There are a few things that when done periodically will keep your deck not only looking good but in great shape as well. A sharp looking deck adds a whole new dimension to a fine home, while a deck in poor repair or in need of a simple cleaning can markedly detract from the home’s overall appearance. Just what these are depends upon the type of decking you have, the finish on the deck surface, and the weather. Some decks, such as vinyl decks, require little more than an occasional spray with the garden hose to keep them clean and looking good. Composite, cedar, and redwood decks require a bit more care and effort, while stained and painted wood decks require the most attention, in some instances requiring not only an annual cleaning, but at times an annual sealing or refinishing as well.
Deck Maintenance Tips
Living in the Pacific Northwest, the major thing we have to contend with is moisture. While rain isn’t going to hurt your deck, standing water can, as can water that is allowed to seep into wood which has not, for whatever reason, been completely sealed or waterproofed. Those living on the coast often have salt spray to contend with, while those living east of the Cascades may experience damage to their deck from the sun’s rays, although sunshine usually causes far fewer problems than moisture. Here are some deck maintenance things you can do, no matter what type of deck you have, or where you live, that can help keep it in tip-top shape.
1. Inspect the Surface
Deck inspection can for the most part be an ongoing thing, even though we tend not to recognize problems that develop slowly. A loose board can be just that, something to be tightened back down. If it’s not tightened down, or becomes loose again, a real problem could be in the making. Stains have a way of becoming permanent, and bubbles or chips of loose paint rarely fix themselves. You don’t have to have a full-blown inspection every week, annually will probably do, but make it a good one. Check for loose nails or loose boards, stains, grease spots if you have a grill or outdoor kitchen on the deck, fading or flaking paint, and any sign of mildew or rot. If you have a stained surface, use a garden hose, or wait for a rainy day and see if water still beads up on the deck surface or has begin to sink into the wood. When wetting the deck down, note if there are places where water tends to stand. Standing water could indicate need to install a new plank, or simply serve as a reminder to sweep away water the when it accumulates.
2. Inspect the Structure
Besides checking on the condition of the deck’s surface, check fasteners, such as nails and screws, and the condition of planks where they abut and moisture may tend to accumulate or sit. Look between the planks as well. In the Northwest, fir needles will fall on a deck’s surface, eventually finding their way into cracks between the planks. This is especially true for the nice home that’s situated in a woodsy Northwest setting. Here they accumulate, especially where the planks are sitting atop joists. Moisture, trapped by the needles, can cause rot to set in at the junction of plank and joist, and in the planks as well if they’re untreated. If you have a deck with a painted or stained surface, the sides of the planks are most often untreated, and therefore subject to moisture-induced rot. If you find a loose nail, it’s best to replace it, either with a deck nail or a screw. Pounding it back in seldom works. Screws seldom work their way out, but if a plank is loose where it’s been screwed down, you’d better check for rot.
3. Cleaning a Wood Deck
Normally you’ll inspect your deck before cleaning it, but it won’t hurt to give it a quick check after it’s been cleaned to see if you’ve missed something. The first thing you’ll want to do is get all the needles or other debris out from between the planks or anywhere else they’ve accumulated. If you’re going to apply a sealant, you don’t want to be sealing in debris and the moisture than goes with it. Use a garden hose or power washer to clean out between the planks and other hard to get at areas. In some instances, a thin blade, such as a putty knife, may come in handy. To clean the surface you can either use a strong TSP solution, or a commercial deck cleaner. When using the latter, always read the directions to make certain you have the right product. Bleach can also be used, especially if you’re planning on repainting or staining. Whatever cleaning solution you choose, even if it’s just a detergent, cover anything under the deck that needs to be covered, like plants or lawn furniture. If you elect to use a power sprayer, keep the stream wide so as not to “dig” a pattern into the surface, or tear off a piece of wood should you hit a crack.
4. Cleaning a Composite Deck
Despite their well-deserved reputation for having low deck maintenance, composite material is seldom maintenance free. While dirt and debris usually wash away easily with plain water, a commercial cleaner will usually be needed to get rid of stains, especially mildew stains. When possible, first check with the manufacturer of the decking material. They’ll be happy to provide cleaning tips and advise you as to which commercial cleaners are most appropriate. When using a deck cleaner, the usual procedure is to spray it on (you can use a cheap hand pumped sprayer), let it sit for about 20 minutes, then wash it off with a garden hose. Mildew stains and ground in dirt usually disappear with this treatment. Composite decks in general should never be sanded to remove a spot or stain, and caution should be taken in using a power sprayer. Either method could break up the fibers on the surface, further encouraging mildew or the accumulation of grime.
5. Cleaning A Cedar Or Redwood Deck
Cleaning a cedar or redwood deck is similar to cleaning a composite deck in many respects. Cedar and redwood, and most treated woods, are decay resistant, and also have less of a tendency to harbor mildew, although in areas receiving heavy moisture, mildew can still be a problem. Power washing is not recommended on cedar decks, as being a soft wood the cedar could too easily be damaged. There are special cleaners on the market for cedar decking and it is also a good idea to apply a brightener after the deck has dried to restore the natural look of the wood.
6. Proper Use Of The Power Sprayer
We’ve touched upon using a power sprayer when cleaning a deck, an admitted time saver. It’s well worth reiterating however, that unless you plan to repaint the surface, using a narrow, high-pressure stream of water is not always a good idea, as it can gouge wood surfaces to a degree even paint can’t hide, and can destroy the surface integrity of composite decking. It’s best to use a 2′ or 3′ wide stream, holding the nozzle about 2′ above the surface of the deck, and swinging the nozzle back and forth like a pendulum. Tough stains should be left to be taken care of with a deck cleansing solution, rather than attempting to power spray them away.
7. When Not To Use Sandpaper
Wood decks on occasion need to refinished and in the process sanded, and spot sanding may sometimes be in order as well. Sandpaper should not be used on a composite deck however, unless the manufacturer’s specification dictates otherwise. Sanding a composite deck can destroy the integrity of the surface, which otherwise tends to be impervious to moisture or grime.
8. Using A Sealant
Choosing a deck sealer is a little like choosing a political party. Some will agree with your choice while others will strongly disagree. Do a splash test to see if you even need a sealer. If water splashed on a stained deck forms beads, you may not need a sealer. Here in the Northwest, it’s advisable to apply a sealer at least every other year, and in some cases annually when performing deck maintenance.
9. Repainting Or Staining
– Once you’ve cleaned your deck, and perhaps used a deck brightener as well, you can usually tell if staining or painting is in order. The important thing is to make certain that your deck is squeaky clean first, and this is another place where the splash test comes in handy, especially if you have a barbecue grill or any other cooking equipment on your deck. The splash test will tell you if there is any grease on the surface or embedded in the decking. If so, it needs to be removed so your new finish can adhere.
10. Make Deck Maintenance An Annual Thing
Deck maintenance is something that is too easily put off, until next month, until the fall, or until next spring. Before you know it, 3 or 4 years have gone by, and an afternoon’s work has suddenly become something much bigger, and possibly much more expensive. This is once occasion where taking the time to make a careful and thorough inspection of your deck will pay big dividends in the long run.
As we always say, if you have any questions about decks feel free to call Fazzolari Custom Homes and Renovations at 360-571-7027 or fill out our form for a free consultation.