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While you should already be thinking about maintenance you need to do around your home’s exterior to prepare for winter, don’t forget that four-letter word in your backyard: the “deck.”

It wasn’t long ago you were preparing your deck for the start of the summer outdoor entertainment season. But now that summer is winding down, turn your attention to preparing your deck to endure the winter and make next spring’s maintenance easier.

By this time of year, most decks have accumulated dirt, grease stains from grilling, water spots, leaf stains, mold or mildew. That’s why you should give it a good cleaning before the weather turns cold. First, use your leaf blower to blow off any loose dirt to get it ready for cleaning, and make sure the space between deck boards is free of debris, because this will help the drainage of the snow melt next spring.

Then remove all the planters and deck furniture before winter to prevent rust or mold from forming, which will require you to do more work on it next spring. For those pesky leaves, seed and spinners that land between the deck boards and won’t blow away, there’s a tool for that! A Deck Groove and Crevice Cleaner Tool is available online at Brookstone, brookstone.com, and other gardening related sites. Just place the steel hook between the planks and pull out any debris.

Now you are ready to start cleaning. But leave the power washer in the garage when you are cleaning it. Instead, to clean a wood deck, use products like Wolman DeckBrite, rustoleum.com, or SuperDeck Exterior Wood Cleaner, superdeck.com, or Benjamin Moore’s Clean, benjaminmoore.com. If you are looking for one cleaning product that works on a variety of outdoor surfaces, including wood decks, try 30 Seconds Outdoor Cleaner, 30seconds.net.

For a composite or PVC, use a soft bristled brush and a mild cleaner like KrudKutter, krudkutter.com, Simple Green, simplegreen.com, or SuperDeck Wood and Composite Deck Cleaner, superdeck.com, and rinse with the garden hose.

This time of year you can even consider staining and sealing your deck as long as the weather cooperates. And doing it now will help it withstand the harsh winter weather and be ready for the spring deck season.

If it has been a few years since you stained the deck, you might need to strip it and re-stain it. Behr’s Premium Stain and Finish Stripper No. 64, behr.com; Cabot Problem-Solver Wood Stripper, cabotstain.com, are good products to use for stripping your deck.

Once you have stripped off the old stain, you have a lot of choices, including stains from Benjamin Moore, Behr, Cabot, Penofin, penofin.com, or Sikkens, sikkens.com. If you are looking to refurbish an older deck, consider Rustoleum’s Deck and Concrete Restore 4X or 10X, rustoleum.com and Behr Premium Deckover.

If your composite deck is older, another summer of hot sun beating on it may have contributed to the color fading. You can stain a composite deck to bring the color back to life with Penofin’s Knotwood Oil Finish, penofin.com, Sherwin Williams Deckscapes, sherwinwilliams.com, or Behr’s Premium Solid Color Wood Stain.

In addition to cleaning and staining your deck before winter, you also need to inspect your deck boards to determine if there are any loose, warped or rotted ones, and repair or replace them now. You should also check to make sure your railings are stable and re-fasten any loose ones before someone leans on it and falls.

Next, take care of any nails that have popped up through your deck boards. While this type of maintenance will be a benefit next spring, it can also be important if you have a grill on the deck and use it all winter, because navigating a snowy deck is dangerous enough without worrying about tripping on a loose board or nail.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.

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