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The Deck FAQ-  

Over the years I have jotted down some of the most frequently asked questions about deck maintenance and care. Here are some of the most asked questions I get:

Q.  Does power washing hurt a deck?

A.  No power washing does not hurt a deck as long as it’s done properly.

Q. Do you have to use a cleaner to get the deck clean during power washing?

A. Only in extreme circumstances. 

Q.  With extreme mold and mildew when using a cleaner do you have to add bleach? 

A.  Read the back of the cleaner and it will tell you that you have to add bleach.  A lot of people use spic and span mixed with bleach or Jomax mixed with bleach to wash down the deck.  Try to avoid this as much as possible.  You do not want to use bleach other than to kill mildew and should be used only in extreme circumstances.

Q.  If someone wants to strip their deck, do they need to use a neutralizer? 

A. Yes, you need to use a neutralizer after stripping or you will get black spots on your deck.  Stripping should be done only in extreme circumstances. 

Q.  Do cleaners strippers and neutralizers cause stain failure?

A.  Yes, if these chemicals are not removed from the pores of the wood you will later have stain failure, peeling, bubbling, cracking, splitting of the wood.

Q.  Can you put a latex stain on top of an oil stain?

A.  Yes

Q.  Can you put an oil stain on top of a latex stain?

A.  No, they are not compatible in this order. Unless it's a hybrid stain (oil/latex combination) that can top coat both oil and latex.

Q.  Is it okay to put one thin coat of linseed oil on my deck?  

A.  Yes.  One thin coat of linseed oil is what you should apply.  When you put too much it will build up on the wood and might seem dry after a 8 hours but it’s not dry underneath.  After time mildew will build up under the oil and you will have a difficult time removing the linseed oil when you want to re-stain.

Q.  When can you power wash and stain your deck?

A.  You can power wash and stain a deck as long as it’s approximately 50 degrees outside. 

Q.  Do decks in Bergen County and Passaic County NJ require any special treatment?

A. We live in an area where pollution can take its toll on wooden decks. The air here is dirtier than in the South and Soutwest. In the Spring as the snow melts on decks the pollution in the snow from acid rain percolates down through the wet snow and concentrates on the deck boards. When your deck coating manufacturers say that deck products last 2 to 3 years they mean it. If you live in Bergen County or Passaic County NJ you need to keep your decks maintained on schedule.

Q. Why do I have to use a brightener on my deck?

A. After striping your deck you need to neutralize the chemical you put on the wood.  A brightener is a neutralizer.  When going through this process you need to thoroughly neutralize the deck.  If the wood is porous, such as cedar and other softer woods, the brightener will not penetrate deep enough to where the striper chemicals is and you will end up with black spots on your deck.

Q.  What should I do if I don't like the way my deck looks?

A. It's easier and more cost efficient to power wash the deck and re-stain with a similar type of stain.  If you don't like the look of your deck you can change the color or put a solid body deck stain over it.  Striping the deck is a lengthy and costly process. 

Q. Should I strip my deck?

A. Some stain companies recommend that you strip your deck every time you stain the deck.  This is not good for the wood.  This is a ploy to get the consumer to buy more products. 

Q.  What are the different types of deck stain?

A. The different types come in oil and latexand hybrid, which is an oil/latex combination which can top coat either oil or latex stain."  Wood toners just bring out the natural color of the wood with a slight hint of color.  Semi -transparent stains have more color to them and let a lot of grain show through the wood.  Solid body deck stain or opaque gives you more of a painted look.

Wood toners just bring out the natural color of the wood with a slight hint of color.  Semi -transparent stains have more color to them and let a lot of grain show through the wood.  Solid body deck stain or opaque gives you more of a painted look.

Q. Which is better oil or latex?

A. Twenty plus years ago I would say that oil is better than latex but now due to the VOC regulations of hazardous material, which has been taken out of the oil product, I now recommend hybrid products, which is oil and latex mixed together, or 100% acrylic. 

Q.  How long does stain last?

A. Deck stain used to last 20 years but due to the VOC regulations taking the hazardous material out of deck stain the process has now become a maintenance.  The industry recommends staining every two years but in certain cases using specific stains you could go up to five years.



More on the subject of deck staining from Dave:

When thinking about deck staining what is the best and safest way to clean and stain your deck?

Being eco-friendly, the deck stain companies want you to buy product from them, the more product you buy the more money they make.  The deck stain product is needed but the other products they sell are not always needed but always recommended.  It's not about the money, it's about safety, eco-friendly, low VOC's or no VOC's (volatile organic compound). 

Are the deck stains SAFE?  They are, they are mostly latex and linseed or cotton oil.  The best products are the hybrid products and can safely top-coat old or new oils or latexes.

The real question is the first step in deck staining and that's cleaning.  Right off the bat, water is the safest, bio-degradable and natural component to use.  YES, WATER!  Power washers can be set on many different levels and 90% of the time can get your deck clean without the use of chemicals.  Power washers can be set on specific levels depending on the type of wood that is being cleaned.  Power washing with water will not harm the wood. 

There are some cases where you need a cleaner and I only recommend bio-degradable, safe products.  These are best used alone.  Most companies recommend adding bleach to the product if the results are not satisfactory.  Do not ever add bleach or any other chemical to these cleaners.  Some cleaners already have bleach in them and they are not bio-degradable and they are bad for the environment and the eco-system and water ways.  Cleaners containing bleach or other hazardous chemicals will ruin the deck over time.    First use water.  It is safe, healthy, good for the environment and contains no VOC's. 

WARNING:  Stripping decks.  Find a stripper that is bio-degradable, low VOC's, healthy and safe to use.  Deck staining companies that sell stripers tell you to use a brightener after stripping.  What is a brightener?  It's a neutralizer that will neutralize the deck stripping chemical.  If you do not use enough brightener the deck will turn black.  You will end up with black spots on your deck and the only way to solve this problem is to have the deck sanded down.  If you are in a situation like that I strongly recommend contacting a floor sanding company.  These companies have hepa bags on the sanders that prevent the dust particles from going into the air, thus, protecting the environment.

I have not seen any long term studies on what these chemicals, bio-degradable or not, actually do to the environment.  That's why I strongly recommend not stripping.  You can always top coat with a solid body stain, such as latex or 100% acrylic, that is safe to use and which offers a longer life span.

All stains today dry very quickly.  Each product has a different application process.  Some stains can be applied    to damp wood and are extremely safe and eco-friendly to use, such as Sherwin Williams solid body stains.     Another product I recommend is Flood CWF-UV. 

Chemicals are not good for wood.  The least amount of chemicals you use on wood the longer your deck will last.  Do your best to avoid using any type of chemicals such as cleaners, strippers and neutralizers.  These I would strongly suggest that you stay away from them as much as possible. I highly recommend using a wood toner, oil or latex, when your deck is new.  As time goes on there will be a buildup of wood toner on the deck.  At that time I suggest going with a solid body stain which they call opaque. Some companies call themselves full-service deck maintenance contractors.  They use products they call wet on wet.  When they power wash the deck down they apply the product to the wet wood.  One day one step.   I don’t agree with an oil product being applied on wet wood.  I suggest the wood be allowed to dry out for 12 hours.  Some latex products are one day power wash and stain.  Latex products are flexible and moisture can go through them more so than the oil.  I would suggest a latex product such as Cabots for one power washing and staining service. There are some sealers that are latex which are a combo with oil added to them such as CWF-UV, which I highly recommend. 

Solid body stains: Most solid body stains on the market today need a primer.  There are a couple of companies out there that don’t require a primer.  I strongly suggest that you read the back of the can to determine which stains require or don’t require a primer.  I always recommend a deck stain that does not require a primer.  Semi transparent stains.  There are oil semi transparent and latex semi transparent.  Some semi transparent need to be mixed, take a gallon of the solid body stain and a gallon of the clear mixed together to get the semi transparent.  If you’re going to go this route I strongly recommend that you go with a professional and let him do it.  With most semi transparent ones on the market, when applying them, one coat is recommended because when a second coat is applied or touch up is applied it starts to turn to a solid body.  By the second and third time you stain your deck with the same semi transparent stain the deck surface will start to turn into a solid body stain.  This is a difficult product to work with, the latex version should be sprayed on to give it a more even finish.  The oil product would need to be brushed on as one thin coat.  Will you have flashing, highs and lows; yes with these type of products you will have highs and lows.  When you get an estimate for staining your deck you will probably get some fancy brochure and you’ll get a low price of a $1.20 sq.ft.  But the floor, rails and steps will be broken out per sq.ft. and you’ll end up paying the going rate as everyone else is offering. A deck tune up can only be offered when the previous stain used was a solid body stain.  90 percent of the time the spindles will be fine, usually the top of hand rails and caps will wear down and require a touch up.  The deck should be power washed lightly and the same stain as before should be applied.  You cannot do this with wet on wet products or sealers or semi transparent.  Some deck companies claim that they have a carpenter working for them.  No carpenter that I know of in the North East does deck staining.  Can a deck staining company replace a board?  Yes.  It’s highly unlikely that these companies have a fully trained carpenter working for them.  These ambulance deck companies try to get one over on the customer.  I recommend that when you have more than two boards that need replacing you call a carpenter.  Some of these ambulance companies that use wet on wet say that they are also going to strip your deck in that day.  When doing that you have to use a neutralizer or you’ll get black spots.  Most of them do not strip your deck, they just power wash the deck with a mild stain and apply the stain.  Most of the time when the deck is being worked on no one is home.


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