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Homeowners Guide to Deck Cleaning, Repair, and Maintenance

Learn tips and tricks on how to clean, repair, and maintain your deck year after year with help from the USDA Forest Service
Read through the homeowners guide to deck cleaning, repair and maintenance from DecksDirect and the EPA
Check out easy DIY tips for homeowners on deck cleaning, repair, and maintenance from DeckDirect and Consumer Reports

Deck maintenance means regular cleaning, repair, and upkeep. This homeowner's guide provides tips on using the right tools for cleaning, maintaining, and staining the deck so it looks great, safe, and habitable no matter what time of the year.

I. Introduction

Decks are an extension of the house and are considered a primary living area. As an entrance to the home, it gets a lot of foot traffic throughout the year. Its constant exposure to the sun, rain, wind, and even snow can slowly deteriorate it. Loose boards and screws, cracks, mildew growth, and rotting wood can compromise its structural integrity, which is why deck cleaning, maintenance, and repair are important, no matter the season, to keep it looking new, safe, and in good condition.

II. Preparation

The deck is a primary spot for family cookouts, dinners, and barbecues in the summer, and it is a lovely area to hang around in the spring and early fall. Deck maintenance should be part of a regular cleaning and landscaping routine.


Deck cleaning is far more complicated than sweeping stray dirt and debris or mopping up caked-up mud. You need to be thorough using the right tools and materials to not only clean the deck but protect and prevent future expensive repairs. Establishing a routine of upkeep helps in making deck cleaning a breeze as well.

  1. Deck Cleaner. There is a special solution that helps lift and remove staining and dirt build-up. There are plenty of deck cleaner solutions for many types of decks. The best deck cleaning solution is the one that can bring your deck back to looking its best.
  2. Stain and Sealant. A deck stain helps keep the wood fresh and sturdy. Most commercial deck stains and sealants help lock out moisture and prevent damage from the sun, wind, and other elements. A coat or two on a properly prepared deck is enough.
  3. Sandpaper. An 80-grit sandpaper and an optional pole sander help file down any splinters in deck boards. Protruding nail heads can be sanded down to prevent snagging as well.
  4. Plastic Cover. Commercial stains and sealers come with their respective manufacturer’s directions. You need to allow the stained and sealed deck to dry completely between and after coats. A plastic sheet protects the deck while drying.
  5. Replacement Board, Hardware, and Screws. Old rotten boards should be replaced to prevent further decay. Have additional hardware and screws on hand to replace what is needed.


The right tools are invaluable in preparing the work area, dealing with cleaning chemicals and repairing the deck.

  1. Garden Hose. A garden sprayer is a useful tool for spraying the deck cleaning solution effectively. The spray can coat most surfaces and other areas such as the railings and stairs. A spray nozzle attached to the garden hose can also thoroughly rinse the solution off as well.
  2. Broom and various brushes. If the deck is surrounded by trees and other vegetation, a broom can easily clear away stray leaves and loose dirt.
  3. Putty Knife. A putty knife is usually used for windows, but it can be used to pick dirt and debris out from in between the planks of the deck and even the joists supporting it. To avoid damage from picking the dirt, use a plastic putty knife instead of metal.
  4. Power Drill. A power drill comes in handy for installing additional deck hardware, including screws, post anchors, and rail connectors.
  5. Circular Saw or Jigsaw. A circular saw or jigsaw is useful for cutting materials such as wood, plastic, or metal. They will come in handy in case old deck boards need to be cut and replaced.

III. Deck Cleaning

Thorough cleaning is an integral part of deck preservation. Sweeping away dirt and debris and scraping off mud and grime is one way, but deep cleaning helps get rid of black mold and mildew stains that will damage the deck in the long-run.

  1. Sweeping and Clearing - To get started, put away all existing furniture and potted plants, and use a broom to thoroughly sweep away all the leaves and dirt. Use a putty knife or a similar tool to scrape off any debris stuck between the boards. A thorough sweeping will help with the next step of deck cleaning.
  2. Testing the Wood - Now that the deck is cleared, it is a good opportunity to test the wood to see if it needs additional sealing. A water test is one of the fastest ways to tell. Sprinkle drops of water on the deck and check the wood absorbency. If the water soaks in immediately, a sealant needs to be applied. If not, there is no need to apply any yet.
  3. Scrubbing - Soak the deck using the garden hose and apply the preferred deck cleaning solution. Use a spray nozzle to distribute the cleaner to remove stains and other gunk. Use a stiff-bristled broom to scrub deeply stained areas. Let the solution soak for a bit but not too much that it dries, then rinse thoroughly with water.

IV. Deck Staining

Before the staining process, the deck should be clean and thoroughly dry. It is best to apply the stain when the weather is agreeable or when the temperature is between 50 to 90 degrees. Avoid staining in direct sunlight because the stain might dry out too quickly, resulting in uneven brush marks or color.

  1. Sanding and Replacement - You can clearly see the state of the entire deck after it has been washed and dried. Use it as the optimal time to closely inspect for rot and other repairs the deck boards need. Use sandpaper to sand down stubborn stains and protruding splints and nail heads. You may need to use a belt sander to level a large surface of the deck. If some boards have rotted and are no longer salvageable, the best way to move forward is to replace them. Cut the affection section of the deck board free from the joists at each end. Install the new boards and replace any hardware needed. Wear eye protection when removing and installing new boards or any time you are using manual power tools.
  2. Garden Protection - Most deck maintenance products are water-soluble and will not harm plants and vegetation. However, it is a good idea to cover nearby bushes and plants with a plastic cover or tarp to be safe. It is recommended to wear rubber gloves and protective clothing to cover the skin.
  3. C. Staining and Sealing - Staining and sealing must be done on the same day after thoroughly washing the deck clean. It’s important to note that not all sealers are also stains and vice versa. You can save time with all-in-one products, especially if you need to apply multiple coats. Regardless of what product you use, it must go well with the deck you have. Before applying stain or sealer, apply painter's tape to nearby surfaces to protect them. The deck stain or sealer can be applied with a natural bristle brush or a roller for faster application. Apply the stain or sealer in thin coats and allow the deck to dry completely.

V. Consider Composite Decking

Wood is a traditional material for decks. However, it doesn’t matter if the lumber used is weather-resistant or pressure-treated, as it will need routine maintenance throughout the year to preserve its look. Composite decking, on the other hand, is designed for durability which means it doesn't need as much upkeep.

Composite lumber is made up of various materials, including wood fiber, PVC, and a binding agent, making it stronger and hardier than just wood alone. It is low maintenance, so you don't need to worry about painting, staining, or sanding because it can be cleaned with just soap and water.

Composite decking and accessories can mimic wood grain patterns and earthy colors for a natural-looking deck. Although the cost is higher compared to using wood, you won't ever have to pay for any ongoing maintenance as the composite material is insect-proof and splinter-free.

Overall, composite decks are growing in popularity because they maintain their beauty and stability for decades, which is safe for both families and pets.

2014, September 15. Maintenance of Cedar Siding: Removal of Algae, Mold, and ... Retrieved July 14, 2020, from www.fpl.fs.fed.us

2018, October 24. Mold Cleanup in Your Home | Mold | US EPA. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from www.epa.gov

2019, August 1. How to Prep Your Deck for Wood Staining Retrieved July 14, 2020, from Consumer Reports 2020

(n.d.). The Best Deck Sealer Options for Wooden Decks Retrieved July 14, 2020, from Bob Vila Articles