Exposure to daily weather, water and UV rays can quickly rot and warp unprotected wood decks. Wood expands when it’s wet and constricts when it’s dry, causing cracks and splits that only accelerate the warping process.
Once rot begins, it can lead to termite infestation that could wreak havoc on other wooden structures in your home. Ew, right? You can avoid this gross fate by sealing your wood deck from moisture.
To check if your deck is need of protection, observe the surface when water is applied. If the water is absorbed right away, it needs to be waterproofed again. If you’ve been a good little deck owner, and the water beads up and sits on top of the surface, then it’s not ready for another application.
Deck Cleaning and Preparation
Before you can seal your deck, it has to be prepped for the treatment.
Old sealant must be removed, which may require sanding. The wood should be cleaned before sealing, staining or painting to improve the durability of a waterproofer or stain. But before you clean, remove all items from the deck and protect plants and other items that can’t be moved.
To remove dirt and mildew, use an appropriate deck cleaner (your local home improvement store can help). It’s likely you’ll be pointed in the direction of an oxygen-bleach solution which is considered garden-safe and doesn’t affect the color of the wood like regular household bleach can. If you decide to use a power washer, make sure you don’t hold it too close to the surface of the wood, as some experts say it can damage the wood in the long run.
After cleaning, it’s critical that you wait 2–3 days, depending on the weather, for the wood to dry completely before applying a waterproofer or stain.
Deck Stains and Sealers
Now that you’ve waited a few days so the wood can absorb the sealant properly, make sure to follow the instructions on the product’s label to properly apply the sealant.
Deck stains and sealers can be found in both water-soluble and oil-based versions, which help protect against the green-and-black-mold look we are all familiar with from our childhood. Today, synthetic resins are used, which also help prevent your deck from fading due to sunlight and the elements.
There are three common types of stains and sealers: clear, semi-transparent and opaque.
- Clear stains and sealers repel water and protect from UV rays, but do not color the wood. This type needs to be reapplied to your deck every 12–18 months.
- Semi-transparent stains and sealers contain some pigment, but allow the wood grain to show, which makes for a nice appearance for harder woods.
- Opaque stains and sealers provide the longest protection and apply like paint, so they are often used on soft woods, where wanting to see the grain is less important. While more prep time is required for opaques, the benefit is that the sealant can last for up to three years.
Deck Stain and Sealer Techniques
Now that you’ve decided on a deck stain or sealer, there are a few ways to apply it. Spraying is quick and easy, rollers and pads on long handles also work well, and brushes are effective in hard-to-reach areas. You can avoid odd sealer marks on the wood by applying the treatment lengthwise on the boards.
The important thing to remember is to not overdo it. If the stain penetrates the wood, you are good to go, but if there’s too much, it can start to pool on the wood, which can lead to cracking and peeling, which defeats all of your hard work.
Deck Maintenance Tips
Approximately every 90 days, you should clean and inspect your deck. Keep the wood free of leaves, dirt and other debris (especially in between boards), that could collect moisture and lead to mold and mildew.
Remove stains as soon as possible and keep stain-inducing items like potted plants either off the deck surface or on a footed planter.
Depending on the product you decide to use, and the type of weather your deck endures, you may have to re-treat the wood every 2–3 years.
If you’re not sure how to tackle the maintenance of your wood deck, consult your local home improvement store for recommendations on the products that work best in your neck of the woods.
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