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How To: Restore a Wood Deck

How To: Restore a Wood DeckWhen the weather turns warm we all want to go outside and enjoy it, and having a deck is a great way to do that. Like anything outdoors, a wood deck needs regular care and maintenance to look its best and last its longest. For a wood deck, that means cleaning it every couple of years and applying another coat of stain as the old stain wears off.

You know I’m a big fan of wood over composite decking for a lot of reasons and while I’ve railed on composite options, it was brought to my attention that I hadn’t given much instruction on how to care for your wood deck to get the kind of performance I’m claiming a wood deck should be able to deliver. If you wanna hear my issues with composite decking, check out my previous post and video here.

This post will give you the skinny on how to restore your wood deck to the beauty it once had and how to keep it there for years to come. The steps aren’t difficult and in one or 2 weekends your deck should be ready for summer once again.

Cleaning Your Deck

Decks get a lot of traffic and water, so they can build up quite a coating of gunk over the years and before you even think about staining your deck, you need to get it clean first. You may be tempted to get the most powerful pressure washer you can find and blast that gunk off in 10 minutes, but that is not going to give you the results you want.

Using a pressure washer over around 1500-1800 psi will blast the wood fibers right off your deck damaging the wood and giving it a rough feel as it eats away significant portions of the wood. The homeowner grade pressure washers work best, in my opinion, even though the work proceeds a bit slower you get a better end result. For my deck, I used a very affordable GreenWorks pressure washer with great results.

The last time I cleaned my deck, I used a Turbo Tip which was very helpful to remove the build up without needing the higher pressure. Wash the deck thoroughly- you can use a deck cleaner like Sherwin Williams Deck Wash if you have a lot of dirt or staining or just clean water for minor stains and dirt build up.

When you’re done, you need to wait at least a few dry days but a week is better in order to make sure the moisture content of the wood has dropped back down to a manageable level under 12% moisture content. If you try to stain or paint before then, you will have all kinds of problems with your finish and potential issues with wood rot because you are trapping moisture in the wood. Pressure washing wood forces water into the wood in a significant way and it takes a lot longer for the wood to dry out than when it simply feels dry to the touch.

Picking the Right Stain

You have a lot of stain options for your deck, and a stain is a better option than paint for decks. Stains are designed for wood decks and they hold up better that paint which has a tendency to flake and peel with wear. While you have a ton of brands and colors to choose from, you really have three different types of stains to pick from.

  1. Transparent – Transparent stains last the shortest of all the stains. They work great for showing off the attractive grain of the wood, so for newer decks that aren’t quite so battle worn, these are a good option or if you have a deck built of a particularly attractive wood species.
  2. Semi-Transparent – These stains obscure the wood grain a bit and have a higher solids content. They last a bit longer and provide a little more protection than transparent stains.
  3. Solid – When you look at a solid stain you would have a hard time telling that it wasn’t paint, but it does have a different formulation than a standard paint. Solid stains totally obscure the wood grain and have the longest life of any exterior stain.

Just like with paint, you also have the option to pick between oil-based or water-based stains. In my opinion, since a stain is designed to penetrate deep into the wood, I prefer oil-based because they have better results still. One day water-based stains may catch up, but that day has not come yet. For my deck I used Sherwin Williams SuperDeck Transparent in Cedar Tone.

Applying the stain is tedious but straightforward with a roller and brush and you can watch my technique (for better or worse) in the video below. Make sure you wipe up any puddles and spread the stain evenly. Once the stain has been applied you need to stay off the deck until it is thoroughly dry, which is usually 24-36 hrs depending on weather.

Planning to restore a wood deck is a great project for late spring or early summer so you’re ready to enjoy the deck season. I hope this post and video help you enjoy that deck this summer so we can all have a great summer vacation!

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9 thoughts on “How To: Restore a Wood Deck

  1. I’m interested in using a penetrating oil on the mahagony beams and rafters of our newly built veranda. The product I’ve found most highly recommended is Penofin. My contractor thinks it’s a bad idea and continues to push for marine varnish. The penetrating oil might need more frequent re-applications but I’m concerned that the Houston sun and heat will cause the varnish to crack and peel over time; then the refinishing job is much harder. Do you have any experience with Penofin or a similar penetrating oil product?

  2. Hi Scott,

    Any recommendations on a good oil based stain for my cedar deck? I’m currently in the process of stripping and I’m looking for a good product.

    Thanks, Greg

  3. In our state (Indiana) oil based stains are no longer for sale. We paid big money to completely rebuild our double decks using cedar decking four years ago and the following spring they were stained with a semi-transparent stain which was beautiful for one season. We are having serious problems keeping the upper deck maintained. The dark and dirty deck is washed in spring and then is bare enough to need to be restained! We cannot find a stain that does not get battered in a Central Indiana winter. We’ve had to restain completely once already and now need another. The lower deck is more protected from sun and weather. It darkens more than we would like, but does not seem to strip off. Given the expense of having this done, composite decking looks better and better

    1. I know the maintenance is a lot on wood decks but search my site for the earlier post on composite decking. It’s not as problem free as you’d think and way less predictable how it will hold up.

  4. Thanks for the great information. I didn’t realize that there are solid stains. I thought my deck had been painted (moved in last year). Is there someway I can make a determination between paint and stain? TIA for your help.


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