How to Stain and Clean a Deck

Springtime is the best time to clean and rejuvenate your deck so you can enjoy it all summer. Wood decking needs to be maintained to prevent the elements from rotting the wood. Whether it merely needs a good washing and sealing or new stain to bring out the wood grain, spring is a great time to get the job done.

Washing Your Deck
You must first wash your deck to prepare it for staining. Start with a deck cleaning solution, available at any hardware store. This will clean mildew and leaf stains and brighten the wood by removing any gray discoloration. Follow the directions on the package. Usually you'll apply it with a garden sprayer, although a bucket and a big paintbrush work too.

A stiff scrub brush attached to a broom handle will help clean and loosen debris from between the boards.

If your deck is really discolored and dirty, a power washer will do a marvelous job. For extra cleaning and brightening, use the deck cleaner followed by a powerful rinsing with the pressure washer. If you use one with a PSI of more than 2,400, experiment with the different tips provided and use caution. Getting too close, or using too small a tip, can damage and gouge the wood or adjacent surfaces.

Is there an accumulation of old stain and finish on your deck? Use a stripping product formulated to remove stain and follow up with the power washer. Paint thinner won't do the trick; you'll need something formulated to remove urethane stain.

This is also the time to tighten popped up nails or screws, replace broken boards and rails and sand down splintered areas.

What Finish Do I Use on My Deck?
Anything you use on your deck and rails will need reapplication every one to four years. Never, ever use house paint. You will create an ongoing maintenance nightmare. Paint doesn't penetrate wood in the same way as stain, so heavy rains or a cold winter will lift it from the surface, making the deck unsightly and exposing the wood to the elements.

  • Clear waterproofing sealers. Most often, you will need to use a clear sealer every year or two to protect your deck from damaging ultraviolet rays, mildew and water damage. They will add no color to the wood and will allow it to turn gray naturally. These are the easiest to apply. Generally, you can use a garden sprayer and you don't have to worry about brushing it out for color uniformity.
  • Semi-transparent wood stains. These tend to be a little longer lasting than sealers and add color. Many oil-based wood stains can be mixed in colors from natural cedar or redwood to decorative blue and green. Think long-term if you choose an unnatural color. If you decide to go back to wood tones, the previous stain will have to be removed.
  • Solid-color wood stains. These penetrate the wood and allow some of the texture and grain to show. The main disadvantage of solid stains is that they tend to show wear on heavy-traffic areas, and when the finish starts breaking down, it can peel and look bad. A semi-transparent stain won't peel; it will just start looking very faded.
  • Paint. Don't. Seriously. It will start peeling and showing wear within a year. It's a maintenance nightmare, plus it will be a virtually impossible job to remove it successfully should you ever want to change back to a more natural look.
  • Varnish.Unless you are prepared to spend time every year maintaining it, varnish is not a good choice. If you do, choose a marine varnish, which will hold up the best. A varnished deck looks really slick, but you will have to put a weekend in every year to sand and redo weathered areas or it will start looking terrible in no time.

Tips
The darker the color, the quicker the wood will start to wear, because the surfaces will get much hotter. This is a real consideration if you live in a very sunny region, not to mention the discomfort of walking across dark decking barefoot. If you have a dog or cat, bear this in mind. They are always barefoot.

If you opt for color, there is no rule that every surface has to be the same. The rails can be stained darker, the rail caps and decking light. If you have a multi-level deck, consider doing different levels in varying shades of stain. You can even get very creative and stain the edging boards dark and leave the decking natural with clear sealer.

If you use a garden sprayer to stain your deck, work in small sections and brush out the sprayed-on finish. This will work the stain deeper into the grain and even out the color.

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