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A deck is a special part of your outdoor living space that should last for years. Keep it looking its best with the right deck cleaners, sealers and stains.
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.
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. New decks need to weather for several months before sealing. The new boards usually have a high moisture content and the wood surface is too smooth (due to milling) for any stain to penetrate. After the new wood has weathered, follow the cleaning and sealing steps above – with one difference: apply only one coat of stain to a new deck.
If your deck has been sealed before, use the water test to see if it's time to seal it again.
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, closed-toe shoes, a long-sleeved shirt and long 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 is essential for creating an even surface for the new sealant. 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 even more important if you're changing colors. Traces of an old color left underneath will affect the way a new color appears. Stripping is most important if you're changing colors. Traces of an old color left underneath will affect the way a new color appears.
Depending on your current deck finish, choose a stripper that's formulated for:
Consult the manufacturer's instructions to determine which stripper is right for your project.
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:
If you own a composite deck, use a specially formulated product (or dishwashing detergent and water). Wood deck cleaners are too strong and may cause composite materials to fade.
There are four main options for deck stains: clear, toner, semi-transparent and solid / opaque. As a general rule, wood that's older and more weathered requires a more solid or opaque stain to cover imperfections. Most sealers also provide waterproofing and sealing protection. 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.
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. Tints can be added to match your home exterior or deck railings.
The frequency of re-treating or recoating varies by product. Read the label for guidance.
Before you tackle a deck restoration, there are few other things to consider:
Your deck restoration shopping list will contain more than just cleaner and sealer. Here are some other products that will make the job easier: