Find information on deck stains, cleaners, strippers and sealants to keep your deck lasting longer.
Prepare for Deck Sealing
Wood left exposed to sun and moisture will quickly begin to degrade. Leave your deck untreated and you can expect it to turn gray with age. In addition, the decking boards are likely to cup, warp and split. Ignore the problem for too long and you'll have to make major repairs — or even replace sections of deck.
Deck sealing is a three-part process. Remove any old stains or coatings, clean the wood and seal it against weather damage. If the deck has never been sealed before, you won't have to strip it, but brand-new wood has special pre-stain preparation needs.
If your deck has been sealed before, use the water test to see if it's time to seal it again. Drizzle some water onto the boards. If the water beads, the wood is still sealed and protected. If the water is absorbed into the wood, it's time for a treatment. Remember to test several different areas of the deck. High-traffic spots are likely to wear down before corners and rail spindles.
Wear rubber gloves, close-toed shoes, a long-sleeved shirt and pants when applying deck chemicals to minimize the chance of skin irritation. Also, wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from back spray. Follow all manufacturers' safety instructions.
Stripping Your Deck
Stripping is essential for creating an even surface onto which the new sealant can adhere. If the high-traffic areas of your deck have worn down, but there's still sealant remaining in other areas, strip the entire deck before you re-stain.
Stripping is most important if you're changing colors. Traces of an old color left underneath will affect the way a new color appears.
Choose a stripper that's formulated for:
- Removing clear and toned finishes and sealers, which requires less stripping power
- Removing semitransparent or opaque stains, which requires more stripping power
Consult the manufacturer's instructions to determine which stripper is right for your project.
Cleaning a Deck
After the deck is free from existing stain or sealant, clean it. (If you didn't have to strip the deck, this will be your first step.) When looking at deck cleaners, you'll probably find one of these active ingredients:
- Chlorine bleach, which appears on the label as sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite or dichloroisocyanurate. These chemicals do a good job getting rid of mildew, but they're less effective at removing dirt. They're usually mixed in with other ingredients.
- Chlorine bleach products can be harsh on wood if used improperly, causing fuzzing and uneven coloration. Use a chlorine bleach product if you have a mildew problem, but be careful not to mix it any stronger than the manufacturer recommends. Also, rinse well.
- Oxalic acid, which usually will be listed that way in the ingredients list is particularly effective at removing tannin and iron stains — a particular consideration with cedar and redwood decks.
Oxalic acid isn't as effective against mildew. If you have a mildew problem, try a cleaner made with bleach before using oxalic acid to attack the tannin and iron stains.
Pressure washers are a great source for keeping your deck looking clean and new. This tool allows you to quickly remove dirt, mold and mildew with more power than a garden hose.
Sealing a Deck
There are four main options for deck sealers: clear, wood-toned, semitransparent and solid / opaque. As a general rule, wood that's older and more weathered requires a more opaque stain to cover imperfections. Think about these other considerations:
- The best sealers penetrate the wood the most to provide the most protection. Look for an oil-based product that's mixed with latex for easy cleanup.
- Clear treatments allow the wood to fade to a natural weathered, silver gray, while still providing protection from UV and water damage. The other types will retain a constant color.
- It's tricky to work backwards on the spectrum. For example, if your deck is currently covered in an opaque stain, it will take a great deal of stripping and surface preparation to ready it for a clear or wood-toned stain. It's usually easiest to continue with solid / opaque coverage.
- The more opaque a stain, the quicker it will show wearing and weathering. A solid stain might need reapplication every year, while a clear or wood-toned treatment probably will last longer.
- Solid / opaque stains are better suited for vertical surfaces (railings, pillars, caps) than for horizontal (decking, stairs). The wearing from foot traffic is particularly noticeable with an opaque stain, and it's possible to track the residue inside the house.
- Solid / opaque stains don't show the grain of the wood. All others do.
- Darker colors, particularly solid / opaque and semitransparent stains, will absorb heat more easily. They could make the deck uncomfortable for barefoot walking.
- Choose a color that matches the siding on your house or one that contrasts with it nicely. Use the color wheel to determine pairings.
- For a decorative look, select two or more colors that work together for decking and rails, post caps, stencil work, etc.
Deck Maintenance Accessories
Your deck restoration shopping list will contain more than just cleaner and sealer. Here are some other products that will make the job easier:
- A pump-action sprayer to apply cleaning solutions. You can buy one labeled deck sprayer or garden sprayer, but don't use it for spraying your garden once it's had deck cleaning chemicals in it
- A stiff brush on a long handle for scrubbing. Don't use one with metal bristles, because it might damage the wood
- A paint roller on a long handle for spreading stain or sealant. Look for a 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch nap
- Paintbrushes made to apply the stain you have chosen
- Plastic tarps to protect nearby plants from overspray
- Tape to mask off areas that you don't want to stain