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Clean, Stain or Seal a Deck

Clean and Stain a Deck

Sunshine and rain take their toll on your deck. Learn how to test the wood, apply deck cleaner and deck stain or sealer. Then follow the steps to bring your deck back to its original beauty.


Testing the Wood

Testing the Wood

A water test is the easiest way to ensure that the wood can absorb sealer or finish. Sprinkle water on the deck. If it soaks in immediately, the deck can be sealed. If the water beads up or stands on the deck, your deck may not need sealing yet.



Applying Deck Cleaner

Applying Deck Cleaner

UV rays penetrate wood, which causes graying. Apply a brightener and cleaner to restore the wood's natural beauty.  Deck cleaners help remove dirt, nail stains, algae and mildew. If your deck isn't brand-new, always use a cleaner before applying finish. Deck cleaners help remove dirt, nail stains, algae and mildew. If your deck isn't brand-new, always use a cleaner before applying finish.

Carefully read the manufacturer's directions before using the material, and follow all safety precautions and warnings on the label. Wear safety goggles, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Don't wear sandals or open-toed shoes.

Step 1

Remove all deck furniture and other furnishings.


Step 2

Sand splintered areas with a pole sander with 80-grit paper. Repair or replace damaged boards. Make sure to drive in any popped nails first – or even better, replace them with deck screws.


Step 3

Sweep off loose debris and clean between the cracks of the boards with a putty knife.


Step 4

Wet surrounding plants and shrubs. Cover them with clear plastic sheeting to prevent spotting with chemicals.


Step 5

Some cleaners require the surface to be damp before applying, while others require the surface to be dry. Consult the product label. For concentrated cleaners, follow the manufacturer's mixing directions.


Step 6

Use a paint roller with an extension handle, a garden sprayer or a stiff-bristled push broom to apply cleaner to the entire deck. Don't allow cleaner to puddle in any area.


Step 7

Speed up the process by having one person apply the cleaner and another person back-roll the deck. Back-rolling is a process in which one person uses a roller or broom to spread any puddles.


Step 8

Keep the deck wet with cleaner. Don't allow the cleaner to dry.


Step 9

Scrub tough areas with a stiff brush or broom. Avoid using wire brushes or brooms. The bristles can break off into the wood and cause rust spots.


Step 10

Allow the cleaner to soak into the wood. Soaking time is usually no more than 10 minutes, but check the product instructions.


Step 11

Rinse the deck thoroughly with a garden hose.


Step 12

Wash equipment with soapy water. Rinse plastic sheeting with water and remove.


Step 13

Allow deck to dry at least two days before applying a sealer.

Lack of preparation is the most common reason for deck stain to fail. Don’t skimp on this important step.


Applying a Stain or Sealer

When applying a sealer or stain, always read the manufacturer's directions. Drying times differ based on air temperature and humidity. Before you start, check the deck boards for needed repairs such as split boards or popped-up nails. Here are some additional tips to make the job better.

Tips:

  • Don't apply deck product in direct sun. The finish will dry too quickly and won't absorb into the wood.
  • Use the water test to check your deck every few months to ensure the sealer is repelling water.
  • Regularly sweep off debris.
  • If you have a brand-new deck made of treated lumber (as opposed to cedar or redwood), you should wait at least a few weeks before sealing it for the first time. This allows the wood to dry so the stain is absorbed. To find out if the wood is dry enough to stain, use a moisture meter that tests the moisture content (MC) of wood. The wood can feel dry to the touch but still be too wet to absorb the stain properly. If you don't have a moisture meter, press the head of a flat screwdriver into the decking in an inconspicuous place. If any moisture appears, the wood is still too wet to stain.

An alternative to stains or sealers is applying a resurfacer or restoration product. These finishes are like a very thick paint. Applied with a brush or roller, they cover deck boards and do not show wood grain.


Step 1

Check the weather. Try to find at least two days of dry weather with temperatures between 50°F and 90°F.


Step 2

Remove all deck furniture, plants and furnishings.


Step 3

Sand all grade stamps, marks and splintered areas. The entire deck may require sanding with a pole sander or palm sander to speed up the process. Sand in the direction of the grain. Be sure to wear a safety mask so you won't inhale the sawdust. Drive in popped nails or replace them with deck screws.


Step 4

Sweep off loose debris and clean between the cracks. Make sure the deck is dry.


Step 5

Wet surrounding plants and shrubs and cover them with clear plastic sheeting


Step 6

Stir the sealer or stain thoroughly. Don't shake sealer. Bubbles will form in the finish.


Step 7

Apply a thin, even coat of sealer or stain over a two- to three-board section with a paint roller with an extension handle or a sprayer. Two thin coats are better than one thick coat that doesn't properly adhere or dry.

Don't allow the finish to puddle. To speed up the process, one person applies the stain or sealer and another person uses a roller or broom to spread puddles and to work the finish into the wood, a process known as back-rolling.


Step 8

Repeat the above process for the entire deck. Use a paintbrush to apply the sealer or stain in corners and other difficult areas, such as steps, railings, end grain and cracks. A second coat is optional.


Step 9

Rinse the plastic covering the plants with a hose and remove it.


Step 10

Allow the deck to dry completely.

Before disposing of rags, spread them out to dry completely. Heat generated from evaporating finish on a pile of rags can start a flash fire. If you're using latex stain, clean equipment with soapy water. If you're using oil-based sealers, clean with paint thinner or mineral spirits.