Prepping and cleaning your wood deck for staining and sealing

Posted: March 10th, 2016 | Expert Advice | No Comments

By Jeff A. Mudd | Best-Rate Repair

The first step to protecting and preserving your deck is to make sure the wood is ready to accept a stain or sealer. To find out, determine if the wood is “thirsty”. Test absorbency by sprinkling water on the surface; if the water soaks in rapidly, the surface is ready. And no, spilling your lemonade is not a good test, just sticky!

Jeff A. Mudd | Best-Rate Repair

Jeff A. Mudd | Best-Rate Repair

Before you can protect the wood, keep in mind that an ounce of prevention begins with a thorough cleaning. Start the process by removing all deck furniture, potted plants, etc. and making sure the kids and pets stay clear of the area throughout the process. Before cleaning, repair any loose boards and sand rough spots with a 100 to 80 grit sandpaper. A pole sander will make the sanding process go faster and save you from back and knee pain. Sweep off loose debris and clean between cracks using a putty knife or five-in-one tool, debris left in cracks will absorb moisture and can contribute to dry rot, fungus and molds.

You’ll want to remove embedded dirt, fungus and stains from your deck as part of the cleaning process. A one-step cleaner that can be purchased at all home improvement stores will do the trick. Take a few moments to read the manufacturer’s recommendations and follow them. Some cleaners require the deck’s surface to be damp before applying, while others require the surface to be dry. Make sure to read the label.

Use a paint roller with an extension handle or a garden sprayer to apply the cleaner to the entire deck. Don’t let the cleaner puddle; in fact, you should back roll or spread the cleaner using a roller or a broom to spread any puddles.

Scrub tough spots with a stiff brush or broom. Allow the cleaner to soak into the wood; this will usually take no more than ten minutes. After the cleaner soaks into the wood, rinse the deck thoroughly with a hose.

Allow the surface to dry completely at least two days before moving to the sealing or staining process. Wash all tools with warm soapy water.

Now you are ready to begin the deck staining or sealing process. Make sure to choose a stain or sealer that repels water, resists mildew and prevents fading in high traffic areas.

Oil-based products tend to retain or hold their color longer, but water-based products are more durable, last longer and only require soap and water to clean up.

There are four categories of stain or sealant to choose from: clear water repellents, tinted water repellents, semi-transparent stains, and solid stain. Each category contains an increasing amount of pigment (the stuff that makes color). The more pigment, the less the natural wood grain and texture is going to show through, but the better the protection it provides the wood.

Clear water repellents provide basic protection from moisture but not a lot of UV protection, so the wood will begin to gray after only a few months. This can give the wood more of a natural look. Count on using this product season to season.

Toner or tinted water repellents work in a similar manner to the clear water repellents, but pigment is added. The pigment provides a little bit more sun protection, which can help restore a little bit of the original look of the wood if only slight fading has occurred.

Semi-transparent stains contain more pigment, and will provide subtle color but still allow the wood grain to show through. These products last longer than water repellants, giving you a couple more seasons of protection. When choosing a stain, remember that colors vary based on the wood itself. If you are applying a stain over an old stain, choose a color that is similar or darker than the original. To allow the new color to absorb into the wood, the old stain should be adequately worn or thoroughly stripped. Do a test patch in a hidden area to ensure color and appearance.

Solid stains provide the most pigment and the best protection for wood. They also hide the wood grain, allowing just some of the wood texture to show through. This type of stain is best used for heavily weathered wood. Solid color stains last longer than any other type of stain, sometimes as long as 4 to 5 years. 

Applying Stain

The key to staining and preserving your deck is to apply a thin, even coat of stain or sealer over the deck using a roller with extension handle. Use a two to three board pattern overlapping slightly to eliminate breaks or “holidays”. Two thin coats of stain are better than one thick coat, which won’t adhere or dry properly.

Do not allow the finish to puddle. Make sure to back roll or brush out puddles, and make sure you allow the deck to dry completely before putting the furniture and potted plants back and allowing kids and pets to play on it.

So, take it from a guy who has had to replace a lot of decks in his career,  a little TLC can go a long way toward keeping your deck healthy, happy and functional for many extra years.

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