Weather Protection

  1. The main enemies of wooden decks are sun and water. The main defense is wood sealer or deck stain. A wooden deck should be refinished annually for maximum protection. The refinishing process involves surface preparation and application of the new sealer or stain. There are many deck sealers and stains available. They come as oil- or water-based, transparent or colored. Colored stains come as semi-transparent or opaque. There are also solid stains that are similar to paint.

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Step 3: Apply Sealant

Apply a thin, even coat of high-quality, mold- and mildew-resistant, waterproof sealant with UV protection, such as Woodsman® Water Repellent or Woodsman® Wood-Toned UV Wood Sealer and Protector, using a stain brush, in the direction of the boards. Don’t forget to cover corners and other difficult areas such as steps, railings, board ends and cracks. Apply two coats if needed.

Safety Alert!

Wear protective clothing, safety goggles and rubber gloves when sealing your deck to prevent skin irritation.

Helpful Tip

Do not apply sealant in direct sunlight. It will dry too quickly without absorbing into the wood.

Do I Have to Stain or Seal My New Deck?

Untreated and pressure-treated wood that is exposed to the elements will dry out, crack, split, twist, and discolor. Some wood has natural oils that protect them and will last a bit longer. Once the wood dries out, it is easy for insects, mold, and mildew to damage the wood. The dry wood is also susceptible to moisture damage and rot. The longer you wait to seal or stain your deck, the more damage to your investment.

Sprinkling a small amount of water on the wood is a good way to check if it is ready to be sealed or stained. If the water beads, the wood isn’t ready, but if the water is soaked into the wood, it is ready to stain or seal – a good indicator for pressure-treated wood that often ships wet. Wood that absorbs water will absorb stain or sealer for a better bond.

Sealing helps to maintain the color and smooth surface of the wood. The longer you wait, the more faded the wood will become, and the more ‘furry’ the board surface. New decks constructed of pressure-treated or SPF timber should be stained or sealed as soon as the water stops beading.

Staining a new deck will provide a more uniform color or tone to the wood, while sealing will help maintain the natural color. However, wood that is sealed will still fade over time but will continue to show the natural wood grain.

Applying Deck Sealer to a Wood Deck

To get the most effective seal possible, thoroughly clean your deck before applying the sealer. Be sure all debris, dust, grime and mildew is removed. Check out our step-by-step guide for the best ways to clean a deck or pressure wash a deck.

Before we get into the step-by-step details of how to seal a wood deck, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, don’t apply deck sealer in direct sunlight as the finish will dry too quickly. The sealer needs time to adequately absorb into the wood. Also, if you have a brand-new deck made with treated wood, it’s best to hold off a few weeks to allow the wood to completely dry so the stain is more fully absorbed. Now, you’re ready to begin!

Step 1: Check the forecast

The first step in applying deck sealer is to ensure that you’ve got at least two days of dry weather with temperatures between 50-90 °F. This will ensure the best seal.

Step 2: Clear the deck

It probably goes without saying, but you don’t want to start sealing your deck with furniture, plants and other furnishings scattered about.

Step 3: Sand (if needed)

Before sealing, you may need to sand your deck to ensure that the sealer penetrates the wood adequately. Sanding is time consuming but necessary in many cases. Grab a pole or palm sander to speed up the process, making sure you sand in the direction of the grain. Always wear a safety mask when sanding to avoid inhaling sawdust.

Step 4: Remove debris

After sanding, you’ll want to ensure that the entire deck is free of loose debris. That includes cleaning between the cracks and then making sure the deck is totally dry.

Step 5: Stir sealer

Before applying the sealer, make sure to stir it. DO NOT shake. Shaking may cause bubbles to form in the finish.

Step 6: Apply sealer

Using a brush, paint roller, or sprayer, apply a thin coat over a two-to-three-board section. You can always add another thin coat later as it will apply and dry better than one thick coat.

Back-rolling may also be necessary to create the best coat possible. This requires one person to apply the seal and another person to use a roller or broom to spread puddles and work the finish thoroughly into the wood.

Step 7: Repeat & fine tune

Repeat Step 6 for the entire deck. Use a finer paintbrush to apply the sealer in difficult areas, such as cracks, railings and steps.

3. Keep Your Deck Sealed

An unprotected deck will deteriorate quickly. Even though pressure treated wood resists rotting and insect predation, it will still crack and split from water exposure. The only way to protect your deck successfully over time is to apply a deck preservative. There are sealers, stains and paints on the market especially designed for deck use. Aesthetically, they look very different, but they protect wood and composite decks from moisture damage, fungus growth and ultraviolet light. Some also have built-in fire retardants.

Deck protection products are effective, but they have one big drawback: They lose their ability to protect wood over time and have to be reapplied. Usually, the more expensive the product, the longer it will last between applications, but there’s no magic bullet that will offer lifetime protection for a wood deck. The most important thing you can do to protect your investment is to reapply a wood sealer on a regular basis, typically in fall when the temperatures are stable and rain isn’t forecast for a week or more. Once a year is considered pretty standard, but newer formulations may reduce the reapplication frequency to once every three or four years — if you’re lucky.

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Did You Know? If you’re planning to clean your deck with a pressure washer, you may be able to rent one from your local home improvement outlet.

Best Deck Sealer

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The waterproofing liquid dries clear, leaving the wood color and grain visible, helping to prevent graying and fading. It is ideal for new and older decks, outdoor furniture and structures, buildings, and fences. Works well on cedar, SPF or pressure-treated timbers.

It requires one application, and in most environments, will last for two years. One gallon will cover about 200 ft², and clean-up is a breeze with soap and water.

Regularly Clean and Maintain

Next, it is important that you regularly clean and maintain your deck to keep it in great shape for longer. By doing this preventative maintenance, you will keep things from causing damage to your wood.

For example, if you have any wet leaves accumulating on your deck, these can allow moisture to seep into your wood. To prevent these problems, you can regularly sweep your deck.

If you have barbeques or other gatherings on your deck, make sure you remove any food stains and other debris from your deck. This will keep bugs from gathering on your deck and causing damage.

Regular deck maintenance will prevent problems from occurring in the first place!

Structural Protection

  1. Deck protection includes structural inspection and maintenance. Start by inspecting the deck and railings for nails or screws that have popped up. Pound down popped nails with a hammer and tighten popped screws with a screwdriver. Check for deck and railing boards that are badly worn or that are split, rotted or curled. Replace any bad boards by pulling or unscrewing the fastenings, lifting out the bad board, cutting a replacement board and nailing or screwing down the new board.

Best Deck Cleaner

Deck cleaners get rid of mold, mildew, and any dirt or stains imbedded in wood fibers. Though you can mix your own with laundry detergent and bleach, a store-bought cleaner is best for very dirty or damaged wood.

These products fall into two categories: cleaners and restorers. Among the leading makers are Thompson’s, Wolman, and ZAR. Cleaners contain detergent and bleach and work best on dirt and mildew. Restorers contain oxalic acid and are ideal for removing tannin streaks and stains around nail- and screwheads in cedar and redwood decks. Both come in liquid and crystal form and cost about $15 for enough to make 5 gallons of solution (good for 750 to 1,000 square feet of deck area).

If your deck was painted or sealed with varnish (a big mistake), you’ll need to remove these high-maintenance finishes with a deck stripper before cleaning. Whether you use a stripper or wood cleaner, or both, apply it with a roller or stiff-bristle push broom. Wait a few minutes for the product to soak in. Then rinse with a hose or power washer. Remember to clean the exposed ends of cut deck boards.

COLOR PIGMENTS in semitransparent and solid-color finishes help protect wood from UV rays. Use finishes designed for decks; products meant for siding won’t stand up to foot traffic.
Photo by Crandall and Crandall

1. Know Your Deck Products

Building your deck may have been about aesthetics, but maintaining it is about following directions. Wood looks pretty indestructible, but it isn’t. When you use a power washer or opt for a particular stain or protector, you’re using powerful solvents and equipment. Deck maintenance products are designed to be used in a specific manner. Almost all of them will cause problems if they’re not applied in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

It may sound hokey to reinforce the fact that you should read the instructions carefully on the products you use, but the fact is that not doing so can cause headaches you don’t want when maintaining your deck. For example, using a pressure washer against the grain of the wood can cause unsightly cut marks that won’t go away without sanding. Applying sealer in cold weather, before a rain or on damp wood could keep your deck tacky and sticky for days or even weeks — and never net you the sleek, finished look you want. What’s even worse is that any mistakes you make this year will come back to haunt you next year and the year after that. Keep it sweet and simple: Read and follow the directions every time.

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DO repair, wash, and sand your deck before sealing

Proper prep is key to successfully sealing a deck. Repair or replace any loose or broken boards, so that future breaks or cracks won’t create hazards. Then, wash the deck using a power-washer to scrub the surface clean. Allow to dry for 24 hours, then sand the surface with between a 60 to 150 grit sandpaper or sanding disk. Use a powered sanding tool to remove the top layer of wood, which could act as a barrier to the sealant.

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On a previously stained deck, also be sure to sand the entire surface—areas where the sealant has worn away as well as those that still have moisture protection intact. This moisture protection would prevent new sealant from being absorbed, so sand evenly to ensure a clean, bare surface.

Finally, sweep or vacuum thoroughly. Even a brand new deck will need at least a brief washing and drying to banish any dirt and grime accumulated during the initial 30 drying period.

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