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How to clean, seal and repair your deck

Tired of looking out the window at a drab and damaged deck? Shouldn't the center of summer events be a place you are proud to return to, time and time again? Here are some do-it-yourself, simple tips to improve both the condition and appearance of your deck!

Clean it up
Before thinking about the best d├ęcor for your deck, the most important first step in bringing your deck back to life is cleaning. Especially in the summer season, sunlight, water, mold, mildew, dirt, fungus and contaminants like food and pollution can take quite a toll.

According to Tina Gleisner, Founder of the Association of Women Homeowners, there are a few different options for cleaning pressure treated wood decks, specifically. However, each of these has its drawbacks:

Chlorine based bleach: great cleaner but too much of it can damage the wood fibers.
Oxygen bleach: environmentally friendly product, but should not be used on new wood.

Pressure washing: too much pressure can damage the wood, so it is important to use a large nozzle and begin at the lowest pressure.

Composite decks also need to be cleaned but won't rot due to excessive moisture, so they can simply be pressure washed.

Following cleaning, it is important to repair any damage on your deck. First, make sure that the deck is secured to the house correctly. If not, Dennis Turmel, founder of Mr. Handyman and author of "Decks: Maintenance Tips for A Long Life," recommends purchasing lag bolts or the new Ledgerlok screws. According to Turmel, it is also important to check the floorboards, stair treads and railing, to make sure that they have not undergone warping.

For evident splinters, he says you may be able to get away with light sanding, but for more serious damage, you should try to replace the boards. If your deck is stained and you need to match that color, be sure to purchase wood that is already dried. However, when it comes to damaged railing, Turmel suggests that you replace the entire railing system for a more consistent look and feel. In addition, you should examine the post-caps.

If you aren't crazy about your current ones and they've already experienced a lot of wear and tear, rather than spending the money to repair them, splurge and purchase more decorative ones. However, observe the shape of the post-cap and be sure that it will not collect a small pool of water, as to avoid inevitable damage.

Seal of approval
After cleaning and repairing your deck, the next step is sealing. Sealing is arguably one of the most important steps because it preserves the wood and protects it from future damage by elements like the sun and water.

When sealing your deck, there are two possible options to consider: a clear seal or a deck stain. It is important to remember that stains can range in color: they can begin as a tint and move up the scale from semi-transparent, to semi-solid, to solid. When choosing between stain options, you can compare the advantages of each.

For instance, a transparent stain allows the wood's natural grain to show through (which people may prefer if they like the wood they've purchased) whereas solid deck stains can mask any wood discolorations. When using a stain, it's important to remember to use the same tint for a uniform color. When doing-it-yourself, it is better to use a clear seal because it is easier to clean up and the paint strokes are not as evident.

For applying a semi-solid or solid stain, Gleisner recommends using a professional because the more pigmented the finish, the more evident the brush marks. Another decision to consider when sealing is whether to use a water or oil based stain. Water based stains are more environmentally friendly but need to be applied more frequently, about every 1-2 years.