Deck Stains in Extreme Conditions

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Contractors often find themselves in a situation in which many years of neglect is going to require a more extensive effort on their part. The following situation might sound familiar. Initially, the homeowner wanted to see as much of the beauty of the deck’s wood and grain as possible and used a clear coat or a toner. As annual maintenance was put off, the wood began to deteriorate and the homeowner most likely went to a semi-transparent. Finally, as the wood condition got worse due to neglected maintenance, it was covered completely with a solid-color stain. If the proper maintenance had been administered from inception and the proper ongoing maintenance kept up, then the homeowner would have been happy with the deck for a long time. However, that is not the case now.

The first question to ask is: Does the homeowner want to see the wood grain again? If the answer is yes, the existing coating should be removed with a VOC-level-appropriate deck stripper. If the wood is too dried out or there has been a loss of wood grain, then a solid-color stain becomes the only choice, and cleaning and sanding begin the prep steps.

In addition to neglect from homeowners, some areas experience extreme weather conditions that can wreak havoc on wood. Here are some common problems and solutions.


Problem – Dried-out wood

Solution – Wood is a bunch of fibers or cellulose straws that are “glued together” with lignin, which gets broken down by the sun. The first step is to make sure the wood is clean. So just like skin and sun-screen, the more protection the better, and a solid-color stain will provide the most protection.

Application Issues – Application issues include dealing with absorption control.

Solution – By cleaning the wood, dirt is removed from the ends of the cellulose straws and the stain can be absorbed more evenly or uniformly into the wood – resulting in better protection.


Problem – The expanding and contracting of the wood is likely to cause peeling, cracking and the wood opening up.

Solution – Scheduling spot maintenance is very important for this problem. In these instances, it’s best to carefully use a wire brush and scraper to remove the peeling stain or loose wood fibers from the impacted area and then, after proper cleaning, re-stain the spot. If the area goes untreated, then more water will get beneath the stain and the sun will cause it to lift.


Problem – Decks that get a lot of moisture will potentially have a lot of mildew in the wood. If you do not kill the mildew in the wood, then it will grow under the film of the stain. The mildew becomes so prevalent that it overcomes the paint film. Many are surprised to see mildew growing under the stain after cleaning with a pressure washer, but that is because pressure washing is the most harmful thing to do to wood. The pressure washer drives mildew down into the wood and digs out all the stable wood.

Solution – Use a cleaner created specifically for mold and a garden hose without applying a lot of direct pressure. Be sure to remove loose wood fibers, which cause adhesion failures. These fibers get between the stain and the wood, and the stain will not stick.


Problem – In coastal areas where there is very hot sun, humidity and wind, there will be a lot of dried-out wood and fading issues. In a sandy environment, keep in mind that anytime someone walks on the deck the protection is essentially being sanded off, so the maintenance cycle will have to be more closely monitored and frequent.

Solution – Use a penetrating stain instead of a film-building or pigmented stain such as a solid-color stain. Film-building and solid stains tend to highlight more of what’s been worn away.

Application Issues – One of your biggest concerns here will be keeping out the elements while you prep and stain.

Solution – There’s no stopping Mother Nature! Plan around the weather – do not work on windy days or in the heat of the day when the sun is overhead.

Recently, several companies have introduced resurfacers for rehabbing damaged wood; but remember, these are not a replacement for unsound wood surfaces. Decking lumber and wood in general is a very unstable substrate, and decks are subjected to foot traffic and puddle water; moisture is constantly moving through, making it more susceptible to decay. In comparison to vertical siding, you can expect decking to have half the life; keeping up with an ongoing maintenance program is the key to ensuring that it’s life is extended. APC

Tracy Pease is the marketing manager for PPG Architectural Coatings.


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