Decks need seasonal maintenance to look their best. Occasional repairs will be necessary to keep up maintenance and appearance. If your deck is painted or stained, you will probably need to recoat it every three years or so. If you’re unsure how to maintain your deck, read on to discover the proper method recommended by professional deck contractors.
Inspect Your Deck
- Sweep away leaves, thistles, or any other debris that has built up in corners and between boards. Organic material holds moisture and can promote dry-rot, mold growth, and more. Dead leaves also promote insect infestations; even pressure-treated wood can have problems with burrowing insects.
- Check for raised nails. If a nail has popped up, drive it back flush against the plane of the wood or pull it and replace it with a wood screw. Rusty nails sticking up from a deck can lead to cut feet and the potential for tetanus infections. If you decide to use screws, make sure to buy galvanized deck screws. Most decks built in the last twenty years use wood pressure-treated with several copper compounds as a measure to prevent rot and termites instead of the arsenic-treated wood of older decks. These copper compounds cause ordinary steel fasteners to rapidly corrode.
- Inspect all railing and support beams. Loose railing can lead to severe injuries. Tighten any bolts that have come loose. If fasteners appear to be rusting or corroded, consider replacing them with galvanized or stainless steel bolts.
- Check for loose or cracked deck boards. You should repair or replace any damaged boards. This is a problem for any deck, but doubly so around a pool. A loose board can cause injuries if it trips someone on the deck. Missing or loose boards are especially a hazard to pets and small children, whose legs could get stuck in the gap between missing boards.
Clean and Repair Your Deck
- Repair any loose or warped planks you found when inspecting the deck. If a board is badly warped or beginning to rot, the best option is to replace it entirely. Dry rot can spread like a virus, and replacing one or two boards now can save your entire deck down the line.
- Thoroughly wash your deck to remove any dirt, mold, or wood-rotting fungus. This is where many people burst out the pressure washer. That’s a bad approach for several reasons. Even at a lower setting, a pressure washer will permanently damage any paint or stain on your deck.
You probably won’t strip the paint outright with a pressure washer, but the force of the water will create microscopic fractures in the paint. The paint will chip or peel more easily, and those cracks can be exploited by mold or fungus to infiltrate the wood of your deck. Instead of high-pressure water, your best bet is a garden hose, a soft-bristled scrub brush, and any variety of concentrated household cleaner mixed up in a 5 gal bucket.
- If you have any mold or mildew visible, fungicidal deck cleaner is available as a concentrate or in spray bottles. Diluted bleach is also great for killing mold, but bleach might discolor your deck and will definitely ruin any fabric, like umbrellas or grill covers, so make sure to remove those items before cleaning.
Protect and Preserve Your Deck
- No wood deck will last forever, but naked wood will need serious repairs or total replacement much sooner than a deck protected by a penetrating wood stain or exterior grade paint. If your deck is bare, the best time to paint it is in the spring.
Exterior paint or stain dries to the touch within hours and is safe to walk on in a day or two, depending on the exact product. Oil-based products will continue to cure for days, and won’t reach their peak durability for at least two weeks–even more if you applied several coats or the weather is humid. By painting in the spring, your deck will be fully protected when summer hits.
- If your deck is stained, you should reapply a coat of stain every year or two. If you wait until the bare wood is showing through, your deck is taking unnecessary damage. Stain penetrates beneath the surface of your deck and forms a protective barrier against water, fungal growth, and more.
- If your deck is painted, long-term maintenance depends on what kind of paint you chose. Oil paint fades after a few years, but a quality exterior oil can last five years or more without needing a repaint. And when you do repaint it, you can paint over the old coat without an issue.
If you chose acrylic exterior paint, the color won’t fade, but the finish will begin showing chips and scars. If you decide on a repaint, the old acrylic finish will need to be completely stripped first, and the deck will probably need to be sanded.
Get Scrubbing, Painting and Protecting Your Deck!
You now have the professional means to successfully maintain your wooden deck. Wooden decks, when properly maintained, react better to the heat and warping stressors that afflict most PVC or composite decks and can last just as long. Aesthetically, there is little that compares to a quality wooden deck when the proper care is administered. Do not wait for time and weather to take a toll on your deck – get prepping!
Jennifer Bell is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast and avid beachgoer operating out of Southern New Jersey