Whether your deck is brand new or 20 years old, the secret to making it look beautiful is proper maintenance. That sounds pretty simple, right? Unfortunately, Mother Nature is working against you on this, and she can quickly get the upper hand if you neglect your deck for any length of time.
Your prized outdoor space is just that – outdoors. This means it will be vulnerable to the full measure of Colorado’s schizophrenic weather, including snow, sleet, rain, hail, and intense sunshine, sometimes all in the same week. But you have a pressure-treated wood deck or a composite deck, you say. No maintenance, right?
Wrong. Every kind of deck needs maintenance. Period.
While it’s great to have a professional decking contractor on speed dial for needed repairs and upgrades, here are five things you can do on your own to keep your deck clean and looking fantastic for your summer adventures:
1. Sweep, Sweep, Sweep
You’ll want to sweep your deck often, especially after parties, wind or rainstorms, and even snow. In dry conditions, make sure the deck is regularly cleared of dust and debris to keep it from being ground into the surface, as these will leave your deck pitted and damaged. Leaves and branches left on the deck will begin to rot and discolor your surface. You also don’t want to leave any yummy leftovers, like spilled BBQ sauce or an errant French fry, to attract the local critters.
You have to worry about the additional areas between the planks on a composite deck where dirt and debris can get trapped and start to rot. Try a long, thin bristle brush to get into those areas if your broom is having trouble reaching.
Standing water in any form is just plain bad for your wooden deck. Rot, algae, mildew, oh my! You don’t want any of it, so sweep snow and water off your deck as immediately as possible. It’s best not to use anything but a wide outdoor broom or plastic snow shovel and, if you decide to use some form of de-icer, use a chloride-based ice melt or rock salt.
2. Kill the Damage, Not the Vibe
“An ounce of prevention,” such as putting rubber feet protectors on your outdoor furniture, will make a world of difference in preserving your deck surface. I mean, who doesn’t like to redecorate now and then? You shouldn’t have to fear scratching up your beautiful outdoor space to create a different look.
For those of us who cannot live without being surrounded by potted plants, using pot feet for our planters instead of putting them right on the deck will prevent those ugly pot circles formed by algae and mildew stains. Pot feet allow for air to circulate under the pot and keep the water from being trapped. Finally, stay away from using outdoor rugs made of natural fibers like jute and bamboo, as these are a haven for mold and mildew. Plastic fiber area rugs are perfect for keeping the moisture away while enhancing your outdoor decor.
3. Run, Spot, Run
Staying on top of stains will keep your deck the envy of backyards everywhere and is relatively easy. Some basic things to have handy in your home would be baking soda, white vinegar, dish detergent (handwashing, not dishwasher), undiluted bleach, and TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate). Keep the bleach and the TSP for spot-cleaning only and when nothing else has worked. Undiluted bleach can stain certain types of wood, and too much of it can dry out your wood and cause it to bow, cup, or crack. TSP can be toxic to surrounding plants and other foliage and can likewise damage your deck if used in large amounts.
For most grease and food stains, regular dishwashing liquid usually gets the job done. For mold and mildew, a combination of baking soda, vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and water is a time-honored solution. Sprinkle the baking soda on the stain, then prepare the vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and water mixture and pour it over the baking soda. With a bit of elbow grease, the mold and mildew should come right off. If you have questions or concerns about specific products and how they will affect your deck’s look, ask one of our professional decking installers. We know decks and our pros are happy to help.
Professionals in the decking and patio industry recommend you thoroughly clean your deck at least once a year. Pick a partly-sunny day where the temperature will remain around 60℉ to 70℉. You’ll want to remove all your furniture and potted plants, sweep the deck thoroughly, and cover any foliage around the edges to protect it from the cleaning solution. This can be a reasonably big project, depending on your deck’s size, your available time, and your arm strength.
For composite decks:
At this point, if you decide to go with an outdoor carpentry expert to do the cleaning, we won’t judge, but if you want to tackle this project yourself, however, we salute you. If you have a composite deck, start by renting a pressure washer from any local hardware stores near you at a pretty reasonable price if you don’t already own one. Just make sure to stay below 2500 psi.
As for what you want to use as a cleanser, it’s up to you as to whether you want to go the DIY route or buy a professionally made cleaning product. One popular DIY cleaning combination is warm water, oxygenated bleach (like OxiClean, which is milder than the above-mentioned liquid chlorine bleach), and liquid dish soap. Use a deck brush, or another type of hard-bristle brush, to scrub the solution onto the deck. Then rinse everything with a pressure washer.
Note: Do not add the DIY cleaning solution to the pressure washer, as any undissolved bleach particles may block the nozzle. Use the washer only for rinsing.
For wood decks:
If you have a wood deck, skip the pressure washer as it could compromise your deck. A light sanding (as described below) will do the trick (though you may need a higher grit sandpaper for any deep knicks or scratches).
5. Sand & Seal
Once your deck is clean and dry, it’s time to consider resealing it. If your annual cleaning happens to coincide with the one-year anniversary since the deck was last sealed, now is an excellent time to reseal. It’s just a few extra steps. Allow your deck to fully dry, usually about 48 hours. You probably will only need about 80-grit sandpaper to smooth out any splintery or fuzzy patches the pressure wash may have created. Then seal the deck, and you’re done. Clear sealants tend to last longer than tinted sealants, which often fade quickly with increased foot traffic.
If you have neglected your deck for a little while, it may take some increased effort to get it back into good shape. Once it’s there, however, keeping it maintained and looking great will take minutes, not hours.