The Pro's Guide to Deck Restoration

The Pro's Guide to Deck Restoration featured image

June 19, 2017 / by Gregg Cantor / In Outdoor Spaces

A deck is a great asset to your San Diego home and lifestyle. There’s nothing quite like enjoying an afternoon outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, but still right within reach of your home. A deck is the perfect backdrop for an outdoor living space outfitted with your favorite outdoor furniture and colorful container garden, but if the bones of your deck could use some love before you get that far, keep reading.

We’ve put together a comprehensive 3-part guide to restoring your deck so that it lasts well in the future.

Part 1: Create a Clean Slate

Check the integrity of the deck coating to determine if the existing coating needs to be completely removed. How can you tell? The best indicators are that the coating won’t bead water or is severely deteriorated. If either of these are the case, it’s best to remove the coating and start with a fresh, clean surface.

image of Finished Wood Deck

If the coating needs to be removed:

  1. Use a heavy duty wood cleaner. Look for a cleaner that contains sodium metasilicate or sodium percarbonate. This product can be applied with a sprayer or soft deck brush; use a sprayer for optimum results.
  2. Scrub the surface after applying the cleaner with a medium bristle brush before doing a final rinse down with low-pressure stream (no more than 1200psi) from a power washer.
  3. It is important to let the cleaner do the work and use the pressure washer sparingly and carefully, as they can do damage to wood if not properly used.
  4. With the old coating removed, apply a wood brightener to the surface. An oxalic-based brightener will restore color to the wood and will remove most common wood stains, including tannin and rust stains. Rinse the surface thoroughly after any chemicals are applied.
  5. To treat discolorations, use a wood brightener, along with some scrubbing with a deck brush followed by a carefully controlled pressure washing to prepare the surface for a new coating. As with any commercial product, read the directions carefully and follow all safety precautions when using these products. Be sure to check with local ordinances concerning run-off water—it may be necessary to capture it in some localities.

If the existing coating is intact:

Sometimes a coating is simply faded. If you know what type of coating was previously used, simply apply the wood brightener, clean the deck, and apply a new compatible finish right over the top of the old finish.

Note: Always test a small inconspicuous area prior to coating the whole deck.

Part 2: Protect and Finish

Apply an oil-based finish

After years of private independent testing and refinishing more than 4 million square feet of decking over the past 24 years, I find that an oil-based, naturally pigmented finish formulated specifically for decking works best. These high-quality products enhance the natural look of wood and deep-penetrating oils will protect the surface and help prevent mildew and water damage. It is important to follow manufacturer’s directions when applying these coatings, as this will ensure proper penetration and spread rate to protect the wood for the long term.

These coatings can be sprayed with a commercial paint sprayer or applied with foam applicator pads or rollers. Make sure you get the corners and hard-to-reach areas with a paintbrush.

Note: Always apply a 2-square- foot test area with the coating before coating the whole deck.

image of completed deck project by Murray Lampert

Leave no joint uncoated

Apply a generous amount of the coating to exposed joints, butt edges, and any place the wood is close to dirt or sits in a piece of hardware such as a post base. Failing to do so can lead to hanger decay in these areas. When applying the product use long continuous strokes to limit stop and start marks and overlapping of material.

Watch and wait

As you apply the coating, take a moment to observe the absorption rate of different pieces of lumber—some open-grain lumber may require more than one coat to ensure proper protection.

Be sure to read up on how long to let the finish cure before walking or placing any deck furniture on the surface. A well-applied coating can hold up for two years on average before needing another application.

Think ahead to next time—save your container

Be sure to save the container of finish so you will remember which coating you used for the next application.

Part 3: A Clean Sweep for a Long life

image of cleaning between deck planks

Make sure all that hard work doesn’t go to waste. Keep up with easy maintenance chores to keep your deck in shape for the long haul. Here are a few fast tips that take just a few minutes every month:

  1. Keep the deck clean. An effective solution is to rinse it down every 30 days with clean water. However, this may not be ideal in the current drought we are experiencing. Use an attachment on your hose to ensure that you use the least amount of water possible, or skip the water altogether and give your deck a good sweeping and wipe-down instead.

  2. Keep excess water off the deck. Adjust sprinklers away from the decking. Install gutters along your house eaves if needed to keep water off as well. During the next rain storm, take note of any areas with pooling water. Keep pots off the deck’s surface. Direct contact allows moisture from potted plants to transfer to the deck’s wood. Try using decorative plant stands or plastic trays that keep water contained. Avoid overwatering as well, as this excess water runs onto the deck and is wasted. Plus, it’s better for your plants!

  3. Keep debris out of gaps between the deck boards. This causes decay and shortens the lifespan of your deck.

  4. Establish a regular deck maintenance schedule. Examine the deck’s structure closely every year including underneath.

When doing any type of deck restoration or construction, be sure you understand and follow building codes and rely on the help of an experienced home design, build, and remodel professional. Good luck!


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