All month long, Dunn Lumber's Jim Coshow and Todd Dermody have been offering insight and resources to help you build the best deck for your home. Check out Part 1: Planning, Part 2: Choosing a Deck Surface, and Part 3: Building.
Maintenance schedules vary depending on your decking surface and environmental conditions, so we’ve created a maintenance guide to help you keep your deck looking good all year long.
Wood decking is a traditional option with choices that include tight-knot and clear grades of cedar, modified softwoods, and luxurious hardwoods.
Cedar: Cedar may last 25+ years with proper care, which will include routine cleaning and restaining—and may include stripping and restaining.
Softwood: Modified softwoods such as Thermory offer a durable, stable, rot-resistant board, which requires no maintenance beyond normal cleaning as long as you are comfortable allowing the boards to weather to a natural gray color.
Hardwood: A popular choice for decking, rot-resistant hardwood lumber species such as ipe, tigerwood, and batu will stand the test of time. With regular maintenance and refinishing, they’ll retain their color and appearance, or, if you simply want to clean them, they’ll weather to gray.
Thermally modified bamboo: Bamboo is frequently categorized as a hardwood, though it is technically a grass. Products such as dassoXTR can be maintained with a proper finish to keep their original brown color; or, given an annual cleaning and allowed to weather to a natural gray.
Capped composite: Capped-composite deck boards are more resistant to fading and scratches. These products are very durable and stand up to cleaning and normal use better than older "true" composite decking because of their hard, exterior cap (or shell).
PVC: PVC is a wood-alternative decking surface that’s easy to install thanks to its lightweight and compatibility with a broad variety of fastening options. PVC decking excels in its durability, scratch, stain, fade resistance, and warranty (up to 30 years!). It's also a great low-maintenance option that cleans easily since its surface isn't porous (though it does have texture).
Tips for staining or restaining your deck
Staining (or restaining) a wood deck is an essential process that helps to preserve the life and look of your deck, but it's important to follow the proper steps.
Allow new wood to dry
Although it's tempting to skip this step, start by allowing new wood to properly dry (or season) before applying a stain product. Drying time for "green" (not kiln-dried) decking lumber may be anywhere from four to 12 months depending on your area's climate and time of year purchased. It's ideal to allow the wood to season to a 15 percent or less moisture reading. The seasoning process goes a long way towards helping prepare the wood for accepting the stain product (and the results are worth it).
After the wood has seasoned, you'll want to give it a good cleaning before applying a finish, like a stain. It's best to wait one to two days after cleaning your deck to begin the staining process. Should you have rain, you will want to wait another one or two days before resuming the project. If your deck does not get any direct sunlight, it is likely to take an extra few days to dry out properly after wet weather. Staining your deck before it is completely dry runs the risk of trapping moisture that could lead to mold or mildew challenges. Consider using a moisture meter to help you determine if your deck is dry enough for staining to begin.
Be mindful of temperature and weather
Many deck stain manufacturers say their product works best when applied in temperatures between 60-80 degrees, but shouldn't be applied in conditions below 50, or if the temperature drops below 32 degrees within eight hours. Do not apply your deck coating if rain is expected within 24 hours. A quick light rain is not likely to harm the finish if it has already been absorbed properly, but heavy rain will most likely ruin your finish, causing you to strip it all off and start over.
In every scenario, clean your deck first
One of the biggest errors we hear about is people staining new wood decks without properly cleaning them first. On one hand, it's an understandable mistake. "I bought new wood from the local lumber yard, so I should be able to just sweep or rinse it off and be good to go!" In reality, the new wood you bought has been through quite a journey. From the mill to the distributor; then by truck to the lumber yard—wood gathers dirt and mold spores from multiple environments as it passes through each leg of its trip. That is why hosing off the sawdust and visible dirt is just not enough prep for proper deck staining or restaining.
Many people get away with skipping this critical step, and for that we are thankful. For others, they can be stuck dealing with mildew growing beneath the coating they just applied, or might see areas where the penetration or adhesion of their coating is less than ideal.
From clean-looking decks to surfaces caked with dirt, you will never create challenges by doing extra cleaning. Remember to read the cleaning instructions, which will help you take the right steps to protect your plants, siding, and hardscapes. After a thorough cleaning, be sure to evaluate if your deck could benefit from an application of wood brightener.
Preparing your deck surface means avoiding "mill glaze"
“Mill glaze” is certainly worth guarding against. Mill glaze refers to a condition in which smooth lumber does not receive stain or paint.
A simple water test on properly prepared wood helps you test for this condition before a coating is applied. To test for mill glaze, apply a bit of water to the area and let it sit for a few minutes. If you see the water remain beaded up and failing to penetrate, you'll need to address the issue. If you're seeing signs of mill glaze, use a wood brightener on your deck lumber, followed by a light wash and a thorough rinse. It's a good rule of thumb to repeat this test, just to be sure you're seeing consistent results. Then allow for a dry time of 24 to 48 hours before applying your coating.
General tips for a quality result
- Don’t apply your deck stain in the direct sun (or onto a hot surface); choose morning or evening hours, or a time of day when your deck has shade.
- A morning application can be a safer choice to help avoid contact with dew that sets in overnight.
- Don’t apply more stain than the wood can absorb. Over-application is the most common problem people experience. More is not always better, and puddles of stain can turn into a gummy mess that will create hours of additional work to rectify.
- Work in small areas, keeping a “wet edge” as you go along. Consider staining the entire length of one to three boards before moving on to a new section.
- Wipe off any excess stain after allowing the recommended time for penetration.
- If you have done any sanding of your deck surface, make sure that the dust is completely removed before applying the stain. This is especially important when working with hardwood decking.
- Be especially careful not to sand the heads of your nails or screws, which removes the protective coating and can create additional challenges.
- When sanding, it is recommended that you don’t use anything finer than 80-grit sandpaper for hardwoods, or finer than 100-grit for cedar.
- Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific dry time and curing time before walking on your deck or replacing furniture, barbecues, and other accessories.
Notes on safety
- It's important to handle oil-soaked rags properly before disposal. Lay them flat on the ground in single layers to dry fully. Be sure to check out this helpful tutorial from Dunn DIY for more information.
- Spreading oil-soaked rags out on a drop cloth will limit the chance of any damage to concrete or hardscapes.
- Once the rags are stiff and dry, you can dispose of them with your local waste management company or landfill.
If you have any questions, be sure to visit one of Dunn Lumber's decking showrooms at any of our nine Seattle-area locations. Our team members will be happy to help you find the right decking options for your home.