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Sealing For Long Lasting Decks And Fences

By David P Lee

In just 12 months or so, wood that is left outdoors unprotected will display signs of deterioration. The pieces of lumber that make up decks and fences will, sooner or later, begin to deteriorate. Rain and sunlight are Nature’s two main tools for bearing down on unprotected wood and other materials.

For instance, wood that is left outside becomes weak and gray because the sun’s rays work to rupture the wood’s internal fibers. Rain, on the other hand, causes wood to swell, making it spongy. This swell-shrink cycle becomes a daily occurrence, as dew comes in the mornings and the harsh rays of the suns bear down on the wood in the afternoons. This cycle expedites the wood’s deteriation. Decks and fences that are on their way to deteriorating will have surfaces that are grayed, deformed and split.

The Need to Treat Wood

Wood, even if it has been pressure-treated, must still be cleaned and sealed to prolong its life. Decks and fences made of pressure-treated wood still require regular cleaning and sealing to ensure that they stay in good condition. While decks and fences made of pressurized wood, cedar, cypress and other exotic woods are safe from insect infestation, but they are not invulnerable to weather’s corrosive effects. Wood that does not have protective coating can pose a danger in just seven years.

When is Wood Ready for Sealing?

When is the right time to seal wood? Some say that wood should be sealed after a year so that the wood is completely dry. However, a year is too long a time to wait to seel wood. During this time, the wood would have incurred too much damage, most of which cannot be reversed. Wood can be completely dry and ready for sealing in two or three months. It has been found that wood that has been sealed within three months is much more dirable and look better than wood that has been sealed after one year.

You can easily tell if the wood is ready for sealing. Professionals use an electric moisture meter to determine if the wood can be sealed. However, a simpler method is to sprinkle drops of water on the surface of the wood. If the water is quickly absorbed, it means that the wood is dry enough that it is ready for sealing.

Preparing the Wood for Sealing

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To prepare the wood for sealing, thoroughly clean the wood. Get rid of mold, mildew, dirt and algae that may be present on the wood. Wood that is properly cleaned has open pores and balanced pH, allowing the sealer to adhere to the wood fiber.

Choosing the Cleaning Agent

What kind of cleaning agent should be used on decks and fences to prepare it for sealing? Cleaning compounds include acidic cleaners, alkaline cleaners and pH neutral cleaners. If you are undertaking the fence or deck cleaning yourself, pH-netural powdered cleaners are safe to use. However, most home improvement stores recommend the use of acid-based cleaning compounds since, compared to alkaline-based cleaning compounds, they are much safer to use by the average homeowner. There is one caveat to acid-based cleaning compounds: they are not really that effective at cleaning wood. The alkaline-based cleaning compounds, which are used by professionals, are more effective. Professionals use a two-step cleaning process. First, they clean wood with alkaline cleaners and then follow it up with an acidic brightener. With this cleaning method, the wood’s natural colors emerge, bringing out the wooden deck or fence’s beauty even before sealing.

Pressure Washing Wood

Pressure washing is one way to clean wood with or without cleaners mixed with the water. However, because water impacts the wood at a high velocity, the wood’s surface can become damaged. In order for this cleaning method to be successful and not damage the wood, the right amount of pressure must be applied and the right cleaning solution must be used. If you are pressure washing the wood, be careful not to apply too much pressure. It may be a good idea to use a commercial pressure washing comapny. In addition keep in mind that pressure washers that are for rent are typically designed to have a pressure of 1750 to 3500 psi, which is all right if you are pressure washing a concrete fence or deck, or if you are trying to peel off old paint. These pressure washers, though, are too much for wood. The ideal for pressure washing wood is between 500 and 500 psi. In addition, never pressure wash wood with hot water. Doing so will sharply raise the wood grain.


Striping are indentation marks left on the wood when pressure washing the wood is improperly done — such as starting and stopping the cleaning stroke as the wand of the pressure washing is aimed very close to the surface of the wood. Striping causes the wood fence or deck to look uneven an appear as if it was poorly constructred.


If the wood fence or deck needs to be re-sealed, the old coat of sealer should be stripped. This is because most sealers have ingredients that should be removed before any re-sealing is done. To strip the wood of the old sealer, harsh chemical strippers are used. This type of job is better given to a professional.

Selecting the Sealer

Once you have your wood deck or fence cleaned up and prepared for sealing, the next step is to choose the sealer to use. In this regard, you need to think about how much you are prepared to spend for a wood sealer. Sealers are either wax-based, oil based or acrylic. Latex-based sealers have been introduced recently. The price of sealers vary. Consider your budget when choosing a sealer. However, don’t be willing to pay for the cheapest sealer. The saying, “You get what you pay for” holds true in this case.

Wax-Based Sealers

Sealers that are waxed-based are typically available at do-it-yourself shops. You will likely see them being advertised on TV. Wax-based sealers are cheap to produce, which is why manufacturers are able to spend money on advertising. Wax-based sealers cost between $12 and $15 per gallon. Be aware that wax-based sealers will seal your wood fence or deck for just a short time — about eight months. After that time, wood that has been sealed with wax-based sealers often blacken. Unless you are really short on cash, don’t use wax-based sealers as they are not able to provide protection to wood decks and fences.

Oil-Based Sealers

Oil-based sealers are derived from either crude oil or vegetable oils such as tung or linseed oil. Crude oil sealer is able to penetrate wood better, so the result is wood that looks natural and soft. On the other hand, vegetable oils give wood some sheen, making it look like the wood has been varnished. Vegetable oil sealers have natural sugars and starches, which can encourage mildew and mold growth. In addition, vegetable oil sealers can be difficult to remove. If you plan on re-sealing wood that has been previously sealed with a vegetable oil sealer, you will need to strip the previous sealer first.

Crude-based oil sealers don’t need tobe stripped if the wood is being prepared for re-sealing. A new layer of the same crude-based oil sealer can simply be applied over the old layer of sealer. Crude-based sealers, unlike vegetable oil sealers, are easy to strip. More importantly, they are cheap, but effective.

Oil-based sealers that are sold in most do-it-yourself stores contain a little vegetable oil. These sealers last from 12 to 18 months. You can buy a gallon of oil-based sealers for $15 to $30.

About the Author: David Lee is an expert on pressure washing and concrete cleaning. For more information see

Atlanta pressure washing


Atlanta concrete cleaning


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