All exterior decking requires cleaning. Although composite decking can be “less maintenance” than other types of decking, this certainly doesn’t mean “maintenance free”. In fact, there are some mistakes that can actually increase the regular care required to maintain a composite deck. Here are a few tips to avoid the extra work and get the most out of your deck.
USING THE WRONG CLEANER
Choosing the right cleaner can literally make or break your deck. Although the surface looks solid, composite decking is actually quite porous. Therefore, it needs an oxygenated cleaner that can reach deep into the material and clean inside the deck as well as the surface. When purchasing a cleaner, always check the label and NEVER use a Chlorine Bleach based “deck cleaner”. If the active ingredients read – Sodium Hypochlorite, it contains Bleach. Chlorine Bleach is extremely corrosive and will “eat” any material it’s applied to. Eventually, it will discolor your deck, damage the surface (not to mention your plants) and exacerbate any mold/mildew issues that can occur. Avoid this costly mistake and choose a non-toxic, sodium percarbonate based cleaner.
PRESSURE WASHING YOUR COMPOSITE DECKING
Pressure washing is not usually recommended for composite decking. If done incorrectly, it can be a big mistake. Pressure washing too close or using too much pressure can be ruinous for your deck. Composite decking material is softer than natural wood and therefore can be “etched” more easily. Once the material has been “opened up”, this can lead to a host of other issues including chipping, sun damage, and mold staining of the plastics inside the opening. Once mold has stained these plastics, it can be extremely hard to remove. In most cases, a garden hose should be sufficient for regular duty cleaning. If you must pressure wash, just remember to keep it at the lowest pressure possible and no closer than 8″ from the surface.
FORGETTING THE GAPS
A decking company recently contacted us for advice on how to prevent mold from growing under the deck. One of the biggest contributing factors to this problem is a simple step most people overlook during their regular cleaning – the gaps! Dirt and debris can build up over time collecting moisture providing the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. Depending on your climate, the gaps between your deck boards should be cleared out at least once a year. This will allow the air to pass between the boards helping to keep the underside nice and dry.
USING THE WRONG TOOLS
The same advice applies here. Composite decking requires a little extra care when cleaning. Regular cleaning of dirt and debris can easily be done with a broom or a garden hose. For a deeper clean, always use a soft bristle scrub brush. Again, if you are using the right cleaner, less scrubbing will be required. For snow removal, choose a plastic shovel instead of metal.
PROTECTING THE DECK AFTER CLEANING
One of the most important and often excluded step in regular deck maintenance is to protect your deck against moisture intrusion. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is for composite decking! Any decking material exposed to the outdoors is susceptible to mold/mildew growth especially in climates with higher humidity levels. Water left pooling on the surface or inside your deck can create problems such as mold/mildew growth, deck rot, and warping. The good news is that mold can be prevented with a simple but consistent application of a moisture barrier. Once again, choosing the correct product is crucial to successfully protect your deck from mold. Beware of any “waterproofing” deck sealants or chemicals that “encapsulate” the deck. These products can trap moisture inside the deck causing more issues in the long run.
The most effective non-toxic solution to protect your deck is UltraBan. I can’t tell you how many customers who call and tell us they wished they knew about this product years ago. UltraBan was engineered specifically for the purpose of inhibiting mold growth on porous materials, without damaging the surface or the environment. When applied, it actually fuses with the decking creating an invisible shield protecting against mold and mildew. This technology has never been duplicated and if applied annually, you can rest assured that your deck will be protected year after year.
Composite decking is not only a beautiful addition to the home, but can offer many advantages over traditional wood decking. That being said, do your research! It is crucial to know how to properly care for a composite deck and taking the right steps will make all the difference.