Does your deck look like an inviting oasis? Or something that's been left out in the rain? If the elements have taken their toll on yours — or if it just needs a bit of a lift — you've come to the right place.
Barbecuing, relaxing and socializing with family and friends are all perfect excuses to hit the deck on sunny days and pleasant evenings. But you need more than a grill, table and chairs to make yours homey and inviting. Take a good look. Is the surface worn and faded? Could it use a little more pizzazz? If so, don't replace it — restore it.
Step 1: Go Green
Your backyard is surrounded by the great outdoors, so bring some of its brilliance even closer. Cheer up your deck with fresh greenery and flowers. It's an easy and economical way to make it go from plain to pow! Here are a few suggestions:
- Hanging baskets and flower boxes. Clusters of vibrant natural blooms are a great way to brighten up a wooden deck. Just plant some of your favorites or buy flowers already in bloom for an instant splash of color. Flower boxes are a cinch to hang over the railing and specially made brackets make attaching them a snap.
- Plant a tree. You hardly need a green thumb to grow a fichus or other small, hardy tree in a decorative basket or container. Place it in the corner of your deck for years of growing enjoyment.
- Garden fresh. Is your deck located near the kitchen? Start a fragrant herb garden and hang it by the door. You'll enjoy the aroma — and fresh, homegrown herbs and spices always taste better than store-bought.
Step 2: Light Up the Night
Decks take on a whole new ambiance when the sun goes down. Use artificial light, like string lights and floodlights, or natural light, like tiki torches and fire pits, to create the perfect mood.
Step 3: Vanquish Vermin
Unfortunately, an appealing deck doesn't just attract two-legged creatures. Pesky critters, like insects and rodents are often drawn to people, light and food. Luckily, there are several things you can do to keep unwanted pest from spoiling your fun:
- Yellow bug lights and citronella lamp oil or candles help repel bugs and insects.
- You'll find plenty of special sprays and traps designed to kill ants, hornets and wasps.
- Bug zappers make short work of mosquitoes and flies (and kids love the flash and noise they make).
Fence in the area below your deck with fine-mesh wire to keep four legged critters, like mice, skunks and opossums, from taking up residence down under.
Step 4: Swab the Deck
Rain, mud, wear and tear — it all adds up to a dirty deck. Regular cleanings will help keep your deck beautiful and save you money in the long run.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
First use a broom to remove leaves, dirt and debris. Now it's time to start cleaning using either detergent, bleach or cleanser designed for decking materials or outdoor use. Apply the cleanser with a stiff scrub brush attached to a long handle for easy maneuverability into tight spaces and corners. Depending on the condition of your deck and the cleanser you use, you may have to allow the solution to set for a while before rinsing.
No matter what cleaning solution you use, make sure you read all manufacturers' directions and follow them carefully. Both to make sure they work correctly and to protect yourself and your deck from harm.
Some products spread easier if you lightly water down your deck first. Similarly, some solutions should not be allowed to dry, so you may need to spray the surface with water while they're working.
We suggest you use a stiff brush with synthetic bristles because many chemicals will deteriorate natural bristles.
Take It All Off
If your deck wasn't that dirty to begin with, simply use a garden hose and nozzle to rinse everything off. For grimier surfaces, you may need to pull out the heavy artillery — a pressure washer.
When using a pressure washer, remember that less is more. The chemicals should do most of the cleaning, so you probably won't need to use a machine with more than 1,500 pounds per square inch (PSI). But even that relatively light pressure can damage certain types of wood or leave marks on composite, so ask your True Value expert for advice.
- The most effective pressure washing technique is ''feathering'' — making overlapping sweeps that mask the points where you started and stopped. Work from the direction of the house out, making long sweeps along the grain or length of board. Begin each stroke where you ended the last, overlapping to blend as you go. Make sure to spray away all dirt and standing water.
- Keep in mind: corners can be tricky. Water trapped in corners has no place to go, so it can spray right back into your face. To prevent injury (or embarrassment), work from the corners out using an ''L'' pattern — a long sweep into the corner — followed by a short sweep out of it along the grain.
The water that comes out of the pressure washer's tip is called a ''fan'', and the degree of the tip angle indicates the fan size. A highly pressurized stream of water is typically rated ''zero'' and a bad idea for wood. Typically, you'll use a 40 to 60 degree tip size for deck cleaning.
Whenever you power spray, it's important to wear goggles and gloves to avoid injury.
Always exercise caution when using a pressure washer. Be sure to point the trigger away from anything it could harm including people, pets and windows.
Thoroughly rinse away any remaining cleaning residue — harsh solutions can ruin the deck's surface.
For more helpful tips on pressure washing please reference our How to Pressure Wash Your House guide.
Step 5: Deck Looking Dull and Worn? Don't Complain — Re-Stain
Now that your deck is nice and clean, does it look shiny and new? When wooden decks lose their luster and become faded and dull, it's time to re-stain.
Before you re-stain, make sure you have proper safety equipment, including goggles and gloves. It's also a good idea to wear sneakers to avoid slipping.
Clean Up Your Act
First things first: is your deck still clean? Stain doesn't adhere well to dirt, so if grime has returned, it's time for a re-wash. You don't have to power wash again — detergent and a hose will do the trick.
If you're washing your deck again, you'll have to wait for it to thoroughly dry before you can start staining. Typical wait time is two to three days, but some cleaning products also contain wood sealers — that means they may need as little as two hours to dry. Read all manufacturers' labels thoroughly.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Rain and wet stain are not a good combo, so check the weather report and pick a day that's sandwiched between at least 48 hours of dry weather.
Stain looks great on your deck but not on your plants and adjacent objects, so cover them up before you start staining. Use drop cloths to cover landscaping and deck railings, and combinations of 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 landscaping, never use plastic sheeting on shrubs and plants — it can create a deadly ''greenhouse effect'' and burn them.
Remove drop cloths from your foliage as soon as your project is complete so they don't suffocate.
What kind of deck stain should you buy? To enhance the color of the wood, use ''tinted'' stain. If you'd prefer to darken the wood or even mask the grain, use one labeled ''semi-transparent.'' By the way, these are the most durable formulas (they'll last about two or three years). Most stains are already combined with a sealer, allowing you to stain and seal in one step. If yours doesn't contain a sealer, you'll have to seal the deck after the stain dries — and do it again each year.
You can also buy a stain that contains an ultra violet (UV) protecting chemical that will keep your deck from turning gray from the sun.
To make sure your deck is dry enough, trickle small droplets of water on its surface in several places — if the water stays put, you're not quite ready, but if it soaks right in, your deck's properly parched.
To begin staining, use a two inch brush to dab stain into the corners, rail spindles, rail caps and step rails. Once you're done with the corners, stain the rest of the deck with a roller or four inch brush, starting at one end and concentrating on two or three boards at a time, depending on their width.
Apply the stain with a back-and-forth motion, making sure it applies evenly and soaks into the wood. Move along the entire length of the deck, and when you get to the end, return to where you started and do the next set of boards the same way. When you're finished with the boards, use a brush to stain the step treads, using the same back-and-forth technique.
As you apply the stain keep a small piece of cardboard nearby to catch any drips on nearby railings or posts — otherwise, you risk dark spots. If you later find you've missed any, wipe them away with mineral spirits as soon as possible.
Oil-based stains are the go-to choice because of their durability and attractive finishes, but water-based products work well, too.
If you're not sure what kind of bristles to use, remember that natural bristles are used for oil-based stains and latex bristles for water-based stains.
Step 6: You're Done!
When you're all finished, remove your drop cloths and tape, clean your tools and enjoy your beautiful new-looking deck. Keep it looking good by regularly sweeping it with a soft broom or washing it with a sponge mop to prevent ground-in dirt from wearing away the surface.
If your deck looks so good it shows up your old, grungy furniture, consider buying a new patio set like a wrought iron table & chairs. Wrought iron holds it own in harsh weather and requires little maintenance beyond an occasional wire brushing to remove surface rust.
Install a colorful umbrella to shade the table and prevent your guests and family from sunburn.
For even more eye appeal, place an ivy trellis along the house wall that faces the deck.
If you have any leftover stain or chemicals, never store them inside your house — they may be flammable or emit harmful vapors. Learn and follow all local laws and regulations for their safe and proper disposal.
Great job! Enjoy your new backyard oasis.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.