Care and Maintenance of Your Deck
Welcome to the fifth installment in our series designed to help you understand and navigate the steps to getting the outdoor living space of your dreams! If you missed them, here are Part 1 –Design, Part 2 – Materials, Part 3 - Working With Contractors and Part 4 – Budgeting for Your Deck. This week, we will focus on deck care and maintenance.
One of the things that many homeowners find when they first start researching decks is that care and maintenance can be costly and time-consuming. The good news is that, in general, you can control the level of maintenance required by the materials you use to build your deck.
All decks – wood, composite or plastic – are going to require some general care, both to maintain the integrity of the materials and to ensure it is a place you want to spend your time. There are several important factors to keep in mind to ensure your deck stays beautiful over time. It is critical to follow your decking manufacturer or supplier’s instructions with regards to care and maintenance of your deck as failing to do so may void any warranty offered. Any suggestions or tips in this post should not be taken over a manufacturer’s instructions.
If the gap between decking boards is less than 3/16", organic debris such as leaves, seeds or pollen can settle on the deck and clog gaps. Water can pool, steeping organic debris that forms a “tea” or tannin which may stain your deck. This organic debris is a strong food source for mold. Keeping the gap clean is the easiest way to keep the deck clean. If gaps become clogged, use a garden hose, a spatula, putty knife or similar tool to remove debris.
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew are common environmental conditions. Molds grow on decaying organic material such as wood, leaf decay and pollen. Tiny and lightweight, mold spores travel easily through the air. Different climates experience varying degrees of these conditions depending on the amount of moisture and heat present.
To thrive, mold and mildew need air, water, elevated temperatures and a food source. There is no way to eliminate all of these conditions in the environment. A wide variety of building materials including concrete, wood products, vinyl siding and many others are subject to potential mold growth.
To minimize mold on your decking, clean your deck as often as needed, at least twice each year. Climate conditions vary in different regions of the country and may necessitate more periodic cleaning. Removal of leaves, debris, and other organic materials that provide a food source for mold development is important.
Cleaning Your Capped Composite, Uncapped Composite or PVC Deck
As I mentioned above, it is important that you clean your deck as often as needed to remove pollen, organic debris, dirt or stains. Generally, a broom or a blower will work better than a hose for removing scattered organic materials like leaves. For general cleaning, use soap and water or mild household cleaners.
Skilled professionals may use a pressure washer with wide fan tips, at low pressures under 1,500 psi and at safe distances (about 12” above deck). In the wrong hands, your composite deck can be damaged by a pressure washer. Exercise extreme caution.
If you have capped composite or PVC decking, keep the following information, in addition to the tips above, in mind:
- Direct downspouts, downspout extensions and splash guards away from decks.
- Position dryer vents away from decks.
- Maintain a deck that is dry and clean.
- If mold is present on your deck, use soap and water to clean.
- Minimize the use of wet mulch up against the deck structure.
- Items stored directly on top of the deck surface, such as flower pots, prohibit water evaporation and can cause some staining of the deck surface.
Additionally, it is important to protect decking during masonry construction. White or hazy residue from mineral deposits (efflorescence) can leach out of stone and masonry materials after water evaporates leaving the deposits behind. Minerals from soils in certain arid and mountainous environments can also cause a hazing affect when deposited on the deck surface.
This can only be prevented with complete and secure coverage of the decking surface area during the construction phase or installation of the decking after the masonry construction phase. To minimize this affect during masonry construction, keep materials dry and allow masonry and cement to cure properly.
Additional Considerations for Uncapped Composite Decking
Because of the exposed wood fibers in uncapped composite decking, more frequent deck cleanings may be required to keep mold from growing. If mold is present on your deck, there are many commercial products available for cleaning mold.
In addition, the use of wrought iron railing or other carbon steel materials in contact with or above an uncapped composite deck surface may cause dark extractive staining.
Wood Deck Maintenance
When taking care of wood decking, in addition to the mold and mildew prevention tips above, you will need to clean your deck semi-annually and seal and stain it as needed. You’ll need to plan ahead to ensure that the weather doesn’t ruin all your hard work. Clean and treat your wood deck when the weather forecast calls for three rain-free days in a row and temperatures between 50° and 90° F.
To determine whether your deck needs to be sealed and stained, sprinkle a few drops of water on the wood. If the water beads up, you don’t need to treat it yet, but if not, it needs to be cleaned, stained and sealed. Do this test once every six months.
Your deck must be clean and dry in order for the stain to penetrate the wood. Keep in mind that this is a stain that is not meant to come off, so wear clothes and shoes that you won’t mind throwing away when you’re done.
- Remove all deck furniture and plants and trim any shrubs, bushes or trees near the deck to avoid getting leaves and twigs in the stain.
- Repair any damaged or loose boards and sand all the rough patches.
- Sweep off the deck and then clean your deck based on the stain manufacturer’s instructions. Note that some manufacturers require the use of a wood stripper and brightener.
- Clean redwood, cedar, or mahogany with a wood cleaner specifically formulated for these surfaces.
- When working on vertical surfaces, work from the bottom-up to avoid uneven appearances.
- Liberally apply the wood stripper with a pump-type sprayer.
- Let the wood stripper stand for a minimum of 15 minutes, but don't allow the wood stripper to dry.
- After the wood stripper has had time to work, rinse the surface with a garden hose, or pressure washer on a low setting.
- Mix the brightener with water according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Apply the solution with a pump sprayer and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Use a cleaning brush on any trouble spots (spots affected by mold and mildew).
- Rinse off the deck with a garden hose and nozzle or pressure washer on a medium setting. Repeat the process if necessary.
- After the deck has been thoroughly cleaned, let it dry for at least 48 hours.
Avoid staining in the heat of the day or in direct sunlight when the stain could dry too quickly.
1. Mask off any parts of the home that may come in contact with the stain.
2. Completely stir the stain.
- If you're using multiple gallons, combine them into a five gallon bucket to assure color consistency.
3. Pour a small amount of stain into your paint tray.
4. Apply a thin coat to a two- or three-board section with a paint roller.
- Work from one end to the other, assuring that the stain penetrates the wood.
- Apply the coats in thin layers. Generally two thin coats are better than one thick one.
5. Repeat this process on all wood surfaces.
6. Use a paintbrush to apply the stain in tight areas, like the steps or railing.
- The support beams under the deck probably will not need a coat of stain. But you may wish to apply a coat for aesthetic reasons.
7. Allow the deck to dry for at least 24 hours.
8. After the deck has thoroughly dried, put your patio furniture back in place.
No matter which level of maintenance you choose for your deck, following these tips will ensure that it stays beautiful for years to come.
Stay tuned next week as we wrap up our blog series with the fun part - Enjoying Your Deck! Or, if you can't wait, download our free white paper What To Expect When You're Decking!