Deck Maintenance Tips | Modern Contractor Solutions (2023)

By Steve Getsiv

Americans spend millions each year building, replacing and repairing decks. At an average cost of $16,000 per, a 16- by 20-foot wood deck if well maintained and properly built with high-quality materials should last up to 20 years according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

But then again there are numerous elements involved in this equation. They start with the selection of the deck boards themselves. For some, this means specifying the latest low-maintenance composite deck boards from the wide selection of colors and wood-grain patterns. In other instances, real hardwood decking is still the preference among homeowners who relish the natural beauty, durability and hardness of Ipe, Cumaru, and Batu decking as well as the natural resistance to decay, rotting, termites, and bugs. A durable hardwood deck should last upwards of 50 years.

But, no matter the material, builders should make customers aware that nearly every deck requires some form of maintenance beyond the occasional power wash or cleaning to prevent algae and fungus growth as well as the inevitable discoloring that accompanies age. This is especially true for contractors working within wet, humid conditions and hot, dry climates, where wood, siding, decking and fencing are especially susceptible to graying, water damage, and harmful UV rays.

(Video) Oil a Deck for AMAZING Results!


The first step in the maintenance process begins with the careful inspection of the deck’s condition followed by a decision on the steps needed to refinish the deck, if necessary. If a high-end finish was used in the past, it may be possible to get away with finishing the deck every 2 years instead of annually. However, it can be extremely frustrating to put hours or even days into the deck only to have it look bad and need additional work within a few months.

Decks updated with lower quality stain products commonly require pressure washing or sanding on an annual basis. And yes, this means removing the old finish all the way down to the bright fresh wood. There’s just no point in coating over a grayed out or silvered-out deck. Plus, if the previously used coating didn’t contain a built-in fungicide then the beginnings of mold, algae and more have already likely started to grow within the wood itself.

Again, the goal is a bright, fresh surface that locks in the wood’s natural beauty and color, withstands the elements and looks good month after month. One of the challenges is that water-based finishes are a bit of a mystery since they do little to protect the wood and often necessitate the subsequent application of an oil-based stain the following year. Others contain resins that actually do a pretty decent job holding the wood’s color over time. The problem is that once the resins are absorbed, they seldom allow higher-quality, oil-based finishes to penetrate deeply into the wood during the next application.

Additional considerations surround the numerous quality and performance differences that exist within even leading oil-based stain brands. In most cases, this starts with the very composition of the stain itself and then extends to the assortment of UV blockers, pigments, dyes, fungicide, oils included in today’s products.

(Video) Deck Cleaning and Preparation Tips

For example, many of the oils commonly used in wood stains tend to change color over time. Some even harbor mildew and mold, such as linseed oil, which can lead to the wood turning black or discolored. In fact, the only reason these oils are used by some companies is because they lower the product’s cost, no matter the inferior results.

When it comes to the choice of oils, Polymerized Tung Oil has proven its ability to preserve wood and outperform other products although many users are turned off by the lengthy amount of time it takes to dry. However, some manufacturers have overcome this problem through the addition of high-quality drying and hardening agents that have drastically reduced the time to dry from weeks to days. Plus, another advantage that makes Polymerized Tung Oil worth the wait involves the long-lasting capacity to retain color over time, while naturally resisting mildew and mold.

As for the dyes and pigments used in most stains, trans-oxide pigments are commonly viewed as the more color-stable of the two, which results in the stain maintaining its original color longer than those that contain dyes or solid pigments. But contractors should note that stains containing trans-oxide pigments are not cheap and often bear a higher price although the quality of the application makes them worth the cost in many instances.

In addition, builders should never purchase a wood stain without considering the wide range of ingredients. American-made fungicides, UV blockers and trans-oxide pigments generally combine to better resist water, acid and fading, while also actively increasing the wood’s ability to resist cracking or warping, enhance stability and showcase the wood’s natural luster and beauty. It should also be noted that the highest quality stains use the same UV blockers found in automotive paints, which is another reason these higher-end products tend to cost more but produce higher-quality results.

(Video) How to Clean, Renew and Seal a Wood Deck in One Day

Other advantages surround the enhanced preservation of the wood’s natural beauty, greater wear resistance in severe climates and safer, easier use. That’s because there’s no need to strip or sand the previous coat before their application and the best products produce lower amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) to ensure user- and environmentally friendly results.

Subsequently, builders should be aware that there’s far more to the selection of wood stain than price. In most cases, the components and ingredients vary significantly, while playing an integral role in the wood’s weathering and the customer’s long-term satisfaction—all extremely important considerations that should always be a preference throughout the buying process.


Deck cleaning & stain application tips & techniques

(Video) How to Stain a Deck the Easy Way (Best Tools to Refinish)

  • While all oil-based finishes are not the same, differing brands are generally compatible and can be used from one year to another. Plus, you will not need as much finish if the deck is coated with high-quality stain products annually.
  • Any type of film-forming finish such as a spar varnish, urethane or polyurethane must be sanded to achieve the best results.
  • You can try a deck cleaner, but don’t be surprised if the deck still needs to be pressure washed or sanded with a belt sander. Hardwoods like Ipe, Cumaru, Batu, Brazilian Redwood, Tigerwood and Mahogany/Meranti are best served through the use of a high-powered, minimum 2800 psi pressure washer operated with a turbo nozzle. Softwoods such as Pine, Cedar, Redwood or pressure-treated woods can be cleaned with a high-powered pressure washer set at a lower setting and using a wide-fan nozzle to prevent wood damage.
  • Decks can be safely coated the day after pressure washing when the weather is hot and dry. But, it’s commonly better to wait 3 to 5 days (or longer) so that the water inside the boards has had the chance to evaporate. Deck stain WILL LAST LONGER if the wood is totally dry when the stain is applied.
  • Take your time when coating the deck, while carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions. Most finishes must be wiped down. The best results for wiping finishes are often achieved with an old beach towel within 20 to 30 minutes of the stain’s application.

About The Author:

Steve Getsiv is Nova USA Wood Products’ president and CEO. Nova USA Wood Products was founded in 2005 to supply superior, high-quality hardwood products and accessories at competitive prices to today’s residential and commercial building marketplace. For more, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, December 2020
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(Video) How To Clean and Stain Your Deck. (Make your own cleaner)!


What is the best way to maintain a deck? ›

Clean the deck by spraying a biodegradable outdoor cleaner that removes mildew. Scrub with a stiff bristle brush, using an extension handle, if necessary. Then rinse the deck with a garden hose. Pressure washing is an option, but follow instructions to avoid damaging the wood.

How much maintenance does a wood deck need? ›

DO clean the deck thoroughly once a year. Your deck needs an annual exfoliation so protective sealers can seep deeper into the wood. When it's dry and moderately warm—60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit—apply an appropriate deck-cleaning solution with a roller or sprayer to kill mold and bacteria.

Do I need to clean my deck before sealing? ›

A: Yes. The answer is simple enough, but it really should be remembered that it's important to remove all dirt and contaminants from the surface of wood to ensure proper stain penetration and maximum durability of wood stains. These cleaning tips will help you properly prepare your deck before staining it.

How often do decks need maintenance? ›

Typically, homeowners should restain horizontal surfaces such as decks every two to three years. Poor deck upkeep will decrease the time you have to enjoy the deck before restaining it, while good deck upkeep may give you another year or two before you need to restain the deck.

How do you maintain a pressure treated wood deck? ›

Apply a high-quality oil-based (recommended) or water-based finish with UV protection to slow down the process of wood turning gray from exposure to the sun. Apply a water repellent sealer at least every two years. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for new and re-application.

How do I stop my deck from dry rotting? ›

To stop the rot, you must prevent or limit your deck's exposure. Over time, this will involve regular sweeping and cleaning to prevent damp leaves or debris buildup. It will mean sealing any exposed wood, then install flashing and caulk where needed.

Is it better to sand or power wash a deck? ›

If you are preparing your deck for the first time, you will want to sand it to remove the mill glaze from the wood before staining it, but it won't need to sanded for many years (or ever if properly maintained) when washed or cleaned without a pressure washer.

Should I seal my wood deck every year? ›

For most decks, sealing once each year is a good rule of thumb. Depending on the condition of your deck this can be adjusted, but keep in mind that you should never go beyond three years maximum before re-sealing and staining.

How often should you sand and seal a deck? ›

In many cases, you need to seal a wood deck once a year. The more foot traffic and sun exposure your deck gets, the more often you need to apply deck sealant. The type of product, the thickness of the sealant coat, and the mold/salt protection also affect the lifespan of wood sealer.

How long after power washing can you seal a deck? ›

Pressure Wash to Remove Dirt and Soap. Allow Deck to Dry. Apply Sealant or Stain. Allow the Deck to Dry for 24 to 48 Hours.

What happens if you don't wash your deck before staining? ›

Cleaning a deck before you apply stain ensures that the surface is clean (no dust, dirt, wood fibers or grease), dry and free from mildew. When a surface is not clean, stains and other finishes have trouble sticking and may end up peeling.

Can you seal a deck without staining? ›

Wood stain and wood sealant are two different products, each designed to add different characteristics to your deck. You don't necessarily have to choose between staining and sealing. Some products can combine both properties, or you can add both to your deck.

What is the average life of a deck? ›

Traditional wood deck: Typically 10 to 15 years. Capped composite: Industry experts agree these boards can last 25 to 30+ years. Capped polymer (the best of the best): Because of its superior material composition, capped polymer boards can last much longer, potentially 50 years or more.

What is the average life of a wood deck? ›

A deck made of untreated wood can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years. Decks made of treated wood and composite materials can last as long as 50 years. Many composite decks come with a 20-year warranty – and often a lifetime guarantee.

How long will a deck last without stain? ›

After 6 months, the wood will start to lose its color and will begin to fade. Ultimately it will fade to grey or silver. This is not a problem in and of itself, and some people prefer this look for their decks. You will see what is called checking of the wood.

What is the lifespan of pressure treated wood deck? ›

Wooden Decks Made from Pressure-Treated Lumber

So while it will resist a lot of the environmental changes that the weather brings, it might not be the ideal material for everyone. If you maintain and seal your pressure-treated deck, it can last you around 50 years.

Is it OK to pressure wash pressure treated wood? ›

The impact of water above a 500 psi setting on a pressure washer, as well as bleaches and oxidizers, can damage the wood fibers and are not recommended for deck cleaning.

Should I use oil or stain on pressure treated deck? ›

Any stain that is designed for exterior use will work to stain pressure treated wood. While you will find oil-based stains and latex stains, most homeowners prefer using oil-based stains for pressure-treated wood. Oil-based stains completely soak into the wood, creating a barrier against water penetration.

Does vinegar stop wood rot? ›

One popular remedy for wood rot is vinegar because vinegar's acidity has the ability to act as a fungicide that kills off fungal spores.

Should you put salt on a wood deck? ›

It is not safe for wooden decks. The chloride component of the salt absorbs moisture from the wood. When the wood is left dry, it fails to perform its natural contraction and expansion process, thus corrodes soon. Rock salt is not only unsafe to use on wood but also concrete, asphalt, as well as bricks.

Why is my deck rotting so fast? ›

Moisture and pooling water on decks can lead to rot and decay. Because dry rot is a fungus, it can spread like a cancer throughout a deck. Dry rot is caused by microorganisms that eat the cellulose from the wood leaving it brittle.

What time of year should you power wash your deck? ›

Power-wash your deck in spring before the warm season begins to remove the buildup of winter grime, mildew, and debris. Get your deck ready for your next BBQ by power-washing your deck on a warm summer day. Fall is also a great time to wash your deck.

What is the best solution for washing a deck? ›

Liquid dish soap (ammonia-free) is safe for use on cleaning your deck when mixed with a little warm water. Simply mix 1 gallon of water, 2 tablespoons of ammonia-free dish soap (such as Murphy's), 1 pint of rubbing alcohol, and 1 quart of oxygen bleach.

What time of day should you power wash your deck? ›

Generally speaking, a good principle is to have the deck pressure-washed when the temperatures remain above 52 degrees both at night and during the day without rain or other condensation for several days. This allows the deck to dry as quickly as possible.

Is it too late to seal my deck? ›

Usually, late summer and early fall are the best times for deck restoration and sealing. However, if your area experiences typically drier springtime weather or summertime temps that don't get too hot, you can likely schedule deck sealing anytime between early April and late October.

How long does Thompson's water seal last on a wood deck? ›

How long will Water Seal last? If applied correctly, Water Seal will last up to 4 years.

What time of year do you stain seal a deck? ›

Because you want to wait for days that aren't excessively hot or humid, the best times to apply deck stains are in the late spring and early fall, when the weather is moderately warm and dry. Check the weather and find a time when it's not expected to rain for two days before and following the deck treatment.

How much does it cost to sand and reseal a deck? ›

The cost to resurface a standard 200-square-foot deck is between $500 and $1,400 or around $1,000 on average. Included in this price is sanding and repainting or staining the deck. This price range varies depending on the type of resurfacing materials used and the size of your deck.

How much does it cost to sand and seal a deck? ›

The average deck refinishing cost is between $3 and $6 per square foot. Of course, this is just an average. Other factors, such as the condition of your deck, the type of wood it is made of, and the type of stain or sealer you use, can also affect the price.

How much does it cost to seal a deck? ›

Size. The cost to seal a deck is around $0.75 to $4 per square foot for the sealant, application materials, and professional labor. If you plan to DIY, you can expect to spend about $0.25 to $1 per square foot in material costs.

Does pressure washing damage decks? ›

Potential Damage Caused by Power Washing Your Deck

Wood decks are especially vulnerable to power washing. The pressure exerted by the power washer can easily lead to splintering. If any area on the wood deck is already beginning to split apart, power washing can cause that split area to expand.

How long should a deck dry before sealing? ›

Let your deck dry completely — give it at least 48 hours before applying a deck sealer.

What is the best thing to clean a deck with before staining? ›

We'd also recommend using a deck brightener before staining your deck, though this step isn't required. Deck cleaners, such as the Wood Deck Cleaner and Brightener by DeckWise or the TimberTech Deck Cleaner, will lift and remove any stuck-on grime from your wood deck boards.

Can you clean and stain a deck in one day? ›

The key to staining on the same day as prep is to allow all the visible water to dry off the deck. It can be applied to damp wood to the touch not soaking wet wood. Make sure that when applying you only apply as much stain as the wood can absorb. Do not over apply a semi-transparent deck stain.

Do you wipe off stain when staining a deck? ›

If you want a long-lasting finish on your deck staining, it is recommended to do the following:
  1. Strip off any old stain with a wood stripper and pressure wash.
  2. Clean and light-sand the surface to ensure you have removed any possible elements or contaminants.

Which is better stain or sealer for decks? ›

The primary pro with stain is that it provides protection to the deck surface. This includes for all things, including UV rays, mold, and mildew. However, a sealer is still needed on top of a stain since a sealer alone will not provide a sealed surface. A stain is also available in an array of colors.

Is it better to seal or stain a wood deck? ›

Stain offers little to no moisture protection, while sealant offers tremendous moisture protection. Conversely, clear sealants offer little to no UV resistance, while the pigment in many stains can act as a UV barrier for the wood.

Is it better to paint or seal a deck? ›

So, after looking at the list above, is it better to stain or paint a deck? Make the smarter choice by choosing to stain your wood deck. It provides more protection against the elements while preserving any wood material's natural beauty and elegance, giving you a timeless look that doesn't fade.

What is the longest lasting deck? ›

Ipe wood is the longest-lasting decking material thanks to its density. Your ipe wood deck could last up to 75 years. In comparison, pressure-treated wood may only last up to 15 years.

What time of year should you install a deck? ›

Fall is the perfect time to build a deck. There's a common misconception that decks should only be built in the spring or summer, but autumn is actually an ideal time to begin building your deck.

What lasts the longest on a deck? ›

Opaque: Sometimes called “solid deck stain,” this product contains the highest percentage of pigment and can protect wood the longest, requiring a recoat every 4 to 5 years. Opaque stain, also the densest, completely hides the wood grain. It offers the most coverage short of applying a deck paint.

What is the average labor cost for a wood deck? ›

The labor cost to build a deck runs, on average, $15 – $35 per square foot. Deck materials that are easier to install, like cedar and bamboo, are cheaper.

How do I know if my deck wood is still good? ›

Signs your deck may need repair or replacement
  1. Rotted wood. If you notice a soft spot on your deck, that's a good indicator the wood beneath has rotted. ...
  2. Loose floorboards. It's common for floorboards to crack due to weather. ...
  3. Wobbly railings. ...
  4. Deteriorated posts. ...
  5. Insect damage.
May 4, 2021

Is it better to paint or stain an old deck? ›

Is it better to stain or paint your deck? It is better to stain your deck if you want a natural look and paint your deck if you want to add color. Stain is easier to apply and easier on the wood, but painting gives a more protective barrier and lasts longer.

What lasts longer on a deck stain or paint? ›

Paint lasts longer.

Oil-based paints offer the best protection from moisture, whereas latex paints provide the best defense against UV-related fading. Stain finishes on decks are more short-lived, lasting from one to eight years before requiring re-application.

What happens if I don't seal my deck? ›

The bad news is that if the wood is not sealed the lumber will begin to wear at a far faster rate than it would without that protective layer. Exact figures are hard to place, as your home's microclimate and the quality of lumber used will determine the speed of the weathering.

Should I spray or roller my deck? ›

If you have a covered deck, try using the roller to reach those high spaces. For your wide surfaces, like the main surface of the deck, consider using the sprayer. This will allow you to make sure that your whole deck is covered with the paint or stain of your choosing.

How often should you waterproof your wood deck? ›

For most decks, sealing once each year is a good rule of thumb. Depending on the condition of your deck this can be adjusted, but keep in mind that you should never go beyond three years maximum before re-sealing and staining.

Does pressure washing damage wood deck? ›

Beware Pressure Washing Damage

If you have timber deck boards, a power washer's pressure may cause splintering and damage to the timber fibres. If the timber surface already has some splintering, pressure washing will only exacerbate the issue.

What lasts longer on a deck paint or stain? ›

A quality paint job, finished by a trusted professional, can last for ten years before needing repainting. Conversely, stains need reapplied every few years because they don't offer the same protection against outdoor elements.

What holds up better on a deck stain or paint? ›

But in a head-to-head of painting vs. staining the deck, paint generally comes out as the more durable and colorfast finish, lasting 10 years or longer before requiring re-application. Oil-based paints offer the best protection from moisture, whereas latex paints provide the best defense against UV-related fading.

Is it better to stain or paint an outdoor deck? ›

Is it better to stain or paint your deck? It is better to stain your deck if you want a natural look and paint your deck if you want to add color. Stain is easier to apply and easier on the wood, but painting gives a more protective barrier and lasts longer.

What season is best to seal a deck? ›

Summer is generally the best time to waterproof your deck because it gives you the opportunity to clean it thoroughly and seal it properly without worrying about rain. It takes about two to three days for a deck to completely dry out after sealing and you'll need up to six days for it to be fully functional again.

Can a wooden deck last 50 years? ›

A deck made of untreated wood can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years. Decks made of treated wood and composite materials can last as long as 50 years.

What is the best temp to waterproof a deck? ›

For clear sealer, the deck surface and air temperature must be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit during application and drying time. For deck stain, the deck surface and air temperature should be between 50 and 95 Fahrenheit for application and drying.


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