deck maintenance

Deck Maintenance: Care for Your Deck


Are you considering having a wood deck built? You should understand everything there is to know about deck maintenance before you do. An attractive price up front could mean considerable time, money and elbow grease maintaining your deck. You might be wise to pay a little more for composite decking materials. They need very little maintenance and look great for 20 or more years.

Maybe you already own a deck. You’re pretty sure you know what to do when it comes to maintenance and upkeep, but you just want to be sure. Your know-it-all neighbor says you’re doing it all wrong. He has you wondering if maybe you could learn a thing or two about deck maintenance that could protect your investment.

Either way, you know it can’t hurt to have a veteran deck builder share decades of maintenance knowledge with you. His expertise building, cleaning and maintaining decks could save you considerable money and frustration over the life of your deck. We’re here to help.

Here’s everything you need to know about deck maintenance, regardless what decking material you choose.

Deck Maintenance: Caring for a Wooden Deck

Many homeowners choose pressure-treated lumber as a decking material. It’s the least expensive wood, so it’s attractive to a lot of first time deck buyers. Along with pressure-treated wood, redwood, and cedar round out the 3 most common wooden decking material types.

Cedar and redwood naturally repel insects. They are denser and more durable woods than pressure-treated lumber, so they are rot-resistant. Each has a natural beauty that makes them very appealing. They just look great in your backyard. Redwood and cedar are more expensive than pressure-treated wood, but they are usually less costly than composite decking materials.

Whether you choose cedar, redwood or pressure-treated wood, here are the deck maintenance considerations you’ll have to make.

Brush or Sweep Regularly

Leaves, pine straw and other natural debris can stain your deck. Even on a wooden deck that has been stained or painted, collected leaves can cause discoloration. Don’t let leaves and other natural debris sit undisturbed for very long. This can lead to the development of mold and mildew that work their way into your wood.

There’s not too much you have to do as far as deck maintenance here.

Break out the broom and get to sweeping. You could use a long-handled wooden floor brush or a leaf blower as well. Clean your deck regularly, as needed. Get in the habit of doing this once or twice a week and you can keep mother nature’s deck staining inclinations at bay.

Cleaning and Removing Algae, Moss and Mildew

Before you clean your deck, give it an inspection. Look for mold or rot. Look carefully for broken screws, warped wood and broken pieces of wood. Sometimes nails will push up out of the wood. Make any repairs that are necessary, or call your deck builder to handle the job for you.

Wet wood attracts moss, mildew and sometimes algae. Not only do these fungi infiltrate your wood and damage its structural integrity, but they also look ugly. Then there’s the fact that they can be very slippery, causing an instant safety hazard. Moss and algae spread rapidly. That means if you don’t jump on the job quickly, a small problem could become a big one.

Brushing or sweeping your deck regularly can keep this from becoming a problem in most cases. Sometimes though, because of a lack of sunlight and an accumulation of moisture, you will have to deal with these nasty, natural deck invaders.

Here’s what you need to do.

You can purchase a mold and mildew remover from your local home improvement store. You can also make your own. Mix a cup of chlorine bleach in a gallon of warm water. If you want to make a stronger solution, add 1/4 or 1/3 cup of powdered, laundry detergent (without ammonia). Mix well.

Pour onto your deck, letting the solution sit for 10 to 20 minutes. Now it’s time to get to work. Break out the elbow grease and start scrubbing your deck. Pay attention to spots where discoloration, mold, moss and mildew have done their damage. You can get down on your hands and knees and use a hand brush if you like. Obviously, you are talking about a more intensive cleaning process if this is the way you choose to go.

You can also get a long-handled scrub brush that will minimize the amount of strain you put on your back.

Break out the garden hose when you’re done. Attach a spray nozzle and spray your deck clean. Make sure you get everywhere. You don’t want any of that cleaning solution to collect on your deck. You can also use a pressure washer, but keep the pressure on a low setting. If you go this route, make sure you use a fanning spray nozzle. A low setting with this type of nozzle keeps you from damaging your wood.

Even if you don’t see any mildew or mold, you should scrub your deck at least once a year.

Deck Maintenance Option: Sanding Your Deck

You should sand and stain every 2 to 3 years with a wooden deck. Wood gives into the effects of Mother Nature and Father Time rather quickly if you don’t stain and seal it regularly. Moisture, sunlight, other weather elements and foot traffic can really do a number on a wooden deck.

Before you stain your deck it can be good to sand it.

The bigger the deck, the bigger the project. If you want to sand your deck right after you have scrubbed it clean using the above steps, let your deck dry for at least 48 hours. It’s best to handle this cleaning process when you know you’re going to have a couple of sunny days back to back.

Now it’s time to break out the orbital sander. You may have a belt sander, and if you do, that can work as well. There are sanding pads which come with a long broom handle attachment, but they won’t do as good a job as an orbital or belt sander. If you don’t own an orbital sander, you can pick one up for around $75.

The next step is simple. Start sanding. This is a physically demanding job. As tough as it may be, don’t skip this step. The better your sanding job, the better your wood will absorb the stain you’re going to apply, and the longer your deck will last.

Staining or Painting – Which Is Better?

You are probably going to want to stain your deck rather than paint it. Some homeowners want to paint their deck a certain color. They sometimes do this to match the color of their home.

The problem with paint is that it really just sits on your wood. It isn’t absorbed deep into the wood like stain. Much of your deck is horizontal, especially the floor. These horizontal areas can collect water when it rains. This water sits on top of your paint and eventually seeps into your wood. This happens not only if you paint your deck, but also if you use a solid color stain without a sealer.

Over time this collection of water getting heated and drying in the sun can cause boards to expand and contract. Paint begins to chip and peel. Sometimes the paint will conceal wood that is rotting from the inside. The best way to go every time with a wood deck is to use a quality stain/sealer. This process gets the stain down into your wood while also letting moisture escape. The sealer does just that, it seals your wood and makes it less likely to absorb moisture in the first place.

Choose a stain with a heavier tint and you will repel moisture and sunlight even more.

What type of stain is best for wood decks? You can go with an opaque, solid stain/sealer if you like. They hide the grain of the wood, so with a beautiful wood grain like you find in cedar or redwood, you probably want to avoid a solid stain. On the downside, solid stains can build up several coats like paint does. They can also peel, crack and chip like paint.

Semi-transparent stains will color your wood grain. They don’t hide it entirely. A semi-transparent stain works great on red cedar to let that wood show off its natural beauty. You could choose a clear sealer. If you do, it’s recommended to seal your deck every year or two. Make this choice if you have a really gorgeous wood grain you don’t want to cover up.

Going with an oil-based, water-repellent stain/sealer is a good idea. They are long-lasting and soak deeply into wood. You also get an even, consistent look.

There are hundreds of different deck stains. Add the multiple color choices and you have thousands of possibilities. Every stain can affect different wood species differently. There are times when a water-based stain makes sense. Are you having a problem deciding which theme to use?

A good idea here is to talk to your deck builder. Let him know you’re going to stain your deck and ask him what he recommends.

How Do You Stain a Deck?

The first thing you need to do is pick the day you’re going to do the job. Staining decks works best when the temperature is between 60 and 90 degrees. It’s also a good idea to avoid direct sunlight if possible. This means you can stain your deck in the morning before the sun has its greatest impact.

deck staining

Use painters’ tape to protect any non-deck material such as siding on your home. Now it’s time to get to work.

You may be tempted to use a roller to apply your paint. This makes the job go fast. However, when you apply your stain/sealer with a natural bristle brush by hand, it gets deeper into the wood and you have an even coating. This is especially true where you have any decking boards meeting.

You can use a pump-style garden sprayer to apply the stain. Like using a paint roller, this doesn’t get the sealer down into your wood as effectively as with a natural bristle brush. Dispose of stains and solvents properly. Don’t throw them out with your regular trash or wash down the drain. Any brushes, pads or rags should be submerged in water in a metal can. The can should be sealed and disposed of with any leftover stain.

The Low-Maintenance (and Money Saving) Beauty of Composite Decking Materials

As we mentioned earlier, a sander can cost $75. Of course, you have to buy the sandpaper as well. Stains and sealers can go for as little as $20 per gallon or more than $100 per gallon. You have to buy brushes or rollers to apply the stain. You’re probably going to need some painters tape, drop cloths and rags as well.

The cost of course depends on the size of your deck, the stain you use, where you are located and other factors. Remember, you’re going to need to do this every 2 to 3 years with a wooden deck.

Build a composite deck and you never have to worry about sanding, staining, backbreaking elbow grease and your deck boards rotting, warping or splitting.

Composite materials combine wood and plastic. They come in a wide variety of grain configurations and colors. They can last more than 20 or 25 years with no staining, sealing, or painting. There’s a very low level of maintenance involved. You don’t need to buy sanders and paintbrushes and stains.

You just sweep or brush off your deck regularly and spray it with a garden hose from time to time. That’s it. Honestly, that’s all that’s involved with maintaining a composite deck.

Once a year you may want to scrub or lightly pressure wash it with some warm soapy water. These materials are more expensive than wood, but the time, effort and money spent on maintenance is virtually nothing in comparison.

Let’s compare apples to apples.

Fiberon is a manufacturer of composite decking materials. Their research shows you have to invest between 16 and 32 hours of maintenance on a wooden deck each year.

On a composite deck that time investment is just 2 to 4 hours per year! With a wooden deck you’re talking about some very intense and physically demanding maintenance. If you can sweep a broom and spray a garden hose, that’s all you need to do to properly maintain a composite deck.

Composite Deck Maintenance Cost Less over Time

Maintaining a redwood, cedar or pressure-treated deck costs more than $5,000 over 10 years. That number is only about $500 for the average sized composite deck. Then you have to talk about deck replacement. A wooden deck needs to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Sometimes boards, spindles and rails need to be replaced. Composite decks can last more than 25 years. Keep this in mind when deciding on whether to go with a wood or composite decking material.

Stain Can Be a Pain – Let Us Handle the Job for You

You work hard. You want to come home and relax on your deck, and not spend your time off cleaning, maintaining and working on it. Let us do that for you. We offer a deck staining service. We will clean your deck, prep it, sand it, apply a quality stain/sealer, and clean everything up when we’re done.

No getting down on your hands and knees sanding your deck. No backbreaking bending over and contorting your body in all kinds of positions to reach every part of your deck. We do this for a living. We know exactly how to properly prep and stain your deck for the best possible results. Give us a call and ask about our deck staining service.

You’ll feel a lot better about your deck when you don’t resent it every 2 to 3 years because you have to have it stained. We will be happy to answer any questions you might have about this and any other deck building or maintenance topics.