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Taking Care of Your Deck

Posted Aug 14, 2019

Taking Care of Your Deck

Ever take a look at your deck and think, “wow, this needs a lot of work”? If you’re like most people, chances are you either haven’t kept up with your deck, or you tried to do it yourself without knowing something crucial and made a mistake. Especially in Colorado where it’s dry, it’s snowy, and it hails, deck maintenance is not only necessary, but it will save you hours of work and big wads of cash in the long run. What can happen when you don’t have a fresh coat of stain or paint on top of your deck is something called oxidation. Oxidation is when the unprotected wood comes in contact with oxygen, which can cause a multitude of effects if not taken care of properly. Oxidation can leave your wood black and discolored, it can cause markings or iron stains, which are brown or gray streaks in the wood next to the screws, and if not cared for after extensive periods of time, the wood can even deteriorate and become rough and splinter. We will walk you through what you need to know before you prep, how to prep, and how to get the job done, so your deck’s lifespan is sustained.


Before you prep, you first have to know your deck. Firstly, what type of wood is your deck? Is it redwood, cedar, hardwood, composite? This is important to know because in Colorado we have softer woods like cedar or redwood, which have to be maintained. Occasionally you’ll have an exotic wood, such as brazilian hardwood. If you stain these decks, every 6-8 months you’ll have to stain them again to keep the color. Otherwise, over time the wood will naturally gray as any other wood, but the wood itself will remain in good condition so maintenance isn’t completely necessary. Composite decks don’t need any maintenance at all except for the occasional wash, because the composite does not deteriorate.

Furthermore, you have to know the type of stain already on your deck. Typically, it will be one of two types of stains: film forming stains, or oil penetrating stains. Oil penetrating stains are typically translucent, and most likely anything from semi-transparent to solid stains are film forming stains. Film forming stains leave a noticeable film on top of the wood, and can peel off over time. Oil penetrating stains seep into the wood and become absorbed, therefore they fade and don’t peel.

The last thing you need to know is what kind of stain you will apply. When you decide to recoat your deck, whether your last coat of stain was film forming or oil penetrating, you will have to apply another coat of the same exact stain. If you are looking to change what you have already to ANY other stain, you will have to start from scratch, and sand everything off to fresh wood. As a precaution, sanding to fresh wood is a great deal of work, and will most likely take up more than a full day for three people for an average 300 square foot deck. At Karen’s Company we use a diamond blade grinding tool which is top of the line and grinds anything in its way, and afterwards we use an orbital sander to scuff out the marks from the diamond grinder. Even with this top of the line equipment, we estimate one hour worth of work for 10 square feet of deck. With just orbital sanders, it can take up to four times as long. In other words, if you are thinking to change things up, your best bet may be to give us a call!


Before you do anything, remove all the furniture and check for damaged wood that may need repair. Check for things like cupping, cracking, or splintering in the wood, and make sure no screws are rusting or popping out of any areas. Keep in mind if you do decide to replace any wood panels that were recently treated, they will react differently to any stain, and the new panels will most likely be a different color than the other wood. In this case, the new panels will blend better with the other woods if treated with a semi-transparent to solid stain, rather than a translucent stain. Although, the more important thing to take note of is these new panels can take up to two months to be ready for cleaning or staining, and the way to tell that it’s ready is by a water test. You should do this with your deck regardless if the wood is new or not. If you drop a couple of drops of water on your deck in a couple different areas, and the water absorbs or the wood darkens within 10 minutes, your deck will be able to absorb oil penetrating stain. If the water beads it’s not ready to stain.

When your deck is repaired and ready to go, use either a tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) wash or an alternative deck cleaning & brightening product to clean your deck. We recommend a deck cleaning and brightening product because it’s less harmful for your plants. TSP is essentially an acid wash, and works, but you have to be very careful about getting it on anything but the wood. You can perform this step with either a garden sprayer, or a brush and roller. As cleaner goes, make sure to follow the directions closely on the back, as some cleaners require you to have a damp deck before application. Though, most are typically the same and say to keep the deck wet for 15 minutes with the cleaner, and after the 15 minutes rinse before the cleaner dries out.

Next, after the deck has dried, it’s optional to lightly sand off the excess bristles from the wood with an 80 grit sandpaper. We wait for this step to allow the cleaner in order to raise the bristles from the wood. After sanding, we like to use a blower to get the wood and the dust off the deck (which brooms don’t do as well) to allow the cleaner to soak into the wood. You should then wet the plants around the deck before staining, to minimize soaking in of the stain.

When applying the cleaner with whichever method you choose, make sure not to let the cleaner glob up or puddle in any part of the deck. To ensure a smooth coat, it’s helpful to have someone brush the cleaner with a natural bristle broom, to spread out the cleaner so it doesn’t puddle in areas you’ve sprayed. Where there are tough and dirty areas, use some muscle with the broom to grind out the stains.

After the cleaner has soaked in for however long it says in the directions, thoroughly clean the deck with water, either with a hose or a pressure washer. If you use a pressure washer on a soft wood, wash from a distance at a minimum pressure to prevent the removal of the soft wood. However you decide to rinse the deck, if you want to wash your equipment afterwards, just rinse with water. After two or three days, when the cleaner is all dry and the wood is cleaned, you can begin to apply your stain or sealer.


When you find the stain or a very close type of stain to what was last used on your deck, first read the directions on the can. Some stains don’t do as well with humidity, and colder or hotter temperatures. In any case, do not apply the stain in direct sunlight as the stain will dry too quickly and will burn off in the sunlight. So, pick a day where you’re pretty sure it won’t rain, snow, or have strong winds. Rain can cause problems for obvious reasons, and is more dangerous when it soaks into the wood before staining and takes up the space for an oil penetrating stain. When windy, especially if you’re near trees or it’s pollen season, dust and pollen and dirt can fly onto your deck and show under your stain. For this reason, in any weather, make sure to consistently brush off the deck of anything that has found its way onto the wood while you’re staining before application.

Similar to the cleaner, remove furniture, blow anything off the deck, and wet the surrounding plants before starting. Before opening your stain, there is a very small chance that the directions say you will have to shake the stain before you open it. If it does not say your able to shake it, do not shake it, as it will cause permanent bubbles to form in the stain. Most likely you will just have to stir the stain.

When applying the stain, first get the corners of the deck with a brush about the width of a panel, and then apply with a paint roller two or three boards at a time depending on how big the roller is. With film forming stains, the key to application is to lay on thin coats. If you want to have more stain for more color, it’s better to apply to thin coats rather than one big thick coat. But oil penetrating stains only need one coat! As you did with the cleaner, make sure you or a friend is brushing the stain to make sure that the stain doesn’t puddle. Repeat this process with every part of your deck, including steps and railings, using a smaller brush to get into the hard to reach surfaces.

After you’re done, rinse off the plants, rinse your brushes (with mineral spirits if it’s oil penetrating stain or water if film forming), and voila! Wait for your deck to dry completely and your deck will look good as new.


Typically the first coat will last you 12-18 months, after another coat maybe 18-24 months, and after another coat maybe it’ll be three years before you have to redo the deck. If it’s a good quality job and the prep was done properly, the more coats of stain you apply, the less work you’ll have to do in the future. Although, the sun, weather and humidity can all affect the maintenance period.

With stains, usually it’s pretty simple to tell when you need to recoat the deck. When the paint starts to fall off or you start to notice mildew or any damage in the wood, it’s probably time to give your deck a glow-up. Another good way is to try the water test, because if the water soaks into the wood, it needs more protection.

If this is all too overwhelming and you think you may need professional help, give us at Karen’s Company a heads up and we will come out and give you a free consultation!

Tags in this article: Deck, Staining, Transparency, Deck Prep,

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