Top Fall Tasks to Winterize Your Deck

These 7 winterization tasks keep your deck looking great and can prevent expensive repairs down the road.

As deck season draws to a close, it’s time to prep your deck for winter, just as you do your yard and garden. Here are some key steps you can take to help your deck withstand winter’s harsh conditions and emerge in the spring ready for yet another season of backyard fun.

Inspect and Repair

Check for any problems and evaluate whether repairs are necessary. Fixing small damaged areas now prevents them from turning into larger, more expensive repairs.

“If your deck is only damaged in a few spots, you can simply sand down and paint or stain those specific areas,” says Kevin Busch, vice president of operations at Mr. Handyman. “If the majority of the deck is damaged, it may be time to strip off the current finish and reapply a new coat.”

In particular, watch for signs of pest damage, as termites, ants, mice and rats can eventually chew through your wood.

“Don’t forget to check your deck skirting for pests access points and fortify them against further infiltrations,” says Issabele Williams, who leads home renovations for Fantastic Handyman.

Tighten Screws

Winter’s constant moisture, freezing and thawing erodes and loosens loose or cracked deck parts, Busch says. Take time to identify those wiggly boards and features, then tighten their screws. Such a simple act that really can help your deck better withstand harsh winter winds!

Remove Leaves and Debris

Give the deck a final and thorough sweep with a stiff broom to dislodge accumulated leaves and eliminate any build up between the deck boards.

“Clearing gaps will allow air to pass and help keep your decking system dry and free of fall foliage, which can retain moisture and begin to decompose if left alone,” says Toby Bostwick of Fortress Building Products, which produces decking materials.

Remove Furniture and Planters

Getting both off your deck and stored out of the harsh weather will help keep them in good condition and prevent them from damaging your deck, too.

Planters made from wood, ceramic or terra cotta, for example, can collect moisture and cause deck mildew, decay or discoloration. Leaving furniture outside during the winter with the added weight of snow on top of it will cause unnecessary stress on your deck, while also making snow removal more of a challenge.

Clean Your Deck

Cleaning the deck and removing stains or mildew now will help the finish last longer while helping maintain the wood quality. If you clean it sufficiently and it’s properly stained to seal out moisture, you won’t have to do this task in the spring.

Williams says any bleach-free wood cleaner will do. Scrub gently, removing any mold, mildew or spills. Take care to not scrub so aggressively that you peel away the protective stain.

Also, don’t forget to clean the deck railings. That’s a mistake many people make, according to Brad Adsit, director of product development at Feeney, Inc. Any mildew or mold on the rails can spread to your deck if you don’t remove it.

Re-stain Your Deck

Sure, people tend to save this task for spring. But Busch argues that the best time is actually right before winter, when there’s a lower chance of rain. Plus, that fresh protective stain will then repel moisture, protecting your deck against snow, ice and sleet all winter long.

Start by pressure washing your deck, which is faster and more thorough than cleaning it by hand. Give it a couple of days to dry before applying your sealant or stain. When you do, pick a day that’s cool, but not excessively cold. Busch says that below 90 degrees F but above 50 F will yield the best results.

Invest In Ice Melt and a Plastic Shovel

Routinely remove snow and ice from your deck, just as you would your driveway, to prevent slipperiness and make it easier to get in and out of your home. Always use a plastic shovel or snow blower to avoid scratching your deck.

Skip deicing salt, which erodes your deck’s coating, says Dani Neumann, product manager at Thompson’s WaterSeal. Avoid ice melts with added color and sand, too, especially on composite decking, which can act like sandpaper.

Although there isn’t a 100 percent safe ice-melt option for decks, Bostwick says that many wood and composite deck owners go with calcium chloride. Note that it may leave behind a white residue, which should easily come off with warm soapy water and a soft non-metal brush or hard-bristled broom in the spring.

Your best bet may be to check with your deck-surface manufacturer to see what ice-melt method they recommend.

Mark Soto
Mark Soto is a freelance writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has comprehensive knowledge of home improvement projects based on his previous work. Mark comes from a family of DIYers and has worked with landscapers, plumbers, painters and other contractors. He also writes about camping and his enthusiasm for the outdoors.