A deck in your yard isn't just a cool outdoor feature. It's also an extension of your home and a place that should feel comfortable and safe. Exposure to the elements year-round, however, as well as plenty of foot traffic, can wreak havoc on your deck. It takes routine cleaning, maintenance, and the occasional resealing to ensure your deck outlasts the constant wear.
Whether your outdoor living space is a classic wood construction, composite material, or a basic slab of concrete, you can keep it looking fresh and in good condition for years to come.
Whether you use decay-resistant woods like red cedar and redwood, or pressure-treated boards with chemical preservatives, your most important task is preventing water damage. That means sweeping water and wet leaves from the surface and directing water spouts away from the deck.
You should also periodically inspect your deck for soft spots, splinters, and loosened fasteners, and fix them before they worsen. If you use an outdoor rug, make sure it's not a natural material, like jute or bamboo, but one made from recycled plastics—this will help prevent mold and mildew.
When cleaning your wood deck, use a solution that kills mildew while removing dirt and grease from those weekend barbecues. Use a mild deck cleaner or prepare a homemade cleaning solution from oxygen bleach, soap, and water. Spray it on the entire deck surface, hand railings, and stairs, and allow the solution to sit for about ten minutes before scrubbing with a synthetic bristle brush.
Use a garden hose with a spray nozzle to rinse away the soap, directing the water away from the house. Avoid using a pressure washer, as they're too powerful and can gouge the wood surface.
Protecting your wood deck from the elements requires both a stain and sealer. Staining adds water resistance and UV protection with pigment, while a sealer penetrates the wood, locking moisture out and reducing fungal growth and wood rot.
Ideally, the weather should be warm and dry when you undertake this task—this will provide the best seal. Be sure the deck surface is clean and sanded so the sealer absorbs into the wood, and allow two days to dry. Reseal or restain every two to three years to extend the life of your deck.
Composite decking boards blend two or more materials—usually wood fibers or other fillers—with plastics to create a beautiful and durable material. The material may look like wood, but it doesn't have the same imperfections and vulnerabilities as genuine lumber. It's also available in many colors and hardwood grain patterns and requires minimal maintenance, such as a good sweeping every week or so.
If that isn't enough to convince you, composite decks also have a 25-year lifespan, making them a wise long-term investment.
The low-maintenance needs of composite decking are its biggest selling point. Regularly sweep the deck surface, and clean out any grass clippings or leaves built up in the gaps to prevent moisture damage. Once or twice a year, move the patio furniture and use a deck brush to scrub the deck surface with mild soap and water.
Prevent rot by keeping mulch and other damp items off the deck, and use a power washer on the lowest setting.
Composite decks are durable and don't need restaining or resealing like wood decks. Still, they need some care and attention if you plan to keep the material from splitting or peeling. Confirm there are at least six inches of unobstructed airflow under the deck to prevent water damage.
Invest in woven outdoor rugs instead of those with rubber backing to avoid trapping moisture. Finally, inspect the deck every spring to catch and repair loosened or damaged boards quickly.
A concrete deck might be solid as a rock, but the porous material is more prone to water damage and stains than you realize. The first step to maintaining a concrete deck is cleaning up any materials that can cause stains, such as grease or pet urine. Keep outdoor planters on saucers to prevent fertilizer stains and mold, and be careful with deicing salts, which can damage concrete over time.
How often you clean your concrete patio depends on the climate where you live and how much traffic your deck sees. Cleaning is as easy as using a deck brush and a small amount of dish soap, then rinsing with a garden hose or pressure washer on low.
For pet urine stains, use a cleanser with bleach or ammonia, and for mold, apply a mold and mildew remover or a solution of bleach and water. Fertilizer stains can penetrate concrete, but a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water helps remove discoloration.
Sealing your concrete deck protects your tinted stain from fading and intensifies the color. It also helps to slow down deterioration from seasonal wear and tear. Acrylic resin sealers are easy to apply, provide UV and water resistance, and dry to a glossy sheen, though they need reapplying every 3-5 years.
Penetrating sealers absorb into the concrete to protect without forming a surface coating, creating a more natural look. They also last for 5-10 years with proper maintenance.
Choosing a material, stain, and sealer for outdoor decking can seem overwhelming. Consider your budget, time for maintenance, and climate. Wooden decks are beautiful and durable but require a lot of care. They can also be expensive if you don't use pressure-treated lumber.
Composite decks last much longer and withstand harsher weather, but the costs can also be substantial. On the bright side, composite decking is best for those with little time for maintenance. Cement decks are low-maintenance but require attention to detail and regular sealing to retain their luster.