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How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Give those tired old boards a refreshing makeover in six easy steps

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Photo by Philip Harvey

By the time contractor Stephen Bonesteel arrived on the scene, the condition of this pine deck was bleak. Twenty years of harsh upstate New York weather without a lick of care had turned its once-bright boards a weatherbeaten gray, flecked with slimy algae and black leaf stains.

Still, even wood this neglected can be brought back to respectability, as Bonesteel demonstrated for This Old House. Over the course of a week, he power-washed and hand-scrubbed the deck back to a semblance of newness, then brushed on a protective coat of semitransparent stain.

Between refinishings, the best way to keep a deck in shape is with regular broom-washings using soap and water. “Clean it at least once a season,” Bonesteel says, “especially in spring, when pollen provides a food source for mildew.” Then, every three or so years, follow the steps here for a deck that looks - and lasts - its best.


Steps // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck
1 ×

Choosing a Finish

 
Step One // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Choosing a Finish

Spruce Deck overview
Photo by Jeff Harris

Choosing a finish for a softwood deck is a three-way tug of war between aesthetics, practicality, and protection. Favor any one characteristic, and you have to give up a bit of the other two. For example, if showing off the beauty of new wood is top priority, a clear finish is the obvious choice. But that clarity also lets in destructive UV rays, and that means more frequent reapplication (every six to 24 months). By contrast, solid stains offer great sun protection but hide the wood's grain under an opaque film. They have about a four-year life span, but like all film forming finishes, they tend to peel or crack.

The most popular deck finishes are semitransparent stains, which are also the easiest to maintain. They contain more sun-blocking pigments than clear finishes, but not enough to completely obscure the wood grain. And because they penetrate the surface, there's no film to fail. Just recoat as needed, generally after three years.

 
2 ×

Wash and Wet

 
Step Two // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Wash and Wet

wash the deck and railings with a garden hose or pressure washer
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Wait for an overcast day, when evaporation from the deck will be slower.

Remove furniture and plants, and trim or tie back any branches touching the deck.

Wet down or cover adjacent foliage and siding, and protect yourself with rubber boots and rain pants.

Wash leaves and dirt off the deck and railings with a spray from a garden hose or a pressure washer set at 3,000 psi and fitted with a gentle 40-degree fan nozzle. For maximum efficiency, hold the nozzle tip about 18 inches from the wood.

 
3 ×

Scrub

 
Step Three // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Scrub

scrub the wood deck with cleaning solution
Photo by Kristine Larsen

With the deck still wet, put on latex gloves and dip a brush with stiff, chemical-resistant bristles into the cleaning solution.

Scrub the wood in the direction of the grain. Work in small sections, starting with the top rail, then the balusters, posts, and bottom rail.

Tackle the deck boards last, no more than 200 square feet at a time.

Tip: The soap bubbles will help you see which areas you've covered.

 
4 ×

Power Rinse

 
Step Four // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Power Rinse

rinse off the cleaning solution with the pressure washer
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Wait at least 15 minutes, then rinse off the solution completely using a garden hose or a pressure washer with a 40-degree fan nozzle. Hold the pressure-washer wand no closer than 6 to 8 inches from the wood. The spray should span the width of one board and hit the surface at a 45-degree angle. Move steadily, rinsing one board at a time.

Warning: Never let the wand halt in one place while the spray is on.

 
5 ×

Let Dry

 
Step Five // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Let Dry

let the deck wood dry before applying the finish
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Before stain can be applied, the wood must dry or it won't absorb the finish. Three or four consecutive days without rain is enough time in most climates. (When in doubt, check with a moisture meter; when it reads 15 percent or less, the wood is ready to coat.)

Sweep the deck clean before applying stain.

 
6 ×

Stain the Railings

 
Step Six // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Stain the Railings

apply the stain full-strength with a synthetic filament brush to the deck railings
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Using a synthetic filament brush slightly wider than the deck's boards, apply the stain full-strength in the same order you scrubbed: top rail, balusters and posts, bottom rail, and then the decking.

Brush up drips and runs immediately.

For an even color, stir the stain frequently during application.

Tip: Finish all four sides of each baluster before moving on to the next one.

 
7 ×

Stain the Deck

 
Step Seven // How to Spruce Up a Worn Out Deck

Stain the Deck

stain the deck with long, even strokes
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Brush the deck's boards one at a time with long, even strokes, working with the grain. Keep a wet edge to prevent lap marks, and immediately brush out any pools of stain.

When you're finished, let the deck dry for at least two days before walking on it or replacing the furniture.

 
 
 

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