Remember how excited you were the day you finished building your new deck?
The smell of fresh-cut wood, the warm even color of the new deck boards, that summer afternoon spent admiring the fine details that made yours the best-looking deck in the neighborhood. Now five years later, you hardly notice the deck as you amble across it to take out the trash. Yes, the colors have faded, the wood is gray and there may even be some mildew. Well, don't despair; this is a love affair that's easily rekindled. It takes just a few days, mild cool weather, some cleaning and stripping solution, and a few minor tools to get that old relationship right back where it started.
Before you revive a tired-looking deck , look it over to see that all the wood surfaces are sound. If the wood is rotten, a screwdriver will push easily into the wood and the surface fibers will pull away easily. No amount of cleaning is going to bring it back. If you have damaged wood, replace it with new.
Deck cleaners are formulated to clean a deck surface whether it has a stain or sealer on it or not. However, if you have an old finish that's worn out, the cleaner will do a blotchy job. It'll clean the worn spots differently from the spots that still have finish on them. Look for signs of an old finish line. A stain finish is easy to spot because it leaves signs of wear in high-traffic areas.
A sealer is harder to spot, but you can tell if it's worn out because it'll no longer bead water. Old sealers usually will come off with a deck cleaner. Look for a film in areas with lower traffic. If you detect a film, use a stripper on the railing (like we did) to get rid of it before you apply a cleaner. Examine the railing in the same manner as the deck boards.
The deck stripper is designed to lift off the old finish (stain or sealer) and get the surface ready for the deck cleaner to do its work. Save time and stripper solution by using an ordinary paint scraper to scrape away most of the old finish residue. It may sound daunting, but keep in mind that you don't need to get down to bare wood. Just scrape the surface enough to remove loose, flaky finish. Don't spend more than two hours doing this on an average-size (10 x 16-ft.) deck.
The deck we cleaned for this article had all sound wood, but the semi-transparent oil finish on the railing was starting to flake off, so we stripped the railings before applying a cleaner. The deck boards, on the other hand, were unfinished, so we used a deck cleaner only. It had been several years since this deck had received any attention, but it cleaned up beautifully.
A deck stripper is used to remove old loose stain and deck sealers, before cleaning and brightening. It breaks the finish loose from the wood like a furniture stripper does. Some sample brand names are Wolman DeckStrip, Flood Powerlift and Superdeck Wood Stripper. These products also enable you to get rid of an old color and apply a new stain color. The deck stripper products are most effective on oil-based finishes. New products that remove latex stains and finishes will be on the market soon.
There are basically two types of deck cleaners: One type (liquid oxalic acid or powdered hydrogen peroxide) removes a thin layer of gray, dead wood fibers from the surface and exposes the fresh wood beneath. Some sample brand names are Wolman Deck and Siding Brightener and Rejuvenator, Flood Dekswood and Superdeck Wood Cleaner. The other type has a bleach base that removes unsightly black and green stains on the surface such as mildew. If you notice this condition, clean off the mildew first and rinse, then use one of the standard deck cleaners mentioned above.
For the best buy, pay attention to the concentration of cleaner in the 1-gallon plastic jug. Some of the cleaners appear to cost more, but on closer inspection, you'll see that the gallon container mixes with water to make 5 gallons of cleaning solution (enough for a large deck).
Part of the Deck Repair and Maintenance Series
Glenn Berkwitt is the owner of Mr. Handyman of North Seattle
4509 Interlake Avenue North #177, Seattle, WA 98103 206-462-3212 providing handyman services to Seattle, WA. All Mr. Handyman franchises are Fully Insured - General Liability and Workers Compensation. Some services are subject to state and local licensing and may not be available in all locations. Click here to request service in your area.