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How to Clean and Seal a Deck

If your deck is structurally sound yet appears worn out and stained, a good scrubbing and coating of sealant promises to make it look brand new. Spring is the ideal time to remove winter buildup and prepare your deck for summer’s hot sun.

Keep the following tips in mind when sprucing up your deck.


After removing deck furniture, sweep the deck well, making sure to remove all debris. Be certain to clear leaves and twigs from between the boards, as this buildup rots and can harm the deck. You also don’t want to seal in debris. Use a putty knife to remove debris from between boards.

With a brush, clean the surface of the wood with deck cleaner or one-part warm water and one-part bleach. Many deck cleaners and the bleach solution remove mildew stains and algae. If you are cleaning a large deck, use a pressure washer instead of a brush. Spray the cleaner on the surface; let it sit for five minutes, and then hose off the deck surface to dislodge debris.

Protect nearby plants with tarps, as overspray of the cleaning solution can harm them. Also minimize damage to plants by watering the area well once you’re done with the deck.

Sealing Preparation

Decks made from composite material don’t require sealing, but wooden decks do every one to three years. To determine if your deck needs sealing, sprinkle water on the surface. If the water droplets bead up and don’t penetrate the wood, no sealing is necessary. If the water soaks into the wood, you need to reseal.

Before applying sealant, sand rough spots with an 80-grit paper. (Protect your lungs from dust created by sanding by wearing a mask.) Once sanding is complete, remove sawdust with a moist cloth.

Sealant Options

A variety of deck sealing options exist. Clear water repellants protect the wood and provide some UV protection. Wood toners contain sealant capabilities and a hint of color. Clear wood preservatives have UV protection and prevent the wood from graying. They are a popular option for redwood and cedar decking. Semitransparent stains contain a sealant and color, which brings out the grain of the wood and protects against UV damage.

Sealants come in water or oil-based. Oil-based products tend to provide a little better protection and require resealing less often.

Sealant Application 

Once the deck is clean and dry, apply the sealant. Choose a time of day that is not sunny, as the stain may bubble in the heat as you apply it, rather than sticking to the deck.  Aim for clear weather with no rain.

Stir the stain well before application. Avoid shaking the stain container, as this will create air bubbles.

Using a paint roller with an extension, working on one to two boards at a time, apply a thin layer of sealant with even strokes. Move on to the next section of boards, working until you’ve completed the entire deck. Allow the first coat to dry completely and then apply a second coat in the same manner.

Cleaning and resealing your deck takes some work, but the results are well worth the effort. A clean, shiny deck is an attractive landscape element that creates an inviting place to gather with friends and family.

By Julie Bawden-Davis

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