How to Choose a Deck Coating Product

Deck Coating Products 101

“The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.”

It’s an old adage, but it rings true with a lot of products – deck coating products and systems are no exception. While decks are designed to be long-term investments that can span decades, in order to avoid premature repair or replacement, there’s a fair amount of tender, love and care that needs to be put into them. Failure to administer coatings and/or finishes every so often is likely to result in dry rot, mold and mildew growth, splintering, leaks or water damage and an altered looking finish – just to name a few. This is largely because any deck comes into contact with three key foes – sunlight, rain and impact from use – and all of them can take their toll over time. Hence, it’s important to know your deck coating product and system options, what they’re intended to do and how often to use them to keep your deck looking great for longer.

Deck Coating Products and Systems

First and foremost, it’s important to take the surface type (i.e., wood, standard plywood, concrete, etc.) and primary usage (i.e. walkway, roof, etc.) into consideration when determining what type of deck coating product to use. When it comes to deck coatings, there are three main types: professional multi-layer systems, pigmented and clear. Sealant coatings basically work to provide simple protection of the deck, and administering the product correctly will essentially seal it off from water and moisture that have the potential to cause damage that may eventually require you to replace the deck. Multi-layer systems provide more comprehensive protection but will require professional installation.

Multi-layer Deck Coating Product Over Plywood: Deck Flex WM Waterproofing System

  • Multi-layer deck waterproofing systems: If a deck needs to be completely waterproof because it is above a living area or requires a fire rating because it is a roof deck, consider using a professional deck waterproofing system that meets local building codes. These types of systems are typically used over plywood or concrete surfaces and have several layers to maximize protection without compromising design aesthetics. Both commercial and residential walkways typically use this type of comprehensive deck system over standard plywood. Unlike a basic coating, these deck systems provide long-lasting protection that will stand the test of time but require professional applicators with experience. Our Deck Flex WM Waterproofing System is an example of a multi-layer industry evaluated deck system designed for plywood surfaces.
  • Clear: As the name implies, these types of deck sealant coatings allow the natural color of the wood or surface to show through. Clear sealers typically need to be administered every 12 to 18 months or more often, however, as they don’t safeguard the deck from sun as well as other deck coating products or systems can. What they lack in UV protection, they make up for in preventing premature surface damage. These types of clear sealers can work for both traditional wood decks and concrete surfaces. For concrete surfaces, it’s best to consider using a penetrating clear sealer. Depending on the surface, clear sealers can increase slipperiness and should be combined with a non-skid broadcast when necessary.
  • Pigmented: Unlike clear sealant coatings, pigmented sealant, or finishers, alters the color of the wood deck – so it’s important to find a good match for your wood deck. These types of coatings – or deck paints – also do a better job of safeguarding the material from the sun, and typically only need to be applied every two to three years. One drawback is that applying an uneven coating will show, so it’s important to apply these products uniformly. Also, these coatings do not provide reliable waterproofing or fire protection. It is possible to combine a pigment coating layer with a clear sealer layer to get longer-lasting protection. Using low-quality products or applying coatings to surfaces that are not properly prepared can result in chipping or peeling. The best deck paints are easy to work with but not watered down.

Though we’ve mentioned wood as the deck material in the above descriptions, it’s important to note that waterproof sealers are also available for decks made of concrete and other materials as well. In fact, some types of sealers are all-purpose, meaning they can be applied on deck surfaces made from any type of material (i.e., wood, concrete, synthetic wood, etc.)

Aside from sealants and finishes, there are various other products that you should be aware of when it comes to protecting your deck from the elements and ensuring it still looks great. These include:

  • Power washers: A good power washer is essential to preparing a deck surface. Without proper preparation, no coating or system will adhere to a poorly prepared surface. Warning: older surfaces may have lead paint, be careful before scraping, stripping or removing lead paint.  If you scrape, sand or remove old paint, you may release lead dust. Lead is toxic. Exposure to lead or lead dust can cause serious illness. Stripping the deck of existing product is often a prerequisite when it comes to refinishing or resealing a deck. Strippers work quickly – some in just minutes – and all you need to do is grab a hose or power washer to remove the residue from the deck surface after the product has done its work. Following the stripping step, then you can begin to apply the sealant or finishing coating. Due to regulatory constraints, some products are not available. Always check with local laws when using specific products.
  • Multi-layer deck systems: Offering all the benefits of traditional deck coating products, these professional systems also work to hide plywood seams, offer impact resistance for high-traffic areas, increase fire resistance and improve aesthetics by hiding plywood seams. What’s more is that they’re designed to be fire classified and thereby applicable for roof decks and other types of decks that are required to have a fire classification of either Class A or Class B. This is a more advanced type of coating that offers many of the benefits (i.e. fire resistance and enhanced impact resistance) that aren’t found in the other types of basic coatings on this list.
  • Restorative Coatings: Wood and concrete decks are not unlike wooden interior floors in that every so often, decks need to be refinished to continue to look great and stay protected. But when it comes to interior wood floors, it’s common to have to strip the floor and then sand it down ever so slightly to remove any nicks, dents or scratches. That’s not necessarily the case when it comes to outdoor decks. In fact, some restorative coatings work as deck waterproofing systems of sorts while eliminating the need for this altogether. Instead, many work as a top coat to refinish the wood and also seal the deck from the elements of Mother Nature. Think of these products as sort of an all-in-one solution, one that restores the wood color and also seals out moisture. These types of coatings are available online at our best deck paint website.
  • Primers: A good primer coating takes the hassle of deck preparation out of the equation. In fact, primers often eliminate the need for deck stripping prior to resurfacing, finishing or sealing. Primers essentially pave the way for any top coat of color for the deck itself. Many will also take care of any cracks and splinters by filling them or locking them into place to permit a more comfortable and visually pleasing end result.

Like we said in the beginning, any long-lasting deck is going to need its fair share of upkeep over time. And the good news is that these various types of coatings are affordable and easy to administer – just be sure to adhere to the manufacturer instructions listed on the product label that you’re using. It’s also important to note how widely available and how many different companies create such products, which makes it ever more important to select a credible brand on your next deck project.