Deck Maintenance: Wood vs Composite

If you’re considering installing an outdoor deck, it’s worth thinking about maintenance. Decking requires significant ongoing maintenance over its life to keep it in good condition. And different types of decking boards can require very different levels of maintenance.

The two most common types of decking in Australia are timber decking and composite decking.

Common decking timbers include treated pine, jarrah, blackbutt, spotted gum, merbau, stringybark and ironbark. While each type of timber has different properties in terms of appearance, density, durability and so on, they all require regular and ongoing maintenance to protect the wood from UV, moisture and pest damage.

Composite decking, on the other hand, is an engineered product made from reclaimed timber and recycled plastics. And while it’s not without its maintenance requirements, it requires much less ongoing upkeep compared with timber decking.

Both timber and composite decking have their individual pros and cons. However, what sets the two materials apart the most is the difference in ongoing maintenance requirements.

So let’s have a look at what is required to maintain a timber deck compared with a composite deck.

How to Maintain a Timber Deck

Before we get to how, let’s have a look at why. Regularly cleaning and oiling or staining your deck is vital not only to keep it looking good, but to keep it safe and to minimise wear and tear and damage. Without proper maintenance, timber decking can fall prey to a range of problems including splitting and cracking, warping, fading, rotting and termites and other wood pests.

Regular deck cleaning will remove growths and debris like mould, mildew, bird droppings and leaf matter that can build up on the surface. These materials hold moisture, release minerals and acids and attract pests, promoting rot and decay in the timber.

Oiling or staining the timber helps to replenish and protect the wood, prevent splitting and cracking and minimise UV damage.

Now you understand the why, let’s have a look at how to maintain a timber deck.

  • Clear the Area

Before you start cleaning the deck you will need to clear the area. This means removing furniture, cooking equipment, plants and any other items on the deck. While it may be tempting to just try to clean around these items, this is inadvisable since you run the risk of damaging or dirtying furniture with the cleaning chemicals and cleaning equipment.

Be careful moving heavier items off the deck as you don’t want to scratch the timber. If you don’t have the space to temporarily store all these items, move them into a corner and cover them with a tarp and clean the deck in stages.

  • Sweep the Deck

Before getting into the heavy cleaning you’ll want to sweep down the deck to remove as much loose dust, dirt, leaf matter and other debris as possible. This will make the next step easier (and less messy).

While sweeping, you should also take the time to remove any material wedged between the boards.

  • Scrub the Deck

Once you’ve swept the deck, it’s time to scrub it. It’s highly recommended that you do this by hand. While pressure or power washing may be much quicker, you risk damaging the decking boards. And that will turn the cleaning job into a repair job. Scrubbing the deck by hand is a bit more labour-intensive, but it will deliver the best results and ensure that you don’t damage the timber.

For the best results, you should use a specific deck cleaning solution, rather than just detergent. Make sure you read the instructions as improperly preparing or using these solutions could end up damaging the surface.

Prepare the deck cleaning solution following the instructions on the label and apply across the deck using a broom or soft-bristled scrubbing brush, paying close attention to any stained or discoloured areas. Once done, hose down the deck and allow to dry.

Scrubbing the deck removes any growths, debris or contaminants that build up over time and can damage the surface. Scrubbing also “exfoliates” the timber, removing the worn upper surface and preparing the timber for oiling or staining.

  • Oil or Stain the Deck

Deciding whether to oil or stain your deck depends on what kind of finish you would like. While both will protect the timber, oils will only enhance the timber’s natural colour, whereas staining it can change the colour.

Both oiling and staining will replenish the timber and protect the wood from moisture damage and UV rays that dry out the wood and cause it to crack and split. Ultimately, choosing an oil or a stain will depend on the kind of timber you have and what type of colour and finish you want.

Once you have settled on an oil or stain and you have the deck scrubbed and cleaned, you can start applying the stain. Use a paint pad applicator and apply the first coat in long even strokes. You may need to use a paint brush to get between some boards and to get right into the edges and corners. Once you’ve applied one even coat across the entire deck leave it to dry.

Composite Decking Maintenance

Composite Wood Decking

Composite decking is a durable, long-lasting and low-maintenance alternative to traditional timber decking. As an engineered timber product, composite decking is designed to require minimal maintenance.

One of the biggest benefits of composite decking is that it doesn’t require oiling or sealing to prevent drying, fading, splitting or warping. And while it should still be regularly cleaned, you don’t need to use a specific deck cleaning solution. This means that maintaining a composite deck requires fewer cleaning chemicals and petrochemical products. And that’s not just good for your wallet, it’s also good for the environment.

Regular cleaning is important to keep any deck looking great and to stop contaminants from gaining a foothold. Just like a timber deck, a composite surface should be regularly swept and scrubbed. This will prevent the build-up of mould and mildew and remove moisture-trapping or acidic debris like leaf matter and bird droppings that can damage the deck’s surface over time.

As with a timber deck, you should thoroughly sweep it down and remove any materials jammed between the decking boards.

Wash down the deck using warm soapy water or a mild detergent and a soft bristled broom or scrubbing brush. Rinse off the deck and let it dry.

And you’re done!

When deciding on a decking material, it’s worth seriously considering the ongoing maintenance requirements. Over time, the cost of maintaining a timber deck can start to mount up. Add to that the labour input involved with regularly scrubbing and staining a deck, and that amounts to a serious input of money and labour over the life of the deck.

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