Cleaning a Wood Deck

Learn all about cleaning a wood deck, from what materials and equipment you'll need to how to avoid splintering.

Clean Wood Deck

Clean Wood Deck

A detail shot of a wet clean wood deck.

Photo by: George Lama

George Lama

A deck can add beauty and value to any outdoor living space, but cleaning a wood deck isn't high on anyone's "how to spend a leisurely afternoon" list. These simple tips will help you clean your wood deck as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

How to Refinish Your Deck

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Refinishing a Deck

A deck can be a valued extension of the home, but time and the elements  will take their toll. If it has been a few years or even decades since your deck has been given the attention it deserves, it may be time to refinish with necessary repairs, a thorough cleaning and a fresh coat of paint or stain.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Determine Your Needs

A deck that is just a couple of years old or has received regular maintenance is still likely to benefit from a good cleaning. An older deck may need repairs to railings or steps, replacement of split or splintering planks and decisions will need to be made regarding the type of stain used to protect and beautify the structure.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Sweep and Assess

Clear any furniture or plants from the deck, grab a broom and clear off  surface debris. As you traverse the deck, make note of any split, splintered or rotting lumber, raised screws or nails, rusted hardware  and any other problems which will need to be addressed.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Select a Cleaning Solution

Diluted bleach is a popular choice for deck cleaning, but isn’t necessarily the best choice. Over time, stain is more likely to fade or discolor and bleach can hasten the degradation of the wood. Instead, select a cleaner formulated specifically for deck cleaning and follow manufacturer instructions regarding dilution and application.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Apply Cleaner

Deck cleaner can be spread by using a brush or broom to sweep across the surface or applied using an inexpensive tank sprayer as shown here. Make sure all edges, corners and gaps are treated as will as the deck surface. Follow manufacturer instructions regarding use, but in most cases, the solution should be left to soak on the wood for a period of time before continuing.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Pressure Washing

A pressure washer is a powerful tool for cleaning a deck. Take care to select a nozzle appropriate for the job. Spray nozzles are categorized by the angle of the spray. A zero degree “red tip” provides the most powerful stream, but can damage the soft wood. Consider a nozzle with a spray angle of 25 or even 40 degrees to clean your deck without scarring the surface.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Controlling the Spray

Hold the spray wand at an angle to push dirt and grime away from the contact point. Use consistent motion and distance for uniform cleaning without the risk of pitting or scarring.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Repeat Cleaning Process, If Necessary

If it has been a long time since the deck has been pressure washed or has been subject to unusual mildew or staining, a second application of deck cleaner and another round of pressure washing may be needed for a thorough cleaning. If you were on the fence about applying a new stain to the deck, it may be easier to decide once you’ve seen it at its cleanest.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Tap Down Exposed Nails

Wood shrinks over time and nails that were driven flush with the surface of the deck may need to be tapped down.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Replacing Planks

Planks that have cracked, split or rotted may need to be removed. Individual planks may be pried up and replaced with new lumber of the same type. Although a structurally sound choice, newer wood will not match older when using a clear sealer or a semi-transparent stain.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Selecting a Stain

If the lumber used to build your deck looks just perfect in condition and color, you may elect to apply a clear sealer. For most of us, the deck will benefit from a little color, but the choice of stain used will vary with preference and deck condition. A deck that is in good condition with minimal splintering and uniform color throughout is a good candidate for a semi-transparent stain, which soaks into the wood and leaves the grain of the wood visible. Solid stains, as we use on this project, coat the surface of the wood like paint and will hide replaced lumber and minor weathering. If the condition of the wood is especially weathered, a resurfacing stain containing grit is a forgiving choice and can hide cracks as deep as 1/4".

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Apply Stain

Plan to stain once deck is completely dry and no rain is in the immediate forecast. Tape off edges as needed and make sure no debris is present. A paint pad or roller can be used to apply stain to the deck, but care should be taken to apply evenly. Solid stains are more forgiving, but uneven application or “touch up” spots will stand out when using semi-transparent stains.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Corner, Gaps and Railings

A paintbrush should be used in corners, railings and in gaps between planks. Railings and gaps between deck boards require special attention and can impact the amount of stain and time needed for the project.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Solid Stain

While the look of solid stains obscure wood grains, pitting, scarring and other indicators of age and use are hidden.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Leave an Escape Route

Apply stain from corner or wall to deck edge to allow an egress when finishing up.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Continued Maintenance

A yearly cleaning and inspection will keep the deck looking good, but expect to re-stain in anywhere from three to 10 years, depending on the type of stain used. Proper care and maintenance of your deck can drastically increase its lifespan with minimal expense.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

The first thing to consider in terms of cleaning wood decks is a schedule. If your deck has heavy exposure to falling leaf debris, pollen or dust, you should probably sweep your deck once a week, and perform a full cleaning twice a year. If your deck stays relatively free of leaves and other debris, you can probably get away with cleaning it once a year.

After thoroughly sweeping the surface and all railing and stairs on your deck, you're ready to wash off any remaining dust and grime. The most efficient way to wash your deck is with a power washer. You can purchase one to keep at your home permanently (they can also be used to wash siding, driveways and walkways, so they can be a good investment), or rent one from most hardware or home improvement stores. Be sure to read the settings and affix the correct nozzle on any power washer before using it on your deck—too much pressure or the wrong nozzle can damage the wood and cause splintering or fraying.

If your deck has algae or mold areas, you will want to pre-treat these with the appropriate chemical components before washing your deck. Otherwise, they may wash off initially, but are likely to spring right back after a short time.

Once you've thoroughly power-washed your deck, you can brush on some deck cleaning solution (widely available), which will clean and help preserve the wood. Then, after a period of 24 hours for drying, you can apply any other stains or treatments to help weatherize and protect the deck's surface.

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