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Old 03-15-2007, 04:08 PM   #1
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Understanding Deck Stains and Sealers


Its that time of year for exterior cleanup. I often get asked questions from homeoners regarding what products to use on their deck. Here is an excerpt from a recent newsletter.

It may be best to first define some terms used for deck
finishing:

Sealer, Stain and Waterproofer are words you can use
interchangeably and are single products. You don't apply a
stain and then a sealer like you would an interior finish.
These products are available as:

Clear which has no pigmentation and just seals the wood
against moisture. This type of product lets the sun (UV)
turn the deck gray.
Toners which have a very small amount of pigment and offer
minimum UV protection.
Semi-transparent which allows the grain of wood to show
through but has a richer color and better UV protection
Solids which are more like paint hiding all of the wood's
grain. These products also do not penetrate the wood.

There are also classifications of finishes. For simplicity,
they can be narrowed down to two types: film forming and
penetrating. A film forming finish will form a barrier over
the wood. At first, this type of finish offers the best
protection (while it is intact) Unfortunately, outdoor
elements and moisture quickly cause this type of finish to
expand and contract at differing rates than the wood. This
causes the finish to lose it's integrity and quickly break
down into a peeling mess.

Most professionals prefer to use an oil based, penetrating,
semi transparent sealer. These seem to have the best
balance of longevity, durability and ease of maintenance.
From this author's personal experience I stay away from
anything that is not oil based. Water based sealers offer
no conditioning for the wood. (Think of the way an
emollient softens your skin and keeps it moist versus water
that lays on the surface of your skin then evaporates away)
The downsides of course are odor and cleanup.

Another type of sealer is called an acrylic. These types
of products are not friendly for exterior surfaces. They
are film formers so they crack, they peel, they flake, they
cause wood to rot from the inside out, they are very
maintenance intensive and if you ever decide you want to
remove them be prepared to spend a hefty amount. If you
have seen commercials on TV for 5 and 7 year "guaranteed"
sealers, these are acrylics. I watch these commercials and
just shake my head in disbelief. I have NEVER seen a sealer
last for seven years, nor five years for that matter. I
strongly recommend anyone reading this article stay away
from acrylics. You'll thank me in the future.



Where To Buy Quality Products

I would avoid anything you would see at a home store.
Products like Behr and CWF have a host of inherent problems
like cheaper pigmentation and mildewcide. My recommendation
is to go into a paint store like MAB, Sherwin Williams,
Benjamin Moore etc. You will see products made by Cabots',
Sikkens SRD, Deckscapes, and TWP. Follow the manufacturer's
recommendations on temperature, amount of coats etc.


Where To Buy Quality Products

I would avoid anything you would see at a home store.
Products like Behr and CWF have a host of inherent problems
like cheaper pigmentation and mildewcide. My recommendation
is to go into a paint store like MAB, Sherwin Williams,
Benjamin Moore etc. You will see products made by Cabots',
Sikkens SRD, Deckscapes, and TWP. Follow the manufacturer's
recommendations on temperature, amount of coats etc.

Application

Again, first read the manufacturer's directions on
application. Some common methods include brushing, rolling,
spraying or using a stain pad. Your goal should be even
application with attention paid not to leave any puddles or
shiny spots. Oil based penetrating sealers are best applied
heavily, allowed a short time for penetration into the wood
and then brushed out to remove excess. Following the proper
steps for cleaning, pH balancing, and choosing a high
quality sealer will give you longer life without the
inherent problems from mold or finish failure that seem to
plague many homeowners.

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Old 03-15-2007, 10:31 PM   #2
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Understanding Deck Stains and Sealers


Good post.

What about products that advertise a "sunscreen"?

What about oil based stains vs. water stains as far as mold?

Figured as long as you're being generous with info, I'd ask.

thanks

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Old 03-16-2007, 11:42 AM   #3
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Understanding Deck Stains and Sealers


Not a problem, Joe, I'd be happy to answer your questions.

Just like a sunscreen for your skin, a product can offer a deck's surface UV protection from drying out and looking old and gray. The only way for a stain to do what is through pigmentation. The more it has, the better your protection. Of course the more pigmentation a stain has the more it may end up looking very dark or like paint. Its a balancing act. The more "natural" you want your wood to look the more often you are going to have to clean and seal your deck. Clear sealers = no protection.

A quality oil based stain/sealer is always going to be superior. It acts as an emollient for the wood, conditioning it and slowing moisture penetration. The reason I use the word quality is because in order for an oil based stain to last in an exterior enviroment it has to have decent levels of mildewcide. Many of the large big box store products do not contain adequate mildewcide. Thats why I recommend DIY'ers to avoid them like the plague (among other reasons as well)
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Old 03-16-2007, 11:53 PM   #4
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Understanding Deck Stains and Sealers


Thanks for that information.

Couple more questions, if you don't mind.

Does bleaching your deck work as well as a deck cleaner?

Does mildewcide effect pigmented or solids differently than clear oil products?
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Old 03-17-2007, 08:01 PM   #5
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You will find the consensus among professionals split on the use of bleach on wooden decks. Most think its a bad idea. There are still some guys that swear by it. In my opinion, on untreated wood it is not a good idea. It tends to rob the woods natural protective oils. I can always tell a deck that been treated consistently with bleach (sodium hypochlorite) based cleaners. Sodium hypochlorite leaves the wood an unnatural white/silver and usually means you have to use 20% more stain/sealer to replace what is removed. A year ago I saw an electron microscopic scan of two pieces of wood. They were both from the same tre and lot so the variables of species, climate etc were removed. Each of these pieces were cleaned with differing methods. The one cleaned with bleach showed wood fibers in a jumbled mess. Something happened molecularly to the wood. It changed and absorption at the surface (where you get your protection) was affected negatively.

Now on the other hand, if your wood is painted or has intact sealer on the surface (it still repels water) its okay to use a little bleach and a mild detergent like dish soap to clean off surface growth. Keep in mind that bleach is not a cleaner, so it needs some soap aded to it. The wrong kind of soap or too much and you have a rinsing nightmare. Its really best to use an oxygen based wood cleaner and then to pH balance the wood to set it up for sealer.

The majority of deck cleaners you buy in Home Depot or Lowe's are overpriced mixes of bleach and soap. If you are going to go that route, make your own by mixing stroe bleach 50/50 with water and maybe one squeeze of Dawn. Again, I don't recomend you use bleach on untreated wood for the reasons above.

Joe, on the last question. I would venture to say no. I am not a stain manufacturer though I do know a bit about the chemistry. From a user standpoint there is no discernible difference. I'll speak with a coatings chemist and get back to you if I find out differently.
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Old 03-19-2007, 08:49 PM   #6
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Understanding Deck Stains and Sealers


Ken,

I sent an e-mail to you at your site. Your name in the subject line.

Last edited by joewho; 03-19-2007 at 08:57 PM.
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Old 04-26-2007, 07:14 PM   #7
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Understanding Deck Stains and Sealers


Joe, thank you for the compliments and I did recieve your email.

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