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How To Restore A Deck That Has Been Neglected

If you need to restore a deck, this detailed tutorial will really help you out! We’re going to show you exactly how we restored a deck that had been neglected for way too long. We also cover FAQs about deck treatment like ‘what is the best deck sealer?’ and ‘what is the best way to clean decking?’.

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Man applying oil finish to wood decking with text overlay that says how to refinish a wood deck

We definitely weren’t planning on refinishing our deck ANYTIME soon. In fact, we probably weren’t even going to think about it until next year. We have so many renovations going on inside the house for Phase 1 of our renovation with building out a bedroom for our new baby, expanding our closet in a walk-in and building an entire bathroom from scratch. But sometimes projects pop up sooner than expected and you just gotta roll with it.

UPDATE: See how our refinished deck is holding up one year later! 

Square buff sander on hardwood floors
DO NOT TRY TO RESTORE YOUR HARDWOOD FLOORS WITH A SQUARE BUFF SANDER LIKE THIS!

It all started when we were refinishing the hardwood floors in the nursery & hallway. We had rented a square buff sander for the floors for the weekend.

Saturday morning Logan started sanding the flooring and a couple of hours later realized that the sander we had rented just wasn’t going to cut it. The square buff sander wasn’t cutting through the many layers of sealer and stain that our hardwood floors had.

The deck, however, was so neglected and weathered that it was back to bare wood. But it was definitely uneven and needed a good sanding.

Deck that needs to be refinished with tan french doors
Wood decking that needs to be refinished

The tool rental shop was closed for the weekend, so we were stuck with it. Instead of sitting around watching Netflix (SO tempting), we decided to take advantage of the square buff sander which we already had paid for the entire weekend.

We took the sander out to the deck and…voila! It was an accidental deck makeover! And I, for one, am pretty stinkin’ happy with this accident.

This restore a deck tutorial contains affiliate links, but nothing that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend anyway! Read my full disclosure here.

Corner of wood decking that needs to be restored
Step on wood deck that has been neglected
large wood deck with built in bench that needs to be refinished

Before we jump into the steps of the cleaning the deck and applying the decking treatment, I thought we would take care of a couple important questions that you may have if you’re thinking about restoring your deck that has been neglected – what is the best deck sealer and what is the best way to clean decking.

What is the best deck sealer?

The best deck sealer is going to depend heavily on the current age, condition of your deck, and how much work you are willing to put in prepping the deck.

If your deck is brand new or if you sanded down your deck like we did, a penetrating oil based stain is going to be your best bet. We did lots of research and landed on Penofin Blue Label Brazilian Rosewood Oil Finish in Redwood Color for our decking (read more about the Penofin sealer here).

2 cans of Penofin Blue Label and the rest of supplies for restoring a wood deck

We consider this the best deck sealer type as it does exactly what it says, penetrates deep into the wood. The deeper the stain gets into the wood, the longer it is going to stand up to the outdoor elements.

Another reason penetrating oil based stain is the best deck sealer is its ability to get deep into the wood, while letting the wood grain show through, but that’s just personal opinion.

Also, penetrating oil finish is very easily reapplied. Unlike surface lying stains, you don’t have to strip or sand your wood deck when it is time to reapply. All you do is simply pressure wash your deck with a wide-angle tip, wait a couple of days to dry, then apply the stain.

If you have an older deck and you don’t want to sand it down, then you are looking at a semi-solid to solid color deck sealer to help with deck damage. However, these sealers are often a double-edged sword as they sit on the surface of the decking and create a separate layer. This can cause issues if you don’t prep properly, a spot doesn’t grab the decking, or the wood has any moisture left in it before you apply. Any moisture left in the wood will be sealed under the product and you guessed it, it will probably be peeling off by next summer.

Peeling is a bigger issue with these solid products because once it starts peeling, the only fix is stripping your deck of the product and starting the process over. There goes another weekend working on the house instead of grilling out on the deck and havin’ some fun

Semi-solid and solid deck sealers do have their place. They are great for decks with cracks and restoring an old beat up deck so you can walk on it again without worrying about splinters and you really don’t want to sand.

So take a good look at the current state of your weathered deck, think about how much prep you want to do know (and think about replication in the future) to decide what the best deck sealer is for you! Then follow the steps below on how to apply your best deck sealer.

What is the best way to clean decking?

As you read the rest of this tutorial on how to restore a weathered deck, you’ll notice there is A LOT of cleaning. Each step is incredibly important as the products all work together.

  • The sander (or stripper) gets the previous finish off.
  • The pressure washer and wood cleaner get rid of any mildew, stains, and dirt.
  • The wood brightener further cleans brightens the wood and balances your deck chemically.

The moral of the story is…don’t skip a step when you’re cleaning decking.

Supplies we used for restoring our wood deck:

Step 1. Clean off wood deck.

First step when restoring a deck is to clear off anything you have on it so you can see what needs to be done in terms of preparation before you start the deck treatment.

Man tightening screws on wood decking

Step 2. Tighten screws on deck and replace boards.

Once you have everything off, you’ll be able to see if any nails or screws have popped up that need to be put back in. After you identify these boards, grab a box of deck screws and secure any loose decking boards, railings, bench boards, or any other loose piece of wood on your deck.

Man tightening screws with drill on wood deck

Next check for any decking boards that are too far gone to be saved. Now is the time to replace any boards that might be rotted or cracked all the way through. If you are replacing deck boards, be sure to use the same type of wood as the rest of the your deck and definitely get pressure treated wood, which is designed to withstand the elements outdoors.

Square sander for wood decking

Step 3. Sand deck (if necessary).

Our deck had been seriously neglected when we moved in. There was unevenness on the wood boards and no finish left whatsoever. We knew the best way to restore a deck that has been neglected was with a sander. We had that sander and a whole weekend free, so we sanded the deck. This step is only necessary if your decking needs it.

Square sander on wood decking

We used the square buff sander to do two passes with 36 grit sandpaper and one with 60 grit.

Step 4. Wash deck.

The best way to clean decking is definitely using a pressure washer. If you don’t have one, you can rent one from your local Home Depot.

Use a pressure washer with a wide-angle tip to clean your deck of any surface dirt and grime. Once the deck is dry, you can decide if you are going to need to use a stripper to get the previous finish off or if will be able to get the job done with narrow pressure washer tip.

Keep in mind the pressure washer is going to send high pressured water into your deck boards, which will have to dry out completely before any new finish is applied.

If you go with the stripper to remove the previous finish, be sure to wet or cover any plants you have around your deck or they will die.

After you get the previously finish completely removed, it is on to the next step.

Deck cleaner and wood brightener with sprayer and scrub brush sitting on deck that needs to be refinished

Step 5. Use deck cleaner.

So you stripped the deck and have already cleaned it once with the pressure washer, it is time to clean the deck again! It may seem like overkill, but it is very important that your deck is very clean when you start trying to restore a deck with finish.

Find yourself a highly rated deck cleaner (we used this one), get a garden sprayer, your hose, and a scrub brush. Don’t skimp on this step and be sure to take your time. You may need to spend a lot of time and use a lot of elbow grease to really clean off any dust and growth off the neglected deck and seats.

Be sure to follow the instructions on your deck cleaner to the letter. We soaked the deck with this cleaner and then scrubbed it hard with the brush before it dried up. This process took what seemed like hours.

You’ll want to apply the deck cleaner starting from one corner, so you don’t have to walk over this cleaner.

Once you are done applying the deck cleaner, you can hose the entire deck down to get any remnants of the cleaner off of your deck.

Girl applying wood brightener to wood decking in backyard
Shows the dramatic difference of applying wood brightener when refinishing a wood deck

Step 6. Use wood brightener.

If you thought that was bad enough, now you will repeat the deck cleaning process, but this time with a wood brightener! The wood brightener that we used instructions were to spray and let it sit for 10-15 min, then scrub, scrub, and scrub with a deck brush.

Let me tell you, the wood brightener makes a huge difference when you are trying to restore a deck and give it life again. Our wood deck looked nearly brand new when we were done, but the deck boards were just bright again. Logan kept saying they looked like we got them right off the shelf.

Step 7. Wash deck (again).

I know it seems like the 100th time, but one more rinse will get all of the cleaner and chemicals removed from the wood.

Now wait until your deck is completely dry!

Step 8. Check if deck is ready for sealer.

So how do you tell if your deck is dry enough to apply a sealer? Well, any easy way is to pour a couple of tablespoons of water in an inconspicuous part of your decking. If your deck absorbs the water within 8-10 seconds, you can get ready to stain. Anything longer than that and you should wait awhile before staining and test again until it absorbs quickly enough.

Step 9. Apply deck sealer.

Once your deck is dry enough, you can apply the deck sealer you have chosen and get to work. We used this oil finish, a cheap oil stain brush, a deck pad, and paint tray. We started with our benches and used the brush on the spaces between the boards. Since the bench has vertical pieces, the stain wouldn’t get in between the boards like it does on the horizontal boards.

Paint brush applying oil finish on vertical boards on the back of a bench on wood deck
Applying oil finish to upright pieces of the back of the bench on wood deck

Then we finished off the deck by applying the finish with the applicator pad on a pole. Applying the deck stain was actually the simplest step and boy did it make a difference. The decking really started to come to life with the oil.

Man applying deck oil finish with applicator and pole
Stain going on wood decking with bench

We did 2 coats.

Freshly stained wood decking with bench on perimeter
Wood deck with built in bench with fresh stain
Wood deck sealer tutorial
Wood deck with bench with fresh oil finish

Boy, am I glad that we ended up with the wrong sander when we were doing the hardwood floors refinishing. If you need to restore a deck, now you know that it is totally a do-able DIY project if you have the time! In this post you saw exactly how to restore a deck that had been neglected for way too long. Now the key is to upkeep it, so we don’t have to completely restore it next time!

Freshly stained deck with text overlay that says how to restore a deck with oil finish

Have you used this tutorial to restore a deck?

Let me know in the comments below!!

How To Refinish a Wood Deck

How To Refinish a Wood Deck

Yield: 1
Active Time: 3 days
Total Time: 3 days
Difficulty: Intermediate
Estimated Cost: $200

If you need to restore a deck, this detailed tutorial will really help you out! We’re going to show you exactly how we restored a deck that had been neglected for way too long.

Tools

Instructions

  1. Clean off wood deck.
  2. Tighten screws on deck and replace boards.
  3. Sand deck (if necessary).
  4. Wash deck.
  5. Use deck cleaner.
  6. Use wood brightener.
  7. Wash deck (again).
  8. Check if deck is ready for sealer.
  9. Apply deck sealer.

7 thoughts on “How To Restore A Deck That Has Been Neglected

    1. Yes, absolutely. Our deck was very neglected and definitely need to be sanded before anything else. From here on out, we will continue to maintain the deck to hopefully avoid the need to sand the deck again (reapplying the oil finish annually).

  1. There is a big difference in type of wood-whether green treated or cedar. A power washer actually pushes the dirt and mold/mildew deeper into the grain of the wood and may damage older wood. Wood experts do not recommend power washers, esp for cedar. Cedar never needs staining or sealing but some people prefer the stained look. It does however need annual cleaning with a simple household mixture: 1/4 C Dawn dish soap, 4 C outdoor bleach, 1 gal warm water in a garden sprayer. Leave on 5-10 min when shady, scrub extra dirty areas and hose off. Works well for most anything on your exterior.

  2. Thank you for an easy to understand tutorial :)) When the boards are loose and I can”t get to the nail, do I just put a deck screw in a nearby spot? Or do I need to replace nail with a screw in the same spot? Thank you :))

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