process.
Using a Brightener Product on Your Deck
Allow the newly cleaned deck to dry for a couple of days. You will notice a big difference between the before and after look of the wood. If the deck has been properly maintained over the years, it will probably not require an additional brightening agent sold at stores.
Some manufacturers of stain recommend using a brightner before application. If the deck is older and the wood is faded, you might want to consider purchasing the product if you are going with a transparent or semi-transparent stain.
If you are planning on using a rescue type thick stain, or even a solid stain, you can probably skip the brightner application.
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Choosing a Deck Stain
The type of deck stain you use will depend on the age of the wood and the color of the previous stain.
Your deck stain choice will come down to:
- Toner – Average UV protection, but shows the wood grain
- Transparent – offers natural look, but poor UV protection
- Semi-Transparent Good UV protection, and best all-around choice if concerned about peeling
- Solid – Best UV protection but can peel under certain circumstances
As the names imply, each type of stain gets darker as you go down the list. I have personally applied all of the stains to my deck, except a transparent type.
There are also water based and oil based stains. Water based stains offer lower Volatile Organic Compounds to comply with any local regulations in your area. However, they do not penetrate the wood as well as oil based stains.
If your boards are in really bad shape or have a lot of cracks, you can use a thicker deck over type product which has more of a consistency of normal paint. Some are four times thicker than regular stain, while others are ten times thicker. However, be careful with this type of restore product because a lot of the online reviews claim that it peels up after six months or more.
Right now, I am in the process of applying a solid stain to cover up some older imperfections in the wood color. Typically you can go darker without any issues.
However, if the deck was stained with a solid stain before, it will be difficult to apply a transparent stain over it. In this case, you will need to apply a stripper to remove any previous coating.
If you stained your deck with a darker semi-transparent and are trying to go lighter, you will need to strip any previous coats.
Finally, if you have years of stain over stain applications, it is probably a good idea to go ahead and strip the deck boards and start fresh so that you can get a closer representation to the color advertised by the manufacturer on the can of stain.
The process of stripping wood is a bit tedious. Apply it and let it sit for 30 minutes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are removing a thicker stain or have made the mistake of painting the deck, it will probably require some scraping to get it clean.
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How to Restain a Deck
Once you have replaced any damaged boards and clean the deck, it is time to apply the stain. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the can for proper application. Some suggest using a specific nap roller, while others recommend using a deck mop/sponge specifically designed for staining decks.
I have used both and I have to say, I prefer to use a roller. In my opinion, it applies much easier and much faster than the deck pads.
How much deck stain will you need?
From my experience, more than you initially estimate especially if the wood is older. It will soak into dry wood fast and you can easily go through a gallon of stain in just a 10 x 10 foot area.
If your deck is roughly 10 x 20 feet, you can count on using at least three or four gallons. That should get you two coats which most manufacturers recommend.
Deck stain is sold in three gallon buckets which give you a slight discount over purchasing the one gallon buckets.
Restaining a Deck
The commercial deck stain products are ready to go out of the can, but I heard a tip on “This Old House” once that I have tried once or twice. They suggested that you mix ½ pint of exterior-grade varnish with the stain before applying it.
Pour a small amount into a roller tray and apply with a ½ inch nap roller or a sponge applicator. Two coats are required.
If you are using a product designed to “rescue” older wood, the application will be more tedious because the stain is much thicker, almost the consistency of regular paint.
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Stained decks need to be maintained every couple of years with a new coat. Most manufacturers claim that their products are good for up to five years and some say they provide protection for ten years. From my experience, that is not true. Perhaps they are allowed to make those claims because they demonstrated to some regulatory agency that under ideal conditions, that was the case.
However, I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but nothing in life occurs under ideal conditions so you can take those claims, and the claims made by car manufacturers about gas mileage, and throw them out the window.
If I ever build another deck, I am going to put the composite deck boards on it with the hidden clips. In the short run it is a more expensive option with each board costing at least twice as much as its natural wood counterpart, however, over the course of 10 to 20 years, they will pay for themselves because you do not have to keep restaining and replacing them. The only maintenance they require is to clean them with a solution like I outlined above every year. If they become faded after many years, you can even stain them back to their original color.
But for normal deck maintenance, my advice is to restain it every three to four years. Yes, it is somewhat of a pain and depending on your deck size, you could be spending as much as $100 to $150 every few years for maintenance. That is not including the money you will spend replacing damaged deck boards.
The most tedious part of process is staining the areas in between the deck boards and applying stain to the railings with a brush, but you should be able to get it all finished within a few days.
Then you can look forward to doing it all again in a couple of years.
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