Old and new decks require a certain amount of maintenance to ensure they hold up to weather abuse, such as rain, snow and direct sunlight. While sun damage produces a dry, weathered look, constant foot traffic also ages a deck’s appearance over time. Rain, dew and sprinklers cause water damage that leads to mold, mildew and rot. Spilled drinks, food and old leaves stain the wood and alter its appearance. With proper treatment and regular maintenance, you can make sure your deck looks good no matter what you or the weather throws at it.

Testing New Decks Before Applying Finish
Before you apply finish to your new deck, test it with a few water drops. If the wood absorbs the water within a few seconds, it’s ready for finish. If you’re unsure whether or not to apply finish, check the finish’s moisture content requirement, and use an electronic moisture meter to test the wood’s moisture level. Protect pressure-treated wood with finish as soon as it dries to prevent sun and water damage and to maintain the deck’s new appearance. While pressure-treated wood holds up well to rot and insect damage, it does deteriorate over time without a weather-resistant finish.

Caring for Your Deck
Before you apply any finish, remove furniture, plants and other items from the area. If you can’t move certain deck or ground plants, soak them with water for protection against chemical deck cleaners. After cleaning and sanding, apply the finish out of direct sunlight, as the steady heat may cause uneven application and streaking.

1. Clean the deck.
After you move the furniture and plants, prep the deck for cleaning. Sweep the entire surface, making sure to clean any debris that’s caught between the deck boards. Avoid using bleach alone to clean the deck since it only removes mold and mildew stains without treating the wood’s deep fibers. Apply a regular deck cleaner to the surface, and rinse it clean with a hose. Pressure-wash the deck if it still looks dirty after using the cleaner. Wait two or three days for the deck to dry completely.

2. Sand and repair the deck.
Once the deck dries, sand down any weathered, raised or splintered areas, making sure to sand away any leftover stains or burn marks that can show through the finish. If the faucet near the deck leaks or the sprinkler heads need relocating, make the necessary repairs and adjustments. Perform one final sweep of the deck before moving on to the last step.
3. Finish the deck.
With the cleaning and sanding out of the way, make sure you apply the finish on a cloudy day or when the deck is out of direct sunlight. Make sure the deck doesn’t feel hot to the touch, as a hot deck could lead to failure of the finish. If the surface temperature exceeds 75 degrees, wait until it cools. Afterward, apply the finish according to the manufacturer’s directions. Wait until it dries before placing your items back on the deck.

Maintaining the New Finish
Depending on exposure levels, expect to refinish the deck every six months or so. Under normal conditions, the finish should hold up for a year or two if the deck was already in good condition. Some signs that it’s time to refinish your deck include:

The deck coloring turns gray.
The boards look weathered.
Stains set deep within the wood’s fibers.
Splinters and raised bumps form over the surface.

Even if you maintain your deck every day, you have to watch out for insect infestations, such as termites and carpenter bees. These insects burrow into the wood and leave piles of sawdust around the deck railings. Make sure to monitor for insects and take preventative measures to ensure your finished deck not only withstands the onslaught of sun and rain but also common wood-boring pests.

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