Proper deck maintenance is key to prolonging the life of your exterior living area. As much as you love your cabin’s interior, its outdoor living spaces are sure to become some of your favorite aspects of your home. Barbecues, bonfires and backyard get-togethers take on a whole new dimension of relaxation when you’re surrounded by nature instead of suburbia, and it’s easy to spend your summer whiling away the time as you watch the fireflies come out.
However, without proper preparation and regular upkeep, your deck may become a rundown eyesore, causing more headaches than it’s worth. Boards can rot, stains can fade, and sealers can fail, leaving an unsightly mess. Fortunately, keeping your deck in great shape is pretty straightforward, and spring or summer is a great time to tackle this project. Here’s your step-by-step guide to the right kind of deck maintenance that will keep your deck in its best condition.
1. Assess Your Deck’s Condition
Test your boards to see if they require any new product application. Sprinkle some water around different spots of your deck, especially areas that receive direct sunlight or are showing signs of wear and tear. If the water beads up, your seal is still intact; if it soaks in, you need to reseal.
2. Prepare Materials for Cleaning
Remove your deck furniture. Going with the direction of the grain, sand down any rough patches or areas with uneven sealant to create a uniform work surface. Use a broom to sweep away sawdust, then use your leaf blower across the entire surface of your deck to thoroughly remove any leaves, pine needles or dirt that may remain. Pay special attention to the gaps between your boards.
3. Protect Surrounding Vegetation
Your plants may suffer from exposure to the fumes and chemicals that may be present in your finishing materials. Wet them down before you start to apply any cleaners, stains or sealants, and cover them with clear plastic until the fumes begin to subside.
4. Apply Cleaner
Because bleach (sodium hypochlorite) can break the bonds between wood fibers and destroy the integrity of your wood, choose a bleach-free deck cleaner/brightener to revive your planks. Check the manufacturer’s instructions before you begin; some need the deck to be wet before application, while others require a dry surface.
Apply the product using an extended paint roller, garden sprayer or stiff-bristled push broom, and enlist the help of a friend to follow behind you and spread out any puddles. As the cleaner soaks in, scrub rough spots with a stiff, non-metal brush (to avoid rust spots and scarring). After about 10 minutes (check the manufacturer’s instructions for a specific time lapse), thoroughly rinse the deck with water to remove the cleaner. Some products may require a power washer to remove the product entirely, so be sure to check the instructions before you apply. Allow the deck to dry for at least two days before proceeding.
• Check the weather before you begin: You will want at least two days of dry weather between 50 and 90 degrees.
5. Apply Stain and Sealer
Ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause as much damage to your deck as excessive moisture: The sun’s effect breaks down the lignin in your wood and causes it to gray over time. A colored stain will slow this deterioration, with darker colors providing more protection. You can choose to apply stain and sealer separately, or use a combined product for compatibility and ease of application.
Unless the manufacturer’s instructions indicate otherwise, apply your stain or sealer in thin, even coats using an extendable paint roller or sprayer. Have a friend follow behind you to spread out any puddles. Use a paintbrush to work stain or sealant between cracks and gaps, into corners and along railings.
Allow the product to dry completely between coats. If you use two distinct products for your stain and sealer, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for product compatibility and time between applications.
6. Perform Regular Maintenance
Following rain storms, check your deck to see if the water beads or absorbs. Depending on what products you used, you may have to reapply your stain and/or sealer every one to three years, but you can repair susceptible spots in between full reapplications. Simply sand down to the wood, and reapply your product(s) using the aforementioned five-step process.