decking image maintenance iowa

Maintain your Deck with these simple tips

Design School

Bringing dinner outside, sitting with friends hanging out, kids playing around… decks are an extension of your home. These deck maintenance tips will help you maintain your deck so you can enjoy it for years. In central Iowa, we aren’t able to use a deck all year round, which makes it even more important to have a maintenance plan. We want a deck to be ready for the few months we can enjoy it. We love these spaces! Read on to learn how to maintain your deck and take care of it.

deck landscaping iowa maintenance

Many people have decks made of pressure-treated pine. Other homes have decks made of composite materials, like Trex or TimberTech. When we can, Red Fern loves to design decks using natural, durable woods like cedar, mahogany or ipe. Regardless of the type of decking you have, two important tasks must happen every year: Cleaning and Inspection.


Regularly cleaning off your deck can extend its life dramatically. Blow or sweep off your decks after storms. Push off any standing water. Move planters, furniture and rugs around to make sure the whole thing gets clean. Be warned: composite decking can stain if debris is left too long. Maintain your deck by cleaning often.

For cleaning, here’s what you need to know:

  • Clean your deck thoroughly every year. Whether you have a composite deck like Trex, long-lasting natural cedar, or good ol’ pressure-treated lumber, your deck needs to be cleaned annually.
  • Use a deck cleaner and a roller or sprayer, along with a scrub brush where you need it.
  • Be careful with a power washer – the strong spray can gauge the surface of the deck too much. It works to use your regular hose set to a hard stream.
  • Roll on the deck cleaner, scrub the spots that are very dirty, and rinse.

PRO TIP: Cover any nearby plants with a tarp or plastic so that they don’t get drenched in the deck cleaner.


Throughout the year, inspect your deck. This is an important maintenance action. You’re looking for anything unsafe, or anything that can shorten the lifespan of your deck.

  • Look for dark, splintered, or weakened areas, especially where the deck connects to the house.
  • Look for loose nails or screws. Wiggle railings and stairs and check for movement. Check the ledger board where the deck meets the house.
  • Get underneath and look for any signs of movement, rot, or damage. Remove debris from the posts to avoid rot or insect damage.
  • Check how well it’s sealed. Make sure water beads up on the surface. If water is absorbed into the deck, it’s time to seal.

Sealing Wood Decks

Wood decks need to be sealed regularly. This is a part of deck maintenance that can easily be overlooked. It is super important!

How often? The easy answer is about every 2-3 years. How often you need to treat your deck depends on lots of things – the type of wood, how much sun, wind, and shade the deck gets, and how the sealant gets applied. So you have to do your inspection to know when it’s time to seal.

Step 1 – Clean

Clean the deck like we talked about above.  Wait a few days for it to fully dry. It could even be 5 days, depending on how much sun and wind exposure your deck has. It really needs to be dry before you seal it. 

Lightly sand the deck with something like 80-grit sandpaper. You can then go over with a finer grit, but it’s not necessary. 

Step 2 – Choose your sealant

Paint, varnishes and lacquer leave a film on the surface rather than penetrating the wood. These aren’t sealants. They’ll rub off and leave the wood of your deck exposed.

Oil-based or latex sealants have pros and cons. There is some evidence that oil-based sealants will protect from UV rays better than latex sealants, but it’s more time consuming to clean up.

Step 3 – Decide your finish

You have two basic options: transparent and semi-transparent finishes.

Transparent finishes let the natural grain of the wood show through, while semi-transparent finishes protect more from sun damage and can add beautiful tone to the wood.

If your deck is any kind of dense hardwood, like mahogany or ipe, there are specific treatments to choose. Many commonly available sealants used for pressure-treated pine are very thick and won’t soak in to a hardwood deck. Look for a penetrating oil formulated for your deck wood.

Step 4 – Apply the sealant

Use a trim guard to make sure that you are getting one board at a time- you don’t want to double-apply the finish. You’ll end up with streaks and it will look terrible.

A note about stain:

If you want to stain the deck, apply the color before treating the deck with the finish. Stain will add a deeper color tone than a semi-transparent finish, so it’s a good choice if you are really trying to get a specific color.  Want to see some options? Check out these stain options from Cabot.

Apply enough stain to saturate the surface, and wipe away any extra. Then apply the deck finish.

Other deck maintenance tips:

Don’t use natural rugs like jute or bamboo!  The natural fibers will absorb moisture and create a great environment for mildew.  Go for outdoor rugs made with recycled plastics, but still move them around!  Get any debris that may be stuck under there, and be warned that any rug will block the sun and create shade patterns on your deck.

It’s totally worth it to maintain your deck. Outdoor spaces like decks bring added value to your home. They extend your home’s square footage.  They give you a way to be outdoors and hang out with friends and family. With a little bit of work, you can extend the life of your deck for years to come.


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