16 Do's and Don'ts for Deck and Patio Maintenance

Keep your deck or patio looking as good as new by following some simple steps — and avoiding time-consuming mistakes.

By: Karin Beuerlein

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Photo By: Solena Landscape Co.

DO seal your wooden deck every few years.

Save yourself some hassle and choose a one-step product that combines stain and sealer. Mitch Kalamian, owner of Solena Landscape Co., recommends Behr’s All-in-One Wood Finish for a good-looking, durable final product.

DON’T sand your wooden deck before sealing unless it’s really necessary.

This step is only a good idea if your deck’s surface has become too rough for comfort, because it adds several steps to your finishing process. “Sanding strips off that top layer of stain, so to do things the right way, you’ll need to put on three coats of stain and sealer afterward rather than just one,” Kalamian says.

DON’T paint your deck if you can help it.

“Priming and painting is always a two-step process, and any moisture trapped underneath will come through at some point,” Kalamian says. “Painting wood creates maintenance that you absolutely must do no matter what.” Where a stain simply fades — and can be replaced as needed with one coat of the right product — paint will chip and flake and is a pain to redo.

DON’T feel obligated to seal your patio.

“If you want a wet look all the time, then seal your hardscape,” Kalamian says. “But you’re creating maintenance, because you’ll have to reseal your patio every two years like clockwork.” Natural materials like slate and bluestone actually tend to self-seal under foot traffic and don’t need the extra layer of protection unless you simply like the glossy aesthetic.

DON’T go overboard washing your deck.

“You want to wash regularly, but not too regularly,” Kalamian says. Normal wear and tear plus constant pounding by the sun’s UV rays takes its toll on the wood’s surface, and if you scrub or power wash too forcefully — or even just wash with water too often — you can actually cause further damage. Plus, if you live in a damp climate, introducing too much moisture into the wood can lead to warping and splitting. Wash only when there’s visible grime, stick to plain water from a hose when possible, and save power washing for every few years during the sealing process.

DON’T overdo washing a stone patio, either.

Natural stone tends to flake, and overzealous washing can actually wear the surface away. It’s best to wash as needed rather than on a regular schedule. Use a mild household detergent occasionally if you see heavy grime or stains; stubborn stains and mildew can be removed with a very dilute mix of muriatic acid and water. (Muriatic acid is available at hardware, big-box or pool-supply stores; be sure to wear protective gear as you work with it.)

DO be careful with power washing.

Too much pressure can damage wood and stone surfaces. “Pressure washing should be done by an experienced hand,” Kalamian says. “If you’re savvy, you can do it yourself, but you might make some mistakes the first time. A guy that does it every single day knows how much pressure is too much.” To be safe, Kalamian recommends hiring a licensed, bonded, insured pro to do your power washing—and be sure to seal your wooden deck right afterward.

DON’T use a wire brush to scrub stains off wood, concrete or stone.

It’s overkill and can damage surfaces.

DO sweep away debris regularly.

Trapped dirt and leaves lead to mold, rot and stains — prevention is always better than the cure.

DO rearrange furniture at least once a year.

This is especially important in mildew-prone areas of the country, because furnishings and rugs tend to trap moisture underneath.

DON’T use chlorine bleach to clean your deck or patio.

It can alter the color of your deck material. Again, start with the mildest options first — even plain water — and work your way up to products designed specifically for the job.

DON’T get harsh cleaners on nearby plants.

When you’re absorbed in getting your deck in tip-top shape, it’s easy to forget that your garden plants are in the line of fire. “Don’t hose muriatic acid off into plantings unless your solution is very dilute,” Kalamian says. If you have a lush landscape near your deck, drape plantings with a sheet as you work and choose the mildest cleaning solution first — say, dish soap or baking soda — before you try harsher chemicals.  (Remember that plants’ roots are sensitive as well as the leaves, so anything you hose off onto the ground can affect their health.)

DO fix nail pops, split wood and missing boards promptly.

“If your deck was installed properly, you shouldn’t have a whole lot of that going on,” Kalamian says. “But wood expands and contracts as it ages, so anywhere there’s a span of wood, like a handrail or floorboard, you might get some creaking or something coming loose.” Screw everything down properly and sand any sharp splinters as soon as you find them, as small problems have a way of becoming bigger problems over time.

DON’T ignore stress points like railings and stairs.

A periodic check for signs of rot, excessive movement and structural problems is always a good idea. Wood can warp and split along its natural grain and cause a safety issue before you realize anything has gone wrong.

DON’T worry about concrete imperfections.

“Hairline cracks are an acceptable industry standard,” Kalamian says. There’s no need to fix them — and trying to mend them with additional cement or grout usually looks worse than the crack itself. Same goes for the whitish film that often collects on the surface of concrete, known as efflorescence. It’s the natural migration of salts and moisture to the surface, and can be considered a harmless color variation rather than something you need to clean.  But if yours is extreme or you just don’t like the look, power washing will remove it temporarily. Sealing is necessary if you want to stop it permanently, and will require a strict maintenance schedule.

DO install irrigation for potted plants.

A container garden is a wonderful thing for ambiance, but it can wreak havoc on your deck or patio’s surface. Overwatering leads to puddling, which leads to mold and stains caused by mineral buildup as the water evaporates. “Anytime we install a deck, we always use saucers for potted plants, connect the pots to an irrigation system, and install a drain tied into the below-ground drainage system whenever possible,” Kalamian says. “That way no water pools around the bottom or leaks across the deck.” Stains caused by pots often can’t be removed, so prevention is your best option.

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