Deck and Patio Maintenance Do’s and Don’ts
Use these simple tips to keep your deck or patio in tip-top shape and to stay away from costly and time-consuming mistakes.
DO: Apply a seal to your wooden deck every few years.
This will preserve your deck and make it last for a long, long time. Go easy on yourself and pick a one-step product that is a combo of stain and sealer for a good-looking, durable final product. There are several quality options available, so be sure to ask a professional for recommendations.
DON’T: Sand a wooden deck before sealing unless needed.
If the surface of your deck has become too rough for comfort, by all means sand it. However, because sanding removes that top layer of stain, it tacks on several steps to your finishing process. You’ll need to apply three coats of stain and sealer, rather than just one.
DON’T: Paint your deck if you can avoid it.
While stain fades over time, it can be updated as needed with a simple coat of the right product. Paint, on the other hand, flakes and chips and is an overall hassle to maintain. Priming and painting is always a process requiring two steps, which leaves room for moisture to get trapped underneath and come through at some point. In short, painting creates the need for extra maintenance.
DON’T: Feel like you have to seal your patio.
Sealing your patio creates maintenance, as it will then have to be resealed every two years. It also creates a glossy aesthetic that makes the patio look wet at all times. Natural materials like bluestone and slate are great alternatives to sealing since they tend to self-seal under foot traffic.
DON’T: Wash a deck or stone patio too often.
While it’s important to wash your deck regularly, don’t go overboard with it. When you pair normal wear and tear with the constant drumming down of the sun’s UV rays, it takes a toll on the wood’s surface that scrubbing or power washing can worsen. Also, those living in a damp climate can encourage warping and splitting by introducing too much moisture into the wood. Wash your deck only when the grime is visible, and stick to plain water when possible. Save power washing for when you reseal the deck — every few years.
Similarly, don’t overdo washing your stone patio. Overzealous washing can wear down the surface of natural stone, since it tends to flake. Wash as needed, as opposed to on a regular schedule, and only use a mild household detergent occasionally for stains or visible grime. Any mildew or more stubborn stains can be taken care of with a highly diluted mix of muriatic acid and water.
DO: Be cautious when power washing.
As mentioned before, too much pressure can cause damage to wood and stone surfaces. In most cases, pressure washing should be done by an experienced professional. Savvy homeowners might be able to handle it themselves, but they must be very cautious the first time in order to gauge how much pressure is too much. To play it safe, hire a professional that is licensed, bonded and insured to do the power washing, and then seal your wooden deck right after they’re done.
DO: Clear any debris off your deck or patio regularly.
Make it a habit to sweep away debris from your deck or patio, as dirt and leaves that get trapped lead to bad things like mold, rot and stains. Prevention is much better than having to deal with those issues. In addition, after removing debris, do not use a wire brush to scrub stains from wood, concrete or stone. It is overly abrasive and can damage surfaces.
DO: Rearrange furniture every season.
Especially important in areas of the country that are mildew prone, rearranging your outdoor furniture at least once a year will help prevent moisture from getting trapped under furnishings and rugs.
DON’T: Use chlorine bleach as a cleanser.
Chlorine bleach is not recommended to clean your deck or patio because it can change the color of your deck material. Instead, always start with the mildest options first (beginning with plain water) and work your way up to more potent products specifically designed for the job.
DON’T: Get harsh cleansers on nearby plants.
When using chemical cleansers on your deck, be careful not to rinse them into the surrounding foliage. For instance, do not hose muriatic acid off into vegetation unless the solution is heavily diluted. If you happen to have a lush landscape in close proximity to your deck, consider covering the plantings with a sheet and use the mildest cleaning solutions possible, such as baking soda or dish soap. Keep in mind that the plants’ roots are just as sensitive as the leaves, so hosing cleansers off into the ground can be just as problematic.
DO: Take care of any splits, nail pops or missing boards promptly.
A properly installed deck won’t have too much of these kinds of issues, but wood tends to expand and contract as it ages so they’ll most likely start showing up in time. Try to take care of any problems right away — sand any sharp splinters and screw everything down tight — as small issues tend to grow into bigger issues over time.
DON’T: Neglect stress points like stairs and railings.
Periodically inspecting for signs of rot, unwarranted movement and any structural issues is always a good idea. Wood can warp and split, and has the ability to cause safety issues before you even realize anything is wrong.
DON’T: Fret over concrete imperfections.
There is no need to fix hairline cracks in concrete — they are considered an acceptable industry standard. Plus, using additional cement or grout to try to fix them typically makes the concrete look worse than the cracks themselves. Similarly, the milky-white film that frequently collects on the surface of concrete (efflorescence) is also one that can be overlooked. It is a harmless color variation, not something you need to clean or try fixing. However, if it is excessive or really bothers you, power washing is an effective temporary solution. To stop it permanently, sealing the concrete and adhering to a strict maintenance schedule will be necessary.
DO: Irrigate your potted plants.
While a container garden is great for ambiance, it can be quite problematic to your deck or patio’s surface. Overwatering causes puddling, which causes mineral buildup as the water evaporates and leads to the development of stains and mold. The best way to avoid all of that is to use saucers for potted plants, and install an irrigation system for the pots, along with a drain tied into the below-ground drainage system when possible. That way water cannot pool or leak across the deck. Since stains caused by pots are often impossible to remove, prevention is key.