Whether you have a brand-new deck that you'd like to keep looking fresh or one that's seen better days and could use a bit of a facelift, there are lots of very effective products out there that can help you reach your goals.
Before applying any finish to your deck, it needs to be clean. For a new deck, it's best to allow the deck to season for a couple of weeks to make sure that the fresh lumber has dried. After that, just sweep it off with a soft broom to remove any sawdust and surface dirt, or blow it off with a leaf blower.
For an older deck that is discolored and that you intend to stain, your best bet is to use a product that is specially formulated for cleaning wood decks. Unlike older products that utilized chlorine bleach for cleaning, these newer-generation products clean the wood without lifting and damaging the wood fibers, and will not leave the wood unnaturally white.
Cleaners such as Wolman's DeckBrite are powdered and simply mixed with water. You can put it on with a roller, brush or garden sprayer, and it's very effective in getting rid of stains and gray wood fibers. Products such as these also help open the pores within the wood so that the finish material will penetrate more readily.
If your deck has been previously painted or stained, it may be necessary to sand or scrape the wood, or even apply a stripper. This is something to discuss with an experienced paint store, and have them help you select the most appropriate product for your specific application. Once again, after the old deck has been cleaned or stripped, make sure that all of the surfaces are swept or blown clean before applying any finish material.
BEWARE OF PRESSURE WASHING
It's definitely best to avoid using a pressure washer to prepare your deck for a new finish. In the process of generating sufficient pressure to remove stains or paints, you will actually be breaking apart the wood's fibers. When that happens, the raised fibers will leave the deck looking fuzzy as it dries — a surface that is difficult to refinish and potentially dangerous to walk on. If that should happen, your only option will be to sand the deck smooth again, and that's an extra task that you would just as soon avoid!
With any deck-cleaning product, if the manufacturer offers pressure washing as an option for removing the cleaning product after it has been in contact with the wood for the specified amount of time, be sure you only use a wide, soft-spray tip and the lowest amount of pressure possible.
A visit to any good paint store will show you that you have a lot of choices when it comes to the finish material for your hardworking deck. So when making your choice, first consider what you want the deck to look like, as well as how you want to apply the material and how often you want to reapply it in the future to maintain the same look and color. There are clear finishes that soak into the wood without substantially changing its color, and will help protect the wood against dirt, discoloration and the harming effects of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. If you would like to add a little color, then select one of the deck stains that are specifically made for outdoor wood. If you would like to paint it instead, for durability and long life you'll want to select an outdoor enamel specifically formulated for walking surfaces.
Deck finishes are typically oil-based products that are designed to penetrate into the cells of the wood, rather than just sit on the surface as some water repellants do. You definitely want a material that will penetrate into the wood and seal it, and there are a number of very effective products on the market for this use. But remember — you really do get what you pay for with deck finishing materials, so get some help from the folks at your local paint store before making your choice, and don't skimp.
To maintain your deck's protection, you will typically need to apply another coat of finish in one to three years, depending on weather conditions. When the time comes, you'll usually find that you'll get the best results from taking the same cleaning and preparation steps, and then reapplying the same material as you used the first time.
With any cleaner, stripper or deck-finish material, always follow the manufacturer's specific instructions for application, ventilation, protective clothing and cleanup. Also, have the paint store provide you with an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for each product you're going to use, which will give specific information about how to protect yourself and what to do in the event of an accident.