That DECK Job! Cleaning (and Refinishing)

I’ve had an ongoing project for the better part of a month—cleaning and refinishing our more than 30-year old wood deck.  We have a large, second story deck with two flights of steps that I had let cleaning and resealing go for a while as there was ‘hope’ and ‘promise’ that we’d be replacing the wood floor and rails with different materials to reduce maintenance.  For one reason (or excuse) or another, the project has not come about.  As spring came and time outside became more of our normal routine, I found myself knowing I couldn’t go another year looking at the disgusting discoloration and unsightliness.  If a new deck wasn’t to be, something had to be done—and I did!

I started by washing the deck using a power washer to remove as much dirt and debris from the surface as possible.  There are mixed feelings among “professionals” as to whether one should use a power washer.  Concerns suggest that using a power washer may force algae, molds, and fungus deeper into the wood, may cause undo raising of the wood making the deck surface rough, and remove the sealant.  In my case, I had little to lose in regard to removing the sealant and I was willing to take a chance on the other two concerns.  I was careful to use a fan nozzle and keep the wand at a 45-degree angle a foot away from the surface.  The result was amazing!

The second step was to do a thorough scrubbing.  Sometime in the past for a previous cleaning, I had purchased a deck cleaning product for this step; however, it was somewhat toxic and precautions had to be taken to cover vegetation, etc.  Having done so, I still experienced damage to vegetation from the runoff.  Not wanting to repeat history, I used a powered oxygen bleach solution suggested by Decks.com and a 3-ingredient DIY recipe (OxyClean™, Dawn® Dish Detergent, and water) from Bob Villa.com .  I had no damage to any vegetation and the cleaning solution did an amazing job along with my ‘elbow grease’ and a stiff deck brush.  While there are recipes using TSP and bleach, these products are not for me.

Between the power washing and the scrubbing, I found no evidence of the previous sealant so refinishing was definitely needed to preserve the wood, repel water and mildew/mold and block UV rays.  There are numerous products on the market and deciding which one was the best was a task in itself.  Due to COVID-19, all of my research was done online.  After a lot of reading and thinking, I chose a water-based, semi-transparent stain and sealant specifically recommended for older decks.  The cost was greater than using an oil-based product.  However, the cleanup was easy (soap and water), it dried quickly, and had virtually no odor and therefore no volatile organic chemical (VOCs) fumes.  The product was super easy to apply (I used the hand brush on-hands-and-knees method for better control) even though the old deck boards soaked the product like a sponge.  Two coats were applied leaving a flat, natural looking finish upon completion.  There was just enough product left to also spruce up the skirting, rails, and spokes.  Cleaning and refinishing took quite a bit of time as I had to pick my days and times; application of refinishing products should not be done during direct sunlight or wet weather. All of the time and effort spent was well worth it; we are really enjoying the new look of our old deck and hopeful that the resurfacing will last until the ‘promise’ is delivered.

My sister-in-law asked about cleaning a composite deck.  I referred her to the Decks.com website.  After cleaning, she still had stains that were bothersome which lead to the suggestion of trying an environmentally friendly product, Wet & Forget®.  I’ve used this product on our concrete porch and vinyl railing to remove stains and our brick siding to remove barnacles and other biological stains.  It is not an immediate acting product but over time, the stain gradually, almost magically, disappears.  The active ingredient in Wet & Forget® is Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride, an ingredient that most consumers already have in their homes in the form of an anti-bacterial wipe or a similar product. (Unlike these products, Wet & Forget® contains a danger warning on its label because the product is a concentrate with 9.9% active ingredient. When diluted with water for application it is only 2% active.)  The product can be applied to a variety of surfaces safely.

Decks take a great deal of abuse from rain, snow, wind and sun. Although we can’t change the weather, we can prolong the life of our decks by regular cleaning and refinishing as necessary.  Regular upkeep will ensure a safe and usable outdoor space.  Sweep leaves and debris off the deck often to prevent stains and mildew.  A fall and spring cleaning is also recommended.  Don’t let safety issues—loose boards, wobbly rails, raised nails/screws—go.  Decks are a great place to enjoy the warm weather, entertain or just sit on the deck and read.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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