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How to Clean, Stain, and Seal a Deck

I love sharing tips and tricks for various elements of home maintenance.

This article will provide some guidance on how to clean, stain, and seal a deck.

This article will provide some guidance on how to clean, stain, and seal a deck.

We have a saying where I work called "being overcome by events." That means you had so much going on that you neglected to do something important. That's kind of the case with your deck.

You can get so caught up with other home improvements demanding your attention that you neglect your loyal, "always there when you need it" deck. That is, until one day you realize company is coming for a cook-out or to see the new fire pit and your deck looks like something you should have thrown on the fire pit and burned. That's when you pay attention to your sad and lonely deck.

Perhaps you are a new homeowner and really don't know how to care for your deck though. Firstly, decks need maintenance. They don't ask for a lot from you, but at least a seasonal washing is a start. Then every three years or so, a cleaning, restaining, and a sealing. That's not so hard, is it, considering how much service your deck gives you?

But if your deck never gets any use because it's dirty and depressing, has no furnishings, and is in general worn-out looking, then it's time for a deck rehaul!

New Deck or Old Deck

Of course, the ideal solution would be to build a new deck if your deck is old and worn-out looking, but most people don't have that kind of money. Decks aren't cheap.

The new composite materials for building decks are great, however, because they eliminate the staining and resealing necessary to keep a wooden deck looking great. All they need is a good scrubbing from time to time. If your funds are unlimited, then do replace your deck with composite decking. It looks great and will last a long time.

But if you weren't born with that silver spoon in your mouth like the majority of us, you need to apply some elbow grease and revamp and renew that tired, old deck into something clean, well-furnished, and beautiful.

Washing the Deck

The first thing you need to do is give your deck a thorough cleaning. If you can afford it, rent a pressure washer to do the initial surface cleaning. It does the job quickly and efficiently and is much less hard on your knees—because to remove surface dirt from a deck as efficiently as a pressure washer is near-to-impossible without some good hands and knees scrubbing. You could try scrubbing with a very stiff broom, but it's just not the same.

Take everything off the deck and give it a good sweeping to loosen the dirt and get rid of any major debris. Hopefully you are doing this on a cloudy day, because you don't want the sun drying up your cleaner before you can actually clean with it.

There are several deck cleaner products on the market, so grab one of those and a stiff, long-handled deck brush before you start. Make sure if you have shrubbery under or around the deck that you cover it with some water-resistant plastic.

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Cover yourself up too, because deck cleaners are pretty strong and not meant for contact with your skin.

When it comes to restaining, start with the deck rail and spindles, followed by the stairs, and stain them first before the base of the deck.

When it comes to restaining, start with the deck rail and spindles, followed by the stairs, and stain them first before the base of the deck.

Restaining the Deck

After the deck is nice and clean, let it dry thoroughly. Choose a day when there's no threat of rain, but not so hot your stain will dry before you can spread it. Get deck stain and a deck stain brush made for this purpose. It should about 3–4 inches wide. There are pad brushes on a stick for this purpose, but you can't get down in the cracks with them, so I prefer a brush. You will also need a smaller brush for the spindles on the railing.

Start with the deck rail and spindles, followed by the stairs, and stain them first. You will have to work fairly quickly, because stain gets absorbed pretty fast, particularly on a thirsty wooden deck that's been neglected for a long time. Try to get it on as smoothly as possible.

Once you've finished the railings and stairs, it's time to tackle the deck itself. Figure out how you are getting off the deck . . . either down the steps, or into the house through the door leading to your door and start staining accordingly. I like to start with the side of the deck furthest from the door to the house, so I can slide on into the house. I also like to go down the length of a board, because I think it gives better continuity of color. Plus, if you have to stop in the middle of the job for some reason, you won't have uneven coverage.

Sealing the Deck

If your stain did not come as a combination stain and sealer, you will need to seal your beautiful stain job to make it last a long time or at least until next spring when you will probably need to do this job again! Remember what I said about neglecting your deck!

Use a good clear sealer like Thompson's and apply much the same as you did the stain, remembering to leave a way for you to get off the deck. Wait at least 48 hours before using the deck after sealing it. If the deck is proper sealed, water should bead up on it instead of soaking in. That's also a good test to tell when your deck needs to be resealed.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on May 25, 2011:

You're right, HT, I should have added that. Sealers are made to repell water, but can make the surface slippery when they get wet.

hottopics from Texas on May 25, 2011:

Good details. Perfect how to. Word of caution. Thompsons on a wood deck when it rains is slippery as ice. Be careful.

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