To make the most of the beautiful weather and time spent socializing with family and friends, maintain your deck throughout every season.
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Decks provide outdoor living spaces designed for relaxation. Wood decks offer natural beauty that meshes well with surroundings, while composite decks (a blend of plastic and wood) are durable and easy to clean. However, constant exposure to the elements can damage your deck and reduce its lifespan. Sun exposure can discolor the finish and dry the wood, while snow and rain can lead to warping or rot over time. Regular deck maintenance is a must. To show off your beautiful outdoor space this summer, try these affordable tips for maintaining your deck while saving money.

gray house backyard deck lights posts
Credit: Adam Albright

1. Clean Your Deck Routinely

Basic cleaning, like weekly sweeping of loose dirt and debris, will help maintain your deck's natural luster. Wood decks are meant to blend with the environment, but fallen leaves and dirt that sit too long can lead to discoloration, mold, and wood rot.

At least once a year, clean your deck using a wood deck cleaner appropriate for the species of wood. There are many brands out there, but they all have the same basic function: remove dirt, mold, algae, and the common causes of discoloration (oxidation).

Various types of cleaners come with multiple ingredients and concentrations. They vary by application—spray scrub or power wash. Common deck cleaners include:

Chlorine bleach solutions kill mold and mildew; however, they are not recommended for cleaning treated wood. They can also raise wood fibers, giving your deck a fuzzy-looking surface.

Hydrogen peroxide is a substitute for bleach. It kills mildew within several minutes.

Oxygen bleach solutions are environmentally-friendly and have a strong fungicidal effect. They attack deep-rooted organic growth, effectively remove mildew, and help restore weathered gray wood.

Oxalic acid-based solutions are ideal brighteners. Wood brighteners bring back the natural beauty of the wood. They neutralize cleaners, which typically raise the pH in wood.

When should you first clean a brand-new wood deck? Most won't need thorough cleaning until the first year after installation. Of course, general cleaning is always a must, especially after spills or messes that might stain the materials or attract bugs.

2. Perform Repairs As Needed

Once the deck is clean, inspect and identify any areas that need repair. Check for loose, splintered, or rotten boards. Fix or replace minor issues early.

As lumber ages, it can swell and shrink, causing nails and screws to move. If this happens, hammer or screw them back into place. Replace any rusty nails or screws as they can deteriorate the safety of the deck and cause discoloration of the lumber.

Ensure the deck railing is secure. When you're safely positioned, give the rail a solid push to ensure it can withstand a heavy hand. If it wobbles or shakes, reinforce or replace it immediately.

Check the flashing—the metal or plastic guards where the deck and the house meet—as water can get into cracks and crevices. Be sure to direct water away from sensitive areas and install drainage that drops runoff on the ground or grass, not on the deck.

3. Protect with a Sealant

Before applying sealant, clean the deck and allow it to dry fully. Sand it to remove any irregularities and splinters. Don't skip this step, as it provides for proper absorption of the sealant.

Sealing a deck protects it from cracking, splitting, and warping. It also waterproofs the underlying materials. There are several deck-sealing products available on the market but if your home gets a lot of direct sunlight, you'll want one that prevents damage from both water and UV rays. Reapply deck sealant every two years for optimal results.

Most composite decks don't require a sealant or staining. Thus, composite decks are a sturdy long-term option if you're considering replacing deck boards or want to build an entirely new deck.

4. Maintain with High-Quality Deck Stain

Staining is essential for the longevity of wood decks. To keep yours looking good as new, use one or two coats of high-quality, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, or solid deck stain.

If you want to add color, use an exterior stain first. Exterior stains come in both solid and semi-transparent finishes. They are available in oil or latex, and some provide fade- and mildew-resistance. Darker wood stains and other synthetic pigments can also help protect against UV rays.

Aesthetically, you can mix and match deck stain colors. For example, a semi-transparent stain on the base of a wooden deck could be paired with solid bright colors along railings or banisters. Professionally applied deck stain can last up to three years on high-traffic deck flooring and up to eight years on railings and vertical support beams.

5. Avoid Pressure Washing

One of the crucial factors in protecting your deck is ensuring the wood remains strong to resist UV rays. High water pressure can soften wood, leaving it vulnerable to damage.

Although some people prefer to use a power washer to clean a deck, a simple garden hose with a sprayer is the best option. Pressure washing can damage wood, especially soft varieties like cedar. If you prefer to use a pressure washer, set it at the lowest pressure setting.

Wood decks provide outdoor living for the entire family. With proper maintenance and a few thoughtful touches, a well-built deck can last decades. Take the time to wash, clean, repair, sand, and seal your deck annually to protect it and ensure its longevity.

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