Here's an article we're posing based on the suffering Lucia and I have had keeping our own decks looking good. We painted (not stained); had railings made from wood that wasn't pressure treated(!), and are now looking at redoing all our deck railings and stairs. We're going to figure it all out eventually, and hopefully before barbecue season (in Portland, Maine that's the month of July, in between mud and leaf-raking seasons).
How often should you refinish your deck? There are many factors to consider: is the deck covered? How much use does the deck get? Do you have dogs or other pets whose toenails mar the surface? Check with your local home improvement store on the best products to use when refinishing your deck.
Adequate surface preparation is the most important step of applying protective finish on your deck. Just as you would not wax your car without thoroughly washing it first, you should not apply any sort of coating on a deck without adequate cleaning.
Whether bare wood or previously stained/finished, make sure your deck’s surface is free of oil, grease, dust, dirt, loose wood particles and all other debris. Using a hose isn’t enough—use an appropriate wood cleaner/brightener (again available at your local home improvement store). To remove mold, mildew or algae, products specifically designed for that task are available as well. Good old fashioned chlorine bleach can be used for this purpose as well, but it can break down the coating.
If your deck is brand new, wood may be treated with mill glaze (who knew?). If it’s not sanded, your coating will not adhere and will not protect your deck adequately. Rent a belt sander to roughen up the surface before applying your coating. There are also products available that will break down the mill glaze.
A variety of products are available to coat your deck, from clear wood finishes to translucent to semi-transparent to solid-color stains. The amount of protection your deck needs (covered vs. uncovered) will in large part determine the type of product you choose. How much you want to see the natural grain of the wood also will help you decide.
When staining your deck, follow the manufacturer’s label instructions. It’s important not to apply too much of the product. Apply stain in the proper weather conditions. Avoid applying the product in direct sunlight, and be sure there is no chance of rain for the next 24 hours.
Once your deck is sanded, stained and protected, it’s time to trick it out a little:
Use a wrought-iron table and chairs set that can withstand harsh weather conditions. Wrought iron needs little more care than an occasional wire brushing to clean off surface rust.
If your deck is uncovered, be sure to purchase a table umbrella to keep off the sun.
· Hanging baskets of flowers are low-maintenance and add color and texture to your deck.
· Construct a trellis along one side of your deck for ivy to climb.
· Plant an herb garden on your deck.
· Line the deck with flower boxes, or hang them from the deck's railings. Azaleas and begonias brighten up stark wood.
· If you have the space, grow a small tree, such as a ficus, on your deck.
· Many home improvement stores stock strings of outdoor lights (they’re not just for Christmas anymore!) in decorative shapes (fireflies, Chinese lanterns, stars) to add a festive touch to your nighttime parties. Tiki torches are always a nice touch too.
· Use Citronella lamp oil and candles to help keep the bugs away. If you use artificial floodlights, get yellow bug lights to repel those unwanted guests.
· Hornet/wasp traps are available to attract and kill those venomous visitors.
· Use fine-mesh wire to keep mice, skunks, opossums, neighborhood cats and other critters from taking up residence under your deck