How to Restore a Wood Deck

man washing deck with a pressure washer

Wooden decks offer a sustainable, natural beauty favored by many. Like most outdoor surfaces, they do require proper care and maintenance. The trick is to keep ahead of the game with preventive maintenance. In general, outdoor materials have three adversaries: ultraviolet light (sunlight), dirt, and water. Protected from these, a deck will have great durability and longevity. If a deck has been neglected and things are looking a bit worse for wear, not to worry. It’s not hard to rejuvenate its natural beauty. Here’s a four-step process that will help you restore a deck.

Step 1 - Inspect and Fix

The first step to restoring a deck is to take a moment and check the decking for missing or protruding nails or screws. Drive below the surface of the wood any fasteners that may be poking up and replace those that are missing.

Step 2 - Clean

While you may not be able to see it, dirt, dust, and carbon from automobile exhaust are airborne particles that, over time, will settle on any outdoor surface. It’s often amazing how much better a wood deck can look with just a simple cleaning. Just about any detergent can be used. Consider trisodium phosphate (TSP) available from most paint retailers and in hardware stores and home improvement centers. Follow the container directions and mix the powder with warm water. Wet the deck and surrounding vegetation with a garden hose, then apply the cleaning liquid, work it into the surface with a long-handled scrub brush and rinse. Add a cup of chlorine bleach to the cleaning solution if there is evidence of algae on the deck.

small house with wooden deck

What about Power Washing?

In some cases, a power washer that boosts household water pressure up to 1,500 psi or more can accomplish both cleaning and brightening in one step. A note of caution – this same jet of water can etch some species of softwood lumber if the nozzle is held too close. Usually, you’ll want to keep the tip between twelve and eighteen inches from the surface. In addition to maintaining the wand tip at the correct distance, limit water pressure to 1,000 psi and use a nozzle with a spray angle of 25 to 40 degrees. Use a sweeping motion and keep moving.

Step 3: Brighten

Even though the deck may be clean, it can still look a bit dinghy and discolored from staining or sunlight. There are a good number of proprietary deck brighteners available, but you can make your own by adding oxalic acid (a powdered bleach) to warm water. Make sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Pre-wet the surface and apply the brightening mixture with a long-handled brush.

bright clean wood deck with railing and view

Step 4: Stain and Seal

The final step to restoring a deck is helping it stay clean and bright. Once the deck is clean and bright, the idea is to keep it that way. This means applying a good quality deck sealer. Deck sealers work in two ways. They prevent the wood from becoming saturated with water, then drying out. This wet/dry cycle can cause cracking and checking. The sealer interrupts this process by preventing water from penetrating. Sealers can also block potentially damaging UV light.

Sealers can also contain pigments that add color to the deck. Consider using either transparent or semi-transparent colors. Opaque colors tend to obscure the wood grain and can wear off in high traffic areas, leaving visible wear paths.

For effective application, try using a painting pad. It applies the sealer smoothly and evenly, and the short bristles allow you to work the sealer into the surface of the wood—making for a more durable coating.

Stay Ahead of the Game

The easiest way to keep a deck looking its best is to clean it periodically and reapply sealer before the wood begins to look as though it may need it.

Looking to build a deck? Get the Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide.

Photo credits (in order): SHED, Getty Images