Among the long list of exterior products promoted as “maintenance free” is composite decking. Typically made of plastic and wood fibers, these materials are tough, durable, and increasingly popular.
Manufacturers say the color of composite decking is permanent, although they admit it will fade. But what if you want to change the color completely, or simply freshen the appearance of your deck? It’s possible to do so, but you have to go about the job in the right way.
Assuming that your composite deck has been around for a while, it likely has mildew on it (the organic matter in the wood fiber serves as nutrients for mildew). This must be removed before any type of coating is applied.
Make a solution of one part bleach to three parts water and apply it liberally to the surface of the deck, as well as to any steps, railing or benches that are part of it. Wait 20 minutes, then scrub the surface with a long-handled brush. Rinse off the solution and any mildew residue.
Next, remove the gloss on the composite by lightly sanding all the surfaces with very fine #220 sandpaper. If the deck material is textured, sand in the same direction as the wood grain, not across it.
Remove dirt and dust from all the surfaces by washing them with a household detergent solution or a commercial cleaner made for this purpose. Again, rinse thoroughly.
If you intend to paint your composite deck, first prime it with a quality exterior latex stain-blocking primer recommended for use on plastic materials. You should not prime if you intend to apply a deck stain.
Complete the job by applying a top quality latex floor and deck paint in a satin or semi-gloss finish (higher gloss levels have better mildew resistance and are easier to clean). If you didn’t prime the surfaces, you can apply a quality acrylic latex solid color deck stain recommended for use on composite decking.
One thing to know before charging ahead with this project: Once composite decking is painted, or coated with a solid color stain, you will probably have to repeat this process every three to five years. Because of its face-up exposure, decks take a beating both from elements and from abrasive foot traffic, so even the highest quality paints and stains will eventually succumb to the punishment.
Another thing to keep in mind: When you reapply paint or stain in the future, make sure that you continue to use a top quality exterior latex coating. If you were to apply an oil-based product over a latex coating, you run the risk that the oil coating will quickly develop cracks that could ruin the appearance of the deck.
Follow these instructions and your tired-looking composite deck will get a second life in the color of your choice!