Tips to Maintain Your Wood Deck

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Decks expand your living space, maximize your property, and add value to your home. They give you a place to entertain and functional outdoor living space. However, building a deck can sometimes be pretty expensive, so you’ll want to make sure you can use it for a long time. To ensure you extend the life of your deck for as long as possible, you’ll need to maintain it properly.

A deck needs both routine and long-term maintenance. Routine maintenance includes sweeping and cleaning your deck as needed. You should inspect your deck annually and make repairs as needed. Long-term care includes staining, painting, and sealing your deck every 1 to 3 years.

  • Make sure you don’t trap dirt. Place your flower planters on raised surfaces to prevent the planters from trapping dirt or moisture on the deck’s surface.
  • If you grill on your deck, make sure you use a grease catcher. Otherwise, you’ll have a tough time removing grease stains.
  • Sweep your deck regularly to prevent the pile-up of dirt or leaves that will stain the deck surface.
  • Shovel snow off your deck as soon as possible.
  • Professionally clean new decks to kill any mold spores in the wood and remove any surface impurities that could prevent sealing products from penetrating your deck. Wait 60 days before you have it sealed with a waterproof sealer.
  • Make repairs as soon as you notice them. If you remove rotted boards in time, you won’t have to replace the whole deck
  • Keep in mind that decks are not maintenance-free. Don’t think that you don’t have to do anything to protect your deck if it’s made out of pressure-treated wood. This type of wood is even more porous and vulnerable to the weather, so make sure to seal it. 
  • Never use chlorine bleach when cleaning your wood deck; this will strip your natural wood of its color.
  • Keep up on annual deep cleaning. Ensure you deep clean your deck every year to remove dirt, mildew, and mold spores from the surface.
  • It would help if you sealed your deck regularly. Sealing will not only protect your deck from moisture but also protect it against the sun, which can shrink and dry the wood. These alternating cycles of expanding and shrinking can cause your wood to warp, cup, crack, and fade.

You can choose to stain, seal, or paint your deck. Seals are clear and preserve the natural color of your wood deck. Choose oil-based paint or stain to color your deck. Both are waterproof. You should stain, seal, or paint your deck every 1 to 3 years or as soon as you notice that it’s not waterproof and that the color has started peeling off. 

If you want your deck to last for a very long time, you’ll have to establish a regular habit of deck maintenance. Regardless of the deck surface, it’s vital to give it some care and attention. The maintenance of decks is minimal but very important. 

1. Remove Debris From Your Deck Regularly

The first thing to do to maintain your deck is to remove debris from your deck. Any buildup of snow or organic debris over a long time can damage the decking boards. You should consider:

  • Sweep it regularly with a good-quality, stiff broom. It would be best if you kept your deck free of all dirt and organic debris, including dead leaves, straw, moss, and dirt.
  • Make sure you also brush under furniture and plants. If you have a wood deck, it would be a good idea to move your plant pots often and elevate them on small “feet” to allow air to circulate underneath. 
  • If you live in an area with routine snowfall, remove snow accumulation as soon as possible. You can choose to shovel the snow or use a blower to remove the accumulation.

2. Wash Your Deck Yearly

You should thoroughly care for your deck once a year; you can use a mild detergent or specialist deck cleaning product and a stiff scrubbing brush. If you want to make your job easier, you should consider getting a pressure washer.

When cleaning your deck, you’re supposed to get rid of all surface grease and grime to restore your deck’s look. Make sure you choose the right cleaner for your deck – you don’t, for example, want to use a vinyl deck cleaner on your wooden deck.

If you have a wooden deck, you should use a standard deck cleaner and follow its directions. Some of these cleaners will require the decking to be wet first, but some won’t make sure you read the instructions.

If you have a composite deck, use a cleaner specifically formulated for the composite material. To remove all grease and oil stains, use commercial degreasers and detergents. If you have a vinyl deck, all you’ll need to remove all mold, mildew, and dirt is water and mild soap. 

Use a pump sprayer to apply your desired cleaning solution mixture of mild soap and water to your deck. Avoid using bleach or other harsh chemicals where the runoff can kill your plants or grass. Allow the solution to sit for several minutes before washing.

Use a large brush to scrub badly stained areas. Use a water hose with a hose sprayer or a pressure washer on a low setting to wash your deck. A pressure washer will likely clean the surface on the first attempt, whereas a water hose with a sprayer may take multiple attempts.

You can use a power washer if you have it; this will quickly spray away the dirt and grime on your wood deck. It would be best to use the power washer on a low setting and with a fan spray nozzle.

If you have a composite deck, don’t use a pressure washer – you will almost always end up damaging it. 

If you want a more natural approach to cleaning your wood deck (or want to make a cleaner out of what you have at home), you can use vinegar and baking soda. Mix equal parts of warm water with white vinegar and baking soda. White vinegar will kill bacteria and funguses developed, while baking soda will remove all odors and refresh your deck.

Once you apply this mixture, scrub it with a long-handled brush and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing.

When cleaning wood railings, apply cleaner and scrub from the bottom up. If you start from the top, you’ll splatter the cleaning solution onto dry wood and likely leave lasting marks.

Leave the deck to dry for 2 days before moving on to staining, sealing, or painting. 

Related Reading: How to Refinish a Deck: Essential Steps and Tips

3. Inspect Your Deck For Needed Repairs

If you want a good wood deck to last you a long time, you have to inspect it for rot regularly and check whether it’s structurally sound. Summer is a great time to check your deck’s condition because the air is usually dry and warm. 

You should inspect the wood ledger board that meets the side of your house. You should also look under your deck and examine the ledger – the piece of framing that attaches the deck to the house. Damaged ledgers are responsible for 90% of all deck collapses.

Inspect where the stairs contact the ground. Make sure you also inspect for loose railings. Wiggle or put weight against the railings to make sure they have tight connections.

If you find any raised or exposed nails during the inspection, pry them up and replace them with wood screws. Make sure you fill any holes in the boards with exterior wood filler. If you notice that the hardware is starting to look rusty, replace it.

Look for cracked, weak, or curling decking boards. Replace decking boards as needed. Sometimes you’ll have to replace a broken or damaged board in your deck. To do so:

  1. Use a claw hammer to remove the old board.
  2. Buy a replacement board that’s cut to fit, or cut it yourself.
  3. Keep in mind that you should pick the same type of wood and stain or coat to match the other boards, so it doesn’t stand out.
  4. Install your replacement board by drilling pilot holes and use wood screws to secure the new replacement board to the frame.

If there are a few boards on your deck that could replace, consider doing all your deck boards at once to get a new, fresh, uniform look. New deck boards should also give you more stability than your old ones. You’ll need to wait 60-90 days to seal the new decking boards.

4. Staining Your Deck

Staining will protect your deck from fading, natural wear, and water damage. Make sure you clean your deck and leave it to dry for 2 days before you stain it. 

If you plan on staining your deck, you will first have to sand the surface. Sanding is done so that the wood better absorbs the coating. When you sand your deck before staining it, you will create a smoother, more comfortable surface that’s less likely to give out splinters.

Use an orbital sander to remove any of the old gloss and smooth out rough areas to sand your deck. You’ll probably have to use a sanding sponge on the railings or balustrades. Make sure you use 60 or 80 grit sandpaper on the main deck boards, then 80 or 100 grit on the handrails. When you’re done with sanding, vacuum the deck thoroughly. If you don’t, the dust will settle on the new finish. 

Steps to staining your deck:

  1. Use painter’s tape to protect areas like the house’s siding.
  2. Stir the stain and pour it into a paint tray.
  3. Apply the stain to a test patch of wood to see if you like it.
  4. Start by staining the deck’s highest wood features, which are railings, posts, and balusters, then make your way down. You should be making long, even strokes with a paintbrush.
  5. Use a paint pad applicator to stain the deck boards. It’s much easier to do it this way than brushing a large deck by hand, as well as more accurate than using a pressurized sprayer. Using long, even strokes, apply one coat of stain.
  6. You can use a paintbrush to stain between the cracks and in problem areas. Make sure you have a way to exit the deck, like deck stairs or your home’s back door.
  7. Apply the deck stain while moving in that direction – don’t quite literally paint yourself into a corner. One coat will usually be enough. However, if you’re not satisfied after one coat, you can apply another.
  8. When you’re done, make sure you clean the brushes and paint tray, so they don’t end up damaged.
  9. It would be best if you left the stain to dry for at least 24 hours.

5. Painting Your Deck

If you want to paint your wood deck, you will first have to clean your deck and leave it to dry for 48 hours. Once the deck is clean and dry, you can start applying the deck paint.

It’s best to use an oil-based paint or a color tinted stain on your deck. Avoid water-based latex paints.

Start by painting the railings. When you’re done with this, paint the deck boards. You might want to use a paintbrush to trim out the deck and then paint the rest of the deck with a paint roller. You’ll probably need two coats to cover your deck fully. Please leave it to dry for at least 24 hours between coats. 

6. Sealing Your Deck

It would be best to prepare your deck for sealing by cleaning it and removing all furniture and plants. 

First, apply the sealer to the deck railings. Make sure you follow the product directions because application methods vary slightly by product. You can use a paint pad for the railing and balusters’ broad faces, then a paintbrush for corners and tight spots. Make sure you apply an even coating of sealer to all surfaces. 

Move on to the deck boards – use the paint pad for large surfaces and the paintbrush for corners and tight spots. Make sure you apply the sealer to 10 to 15 square feet of boards at a time, then wipe up any excess with a rag. It would be best if you worked from the far corner of the deck to the exit point.

Depending on the conditions and the product, leave the sealer to dry for 24 to 48 hours before using the deck.

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How Often Should a Deck Be Stained?

You can stain your deck during the summer every 1 to 3 years. If you suspect that your deck might need a stain sooner, do a test. Sprinkle some water on the wood and wait 10 minutes. If the wood absorbs the water in those 10 minutes, you should stain your deck as soon as possible if the water pools on the surface, the need for a new stain is less urgent. 

How Often Should a Deck Be Painted?

You can repaint your deck every 2 to 3 years or as soon as it starts to show signs of peeling, bubbling, or flaking. It’s best to paint your deck during the spring when the temperature is between 50-85 Fahrenheit.

Oil-based paints tend to last longer, but require more prep work between paintings. Once you paint a deck, it’s almost impossible to go back to a stained deck and obtain a true color without traces of the previous painting.

How Often Should a Deck Be Sealed?

It would be best if you sealed your deck during the spring, every 1 to 3 years. Because the sealant is supposed to prevent the wood from soaking up any water, you should reseal it as soon as you notice that water is no longer beading on the deck.

Make sure that the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit during application and drying time. You should check the forecast and pick a day when it won’t rain for 24 hours after application. 

You won’t need to apply a water sealant over stain or paint, provided you purchase a high-quality stain or paint with a built-in sealant. This allows you to paint or stain and seal in one application.


Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.