(BPT) - Deck season is in full swing, but before you mix that pitcher of lemonade or fire up the grill, you may want to give your deck a much-needed makeover.  

“If you’ve never cleaned and stained your deck before, you probably have lots of questions. But if you take things step by step, you can get a beautiful end result – even on your first try,” says Jeff Wilson, long-time HGTV/diy network host and a “deckspert” for the Thompson’s WaterSeal brand.

Along with checking out web and social media sites for ideas and inspiration, such as the Thompson’s WaterSeal channel on You Tube, Wilson recommends following the ABCs of deck care for a successful project.

A – assess the deck

Take a few minutes to inspect your deck. Is the wood gray, with dirt and mildew stains, or is there an old stain that is worn or peeling? This helps determine the type of cleaner needed, since a stronger cleaner is required to remove an old coating. Even if the wood looks pretty good, splash water on a few boards, and watch to see if it’s rapidly absorbed. That means the wood is not protected from water damage, and it needs to be cleaned and sealed.

Also, examine deck boards to see if any are rotting or badly cracked and need replacing. While you’re walking around the deck, measure the length and width and multiply those two numbers together. That gives the square footage of the deck, which will indicate how many gallons of cleaner and stain to buy. Check the product’s website or packaging for coverage rates.

Finally, Wilson says it’s a good idea to start gathering tools and supplies before heading to the store. You will need drop cloths, a stiff-bristled brush for cleaning and paint pads to apply the stain. “That way you avoid buying a duplicate of something you already have – or perhaps you can borrow from a neighbor.”

B – begin with a cleaning

“I tell people a thorough cleaning is the real secret to a great deck makeover,” says Wilson. “At home, I actually spend more time cleaning my deck than staining it.”

Thoroughly water any plants and landscaping that can’t be moved, and cover with plastic drop cloths. Be sure to read the instructions before using any deck cleaner. Some cleaners can be applied with a pump-up garden sprayer, but a deck stripper should be applied with a watering can. Begin applying cleaner at one end of the deck, and wet the boards thoroughly from top to bottom. Don’t wet the whole deck at once – work on a few boards at a time.

Wait 10-15 minutes after applying the cleaner, then begin lightly scrubbing the boards with a stiff-bristled deck brush. You don’t have to scrub hard, but be thorough. (For railings, you will need a hand-held brush for scrubbing.)

Give the deck several hours to dry, then check it for any missed spots. Repeat the cleaning procedure in small areas if needed. Check the instructions on the deck stain to see how long the wood needs to dry before staining. Again, this will vary based on the formula of the stain you are applying.

C – color and protection

This last step is the most fun of all, adding color and waterproofing protection for the wood. The good news is this can be done in one step. A new line of Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain, available at The Home Depot, delivers color and waterproofing protection in one formula. There are 15 different shades, including transparent stain (adds a hint of color and shows the most wood grain), semi-transparent stain (adds more color and shows medium wood grain) and solid stain (shows the most color and least wood grain).

Before getting started, check the weather forecast for rain. Ideally, rain won’t be expected for 24 hours after staining. If you have railings or benches, stain those first. For the deck boards, Wilson recommends using a paint pad on a long pole to work the stain into the wood without kneeling or bending over. Again, work on a few boards at a time. This helps keep the leading edge of the stain wet, so the color will be even when the stain dries. Check the label directions for drying times, but it is usually a good idea to let the deck dry at least overnight before replacing the furniture.  

Many people ask how long a deck stain will last before it has to be reapplied. Wilson says that the more pigment in a stain, the longer it will last. “So a solid stain lasts longer than a transparent stain, but you give up the natural look of the wood grain,” he says. “It’s really a personal choice about how you want your deck to look. A good rule of thumb is to expect to repeat the cleaning and sealing process every three to five years.”