Simply put, I love wood. I always have, I always will.
Nowhere is this truer for me than outdoor structures, especially, decks. I don’t mean to sound mystical here but walking on a wood deck feels different to me. Having a softwood surface underfoot gives off a good vibe. Maybe it’s because wood is a bit more resilient. Perhaps it’s because I know it’s real.
Wooden decks, like most outdoor surfaces, do require proper care and maintenance. The trick is to keep ahead of the game with preventive maintenance. In general, outdoor materials have three adversaries: ultraviolet light (sunlight), dirt and water. Protect from these, and your deck will always look like a million bucks.
Okay, let’s assume you haven’t been especially diligent and things are looking a bit worse for wear. Here’s a four-step process that will help you restore your deck.
The first step to restoring your deck is to take a moment and check the decking for missing or protruding nails or screws. Drive below the surface of the wood any fasteners that may be poking up and replace those that are missing. If any planks are twisted, straighten them up using the technique shown in the video below.
While we may not be able to see it, dirt, dust and carbon from automobile exhaust are airborne particles that, over time, will settle on any outdoor surface. It’s often amazing to me how much better a wood deck can look with just a simple cleaning. Just about any detergent can be used, but I prefer trisodium phosphate (TSP) available from most paint retailers, and in hardware stores and home improvement centers. Follow the container directions and mix the powder with warm water. Wet the deck and surrounding vegetation with a garden hose, then apply the cleaning liquid, work it into the surface with a long-handled scrub brush and rinse. Add a cup of chlorine bleach to the cleaning solution if there is evidence of algae on the deck.
What about power washing? In some cases, a power washer that boosts household water pressure up to 1,500 psi, or more can accomplish both cleaning and brightening in one step. A note of caution – this same jet of water can etch some species of softwood lumber if the nozzle is held too close. Usually, you’ll want to keep the tip between twelve and eighteen inches from the surface. In addition to maintaining the wand tip at the correct distance, I’d also recommend limiting water pressure to 1,000 psi and using a nozzle with a spray angle of 25 to 40 degrees. Use a sweeping motion and keep moving.
Even though the deck may be clean it can still look a bit dinghy and discolored from staining or sunlight (the sun’s ultra violet rays can have an oxidizing effect on wood causing it to turn color.) There are a good number of proprietary deck brighteners available, but I often make my own by adding oxalic acid (a powdered bleach) to warm water. Make sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Pre-wet the surface and apply the brightening mixture with a long-handled brush.
The final step to restore your deck is helping your deck stay clean and bright. Once the deck is clean and bright, the idea is to keep it that way. This means applying a good quality deck sealer. Deck sealers work in two ways. They prevent the wood from becoming saturated with water, then drying out. This wet/dry cycle can cause cracking and checking. The sealer interrupts this process by preventing water from penetrating. Sealers can also block potentially damaging UV light.
Sealers can also contain pigments that add color to the deck. I recommend using either transparent or semi-transparent colors. Opaque colors tend to obscure the wood grain and can wear off in high traffic areas, leaving visible wear paths.
I’ve tried just about every application method, including rollers, brushes and spraying. The applicator that works best for me is the painting pad. It applies the sealer smoothly and evenly and the short bristles allow me to work the sealer into the surface of the wood – something I think makes for a more durable coating.
Stay ahead of the game. The easiest way to keep your deck looking its best is to clean it periodically and reapply sealer before the wood begins to look as though it may need it.
Ron Hazelton is on a mission: to provide people with the friendly advice and motivation they need to improve their homes and surroundings. A leading authority in the do-it-yourself home improvement field, Ron is the host of his own home improvement series, "Ron Hazelton's HouseCalls," now in its seventeenth season. Formerly, he was the Home Improvement Editor for ABC's "Good Morning America"