Ahh, it's getting to be that time of year again. Time to put away the sweaters and air out the t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. Well, I guess that depends on where you live. But if the spring flowers haven't caught up to you yet, never fear, they soon will.
With that nice weather comes the opportunity for hanging outside with friends and family. Barbecue, swimming pool, entertaining, gossiping about that weird couple down the street; the possibilities are endless. To get ready for all this carefree frivolity, it's time to protect your investment by refinishing your deck.
Your deck, like you, will age
Since the deck lives outdoors, it's going to age and change appearance (graying) because of the sun's ultraviolet rays (UV). The general effect here is the breakdown of the wooden surface fibers and lignin.
- For the curious – Lignin: A complex polymer, the chief noncarbohydrate constituent of wood, that binds to cellulose fibers and hardens and strengthens the cell walls of plants. OK!
Any traffic on the deck surface will exacerbate this process. But although it's a fact that the deck will age, refinishing is easy-breezy. It also gives you an excellent opportunity to change the look, in that you can change the stain color.
How often will you need to refinish your deck? This depends on several factors; there are no hard and fast rules. It depends on such things as the quality of the existing finish, the severity of the weather, the amount of traffic it gets, and whether you have a cat that insists on using it for a scratching surface. (Yes, there's a cure for this.)
Preparing the deck surface for interim cleaning
There are two methods of preparing the deck surface depending on whether your goal is cleaning or refinishing. For a small deck, you might want to use a mixture of warm water and laundry detergent with a stiff brush on a broom stick. To keep the soapy mixture from leeching in, keep it rinsed off with a garden hose fitted with a high pressure sprayer. This is a good approach for an interim cleaning where a full refinish is not yet needed.
Don't forget to get down on your knees and knock out all the decaying leaves and other crud that has lodged between the deck boards. Otherwise, this is a breeding ground for rot, mildew,etc.
Preparing for an in-depth deck refinishing
For a in-depth refinish, use a power washer that delivers about 1,200 PSI of blasting power. The idea is not to tattoo the deck surface; start out easy and bump the power up until you're effective yet not damaging.
- Safety disclaimer – Always use goggles and rubber work boots.
Before getting started on this project, check the weather forecast. You don't want to see any rain in the next few days because that's how long you'll need to let it dry prior to applying the new finish. (Some manufacturers allow applying finish to a damp deck; I don't like the idea.) As you blast the surface, do a section at a time, working with the grain. Overlap the sections to get even cleaning.
The power washer treatment should have gotten rid of all or most of the surface discoloration. If some is still apparent, use an acid-based deck restoration product and carefully follow the directions.
Choosing the new deck finish
Some deck owners choose to apply deck paint. My personal response? A resounding "Bleah!" It's downright butt-ugly. But that's just my opinion. And functionally speaking, this just makes for a surface coat which will chip off and not protect as well.
But the deeper reason (pun intended), is that a quality deck finish soaks into the wood, giving an extra measure of protection and revitalizing the surface wood cells. When making your selection, look for these qualities:
- It should contain a mildew-resistant component (mildewcide).
- Look for superior UV protection.
- Make sure it's waterproof or water repellent. Water resistant just ain't the same thing.
- If you want to add a tint, be sure the finish is a tintable base.
Applying the finish
- Stir thoroughly.
- Use a pump sprayer to cover one section at a time, overlapping sections. Roll or brush each section before moving on to ensure even coverage.
- Option: use an airless sprayer.
- After 48 hours it can be walked on, but don't place outdoor patio furniture, planters, etc., on the surface for 72 hours at a minimum.