How to clean and finish your wooden deck

Posted on March 22, 2016 by Canada Post in smartmoves

When spring arrives, there’s nothing better than getting out on the deck. But if harsh winter weather has left your backyard retreat in rough shape, those deck boards will need some tender loving care before you set up the lounge chairs. Here’s how to clean and finish your deck.

Why it’s important

Regular deck maintenance is essential because you don’t want the boards to warp and crack, or suffer damage from mould and rot. Moisture is the enemy of natural wood, and can affect the structural integrity of your deck. This can lead to costly repair jobs that put the deck out of commission just when you want to use it most. Excess sunlight is also a concern – UV rays can turn your deck boards grey and dull.

Examine your deck for any signs of rot before starting your spring clean-up. Pay close attention to where it joins the house, any staircases, and areas where water, snow and ice may have caused damage.

Get it clean

Once all the snow has melted, sweep up any leaves, twigs, dirt and debris that accumulated during the winter. If you’ve got a leaf blower, it will help remove plant matter from hard-to-reach places. If necessary, use a putty knife to dig debris out of the narrow spaces between each board.

Next, it’s time to clean the wood. Begin with rubber gloves and a pair of safety glasses. Some store-bought cleaners work well when the wood is wet, so read the label and see whether you should hose the deck down first.

Before washing the whole deck, start by cleaning a test area, preferably a spot that’s not in a high-traffic area. This will ensure the product you’re using doesn’t damage or discolour the wood.

If you have an elevated deck, remember to place some kind of protective sheeting on the area underneath – you don’t want nasty chemicals dripping down below.

Finally, make sure nearby plants are covered with a drop cloth and promptly rinsed afterward. Some deck cleaners can burn leaves or cause other kinds of damage.

Work the cleaner into the wood with a stiff bristle brush – it takes plenty of elbow grease to get the job done. Once you’re finished, rinse the deck with clear water.

Make your own cleaner

If you don’t want to buy a heavy-duty chemical cleaner, consider making your own solution. Fill a bucket with three or four litres of warm water, then mix in a litre of household bleach and a scoop of laundry detergent. Brush the cleaner onto your deck, let it sit for about 15 minutes, then give it another good scrub before rinsing the wood clean.

If your deck is in good shape and doesn’t need a deep clean, you can make a gentler solution by mixing two or three cups of vinegar into your bucket of warm water.

Use caution with power washers

When it comes to cleaning, a power washer can save you a lot of time scrubbing. If you use one however, make sure you don’t do more harm than good. Avoid turning the pressure up too high, or you’ll risk damaging the boards with the intensity of the spray. Use a fan setting rather than a pinpoint spray, which can dig into the wood and force excess water into the fibres.

Protect your deck with a finish

The final step is to apply a protective finish in the form of a sealer or stain. There are multiple options, particularly with the colour and tone of stains, which affect the appearance of the wood. If your deck is worn and damaged, a coloured or semi-transparent finish will give the boards a more consistent look. Either way, make sure to know what kind of wood you’re trying to protect, as this will influence your choice of product.

As with cleaning, you’ll want to wear gloves, eye protection and possibly a mask in case of fumes.

Don’t try to cram both jobs of cleaning and finishing into one weekend – your deck needs time to fully dry after being cleaned before the finish is applied. If the wood is still wet, you’ll just end up trapping moisture inside.

Apply your chosen finish with a pad, roller, brush or, best of all, a sprayer. Don’t overdo it – two thin coats are better than one thick one.

Just as you don’t want to apply finish on a day when there’s rain in the forecast, it’s also important not to work on a day that’s too warm. The heat of the sunlight will cause your product to dry too quickly, leaving unsightly marks. Start early in the morning and take a break around midday, then get back at it in the afternoon.

Got tips on cleaning and maintaining your backyard deck? Share them with us.