The Beginner’s Guide to Sealing a Wood Deck

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sealing wood deck beginners guide

There’s nothing quite like unwinding at the end of the day by lounging on your deck and enjoying the beauty of nature around you. For most people, their deck or patio is their pride and joy. According to a recent survey, over half of all homeowners have invested in improving their outdoor space by building a deck and/or purchasing outdoor furniture within the past year!

An outdoor deck is a great way to create an inviting outdoor space, perfect for relaxing or entertaining. But a wooden deck can soon fall into disarray if you don’t keep up with the necessary maintenance. The outdoor elements can be incredibly harsh on wood, causing it to fade, chip, or even start to rot. Your wood deck takes a beating. Whether it’s covered or not, it is likely exposed to continuous weather, sunshine, and general wear and tear. To keep it looking beautiful and help it last for many years, you’ll need to re-seal it on a regular basis. 

Sealing a wood deck is the best way to keep it in top shape for the long haul.

There’s a lot of information floating around the web about how to seal a deck. Unfortunately, not all tips are helpful or equally accurate. That’s why we’re here to provide some solid guidance. 

  • Do you need to seal your deck? 
  • How often should you seal your deck? 
  • Is this something I should hire a professional to do? 
  • Are there different types of sealers? 

These are all questions that you might be asking – and we’ve got the answers. Take a look to learn about the best ways to care for and seal your outdoor deck

What is Deck Sealing?

What is deck sealing

Deck sealer is a transparent protective coating that lets the wood’s beauty and natural color shine through. It’s what makes your deck stand out when family and friends come over for cookouts or just to hang out. When applied properly, a sealer can help your deck look new again. 

The sealer forms a clear film on the surface, which maintains the wood’s natural finish. As it penetrates the wood, the sealer creates a protective layer that keeps out damaging moisture. This prevents fungal growth and wood rot, both of which will reduce the lifespan of your deck. 

Today, most sealants also have an added pigment to block UV rays. This keeps the deck from drying out and turning gray as it weathers. 

If you have questions about how to seal a deck or what sealants to use, continue reading or contact an expert deck professional. At Teak & Deck, we don’t just point you in the right direction – we take care of the entire process for you to ensure it’s done correctly. 

Is Sealing a Wood Deck Necessary?

Is sealing wood deck necessary

First and foremost, you may be wondering why sealing a wood deck is even necessary. Although most wooden decks are built with treated wood, this material will not last long in most weather conditions. Harsh UV rays from hours of direct sunlight will start to dry out the wood, leaving it vulnerable to fungal growth and rot. Heavy rain and snowfall will only make matters worse.

Without the protection offered by deck sealers, exposure to extreme heat, cold, and elements will have a detrimental effect on your deck’s surface. Sealing provides benefits that preserve your deck for years at a time. 

Why Does Pressure Treated Lumber Need to be Sealed?

Many outdoor decks are made from pressure-treated wood. This process injects a chemical preservative into the wood. This helps to ward off pests like termites and also offers a bit of protection from moisture and rot.

However, this is not enough to skip sealing a wood deck. While pressure-treated wood is less susceptible to moisture damage, it does not protect it from UV rays.

What’s the Difference Between Staining and Sealing?

It’s very important to understand that a wood sealant and a wood stain are two different things. Sealants are designed to create a layer on top of the wood, whereas stains penetrate the grain.

Now, there are some overlaps and similarities. Both sealants and stains can be used to change the color of the wood. However, a sealant changes the color by adding a pigmented layer, like a coat of paint. Stains, on the other hand, use pigments that are absorbed into the wood to alter or enhance the color of the wood.

Stains are not nearly as protective as sealants and should only be used for cosmetic purposes. If you want to use both, it’s recommended that you stain the wood first and then apply a sealant on top.

What You Need to Know Prior to Sealing Your Wood Deck

There is a right way and a wrong way to seal a deck. If you aren’t sealing your wood deck correctly, it won’t do much good. Any areas that are not properly sealed will be vulnerable to the outdoor elements and could start to rot or face.

Here’s what you need to know before diving into your next sealing project:

Know When it’s Time to Seal

Is it time to seal wood deck

If you’ve got a brand-new deck, you might not need to add a sealant right away. Freshly processed pressure-treated wood won’t absorb the sealant well, so it won’t be as effective.

Thankfully, there’s a quick and easy test to see if it’s time to add a layer. Simply pour a bit of water on the wood. If it absorbs quickly, then it’s ready to be sealed. However, if the water pools and sits on top of the wood, wait a few more days.

Use the Right Type of Sealant for Your Wood

Depending on the type of wood used in your deck, you may need to purchase a specific type of sealant. Some sealants may also alter the color of the wood or enhance the natural wood grain. We will discuss more about the type of sealers in this article.

You Will Need to Wash, Repair, and Sand First

You’ll want to start with a clean slate, so your first step is to clean your deck thoroughly before sealing. Brush away dust and debris and use a utility brush to get at any problem areas.

If you have an old layer of sealant or paint, you’ll want to lightly sand this away. Don’t use a power sander, as this could damage the wood. Instead, use 80-grit sandpaper and a pole sander to buff away the top layer.

Do It on a Warm, Sunny Day

Applying wood deck sealant on a sunny day

It takes a full 24 hours for most wood sealers to dry completely, but many experts recommend it dries for a full 72 hours before using the deck. Check the weather before you start to make sure there’s no rain in the forecast and temperatures will be fairly warm, so it will dry completely.

Use Rollers, Brushes, and Sprayers for Full Coverage

When sealing a wood deck, you want to make sure the product gets in all the nooks and crannies. You’ll want to use a variety of tools to make sure all of the edges and cracks in the wood are sealed. But you also need to make sure that the sealant is thin, and even so, it dries correctly.

Rollers are great for wide-area coverage, whereas brushes should be used for smaller spots. You can also opt for a paint sprayer for a more even, light coverage.

Repeat Annually

It is generally recommended to seal your deck every year or two. Harsh winters or extremely hot summers can cause the sealant to wear away. Plus, it can get scratched from shoes or outdoor furniture. You should also keep up with routine deck maintenance to ensure that it lasts as long as possible.

The Different Kinds of Deck Sealers

There are different types of deck sealers, and if you want to know how to seal a deck properly, it’s essential that you pick the right one. For starters, we recommend familiarizing yourself with these two top options: 

1) Topical Finishes

Topical wood deck finish sealer

A topical deck sealant forms a protective film or coat that adheres to the top of the wood. This type of sealer stays on the surface and lasts as long as the substrate lasts. 

These topical sealants will not seep into the wood’s crevices. As a result, they may change the surface texture of your deck and add a glossy finish. Topical finishes can also include added color, further altering the appearance of your deck. 

2) Penetrating Sealers

Penetrating sealers finish

A penetrating sealer, as its name indicates, goes beyond the surface of the wood. It seeps into all the cracks and crevices of your deck, then protects it from the inside out. 

Because a penetrating sealer actually sinks in, it will typically last longer than a topical sealer. This provides more extensive protection and helps extend the life of your deck. 

Additionally, penetrating sealers usually offer a more “natural” look as they don’t change the appearance or the surface texture of your deck.

There’s a lot to think about when deciding on what type of deck sealer to use. If you have any questions, call a deck professional before deciding on the right product for your deck.  

How to Seal Your Wood Deck Properly

Ready to start sealing your wood deck? Here’s how to do it:

  1. Remove all furniture, mats, and plants on your deck. Sweep away any dust, mop dirty areas, and let the wood dry completely. Lightly sand if needed.
  2. Cover the surrounding area with protective tarps. You can also lay down painter’s tape if your wooden deck is adjacent to other surfaces you don’t want to be sealed.
  3. If it’s your first time, test a small area of the wood with your sealant to see how it dries. Sealants can alter the color, so make sure you like the end result before applying it to the whole deck.
  4. Start by applying the sealant with a large roller or sprayer and work from the bottom up on railings and stairs. Start by sealing the full length of three to four floorboards at once. This helps you create a more even coat and avoid splotches and spills.
  5. Repeat with one or two more layers if needed or as directed by the sealant manufacturer.
  6. Let it try completely for a minimum of 24 hours before walking on the deck. Let the sealant rest for 2 or 3 days before you move the furniture back, as this could scratch the sealant.

Applying sealant isn’t the most complex project – but it can be quite time-consuming and laborious. Plus, you want to make sure you get the job done right – otherwise, your sealant won’t do much good. If you want to make sure that your deck is sealed the right way, consider hiring a professional service to get the job done.

The Dos and Don’ts of Sealing a Wood Deck

Dos donts sealing wood deck

Your deck is the center of your home. You cook out there. You relax. You entertain and watch your children play. 

It’s crucial that you know how to seal a deck if you are going to attempt it on your own. For starters, here are a handful of dos and don’ts you certainly need to keep in mind. 

  • Do wait at least 30 days before you apply a sealant to a new deck so the wood is ready to soak up the sealant.
  • Don’t confuse your sealant with paint or stain. They can all be beneficial but will do different things. If you have questions, contact a decking professional.
  • Do take care of any repairs, cleaning, or sanding before you apply the sealant. Once that’s done, make sure you thoroughly sweep your deck to remove dirt and dust.
  • Don’t apply deck sealant if your deck is damp, wet, or frosty. To ensure that the wood on your deck is ready to be sealed, wait 24 hours after a rain shower or snow. 
  • Do apply a sealant once per year to keep your deck looking like new and protect the wood.
  • Don’t take shortcuts when sealing your deck. You might be in a hurry, but your deck is a pricey investment. If you rush through it, you’ll have a mess on your hands, and your deck won’t be adequately protected. 

There’s a lot to keep in mind when thinking about sealing your deck. If you’ve never done it before or don’t have the right equipment, it’s probably a good idea to work with professionals, rather than tackle it on your own. 

Common Questions We Receive About Sealing Decks

Deck sealing faqs

Does a Deck Need to Be Sealed?

Yes, to preserve the natural look of your wood deck and keep it safe, you need to apply a sealant. This will protect it from graying and help protect it from weather and normal wear and tear. 

How Long Should You Wait to Seal a New Wood Deck?

While many deck contractors don’t want to seal a newly installed wood deck, we recommend that you seal your deck within roughly 1-3 months of installation. This will protect the wood, enhance the natural wood grain, and preserve it for years to come. 

Should I Use a Topical or Penetrating Sealer on My Deck?

There is a lot to think about when deciding on how to seal a deck. Topical sealers cover your deck and give it a new shine and some protection. On the other hand, penetrating sealers deep down into the wood provides protection without changing the natural appearance of the deck. 

At Teak & Deck, we typically recommend using a penetrating sealer. However, we’re also happy to discuss your unique circumstances to determine the best wood deck sealer for your deck. 

When Should You Apply a Sealer to a Deck?

You should always apply a sealer to your deck when it’s dry. Depending on where you live, this may mean waiting until the summer season, when rain and snow are less likely. 

How Often Should I Re-Seal My Deck?

Your deck should be re-sealed every 1-3 years if you want to protect the wood. This will help preserve your deck for years to come and help it to look brand new. The sealant will bring out the natural wood grain and the sealing will make it stand out. 

Should I Sand My Deck Before Sealing?

Cleaning and brightening a wood deck is a much better alternative to sanding. Cleaning and brightening will remove all contaminants while opening the pores of the wood’s surface to properly accept a penetrating sealer. Sanding will remove the top layer of contaminants but will close the pores of the wood, inhibiting the wood’s ability to absorb a penetrating sealer.

Should I Clean My Deck Before Sealing It?

Absolutely. You’ll want to clean your deck thoroughly and ensure it’s free of anything that can prevent the sealant from adhering to the wood. After you’ve washed the deck, sweep and vacuum it for the best sealing results. 

Need Help Sealing Your Wood Deck?

You’ve spent a lot of money on your home and deck. To ensure it stays beautiful and lasts for years to come, you need to take care of it. That means learning how to seal a deck or hiring a professional to do it for you. 

Teak & Deck is here to care for, seal, and maintain your deck. We’ll protect your valuable outdoor investment so that it’s usable and attractive for years to come. Since 1999, we’ve proudly served customers in San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles – and we’re here to serve you, too. 

Contact us today for a sealing quote. One of our experienced technicians will come out to assess your situation and provide you with a professional recommendation. 

First Published on: Jan 27, 2022

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

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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.