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Wood Deck Refinishing

Protect Your Investment in Home Equity by Powerwashing and Sealing Your Wood Deck on an Annual Basis

© 2008 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission

Leaves on a Deck

Autumn leaves on a deck

This article was updated on 10/05/20.

Winter is here but soon it will be time to put away the wool 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 plan to protect your investment by refinishing your backyard deck or your pool deck.

Your Deck will Age

Since the deck resides 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. UV can be helpful as well; it can kill the COVID-19 virus.

For the curious — Lignin: A complex polymer, the chief non-carbohydrate 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. Don't shuffle. But although it’s a fact that the deck will age, refinishing is an easy process. 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 wood 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, but we won’t go into it here; no cats were harmed in the making of this article.)

Preparing the Deck Surface for Interim Cleaning

There are two methods of preparing the deck planks, railings, steps, and other members 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.

To keep the soapy mixture from leeching in, keep it rinsed off with a garden hose fitted with a high pressure sprayer. Or better still, invest in a pressure washer; you can also use it on your driveway, siding, etc. 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 and the spraying didn't get. 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.

Note — If the decking is Trex or some other composite decking material, a pressure washer is not recommended.

Yes, the Weather Forecast Matters

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 but that is just my suspicious nature shining through.)

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 or deck bleach 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 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 repellant. Water resistant just ain’t the same thing.
If you want to add a tint, be sure the finish is a tintable base. That's about all there is to wood deck refinishing. If you keep it in tip-top shape it will really last and add value to your home.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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