Mom and kids lying on stained patio

Your deck is an essential part of your home. It's a place to relax and entertain; your own private paradise. This outdoor living space adds value to your home—or takes it away, depending on what shape your deck is in. Luckily, some basic maintenance and repairs will keep it looking its best.

Check Your Deck

Start by checking your deck for problems like worn-out wood that's splitting, twisting or rotting. If it's been a while since you last updated it and your deck is showing some wear, you have some options.

You can sand splintered areas with a pole sander and hammer in any popped-up nails. If boards are simply weathered and worn, you can pull them up and turn them over. If they're structurally sound, you can also cover the top of the board with a piece of 5/8" engineered wood.

If wood is damaged, you'll have to replace it with new lumber. You can make new lumber look weathered to match the rest of your deck by soaking it in a solution of one cup of baking soda for every gallon of water. Just remember to seal the wood when you're done.

Next, test your deck to see if it needs to be refinished by dropping a couple drops of water on it. If the water beads up on the wood surface, your deck is still protected and you don't need to refinish. If the water soaks into the wood, the old finish has worn away and the wood is unprotected. You'll have to refinish.

Clean Your Deck

Cleaning your deck at least once a year helps it last longer and look better while maintaining the integrity of the wood. And if you're planning on refinishing your deck, you'll have to clean it first.

Helpful Tip

The best outdoor temperature for cleaning and treating your deck is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Step 1: Prepare the Surface

    Remove everything from the deck, including furniture and potted plants. Cover delicate or fragile ground plants near the deck with drop cloths. Sweep off loose debris and clean between the cracks using a slender stick or tool.

  • Step 2: Spray It Down

    Use a garden hose or a pressure washer to remove dirt, dust, oil and grease. Begin at one end of the deck and continue until you have rinsed the entire surface area, removing as much dirt as possible. Set the hose or pressure washer to spray a fan of water to push dirt and debris away faster. Spray between the decking boards, eliminating any remaining debris. If you use a pressure washer, keep the pressure setting below 1,000 pounds per square inch and hold the nozzle few feet from the deck to avoid damaging the wood.

  • Step 3: Apply Cleaners & Brighteners

    Clean your deck using deck cleaners or deck "brighteners," which are available in a variety of formulas and strengths. Some contain a chlorine bleach formula to eliminate mold, mildew and algae. Before you choose one of these formulas, you should know using chlorine bleach might make it necessary to clean your deck more often. Consider non-chlorine bleach cleaner instead.

    Be sure to choose a cleaner that is compatible with your deck, especially if you have soft wood like redwood or cedar. Because the cleaning process differs depending on the cleaner you choose, check the manufacturer's instructions to see if the deck should be wet or dry when you begin. Also, try to clean on a calm day—you don't want the wind blowing the cleaning agent all over your yard.

    Use a deck stain applicator to evenly apply the cleaner to the entire deck. Don't let the cleaner puddle in any area. Scrub tough areas with a stiff brush or a broom, but avoid using wire brushes. The metal bristles can break off into the wood and cause rust spots. Let the cleaner soak into the wood for the time specified (usually 10 to 15 minutes), and then rinse thoroughly with a hose. Use a lot of water and saturate the deck and any surrounding covered plants. This dilutes the deck cleaner so it won't harm your plants or grass.

    Safety Alert!

    Because cleaners contain bleaching agents, wear protective clothing, safety goggles and rubber gloves when applying.

  • Step 4: Let It Dry

    Let the deck dry and then do the water test again. If water beads up on the wood, you haven't completely removed the old finish. You'll have to do another round of cleaning. If the drop soaks into the wood, you've removed all of the old stain. The deck can now be stained.

Stain and Seal Your Deck

Staining and sealing your deck protects it from sun and water damage, helps it resist mildew and prevents the wood from fading in high traffic areas. Before you start staining or sealing, check the weather report and be sure you'll have at least 48 hours of dry weather.

  • Step 1: Choose a Stain or Sealant

    Woodsman premium deck and siding stain

    Inexpensive deck sealants, such as clear or tinted water repellent, provide only the most basic protection and don't last long. Instead, choose semi-transparent or solid stains for more comprehensive, longer lasting protection. Semi-transparent stains last three to four years, and solid stains can last five years or more depending on the weather. Additionally, solid stains are available in a wide variety of colors. Because they contain a significant amount of pigment, they are useful for covering the damaged wood fibers of a weathered deck. You can also buy a stain that blocks UV rays to keep your deck from turning gray from the sun.

    Most stains contain a sealer, allowing you to stain and seal in one step. If your stain doesn't contain a sealer, you'll have to seal the deck after the stain dries—and do it again every year. Do not apply a liquid-resistant sealer prior to deck staining or the solution will be unable to soak into the wood.

  • Step 2: Apply Stain

    After thoroughly cleaning the deck, cover landscaping and deck railings with drop cloths. Use plastic sheeting and painter's tape to protect light fixtures and door hardware. If the deck is right next to your house, tape off the bottom two or three feet of siding to protect that, too.

    When protecting adjacent landscaping, don't use plastic sheeting on shrubs and plants—it can create a deadly "greenhouse effect" and burn your plants. Use drop cloths, but be sure to remove them from your foliage as soon as your project is complete so they don't suffocate.

    Stir the stain thoroughly before you start. Using a paint roller with an extension handle, apply a thin, even coat with a back-and-forth motion, following the direction of the boards. Make sure the stain goes on evenly and soaks into the wood, covering three boards at a time. Do the next set of boards the same way, repeating the process until the entire deck is covered. Use a paintbrush to cover corners and other difficult areas like steps, railings, board ends and cracks. Apply two coats if desired.

    Be careful not to let the stain puddle. If you find you've missed puddles, wipe them away with mineral spirits as soon as possible. Keep a small piece of cardboard nearby to catch any drips on nearby railings or posts—if you catch them in time, you can prevent dark spots and streaking.

    Safety Alert!

    Wear protective clothing, safety goggles and rubber gloves when deck staining to prevent skin irritation. Never leave used rags, brushes or stain containers out in the direct sun; they could combust and start a fire.

    Helpful Tip

    Do not apply stain in direct sunlight, as it will dry too quickly without absorbing into the wood. You can speed up the application process by having someone follow your path using a paint roller to spread any puddles—a process known as back rolling.

  • Step 3: Let It Dry

    Stay off the deck while it dries. Allow the stain to dry completely before replacing furniture and potted plants.

  • Step 4: Clean It Up

    When you're finished staining, remove drop cloths and tape, clean your tools and enjoy your good-as-new, beautiful looking deck.

  • Step 5: Maintain It

    stained deck

    Keep your deck looking its best by regularly sweeping it with a soft broom or washing it with a sponge mop to prevent ground-in dirt from wearing away the stain.

    Note: A new deck needs to be refinished every six to 12 months. As it ages, the finish lasts longer so you don't have to refinish as often. The best time to check the deck or porch using the water test is in the spring or fall.

    Nice work. You've refinished and renewed your deck, so enjoy it all season and for years to come.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.