Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cleaning and Coating Your Deck in 3 Steps

Well, Winter's over and we're moving our way through a bit of a rainy Spring.  Chances are, if you look out your window, your deck isn’t looking the best right now.  Maybe the wood’s grayed a bit, maybe it’s black in some spots--maybe the coating you had on it is fading.  Maybe the deck isn’t as water-repellant as it should be.  Whatever the situation, there’s a good chance that many of our West Michigan decks aren’t looking as beautiful as they could.

And that can be a little depressing.  Largely, because I know that most of us tend to think that a deck project is a great big ordeal.  But hold on, there's good news:  cleaning and protecting your deck is not a complicated or painful or even time-consuming project at all.  With the right information, the right tools and some nice sunny weather, it can actually be a fun project with a huge payoff!  

Here's a list of the supplies you'll need and/or want:

  1. Defy Wood Cleaner (available at any RepcoLite, Port City or Snyder Paints location)
  2. Scrub Brush
  3. Garden Sprayer
  4. Power  Washer or High Pressure Hose Nozzle
  5. Paint and Stain Pad Applicator
  6. Brush
  7. 4' Extension Pole

Here's what you need to do:

The first step in any deck project is to clean the deck.  This is absolutely critical.  Many folks want to skip this step--they see the deck and they figure that this cleaning process is extra, that it’s something we made up just so we could sell you more stuff.

On the contrary, it's crucial to the success of your project and here’s why: the final appearance of most deck protector products is affected by the color of the deck before you coated it.

If your deck boards are old and gray-looking, the new coating you put on is typically going to take on a dull, old look.  If you want to have a deck that looks new and vibrant and beautiful, it’s important to wash away that dull, weathered gray, and get your wood back to a newer, brighter look.

So, the washing part of the process is critical and we recommend a product called DEFY Wood Cleaner.  It’s a powder you mix with water and then spray (using the garden sprayer), scrub or slosh onto your deck boards. 

Once it’s on--and this is the hardest part of this step--you let the solution stand for about 10 - 20 minutes.  After that complicated waiting process is over, you should scrub the deck with a good push broom or a stiff-bristled scrub brush.  Then, it’s just a quick rinse with a power washer and you’re ready for the next step.

Once you’ve got the deck cleaned and looking better, it’s time to let the deck DRY.  This is such a hard concept for most of us to grasp (mainly because we want to keep moving with the project and we feel that a delay is simply slowing us down.)

But as unnecessary as it may seem, this delay is absolutely critical.  Once you’ve introduced all that water to the deck, it’s important to let the wood dry for at least 3-4 good drying days.  And, by good drying days, I mean exactly that:  good drying days.  (To clarify:  a good drying day is a day without rain.)

So, let the deck dry 3-4 good drying days and then, before you move ahead with any wood protector product at all, you should do a water-drop test--to make sure it’s dry and ready to accept your coating.

To accomplish this, just sprinkle a few drops of water over various parts of your deck.  If the wood is ready to absorb a coating, this water should soak in within a few seconds.  If it doesn’t, it’s critical that you DON’T apply the coating.  If the water doesn’t soak in, your deck is either not dry enough yet, or it’s not porous enough to accept a finish.

Putting a wood protector on your deck at this point could easily create a maintenance hazard down the road--so even though you want to finish the project, if your deck doesn’t pass the water drop test, don’t proceed.  Instead, give it another day or so and repeat the test.  If it still doesn’t soak in, give RepcoLite, Port City Paints or Snyder Paint a call (or drop us an email at and we’ll walk you through the next steps.

If the water does soak in--and that’s what’s going to happen most of the time--then you’re ready to finish the deck.

Once the deck is dry and has passed the "water drop" test, it's time to apply your deck protector.  Now, when it comes to choosing a deck protector, there are a lot of options out there:  don't be misled by a national advertising campaign or a big-name brand.  These products aren't always the best options.  (For a thorough discussion of our recommendations for deck coatings, check out our article:  The Truth About Deck Coatings

To proceed with this discussion, I'll assume that you've picked a deck protector like RepcoLite's Wood Protector.

Start with the railings and be careful to put drop cloths or cardboard down on the deck to absorb drips.  Brush the railings with one coat of wood protector (never more than one coat, period!)  Work your way around the deck and when you're finished with the railings and spindles, it's time to coat the deck's surface.

The easiest way to do this is to use an extension pole and a pad applicator.  Working out of a standard paint tray, you should be able to mop the product onto your deck boards very quickly and evenly.  

One note of warning here:  when you apply the wood protector, do not apply it in square patches.  You'll get overlap that way and this is not desirable.  Instead take one or two or three deck boards and apply the product on the entire board--from one end of the deck to the other, turning the pad applicator slightly on its side to get between the boards.  By working like this, you'll never have overlap and, if you have to quit or pause your work for an hour or so, you'll be able to pick up right where you left off, starting on the next uncoated board.  

Apply the product over the entire deck in this manner, making sure to start the deck in such a way as to have a means to exit the deck when you finish.  

Once the deck is coating is applied, you're done.  Simply walk away and give it some time to dry. When that's happened (normally just a day or two), you'll be able to get out there and enjoy the now protected and beautiful deck all summer long!

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