Deck Maintenance Checklist: Tips to Clean, Repair, Seal, and Stain Your Deck

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated July 8, 2022
Family plays in rain on wood deck
Photo: Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Keeping up with deck maintenance ensures your outdoor space lasts for decades.

  • Have sandpaper, a broom or cleaning brushes, and a pressure washer on hand.

  • Thoroughly clean your deck about once a year.

  • Plan to reseal your deck every few years.

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Whether it’s grilling in the summer or lounging in the fall, your deck is likely one of your favorite spots—or it could be with the proper care. With a little annual maintenance and resealing every few years, you can protect your deck from the elements and showcase the beauty of its wood. Follow these expert tips to ensure the job is done right and that your deck lasts a lifetime. 

Deck Maintenance Checklist

Before you start cleaning off debris from last summer’s soirees or resealing the deck, you want to be sure to have the right tools for the job.

Tools and Equipment

When sanding and sealing your deck, have the necessary protective equipment, tools, and supplies at the ready. It’s important to protect your eyes, nose, and mouth during this project from flying debris and any chemicals in stains, sealants, or other treatments you use.

Tools and equipment you’ll need include: 

  • Pole sander

  • 80-grit sandpaper

  • Plastic sheeting

  • Pressure washer

  • Bristle brush

  • Deck cleaner

  • Gloves

  • Safety mask with eye protection

  • Stain or sealant

  • Roller with pole extender

  • Sprayer (for large decks)

  • Brushes

How Often to Maintain a Deck

Deck maintenance is more than just inspecting the boards once a year. Some things, like cleaning, need to happen throughout the year. Larger tasks, like adding a sealant or repairing faulty boards, should happen every two or three years. 

Plan ahead if you need to resurface your deck. Plan for at least two consecutive days of dry, moderate weather when the temperature is between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain or lots of direct sunlight can impact how well your deck seals. 

Set a Schedule for Your Deck Maintenance

Determine and stick to a regular deck cleaning schedule to help prolong the durability, look, and longevity of your wood deck. Hire a deck cleaning company in your area to help with this task if you’re too busy or don’t want to spend your weekends cleaning.

  • Wood deck maintenance should include repairs and resealing at least once every two or three years, although some sealants provide protection for up to five years. 

  • Plan to do a thorough deck inspection at least once a year. Check for split wood, mold, rot, wobbly spots, and weak handrails.

  • Repair, replace, or fortify parts that are in disrepair.

  • Sweep the deck thoroughly, moving furniture, plants, and the grill out of the way, at least once a year.

  • On a light setting, powerwash or mop the deck once a year.

Set a calendar reminder so you know when your deck needs resealing, or opt for an easy-to-remember pattern, such as resealing the deck during every even-numbered year. If you forgo resealing your deck longer than two or three years, the wood becomes more exposed and breaks down. You may end up having to replace some or all of your deck.

Deck Cleaning

Small backyard deck made of wood and stained
Photo: irina88w / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Cleaning the deck is a year-round job, whether you’re sweeping up after a backyard barbecue or trimming up nearby trees to prevent leaves from taking over your outdoor dining space.

Cover Your Plants and Siding Before Cleaning or Sealing

Wet the plants and shrubs that surround your deck, then cover them with plastic sheeting. This prevents spotting and damage to your plants while cleaning, sealing, or staining. Protect your home’s siding, too, by covering it with plastic or paper. 

Use a Pressure Washer for Cleaning, but Be Gentle

While you can wash your deck with a brush or bristle broom, pressure washing is faster and more thorough. Use a gentle or low setting and a spray or wide fin so you don’t damage your wood.

You can also clean with just water or use a deck cleaning solution, but avoid chlorine bleach products, as they deteriorate deck sealant. Oxygen bleach and hydrogen peroxide are safer to use.

Pressure washing removes surface build-up, tree dirt, and small debris, but it’s not the easiest or most affordable DIY if you don’t already have the equipment. Look into hiring a local pressure washing company to handle this for you if you don’t have the needed supplies. 

Keep Up With Cleaning to Prevent Damage

There are a number of tasks to do every season to keep your deck in tip-top shape.

  • Routinely sweep and shovel your deck to remove debris, dirt, leaves, and snow. Continual maintenance will protect your deck from moisture and dirt damage. 

  • Move your furniture, plants, and grill on occasion to avoid uneven fading and wear. 

  • Use a grease catcher for your grill to avoid hard-to-remove stains. 

  • Trim trees and bushes to be at least a foot from your deck to avoid moss, and moisture damage.

Sealing a Deck

Treatments, like sealants, protect your wood deck from moisture, UV rays, foot traffic, and general use. Sealants also tend to have more water repellent properties than stains. They are usually clear, so they showcase the beauty of your wood, but don’t offer as much UV protection as stains.

Choosing the Right Sealant

Both oil- and water-based sealants work well on wood decks. Oil tends to last longer, usually up to three to five years, but is more labor-intensive to apply. Oil also takes longer to dry, but no matter which product you use, you’ll want to ensure your sealant fully dries before walking on it or placing any furniture on it.

Apply Sealant to a Dry Deck

After cleaning the deck, make sure it is completely dry before you begin sealing it. It takes up to 48 hours for your deck’s wood to dry after cleaning or pressure washing it. Your stain or sealant will absorb properly when your wood is completely dry.

Sand Your Deck Before Sealing 

To ensure a smooth, adhesive surface for your sealant, sand your deck first. A pole sander makes the job quick and easy. A power sander is overkill and could cause damage to your deck. Choose 80-grit sandpaper to ensure you remove splinters and rough spots. Once you sand the surface, sweep off the remaining dust and wood particles.                                      

Focus on Even Application

A roller—or sprayer for large decks—helps you apply sealant evenly. When the treatment is even, it ensures every inch of your deck is protected. If you spray your deck, you still want to use a roller afterward to ensure uniform coverage.

Push your roller back and forth so the sealant makes its way into the cracks of your wood grain. Watch for and roll away drips and pooling, especially on vertical spots. For railings and posts, use brushes or a smaller roller. 

Apply Two Coats

Sealants look best after two coats are evenly applied to the surface of the deck. Be sure to let each coat dry before applying the next layer. Review the instructions that came with your sealant, but in general, it’s recommended to wait 24 to 48 hours after your second coat to walk on or put furniture on your newly sealed deck. 

Staining a Deck

Wood deck off brick house of fenced in yard
Photo: irina88w / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Stains add color to wood decks while also providing added benefits, like protection against the elements and better resistance to mold and rot. To keep your deck looking its best, you’ll need to reapply stain every 2 to 3 years.

Choosing the Right Stain

Stains include some pigmentation and range from light tints to opaque tones. Stains provide excellent UV protection but aren’t as resistant to moisture damage. Most stains last two to three years, but how often you should stain your deck depends on the type of wood and the stain product you use.

You can also paint your deck, which offers some protection against moisture and UV rays, but not as much as deck treatments like sealants and stains. Paint usually wears off more easily and quickly, so you need to reapply it more often. 

Sweep or Pressure Wash the Deck

You can’t apply stain to a deck covered in dirt and leaves, so make sure you clear off the wood before you plan to stain a deck. Once you’ve moved all furnishings and other items from the deck, use a broom or a pressure washer to thoroughly clean the wood deck. Then, let these surfaces dry before moving on to sanding and staining.

Prepare the Deck for Staining

Just like with sealing a deck, you need to sand the deck surfaces before staining to ensure a smooth application. With an orbital sander, use 60- to 80-grit sandpaper to refresh the surface. If you are using a pole sander, opt for 120-grit sandpaper. Be sure to clear off any sawdust from sanding before you stain the deck.

Use Two Coats and Let the Surface Dry

For most sealants and stains, two coats are recommended for maximum durability and longevity. In general, you’ll need to wait four hours after your first coat before applying the second. Afterward, let the stain dry for about 24 to 48 hours before putting your furniture back on the deck.

Keep Your Deck Looking Great Year-Round

Refinishing a deck usually takes a day or two, in addition to repairs and cleaning. A meticulous sealing job ensures ample coverage, longevity, and appearance. If refinishing a wood deck isn’t up your alley or not how you want to spend a free weekend, consider hiring a deck repair and finishing professional.

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