deck staining & Sealing
Cleaning, Pressure Washing, Mildew & Stain Removal, Repairs & Replacements, Restoration, Painting, Maintenance and Composite Deck Care in Lincoln, Nebraska
All hands on deck!
As a professional painter and a contractor, I have been staining decks since 1997. After relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska in 2010, deck staining has inadvertently become the main part of my business. Today I offer complete deck cleaning, restoration, repair and modification services, including maintenance of exotic hardwood and composite decks. In addition to decks, I restore and maintain other types of exterior wood structures like arbors, fences, gazebos, lattices, patio furniture, pergolas, play sets and trellises in Lincoln and surrounding areas.
Deck staining is simple, but...
more often than not, it is a tedious, labor-intensive process. Generalities aside, I would like to share my experiences with these three particular projects in Lincoln as an example of my approach to staining decks. They are the most representative of the methods I employ.
How to tell if it’s time to stain your deck?
Nebraska’s climate is harsh on decks. The main reason to seal or stain your deck is to protect it from the damaging effects of water (mold, mildew, and rot), sun (UV radiation), and insects. Aesthetics is an added bonus. You can check if your deck needs protection by simply sprinkling some water on it. If the water beads up on the surface - then your deck is in good shape and the wood needs to be allowed to weather longer. If the water quickly absorbs into the wood than it is time to start planning for staining.
The best method to prepare and stain your deck
I strongly adhere to the “if it ain't broke - don’t fix it” principle, so you can be assured that I will recommend only the repairs and treatments that your deck needs. Your expectations will determine the exact methods and materials that will be used for staining your deck. Here is what my most demanding Lincoln projects include overall:
I remove all furniture, decorations, plants, and appliances from the deck, protect surrounding vegetation, cover patios, mask and shield siding and other elements of the exterior as necessary to make sure not to cause any damage. If your deck was constructed out of pressure treated lumber before 2004 it is likely to contain arsenic. Although there are no restrictions for working with CCA-treated lumber imposed by the EPA, I take every measure to prevent potential contamination of your property. You can find more information here.
Cleaning and Preparation:
The quality of cleaning and preparation directly affects the longevity of the finished product, making this step the most important. As a minimum, all the surfaces must be free of dirt. Weathered wood cells, peeling and chipping stain also must be removed from the surface prior to staining. To ensure that this critical phase is done properly and efficiently I employ the following procedures:
It is an ongoing debate whether or not to use a pressure washer for cleaning decks. Opponents of the pressure cleaning method emphasize that it is very easy to damage the wood or to remove more earlywood cells than necessary. I agree. I myself have seen plenty of decks around Lincoln that had been scarred by the incorrect use of pressure washers. Significant or irreparable damage to the surface is usually caused by attempts to remove stains with a pressure washer alone. That’s why I prefer to think of a pressure washer as a rinsing tool. The correct pressure and proper techniques, combined with chemical treatment and mechanical agitation (aka a good scrub with a stiff-bristled brush) make pressure washing an efficient deck cleaning method. This saves time, water and the overall cleaning and preparation costs. That said, I don’t insist on using a pressure washer, but cleaning or removing stains without it requires significantly more time.
Mildew and Mold Removal:
To effectively control mold and mildew I use deck cleaners containing either chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate). Chlorine bleach works faster. It’s been the first choice of deck maintenance contractors for years. Oxygen bleach is safer on wood and the environment. The type of cleaner for your deck will be based on your preferences.
In order to prevent peeling and to ensure consistent appearance and lasting results stain manufacturers generally recommend removing old stains prior to the application of the new finish. If you are planning on switching from a waterborne to an oil-based stain, lowering the opacity or lightening the color of the finish, then the existing stain will have to be removed. In such cases, I rely on the help of stain removers. Stain removers soften deck stains and make them possible to be removed by scrubbing and rinsing or by pressure washing. A typical deck stain remover is a mixture of sodium hydroxide, water, and surfactants. It is a caustic mixture, so I take all possible measures to protect plants and other elements of the exterior from damage.
Neutralizing and Brightening:
While being a great assistant in the task of removing deck stains, sodium hydroxide turns the wood dark. It also raises the pH level of the wood surface. A neutralizing process is necessary to lower the wood’s pH to a more acidic level, so the sealer will adhere properly. To neutralize the wood treated with sodium hydroxide I apply a solution of oxalic or oxalic/citric acid. As an added benefit oxalic acid brightens the surface and removes rust and tannin stains.
Repairs and Modifications:
If your deck needs repairs there is no need to call another contractor. I am fully equipped and capable of implementing any type of repairs, replacements or modifications to your deck. I can replace decking boards, shaky staircases and railings, tighten up screws and hammer down protruding nails. Usually, those problems are discovered during an initial inspection and don’t come as surprises.
During refinishing process most decks require some amount of sanding. Splinters, scratches and other surface irregularities should be sanded for best results. On a newly built deck, it is important to make sure that all the mill glaze is removed prior to staining. I use a variety of random orbit and detail sanders to perfect the surfaces. Once the sanding is completed we remove all the dust with a leaf blower or a vacuum.
The Best Application Method:
Brush, brush, and once again - brush! I firmly believe that regardless of the way the stain is delivered to the surface, it must be back-brushed in order to achieve the best result. I may use a sprayer or a roller for speeding up the process but would always work the material into the surface with a brush. This method is the industry standard and is strongly recommended by every stain manufacturer. Every other method, in my opinion, would be a compromise.
Choosing the best stain or sealer for your deck
I can help you select the best stain or sealer that will fit your purpose, appearance and performance expectations.
With the ongoing evolution of deck stains and sealers, products that were considered performance leaders just a few years ago may no longer hold that position. Recently developed stains featuring infrared reflective pigments, synthetic resins and nanotechnology are proving to be good alternatives to conventional deck stains.
In my quest for finding the best deck finishing products I sift through a fair amount of often conflicting information. I participate in deck contractors’ forums, read obscure technology research papers and purchase independent test results. I check the latest reviews from sources like Consumer Reports, PDCA and MPI. However, stains that perform great in other regions may not do so well in Nebraska’s climate, so I find the data from my Lincoln projects invaluable.
The difference between deck sealers and deck stains:
Sealers are products that intended to protect wood from the damages caused by water. Most sealers have no added color. While letting the wood look the most natural, clear sealers work only as water repellents. They offer little to no protection from UV radiation, which damages wood cells and causes the wood to gray. Mildew resistance of clear sealers is often poor as well. If you are looking to achieve a rustic appearance of weathered wood then a clear sealer is the option. If you choose this option, expect your deck to be maintained frequently, and the wood to gray out naturally. The advantage of using sealers is that some sealers can be re-applied with only minimum preparation, as they do not require removal of the previous coat.
Stains are primarily intended to change the color of wood. The color in stains comes from pigments - tiny solid particles. These particles provide protection from the damaging effects of UV radiation. The more opaque the stain is, the more UV protection it provides. Also, deck stains contain chemicals that inhibit the growth of mold and mildew. Most modern deck stains serve as an all in one solution. With rare exceptions, there is no need to use a sealer over a deck stain.
- Transparent or Translucent Stains - While providing a touch of color, this type of finish offers great water protection and reasonable UV resistance. The color selections vary but usually are limited to cedar, redwood and other natural tones. This type of stain works best on new decks and wood in excellent condition.
- Semi-Transparent Stains - This is the most common finish. It provides very good protection from the elements while allowing the wood grains to show through. There are many color options to choose from. I recommend this type of stain for decks in good shape.
- Semi-Solid or Semi-Opaque Stains - The qualities of these stains filter sun rays while still allowing some of the wood grain to show. Color choices are similar to the ones of semi-transparent stains. These stains are best for weathered decks in fair condition.
- Solid Color Stains - Although hiding the wood grains completely, technically this finish would give your deck the best protection. UV and fade resistance are excellent. Color options are unlimited. I recommend this finish for decks that have been previously finished with a solid color stain, severely weathered decks and problem surfaces. These stains often require the least preparation steps, therefore making the process overall the most economical. Solid color stains also work on composite decking materials.
Depending on the type and brand, most stains vary between matte and satin finishes.
Oil-based vs. Waterborne stains:
Unlike in states with tougher VOC compliance laws, oil based deck stains and sealers are currently available in Nebraska. Sealers, transparent, semi-transparent and semi-solid stains are available in both oil-based and waterborne versions. Most solid color deck stains are waterborne. According to Consumer Reports’ Wood stain buying guide, neither oil nor waterborne treatments have shown any advantage in their durability tests. It is worth noting that Consumer Reports no longer tests oil based deck stains. They limit their tests mostly to products that emphasize the ease of use and those that are sold in big box stores.
There are plenty of information with regards to the pros and cons of the both types of stains, so below are some observations I made while working on decks in Lincoln:
- Pros: Oil-based stains dry and cure slower, which is not exactly a disadvantage. This quality allows the product to spread consistently within a wide range of temperatures, typical for Nebraska’s summer. If necessary, a mineral spirit can be used to redissolve and rework accidental drips. Oil-based stains do not peel, but rather erode and wear away gradually. They are relatively easy to remove with the help of conventional stain removers.
- Cons: Due to uneven densities in wood, decks finished with some oil-based stain may appear blotchy. Stains that contain natural oils may not be the best option if your deck is located in an area where humidity is prevalent. As mildewcides work their way out over time, natural resins may become nourishment for mildew. Stains with alkyd, acrylic/alkyd or synthetic resins are better alternatives for those decks.
- Pros: Waterborne stains usually exhibit more even color and sheen, and seem to have better resistance to fading. They can be applied to slightly damp wood as well as over existing oil or waterborne stains.
- Cons: Waterborne stains dry fast. Once dry, they cannot be redissolved. Hence, achieving consistent transparency and avoiding lap marks can be a challenge. Since water raises wood grain, additional sanding and an extra coat may be necessary to achieve a smooth surface. All waterborne acrylic stains eventually peel. Some readily show scuff marks. Removing waterborne stains is usually more difficult.
If you have an older deck with prominent cracks in wood, but you are not ready to replace it just yet, you may consider an elastomeric coating.
Elastomeric coatings are waterborne. Initially designed for masonry and stucco, this material was reformulated by several manufacturers to fit the purpose of restoring older decks and docks. Dense and flexible, rubber-like coating fills in sizable cracks, locks in splinters, smooths rough surfaces, waterproofs and provides maximum protection from the elements. A slip-resistant surface can be created by mixing in an additive.
I have personally seen some successful and disastrous results involving some of the elastomeric deck products. So, to say the least, elastomeric coatings must be applied following the manufacturer's recommended preparation and application procedures to the letter to avoid costly problems.
Synthetic Polymer Resurfacers:
Similar in intent to elastomeric coatings, synthetic polymer resurfacers are the latest industry response to consumer demands for finding a permanent solution to deck maintenance. The principal difference between these products from elastomeric coatings is that they allow water vapors to escape through, making the coat “breathable”. This quality is supposed to prevent peeling and cracking of the coating. Accelerated laboratory tests claimed some advantages over elastomeric products, but as of now, I am not aware of any real-world data reports.
How long will your sealer or stain last:
The average life of a clear sealer in the Lincoln area is from three months up to 1 year. On decking and rail caps deck stains usually last between 2-3 years on average and may last up to 6 years in some cases. Stains usually last longer on vertical surfaces.
Maintaining your deck
Regular maintenance can significantly prolong the life of stain. I recommend rinsing your deck at least once a year with the help of some soap and a gentle scrubbing with a stiff-bristled brush if needed. Avoid placing planters, umbrella stands and other flat and heavy objects directly on top of the deck.They most certainly will leave a water stain and eventually will cause the wood underneath them to decay. Consider elevating the pots by placing them on less obstructive stands. Also, I suggest keeping debris from accumulating in between boards to prevent entrapment of water and subsequent rot. Some spot touch-up from time to time may be a good idea as well.
In the winter snow should be kept from accumulating. Compacted snow and ice, besides being a hazard, act as an abrasive against the finish. A rubber shovel is an ideal tool for snow removal from your deck, as it is unlikely to scratch the surface. The shovel should be used along the length of the boards. Ice can be removed with the help of rock salt.
A three year warranty on workmanship comes standard with my premium deck services. If you are not satisfied with my work for any reason, simply let me know and I will make it right. Guaranteed.