Restore and Refinish a Dingy Deck

redagainPatti/flickrHow’s your deck? Whether you’ve just moved into a new home or you were too busy to take care of routine maintenance, that piece of outdoor space just beyond your back door may not be in the greatest shape. In fact, it might be so dingy and dreary looking that you’ve started thinking vaguely about tearing it down and building another. There’s no need to take such drastic measures, though. Save money – and trees – by restoring the deck you already have. It’s surprisingly doable, following these 13 steps.

  1. Take an honest look at the current condition of your deck’s structure. Moisture is Public Enemy No. 1 for a wooden deck, leading to decay. Watch for signs of rot or rust, especially in support posts or ground-level joists (major trouble spots), fasteners, or flashing. Slightly rusted hardware can be restored by sanding but seriously corroded metal or wooden parts will have to be replaced.

  2. Check your deck for minor safety hazards as well. A popped nail or a sharp splinter from the deck floor or railings can spoil your barefoot summer fun. Many professional carpenters recommend replacing nails with decking screws, because the latter won’t pop.

  3. Clean the deck next. Remove surface debris. Scrape out gunk that may be lodged between the boards with a putty knife and scrub the surface with a stiff brush and an eco-friendly cleaning product like hydrogen peroxide to remove all dirt, mold, moss, and algae. Leave to sit for a few minutes and then rinse with your garden hose. If you power wash, be very careful not to damage the wood, particularly on a deck which is built of a soft wood like pine or cedar. Use a fan-type nozzle with a pressure of 1500 pounds per square inch or less, moving the washer evenly in a sweeping motion. Mop up any standing water.

  4. Leave the deck to dry out completely. Allow at least 48 hours before moving on to the next step. More time (as much as an additional 48 hours) may be necessary if the atmosphere is humid or your deck is in shade. To test for dryness, sprinkle the wood with a few drops of water. If the liquid is immediately absorbed, your deck is dry enough.

  5. Sand the wood gently if you need to remove peeling paint, stubborn stains, or roughness. Thoroughly sweep off any dust left behind by the sanding.

  6. Protect your deck with a tarp if rain begins to fall between the cleaning and the finishing stages.

  7. Choose a mild, dry, calm day to apply the finish to your deck. A temperature of between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Excessive heat, sun, or wind can cause a finish to dry too quickly.

  8. Purchase a non-toxic, low- to no-VOC stain or paint which has been formulated for outdoor use.

  9. Cover the wall of your house adjoining the deck, as well as the concrete at the bottom of the steps, to protect against splatter.

  10. Apply your stain or paint to the deck floor as you would to a wall – roll it onto the main surface, and use a brush for trim, railings, and built-in benches or planters. Alternatively, stain may be sprayed on with a pump-type sprayer. Should you want a second coat of stain, apply it while the first is still wet, for proper absorption.

  11. Let your deck’s new finish dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then set out your outdoor furniture and enjoy!

  12. Keep your deck clean and free of fallen leaves, pine needles, and the like. When winter comes, clear off snow regularly, using a plastic shovel instead of a metal one, to minimize scratching. Do not use salt- or chemical-based ice melts.

  13. Refinish your deck every 2-3 years, as needed.

Laura Firszt writes for

Get Free Quotes

Looking for a Pro? Call us at (866) 441-6648

Get Free Quotes
  • Service Needed
  • Zip Code
Get quotes from qualified local contractors