Caring for Your Wooden Deck

Wooden decks can be a center of relaxation and comfort for their owners: a place to while away the afternoon or weekend in peace; a place to set up deck chairs or a table and sip drinks as the day lazily passes; or a place to nibble on barbecue fresh from the grill. To provide years of necessary comfort, wooden decks require a little care and maintenance each year.

Check for Damaged Boards - Yearly

The boards that make up the deck surface and steps are subject to all kinds of stress and usage. Over time, they will wear out or rot. If you don't check for and replace damaged boards every year, you could be inviting an injury.

  1. Examine the deck’s surface boards. Replace any boards that show signs of major stress, like excessive curling, cracking, rotting, or breakage.

  2. Measure the damaged board.

  3. Purchase a replacement board. Your local lumberyard or hardware store (if they carry wood) should be able to help you. Pressure treated wood is preferable, otherwise you'll need to seal the wood yourself, either before or after installation.

  4. Remove the damaged board. If nails were used to secure the board, use a small nail puller or a hammer to pry the nails out. Use a small block of wood for leverage and to protect the boards that don't need to be replaced. If screws were used to secure the damaged board, a screwdriver or drill (with screwdriver bit) should do the trick. To prevent splinters, wear work gloves when lifting the board out.

  5. Cut the new board to fit. Make any adjustments necessary to the new board so it will fit in the space left by the damaged board. Use a handsaw or electric saw to cut the new board to size.

  6. Test fit the new board. Lay the board in its spot. Make sure it fits properly and that you like the way it looks.

  7. Attach the board. First, drill guide holes for the nails or screws to make sure they will properly adhere to the support beams. Next, add the nails or screws. For decks, screws are recommended since they won't pop out when the wood expands and contracts with changing weather conditions.

  8. If the wood wasn't pretreated, apply water sealant to your deck to help protect it. Follow the directions that come with the sealant.

Check Structural Supports for Insect or Animal Damage - Twice Yearly

The structural supports keep your deck up and in place. Underneath the deck surface, where the structural supports are located, is a perfect place for insects to flourish and animals to take up residence. The problem is that they can damage or destroy the supports, making your deck unstable and unusable.

  1. Inspect your deck's structural supports. Visually inspect the area underneath your deck with a high-powered flashlight. Look for any signs of animal or insect damage, like chewed supports, cobwebs, brittle wood, etc.

  2. If you find any signs of insects or insect damage, fix any damage, determine which pests are responsible for the problem and find a way to control the pest using a natural method or call a pest-control expert if necessary.

  3. If the damage appears to be animal related, consider adding lattice or some other barrier around the edges of your deck to keep critters out from under it.

  4. Take some simple preventive measures to deter pests:

    • keep the area under and near your deck clean and dry

    • keep wood, mulch, soil and plants away from wooden structures and foundation

    • clean up any debris

    • fix any leaks and areas that retain water

    • use amber-colored outdoor lights

Check for Popped Nails, Loose Screws, and Bolts - Yearly

Nails, screws and bolts hold your deck together. If they come loose or pop out (a consistent problem with nails), then the deck boards could come loose or the deck itself could partially collapse.

  1. Inspect all the nails, screws and bolts that hold your deck together. Tighten any that are loose or replace any that have popped out. Wear work gloves.

  2. Nails that have popped out need to be hammered back in.

  3. Screws that have worked their way out need to be twisted back in place. Use a screwdriver or drill (with screwdriver attachment) and tighten them. Be careful not to strip the screw holes. If you do, you will need to make a trip to your local hardware store and purchase a slightly larger screw as a replacement.

  4. Bolts are the only attachment that doesn't rely on the wood to hold it in place. Tighten the bolt using a wrench or two, depending on how loose the bolt is.

Clean Your Deck - Yearly

Dirt, grime, mildew and mold can build up your deck over the year. Not only can they diminish the look of your deck, they can also make it slippery and, in the case of mold and mildew, cause damage.

  1. Visually inspect your deck for dirt, grime, mildew and mold. Even if none are readily visible, you should still wash your deck.

  2. Wash the deck. A power-sprayer is an easy way to remove the dirt and grime. However, if you don't have a power sprayer, or for mold and mildew, use warm, soapy water and a scrub brush. Thoroughly scrub the surface of the deck. Make sure you remove all mold and mildew.

  3. Rinse the deck. Use a water hose to rinse away the soap and water along with any loosened dirt, grime, mold or mildew.

Reseal or Restain Your Deck - Yearly

One of the biggest ravages decks face is moisture. To keep your deck in good shape for years to come, it should be resealed or restained every year.

  1. If you haven't already done so, clean the deck surface. Using a power washer is an easy way to do this. Otherwise, use a large scrub brush and soapy water. Be sure to rinse well.

  2. Let the deck dry.

  3. If the deck already has a finished or sealed surface, remove the finish or seal with a remover/stripper, following the directions on the package.

  4. Purchase new sealant or stain. Make sure any stain you choose is meant for the outdoors and can protect the wood from the elements.

    *  For the following steps, wear a dust mask or respirator to prevent the inhalation of particles and fumes.

  5. Sand the deck. It must be smooth before you can refinish it. Medium-grit sandpaper will probably work for most decks. Remove any sanding dust that is left behind.

  6. Apply the finish or sealant. If you're using a colored finish, try a test spot first to see if the color you chose is indeed the color you want. Using a foam brush, staining pad, or nylon/polyester brush, apply the stain or sealant with the grain of the wood. For colored finishes, work quickly and don't stop in the middle of the job for a break, or the finish may dry unevenly, leaving streaks.

  7. Let the stain or sealant dry. This should take approximately two hours, depending on humidity and temperature. Check the directions for the stain or sealant you used.

  8. Add a second and possibly a third coat for greater protection.