Deck Maintenance

Every year, at about this time, we run an article on deck maintenance. Midwestern weather is hard on decks. The sun, the rain, the snow, the hail, the changes in humidity … all of those things wear and tear on wood decks.

Spring Maintenance

Remove debris from between the decking boards. This is particularly important if you have trees that drop leaves on your deck. Debris between the decking boards holds moisture and contributes to mold and rot – your deck’s worst enemy. A putty knife or screwdriver works well for removing debris. If you want to save your back and knees, use duct tape and tape the putty knife or screwdriver to a broom handle or length of PVC pipe.

Once you’re done removing debris, sweep the deck in preparation for a good washing.

Protect shrubs and plants near the deck before washing it.

Wash your deck with an appropriate deck cleaner. Follow the instructions on the cleaner. Many cleaners must be applied to wet wood to keep them from staining or bleaching. A brush will help you get the mold and debris out of the wood grain and cracks. Allowing mold and debris to build up in the cracks in your deck wood will only widen those cracks. It’s preferable to wash your deck on a cool, cloudy day.

If you have access to a pressure washer, be careful. Too much water pressure can damage wood. Test the pressure washer in a hidden area to determine the distance to hold the nozzle off of the wood.

A deck must dry completely before being stained or sealed.

Once your deck is dry, replace missing or popped nails or screws. If your deck was nailed, rather than screwed, replace popped nails with slightly longer deck screws. If your deck is constructed of green treated wood, be sure to use stainless steel screws. If a nail is barely popped, pound it back in place. Pulling a nail that is still deeply driven into your deck can cause considerable damage. If you can’t easily slip the claw of your hammer or pry bar under the nail, hammer it back into place. When pulling nails, place a thin scrap of wood under your hammer or pry bar to minimize damage to the deck.

Late Spring or Early Summer Maintenance

Stain and/or seal your deck in late spring or early summer. Again, it is best to do this on a cloudy and relatively cool day. For an average size deck, you’ll need two days with clear skies and no rain in the forecast. DO NOT stain or seal if rain is in the forecast. The rain will create splotchy patterns in the stain or sealant.

Lightly sand the deck before you stain or seal it to remove any fuzziness caused by washing. Use 80 grit sandpaper on a pole sander. DO NOT use a belt sander unless you are very experienced in their use. A belt sander can do a lot of damage in a very brief period of time.

Use a roller to apply stain or sealant to horizontal surfaces and a brush for vertical surfaces. Spraying is another option but even a slight breeze can cause considerable overspray. As with most paint and stain, several thin coats are better than a single thick coat.

Mid-summer Maintenance

Keep an eye out for signs of rot. Pay particular attention to horizontal surfaces, surfaces close to the ground, areas near water sources and areas that don’t see sunlight. The ledger board (the board that attached your deck to your house) should be inspected closely with a flashlight. Debris often builds up on the ledger causing it to rot. As a major component of your deck’s structural integrity, this is an area of great concern.

Make sure your ledger board was installed with a flashing – a metal cap that covers the top of the board. Without a flashing, the ledger is highly susceptible to rot.

Check joists, posts and beams. If you’re not familiar with the components of a deck, check out our article, Checking for Deck Rot.

Fall Maintenance

Once temperatures have cooled enough, trim shrubs, plants and trees away from your deck. There should be at least twelve inches of clearance between your deck and any plants.

Clean up any leaves on or around your deck. Leaves hold moisture and moisture leads to mold and rot.

Remove any planters, chairs, tables or other movable items to avoid discoloration and make snow removal easier.

Clean leaves and debris out of any gutters near the deck.

Winter Maintenance

Winter in the Midwest is exceptionally hard on decks. Snow, ice and the freeze-thaw cycle can cause considerable damage in short order.

Keep your deck clear of snow and ice. Yes, it’s a pain in the back but it will pay off in the long run. Left on your deck, snow and ice will melt down into the cracks and grain of the wood during the thaw cycle. When that moisture freezes, it widens existing cracks and causes new ones breaking down the integrity of your deck. Composite decks are much more resistant to this type of damage.


Wood decks require a fair amount of maintenance but, when kept in good repair, they are one of the best investments in your home. Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report suggests that most decks return about 80% of the original investment.

Composite materials are much more durable and a smart investment in harsh climates like that of the Midwest.

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