Peeling Deck

Deck staining and finishing can really add beauty and warmth to your backyard environment. However, if your stain is peeling or bubbling it can make it look run down and distressed.

There are a number of reasons why a deck finish will peel or bubble. The most common cause for a finish to peel is due to moisture that is present in the wood. When you initially purchase wood from a store it contains some moisture in it. Usually wood is kiln dried to remove moisture however most woods (including cedar) have some sort of moisture still present when you purchase it. For that reason you should wait 2-3  weeks after installation to apply a stain to the wood. You also need to make sure that you don’t wait too long to apply a sealer to the wood. Do not wait more than 3 months to apply a sealer to the surface. After 3 months damage will start to occur to the wood surface.

Moisture can also be present because of rain, cleaning with a garden hose, or power washing. You should allow a few days of warm dry weather after a rainfall or hose rinsing before applying a finish. Be aware that when you pressure wash a deck it forces water deep into the wood so it needs longer for the wood to dry out. Usually between 3-5 days of warm dry weather should be adequate.

Moisture can also be present and cause peeling and bubbling because of moisture that can be drawn up through the wood. Most people when sealing a deck apply the sealer to the surface but neglect to apply anything to the bottom side of the deck boards. If the underside of deck board is unprotected it will soak up water. When the sun comes back out it will draw the moisture to the surface of the board. The water will have no place to go due to the fact that you sealed the surface so well. It will then cause bubbling in the surface as it is drawn out of the wood. This occurs most often in decks that are close to the surface of the ground. Often times plastic (which traps the water) is laid down under this style of deck to prevent weeds and other vegetation from growing. If a very damp environment is present on the unprotected underside of a deck it could mean trouble for the finish and for the deck itself. Make sure that you have good water drainage if you have a deck that is built close to the ground (like the picture above). You should also stain the boards tops and bottoms if at all possible.

Another common reason for a deck surface to peel is that it has too much sealer on it. Deck stains penetrate into the wood surface. The wood can only soak up so much stain. Once it has stopped soaking into the surface anything applied thereafter will remain on the surface. If it can’t soak in it won’t adhere properly and will start off as a tacky mess before eventually drying out. After it dries it will peel, crack, bubble and essentially look like a total mess. Make sure to follow the instructions on the can of sealer that you are using. Do not apply too many coats of stain (usually one coat is enough).

Water Test

If you are applying a finish over the top of a previous finish you should first do a water test. A water test involves sprinkling water on the deck surface to see if it soaks it up. If the water beads on the wood surface, your deck will not take a stain. You may have to live with the deck looking the way it does for another season. If you simply can’t wait and need to do something  you can use a deck and finish remover such as Cabots Problem Solver deck finish remover.

Cabot Problem Solver

Another common cause of a finish peeling is improper preparation and application. First you need to make sure the surface of the deck is structurally sound. In other words is it rotten in areas. If you have areas that are rotten you will need to repair or replace them. There is only so much a sealer can do. It won’t hold together a deck that is falling apart. After you inspected and corrected any issues you need to make sure the deck surface is clean. Remember that any mold, dirt, rust, tannin bleeding or other imperfection will show up and potentially compromise your finish. You can’t simply “cover up” these problems, they need to be addressed properly. Use a deck cleaner such as Cabots deck problem solver cleaner and brightener to clean the surface before application.

Make sure you are using the proper stain or sealer for the job. Know what type of effect that you want the sealer to give. If you prefer a solid color or if you are trying to hide what was previously on the deck you may want to go with a solid stain. If you want the beauty of the wood to show you should maybe go with a more transparent stain that allows the grain and natural look of the wood show through. There is more to staining a deck than buying any old stain and slopping it on the surface. Make sure you talk to someone you trust that is going to give the right product for the job and for your budget.

For more info check out this blog on deck maintenance

Check out LeVahn Brothers Hardware and Plumbing for Cabot’s complete line of deck stains as well as deck cleaners and stain removers.

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