Cleaning and Sealing Your Deck for the Spring

cleaning and sealing decking

Living in Michigan means that your wooden deck likely receives little to no attention during the colder winter months, which makes your deck easy to forget about when it comes time to begin spring cleaning! Wooden decks should be professionally cleaned and sealed every 2-3 years to protect them from the rain and sun, but if you do this on your own, be sure to do so once a year, preferably in late spring to prepare your deck for its peak season. With summer right around the corner and several upcoming months of (almost) pure sunshine and regular deck use to look forward to, it’s time to get to work and revive your wooden deck!


Sweeping should be done regularly to ensure that dirt and dust do not combine with any grease on the deck. Sources of grease can include your pet’s paws, bare feet, or even your grill; if a grill is the source, invest in a grease catcher. Next, be sure to water and cover any plants on the deck with plastic sheeting for the duration of the cleaning; otherwise, move them off of the deck along with any furniture or furnishings.

Remove debris from between the deck boards using a putty knife. Moss may have grown in the grooves of the wood and can be removed with gloved fingers or a water pressure-cleaner. Removal of severe moss outbreaks may affect the wood’s texture; these areas should be lightly sanded down, re-stained, and re-waxed. Moss treatment may also be applied to prevent future growth.

If your deck is particularly dirty, use a wooden deck cleaner and apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For these full washes, choose a cloudy day to clean your deck in order to avoid the cleanser evaporating. A pressure washer may be helpful, but note that if overdone in one spot, the wood can become damaged. A deck scrubber attachment is especially useful with pressure washers.

Another helpful tool is a pump garden sprayer which will make you less vulnerable to exposure of the harmful chemicals as you apply them. A paint roller or broom with stiff brush bristles will aid with scrubbing and to spread out any puddles that form. The cleanser should then soak based on the manufacturer’s instructions followed by a thorough rinse, but do not allow the cleanser to dry beforehand. For wood railings, work bottom-up as you apply cleaner, scrub, and rinse. Top-down cleaning will result in splattered cleanser on dry wood.


Wood sealant seals the pores of the wood and enables your deck to essentially repel moisture, giving your wooden deck a longer lasting life. Wood sealer protects against the sun which causes shrinkage of the wood. Ideally, sealer should be applied two days after giving your deck its full cleaning. For this step, a two-day period with clear skies and moderate temperatures should be planned as dry weather will allow the sealer to completely and evenly dry; too much sunlight or heat will also cause the finish to dry before the wood can entirely absorb it.

You may choose to apply a stain first in order to give your deck its desired tint. Many of today’s stains contain waterproofing sealers, so finishing with a coat of sealer may not be necessary. It is also worth noting that oil-based finishes will protect the deck and fade gradually, resulting in a more natural appearance than a water-based finish. Solid stains will eventually peel and require more maintenance in the future.

Before applying, sweep away debris and drive in any popped nails or replace them with deck screws. Use scrap wood for leverage when pulling nails with a hammer or pry bar to avoid further deck damage. Next, apply the sealer. A pump sprayer may be practical as sealant is typically a very thin liquid. Try to coat only three or four boards at a time. Paintbrushes or small rollers are convenient for railings, planters, and benches. While the deck remains wet, go over the boards with a paintbrush to ensure the cracks are covered and the wood is evenly finished. Be sure that the sealant does not puddle; two thin coats will go much further than one thick coating.

Once the sealant is applied, simply allow the deck to dry completely. Your deck is now ready to take on the summer! Be mindful of general maintenance throughout the summer, such as regular sweeping and hosing down of the deck as well as checking for signs of rot and inspecting the hardware. In the meantime, spring clean away and enjoy your revived deck!