Decks go through a lot throughout the year. In winter and autumn, they’re subject to harsh Canadian winter, and in the spring and summer, they’re packed full with friends and family enjoying the warm weather and good times. This means they need to be properly maintained so that they can last for many summers to come.
There are four steps to proper deck maintenance: Clean, Stain, Maintain, & Repair. If you’re looking for tips on how to do deck repairs, it was covered in this earlier article. In this piece, we’ll focus on how to Clean, Stain and Maintain your deck to ensure you can use it for many summers to come.
A word of caution: Cleaning and staining your deck is hard physical work and there are many ‘tricks of the trade’ you may not know. So it’s probably best to hire a professional deck contractor and discuss this article with them to learn how they approach deck maintenance.
Of course, if you’ve got the time and the energy, (and your lower back is in good shape!) here’s how you can D-I-Y.
Cleaning your deck can be done in one of three ways: Scrubbing, Power washing and Stripping
1) Scrubbing is the cheapest option and gentlest on the wood. No need to get on your hands and knees – use a long-handled, stiff-bristle broom instead. Use an outdoor wood cleaner, such as powdered oxygen bleach products. Unlike regular chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach combines natural soda ash or borax with hydrogen peroxide to form a powder. When dissolved in warm water, oxygen is released to work on tough stains and ground-in dirt. Oxygen bleaches are environmentally friendly and they won’t discolour your deck’s stain. Work in small sections by wetting the deck, then scrubbing with a sudsy brush, allowing the product to sink in and finally rinsing with water.
For badly stained wood, you may consider using trisodium phosphate (TSP) diluted with water. Be aware of the pros & cons of TSP and follow the instructions carefully to make sure you apply the correct amount and don’t leave any residue behind.
Regardless of which cleaning product you choose, for best results, choose a cloudy (not rainy) day, so the sun won’t evaporate the cleaner. Before scrubbing begins, follow these initial steps: Clean out debris that collects in the long, narrow space between deck boards, so air can circulate to help avoid wood rot due to moisture. Then sweep away all the debris. Cover plants with plastic sheeting to avoid exposure to harsh cleaners. After scrubbing, rinse the plants with a garden hose.
2) Pressure washing is a good choice for cleaning larger decks efficiently, while scrubbing is better for smaller decks or to get into tight areas. But it should be done with great care to avoid gouging the wood, as follows: Use a maximum pressure of 1200 PSI, set the nozzle tip to a wide ‘fan’ spray, and keep the wand moving slowly along the length of the wood no closer than 12 inches from your deck. Here’s a complete 4-step guide to pressure washing, courtesy of about.com.
3) Stripping. Solid-color and semi-transparent stains protect wood decks and look great when new, but eventually, they flake and wear away. At that point, they should be stripped off completely before the deck is recoated to ensure maximum adhesion to the bare wood. Here’s a helpful video on how to strip your deck courtesy of Olympic® Paint and Stain. After stripping, let the wood dry completely then sand the wood with medium grit sandpaper to remove any splinters or rough edges. Pay close attention to corners and edges.
Staining and Sealing
After wet-cleaning or stripping your deck, allow it to dry thoroughly (at least 48 hours) before you apply the finish. When choosing a finish, keep in mind that clear or tinted products usually last only one or two years, while semi-transparent and solid stains are guaranteed to last up to four years.
Of course, some homeowners prefer to leave their cedar deck unfinished and let it weather naturally to a beautiful soft gray colour. They prefer minimal deck maintenance and accept the fact that they will need to repair (or even replace) their deck sooner than if they had applied a stain.
Rain beats on the wood and the sun dries it out. This ongoing wet/dry cycle will eventually cause unfinished wood to warp and crack. When wood cracks open, water seeps into the heart of the board, where it is absorbed, and does the most damage as the wood swells slightly. Staining and sealing protects by repelling damaging water while allowing the wood to breathe – it will add years of life compared to an unfinished deck.
A simple rule of thumb for stains is the more colour, the more pigment, which means more UV protection for the wood. Without UV protection, your deck will crack and turn grey faster.
If you choose to apply a stain and/or sealant, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, especially when and how to apply it. Many stains come with waterproofing or a sealant already mixed in. If not, after the stain has dried, clear sealant may be applied to repel water, although it offers no UV protection since it contains no pigment to filter out damaging sunlight.
Annual spring deck maintenance
To ensure the longest life for your deck, plan to clean and maintain it every spring. First, clean out debris that collects in the long, narrow space between deck boards, so air can circulate to help avoid wood rot due to moisture. Then sweep it thoroughly and wash with a cleaner (such as the oxygen bleaches described above) and finally rinse with fresh water.
Proper deck maintenance also means carefully inspecting for loose or cracked boards, wobbly railings or popped nails. Get these safety hazards repaired by a professional before you host your first outdoor BBQ of the season!