Is it Better to Sand or Pressure Wash a Deck?


Pressure washers offer a quick and efficient way for you to clean grime off outdoor surfaces much more easily than with a hose and water. However, because of the pressure that most pressure washers will need to get the job done, they are not always the optimal solution for your needs.

If you have a deck that you need to clean off, refinish, or stain, you may not know whether to carefully sand the deck down or to use a pressure washer to get all of the grime off.

When is it better to sand and when is it better to pressure wash a deck

The truth is that whether or not sanding or pressure washing a deck is best for you will depend on the situation at hand. Generally, though, sanding and pressure washing a deck will follow each other hand-in-hand.

The Connection Between Sanding and Pressure Washing a Deck

There are very few situations where you will sand a deck and then not worry about pressure washing it, and likewise, there are few situations where you will pressure wash a deck and not worry about sanding it down. More often than not, the question of the matter is simply a question of which comes first.

When sanding down a deck first, you can remove problematic bits of wood, such as rough wood, splintered wood, or cracked wood to open up more of the surface to the stain that you might be reapplying. On the other hand, pressure washing a deck will get rid of grime and gunk that will be covering the deck, preventing you from fully exposing the wood to the stain that you are applying. Because of this, the method that you will be using first to prepare your deck is going to be situation-dependent.

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Checking the Condition of the Deck

To determine whether you are sanding a deck first or pressure washing it, you are going to want to get a good idea of what the condition of the deck is. First things first, you are going to want to take a long, hard look at the wood to see its quality and condition. This will be the first way to get a good idea of what you are going to need to do to your deck.

If the wood of the deck is in poor condition and it is splintered, cracking, or is roughed out, you are going to want to sand down the surface of the deck first. This will help smooth out the imperfections and it will also open up more of the deck for the staining process that will follow after the pressure washing.

If the deck is covered in mold, moss, algae, or any other organic life that is filling up deep grooves of the wood, you are going to need to treat that part of the deck before you even wash or sand it. A stiff plastic bristle brush used in the direction of the grooves and grain of the wood will get the job done easily enough.

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If your deck is in decent condition and doesn’t have any notable features that need to be tended to first, then you are going to want to pressure wash the deck first. Pressure washing the deck will allow the fibers of the wood to soak up the water, swelling up so that they will be much easier to sand down when it is time to sand the deck. This will allow for a smoother and better sanded surface, and it will ensure that all the wood underneath the deck is going to be clean and perfect for refinishing.

Working with the Type of Wood

The type of wood that your deck was built from is also going to make a massive difference. Some types of wood are inherently softer than others, meaning that you are going to have to be cautious with both sanding and pressure washing the deck. Some types of wood will even warrant some of the lowest pressure settings.

Typically, cedar is going to be the wood that you have to be the most cautious about. Cedar is a soft wood, which means that being overzealous with sanding the deck can lead to problems and marks on the surface. Cedar also has a tendency to become fuzzy during pressure washing, meaning that you will want to use one of the lower pressure settings that you have when it does come time to wash it.

If your deck is made from pressure-treated wood, you may have to skip pressure washing entirely. Some types of pressure treatments may have arsenic in them, which means that when you take out the pressure washer, it will release that arsenic into that water, contaminating anything and everything that water touches. This also means that sanding is dangerous, and you will have to take special care during the sanding process.

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More Sand vs. Pressure washing questions

Should You Do Both?

It is almost always recommended that you both pressure wash and sand down a deck before you refinish it. There are only very few kinds of wood that you should not do both to, and usually, this will be pressure treated wood due to the arsenic content.

Which Comes First on a Standard Deck?

On a standard deck that doesn’t have any abnormalities to it, you should typically pressure wash the deck, assuming that the type of wood the deck is built from is compatible with the pressure washing process. Once that has been done, you can sand down the swollen wood so that you have a smoother result.

Which One Is Best?

If you can only choose one option when deciding to refinish or stain your deck, you should opt to pressure wash the deck. Pressure washers are faster, more efficient, and they can clean off the surface of the deck much better than a sander can. It is still recommended to do both.

Is it better to sand or pressure wash deck?

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