Best Ways to Clean and Maintain an Ipe Deck

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Best Ways to Clean and Maintain an Ipe Deck

There’s nothing quite like relaxing out on your beautiful wooden deck on a warm day, basking in the sunshine, or spending time with your family outdoors. If you live in the San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles area, the chances are that your deck is made from Ipe – a type of wood that is popular in California. While it is an extremely durable and dense wood, Ipe deck maintenance is critical to ensure its longevity.  

A properly cared for Ipe deck is one of the most beautiful settings for an outdoor entertainment area. Ipe is a hardwood perfectly suited for smooth and durable outdoor deck and railing surfaces. It is also a more sustainable wood with a natural reddish-brown tone.

Since the decking grain is dense, it creates a beautiful pattern with a fine, slip-resistant texture. Another reason Ipe makes great decking material is that it can withstand extreme conditions, such as temperature fluctuations, heavy precipitation, and even fire and pests like termites!

That said, it is a wood that will need regular maintenance, especially in our sunny climate in Southern California. We see homeowners make lots of little mistakes when it comes to Ipe deck maintenance. If you have already made the investment in an Ipe deck, you owe it to yourself to take care of it properly.

So, why is Ipe deck maintenance different from other wood types?

Let’s dive in.

1. Common Misconceptions about Ipe Deck Maintenance

Ipe wood modern decking

While Ipe decking is renowned for being long-lasting and durable, lots of homeowners mistakenly think that this low-maintenance material requires no maintenance. This is not true – all wood decks require some upkeep to keep them in good condition.

Ipe wood is naturally pretty resistant to moisture, which is why it is so popular for outdoor structures like decks, porches, boardwalks, fences, and more. In fact, Ipe decks can go for up to 75 years without requiring major repairs or replacement! But this natural resistance can be enhanced through Ipe deck maintenance to ensure the wood does not fade or rot.

Another mistake many homeowners make with Ipe decking is avoiding cleaning products on the wood. You should routinely sweep or vacuum the surface and rinse with a garden hose to wash away debris that can stain the wood, such as dirt, pollen, or sap. You can also use wood-safe cleaners to wipe away any remaining spots.

Now, what are you to do if you’ve made some of these mistakes with your Ipe deck? If your wood has started to fade or weather, hope is not lost. First of all, in almost any condition, the Ipe deck can be restored to its original look and feel, as the wood’s high density allows for this type of new start.

Once properly restored to its original beauty, regular cleaning and resealing of the deck surface will keep your Ipe deck looking its best year-round.

2. What Kind of Maintenance Does Ipe Require?

There are a few things that anyone with an Ipe deck can do routinely to keep their wood in fantastic condition.

Clean the Deck and Furniture Thoroughly

Clean ipe deck thoroughly

The first is to clean it often, especially during the changes of the season. You will want to clean off any debris from the winter winds or spring pollen so it does not stain the wood or leave scratches.

This applies to your deck furniture, too. Be sure to clean underneath any chairs or tables, as debris can be trapped and cause warping or staining below. Take the time to wipe these off thoroughly and make sure the edges do not scratch the wood when moving furniture around.

Clean Up Spills

Chances are things will get spilled on your deck, especially if you host picnics or barbeques on them. Dark liquids like red wine, coffee, or soda can leave a stain on your beautiful wood. Make sure you sop up the liquid as quickly as possible.

Darker stains caused by oil, grease, algae, or mildew are a bit trickier to remove. It is recommended to lightly scrub the surface with a cleaning brush and wood cleaner. Never use harsh cleaning chemicals or bleach on the Ipe – this can really damage it!

Repair Scratches

Scratches will break the sealant and create openings where moisture can seep in. Even though Ipe wood is quite resistant to moisture, mold can start to form eventually. You can fill in deep scratches with wood putty or epoxy-based filler. Surface scratches can be fixed with very light sanding and refinishing.

Annual Sealant

Oil based teak wood stain

The other key part of Ipe deck maintenance is the annual sealant application. Sealing and resealing your deck is one of the best ways to keep it looking brand new for years and years. The wood sealant creates a protective barrier over the wood so it does not get scuffed or scratched. It can also prevent the wood from fading or even add a transparent or semi-transparent tint of color to enrichen the wood’s tone.

The first step to sealing a deck is to clean the surface thoroughly and repair any nicks or scratches in the wood. You may want to lightly sand the top layer away if the wood is damaged with 80-grit sandpaper. It is best to have a professional deck restoration service handle this, as you must be quite careful when sanding Ipe.

If the wood has been sealed in the past, you will need to remove the old sealant with a wood stripper. Use a low-level pressure washer (no higher than 12,000 psi) to remove the old sealant and restore the wood back to its natural tone.

Once the wood has dried completely, you will apply a sealer. You may want to test a hidden area first to make sure the tone is what you’re looking for. Then apply a thin layer of sealant on all deck surfaces with a brush – not a sprayer. This will allow for a more even, thin coating.

Dry Up Oil Spots

Oil may start to pool as the sealant dries. You must wipe off any excess oil on the wood’s surface within 20 minutes of the application of your sealer. If excess oil is left on a dense surface such as Ipe, the sun’s rays will singe the oil and turn the entire surface black.

This is the number one mistake we see when homeowners trust someone who is not familiar with treating Ipe. If your deck has darkened, it most likely had an overapplication of oil. If you want to make sure that your deck is coated evenly, consider using a deck sealing company to handle the job. They will always use the highest quality sealer that is specially made for Ipe for even greater protection. 

A sealant should prevent your Ipe deck from fading or darkening. Because of the sun, untreated Ipe will develop a silver color called patina. This is quite unattractive, and it also means that the natural oils of the Ipe wood have dried out, leaving it vulnerable to damage. A properly maintained Ipe deck should fade gracefully between maintenance visits, and not get significantly darker or lighter.

3. Does Ipe Wood Need to be Stained?

Beautiful ipe deck with pool

Wood stains and sealants often mistakenly get used interchangeably. However, there is a big difference. Wood stains merely change the color of the wood – they do not provide any protection. Wood sealants can add a slight hint of color, but their primary purpose is to protect the wood from moisture, fading, and harsh UV rays.

Ipe wood has a beautiful color that most people enjoy, but you can slightly alter the color using wood stains. Now, it should be noted that Ipe is notoriously difficult to stain since the dense wood doesn’t absorb it very well. But there are specific wood stains made for Ipe.

Wood stains should be applied to clean, and dry wood with a brush, roll, or pad. The stain must be applied “with the grain,” not against it, for a more even coating. You can use either an oil-based or water-based stain on the Ipe, but oil-based tends to absorb better into the wood.

Styles change, and décor trends come and go – so if you choose a stain color for your Ipe deck that you regret later on, what do you do?

There are a few solutions. First, you can change the color to a darker tone by applying a second coat of the same stain or one in a darker hue. Ipe is naturally fairly dark, but you can add a richer red or brown tone with a stain.

However, if the stain is too dark for your liking, you will need to scrub it off, sand it away, or use a deck stripper. This is quite time-consuming and requires a lot of elbow grease. So, the best piece of advice is to always try a sample of the stain in a small, hidden area before committing to the color.

4. Do I Need to Keep Sealing the Ipe Hardwood Deck?

Is sealing wood deck necessary

It would be best to reseal your Ipe deck every 12 months, as the boards can only absorb so much sealer during any one application. Also, with each successive resealing of your Ipe deck, the wood fibers will absorb more and more of the sealer you are using, so each successive maintenance process extends the time period between applications.

The harsh Southern California sun will bake whatever protectant is on an Ipe deck right out of the wood, which will leave it defenseless against the elements. If left untreated, the Ipe wood will gray over time and may even start to buckle as more water is absorbed into the unprotected wood. Not something you want from your investment!

So, you should be investing in a high-quality sealer and reapplying every year to protect your deck. It is recommended that a very thin, oil-based sealer is used, as the dense grain of the wood is not highly absorbent. Thin, runny oils have smaller molecules that can be absorbed better by the Ipe wood. 

5. What if My Ipe Deck is Already Grey?

If you did not keep up with Ipe deck maintenance in the past and the wood has developed a grey color, it may be reparable. Ipe is an extremely durable, robust wood. Although the surface may have faded, the grain beneath may still has its natural reddish-brown tone. This is because the grey color results from oxidation from the oils in the wood on the surface where it meets the sun.

Grey ipe wood deck Resealed ipe wood deck

To get rid of the grey patina, you will need to remove that top layer very carefully. This can be done with a low-pressure washer and some patience for some decks. Carefully go over the wood in even strokes until the grey is washed away. Light sanding can also help to get rid of the grey.

After the silver patina is removed, reseal the deck on dry wood. You want a UV protectant to prevent the grey from forming once again.

Over to You

Why is Ipe deck maintenance different from typical deck upkeep? This special wood is actually far easier to care for than many other types used for outdoor purposes. With Ipe, a little bit of maintenance can go a long way. Just be sure to keep it clean and stay on top of your annual sealing – and your deck should stay looking good as new season after season.

If you are looking for a company experienced in treating Ipe decks and Teak, Mangaris, Redwood, and Cedar, please call us at 760-930-6060. Teak & Deck Professionals only focuses on treating outdoor hardwoods, and we would be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding your particular deck.

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Drew Isaacman

Drew Isaacman is the owner and founder of Teak & Deck Professionals, a leading restoration company specializing in teak, exotic wood, concrete, and stone. With a passion for preserving outdoor assets, Drew has built a team of skilled professionals dedicated to providing exceptional service to clients in San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles. His expertise in wood restoration and refinishing, combined with his commitment to customer satisfaction, has earned Teak & Deck Professionals a reputation for excellence in the industry. Drew's dedication to protecting and revitalizing outdoor spaces ensures that clients can enjoy their valuable assets for years to come.