5 Tips for Maintaining Your Deck

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Home Improvement

Make the most of your outdoor space with a deck that is well-maintained and protected from the elements.
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In recent years, many homeowners in the U.S. have been expanding their living space by adding outdoor kitchens, patios, and decks. A deck can serve as a functional extension of your home during the warmer months of the year, providing a space for relaxation and entertaining. However, whether your deck is made of wood or composite material, it will require regular upkeep and care to keep it in good condition. Even treated wood can deteriorate over time, and exposure to sun, humidity, and water can cause your deck to look dirty and aged after just one season. Here are five tips to help you maintain your deck and protect your investment.

5. Be Vigilant

While it may seem like a sturdy wood deck should be able to withstand the elements for a few years without problems, the truth is that decks are subject to a lot of wear and tear, especially over the course of a single season. Because decks are flat surfaces, water can accumulate and sit on the wood, and the absence of overhead protection means that sunlight can cause damage more quickly. Additionally, foot and pet traffic, as well as landscaping that obstructs good airflow, can cause your deck to age prematurely. Keep an eye out for signs of insect activity, mildew growth, loose treads on stairs, and wobbly railings, and address these issues promptly to prevent further damage.

Over time, nails can loosen and protrude from deck floorboards, which can pose a hazard. Dirt, leaves, and other debris can accumulate between the boards, and bird droppings, dirt, and pollution can stain and discolor the finish. While these problems may not occur all at once, regular observation of your deck’s condition can help you to develop an effective maintenance strategy.

Did You Know?

Adding a deck to your home can increase its resale value by 80 to 90 percent [source: Quality Smith].

4. Perform Regular Maintenance

Make cleaning your deck a family activity.
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You can extend the life of your wood or composite deck by taking preventative measures and addressing problems as soon as they arise. Sweep your deck frequently to prevent the accumulation of leaves and other debris, especially when the leaves are wet. Keep shrubs trimmed back at least a few feet from your deck, particularly on the side that gets less sunlight. Use a painter’s tool to remove debris from between the floorboards. Clean up food stains and bird droppings immediately to prevent staining. If you have potted plants on your deck, place them on pedestals to allow air to circulate, or move them periodically to prevent moisture buildup.

Other precautions you can take include lifting furniture instead of dragging it across the deck, trimming your pets’ nails to prevent scratching, and treating your deck as you would indoor flooring by using protective pads under furniture legs.

3. Protect Your Deck with Sealer

A deck that is not properly protected will quickly deteriorate. Even though pressure treated wood is resistant to rotting and insect damage, it can still crack and split due to water exposure. To ensure that your deck is protected over time, it is important to apply a deck preservative. There are various sealers, stains, and paints available in the market that are specifically designed for deck use. Although they may look different, they provide protection to wood and composite decks against moisture damage, fungus growth, and ultraviolet light. Some also come with built-in fire retardants.

Deck protection products are effective, but they have one major drawback: they lose their ability to protect wood over time and need to be reapplied. Generally, the more expensive the product, the longer it will last between applications. However, there is no product that can provide lifetime protection for a wood deck. To protect your investment, it is crucial to reapply a wood sealer regularly, usually in the fall when the temperatures are stable, and there is no rain forecasted for a week or more. The standard reapplication frequency is once a year, but newer formulations can reduce it to once every three or four years.

Did you know that if you plan to clean your deck with a pressure washer, you can rent one from a local home improvement outlet?

2. Clean Your Deck Thoroughly

A deck preservative cannot work effectively if the deck is not clean. Prepping a deck for its periodic coat of waterproof sealant can be a tough job without the right tools. Many professionals use pressure washers with cleaning and pretreating products to remove grime and loose wood particles. Oxygen bleach is one of the most popular and effective pretreatment options available today. It has a foaming action that reduces the amount of scrubbing required and is both environmentally friendly and landscape-neutral. Chlorine bleach and TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) are other popular options, but both can be caustic and have a negative impact on the environment.

There is a debate among experts about the use of pressure washing equipment to clean wood. Detractors say that high water pressure damages the surface of many common wood products, leaving the wood rough and requiring resanding. Proponents argue that the wear and tear is minimal, and the advantages of quick cleanup make it worth the risk. If you decide to use a pressure washer, begin with the lowest setting possible that will do the job. Start at around 500 psi and gradually increase the pressure. Make sure to read up on using a pressure washer on wood and use a shorter wand for cleaning spindles and stairs. It is also important to maintain a smooth, even motion. After cleaning, allow the deck to dry completely for at least three days at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit before applying sealer.

1. Familiarize Yourself with Your Deck Products

When building your deck, the focus may have been on its appearance, but maintaining it requires careful adherence to instructions. While wood may seem impervious, it is not. The use of a power washer or certain stains and protectors involves potent solvents and machinery. Deck maintenance products are specifically formulated to be used in a particular manner. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions can result in numerous problems.

It may be clich├ęd to emphasize the importance of reading and understanding the instructions on the products you use, but neglecting to do so can lead to unwanted issues when maintaining your deck. Pressure washing against the grain can create unpleasant cut marks that can only be removed by sanding. Applying sealant in cold weather, prior to rain, or on damp wood can leave your deck sticky for days or even weeks, failing to achieve the polished look you desire. Making mistakes this year can haunt you for many years to come. The key is simple: Read and follow the instructions every time.

Methods for Preserving Your Deck: Additional Information

Related Articles

  • Constructing a Wood Deck
  • Unique Deck Ideas
  • 5 Ideas for Patio Decor
  • Outdoor Kitchen Designs
  • The Ultimate Deck Building Quiz


  • BHG. “Protect Your Deck.” (8/3/11). http://www.bhg.com/decorating/protect-your-deck/
  • Carter, Tim. “Ask the Builder.” (8/3/11). http://www.askthebuilder.com/726_How_to_Clean_a_Deck.shtml
  • Decks.com. “Staining a Deck.” (8/3/11). http://www.decks.com/article11.aspx
  • Deckworks. “Frequently Asked Questions.” (8/3/11). http://www.deckworks.ca/maintenance.php#PS5
  • Haege, Glenn. “Deck Care Fast & Easy.” 2005. (8/3/11). http://www.masterhandyman.com/downloads/DeckCarFastnEasy.pdf
  • How to Clean Things. “How to Clean a Deck.” (8/3/11). http://www.howtocleanthings.com/how-to-clean-a-deck.htm
  • Mullins, Luke.”Adding a Deck: A Cost-Effective Way to Protect Your Home’s Value.” U.S. News & World Report. (8/3/11). http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=16613127
  • NADRA. “Four Amazing Facts About Decks.” (8/3/11). http://www.nadra.org/consumers/four_facts.html
  • Thompson’s Water Seal. “Waterproofers and Stains.” (8/3/11). http://www.thompsonswaterseal.com/how-to-protect-waterproof-wood/
  • Weiss Homes. “Preserving Your Deck.” (8/3/11). http://www.weisshomes.com/images/articles/Preserving%20Your%20Deck.pdf\
  • Wolman. “Wood Deck Care Tips.” (8/3/11). http://www.wolman.com/tips.asp


1. What are some common causes of deck damage?

There are several things that can cause damage to your deck, including exposure to the elements, heavy foot traffic, and improper installation. Water damage is one of the most common causes of deck damage, as moisture can cause the wood to rot and warp. Sun damage can also cause the wood to fade and dry out, which can lead to cracking and splitting. Additionally, heavy foot traffic can wear down the wood, causing it to become uneven and potentially dangerous.

2. How can I prevent water damage to my deck?

The best way to prevent water damage is to apply a waterproof sealant to your deck. This will create a barrier between the wood and the elements, helping to prevent moisture from seeping in. You should also make sure that your deck is properly sloped so that water can drain away from the surface. Finally, be sure to clean your deck regularly to remove any dirt or debris that could trap moisture against the wood.

3. What can I do to protect my deck from the sun?

To protect your deck from the sun, you should apply a UV-resistant coating to the wood. This will help to prevent fading and drying out, which can lead to cracking and splitting. You should also make sure that your deck is shaded, either by installing a canopy or by planting trees or shrubs around the perimeter.

4. How often should I clean my deck?

You should clean your deck at least once a year, but it’s best to do it more frequently if you live in an area with a lot of rainfall or heavy foot traffic. To clean your deck, you can use a pressure washer or a scrub brush and a mild detergent. Be sure to rinse the deck thoroughly after cleaning to remove any soap residue.

5. How can I prevent scratches and dents on my deck?

To prevent scratches and dents, you should avoid dragging heavy furniture or other objects across the surface of your deck. You can also place rubber or felt pads under furniture legs to help distribute the weight more evenly. Additionally, you should avoid wearing high heels or other shoes with sharp heels on your deck, as these can cause damage to the wood.

6. What should I do if I notice signs of damage on my deck?

If you notice signs of damage on your deck, such as rotting or splitting wood, you should address the problem as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may need to replace certain boards or even the entire deck. In some cases, you may be able to repair the damage with a wood filler or epoxy.

7. How can I protect my deck from pests?

To protect your deck from pests, you should keep the area around the deck clean and free of debris. This will help to discourage insects and rodents from nesting in the area. You can also apply a pest repellent to the wood, although you should be careful to choose a product that is safe for use on outdoor surfaces.

8. How can I protect my deck from mold and mildew?

To prevent mold and mildew growth, you should clean your deck regularly and make sure that it is properly ventilated. You can also apply a mold and mildew inhibitor to the wood, which will help to prevent spores from taking hold. Finally, be sure to remove any standing water from the deck, as this can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

9. What should I do if my deck becomes slippery?

If your deck becomes slippery, you should clean it thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris that could be causing the problem. You can also apply a non-slip coating to the wood, which will provide better traction. Finally, be sure to keep the area around the deck clear of snow and ice during the winter months.

10. How can I extend the life of my deck?

To extend the life of your deck, you should take steps to prevent damage and address any issues as soon as they arise. This includes applying a waterproof sealant, protecting the wood from the sun, cleaning the deck regularly, and avoiding heavy foot traffic and other sources of damage. You should also make sure that your deck is properly ventilated and that any standing water is removed promptly.

11. What should I look for when hiring a professional to maintain my deck?

When hiring a professional to maintain your deck, you should look for someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about deck maintenance. They should be able to provide references and have a good reputation in the industry. Additionally, they should be licensed and insured, and should be able to provide a detailed estimate of the cost and scope of the work. Finally, they should be willing to answer any questions you have about the maintenance process and provide guidance on how to keep your deck in good condition.

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