This article originally appeared in The Seattle Times. Header image courtesy of Penofin.
A deck is a significant investment, so of course, you want to protect it and extend its lifespan (a well-built deck can last several decades if maintained properly). Prolonging the life of your deck can be accomplished with seasonal maintenance—think of it like putting on sunscreen. If you wait to see the sunburn, the sunscreen won’t be much help. But if you apply the sunscreen before you begin to burn, you spare yourself the discomfort. In the same way, your deck needs protection from the elements. It will last longest and look best if you reapply that protection before it has worn away.
The type of deck you have will dictate your maintenance schedule and process. There are two primary types of decking materials: wood, which generally requires staining and refinishing every year or so, and manufactured materials, which can easily be cleaned once or twice a year using one of the many easy-to-use products available for that purpose. Here are the basic steps you should take to keep each of them looking nice for the long haul.
Prolonging the life of wood decks
Cedar: Cedar can last more than 25 years with proper care, which includes routine cleaning and restaining—and may involve stripping and restaining.
Softwood: Modified softwoods such as Thermory offer a durable, stable, rot-resistant board, which requires no maintenance beyond regular cleaning as long as you’re comfortable allowing the boards to weather to a natural gray color.
Hardwood: 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. If you simply want to clean them, they’ll weather naturally to gray.
Staining wood decks
Staining (or restaining) a wood deck is a process that helps to preserve the life and look of your deck, but it's important to keep a few things in mind:
1. Before applying stain, allow new (green) wood to dry anywhere from four to 12 months depending on your area's climate and time of year. It's ideal to allow the wood to season to a 15 percent or less moisture reading. The seasoning process goes a long way toward helping prepare the wood for accepting the stain product (and the results are worth it).
2. Be mindful of temperature and weather. Many deck stain manufacturers say their product works best when applied in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees, but shouldn't be applied in conditions below 50 (or if the temperature will drop below 32 degrees within eight hours). Don’t apply your deck coating if rain is expected within 24 hours (or if the temperature will drop below 32 degrees within eight hours). Similarly, high ambient or surface temperatures can result in problems. As a general rule, don’t apply stains when the wood is either wet to the touch or hot to the touch. Read through the stain manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly before starting your stain or restain project.
3. In every scenario, clean your deck first. 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.
Prolonging the life of manufactured decking
Composite: Made from up to 95 percent recycled content and industrial material waste, a composite decking surface is durable and resists scratches, fading, and staining. It’s also easy to care for: a twice-yearly cleaning is usually all the maintenance it requires, saving you time—and money—down the road. Note: Some composites will require immediate clean-up of certain spills that could stain, such as barbecue grease or red wine.
Capped composite: Capped-composite deck boards are even more resistant to fading and scratches. These products are very durable and clean easier than older composite blends because of their hard, exterior cap (or shell).
PVC: PVC is a wood-alternative decking surface that 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.
Regardless of the material, checking in on your deck regularly and performing routine maintenance will protect your investment for many years. That’s decades of barbecues, parties, and late-night fireside chats—with only a little work required, once or twice a year. Sounds like a bargain to me!
Cleaning manufactured decking
Manufactured decking is a popular option because it offers an attractive appearance and easy maintenance. Manufactured decking requires some routine cleaning, but usually less than wood decks. Cleaning instructions for your brand of manufactured decking are generally a few clicks away on the manufacturer’s website (or you can call their toll-free number). Cleaning may be as simple as applying soap and water to the surface of your manufactured deck boards.