I just had a feeling others wanted to know what to do!
Here is what we have done. First, let me give you two scenarios - what to do for a new deck/fencing as opposed to what to do for an older deck/fencing.
It used to be they said to wait for a season to let the wood "dry out." I have not only read that this is no longer necessary (b/c of the way wood is processed) but I have been told this by the lumber guys at Lowe's.
You buy a house w/ a new deck and/or fence. Both can be handled the same way. You have many choices but there after dealing w/ decks for over 35 years, here are the materials we have found work best.
Decide if you want some "color" on your deck or if you just want to protect the wood. I highly recommend some color, as in cedar color or some natural color that enhances and brightens the wood. If you want to enhance the color a bit (wh/ really is nice as the boards age) select something like a cedar color. Get a semi-transparent penetrating stain
. You do not want to get into PAINT or anything that will look like paint. There are many companies out there, but you can go to a big box store like Lowes- and get Cabot's, for example. Just make sure it is semi-transparent penetrating stain. If the label does not say this, get help. Do not get misled and buy the wrong thing!!!!
You can get a sprayer and spray it on, but you will want to use a brush to make sure you have gotten in between boards. We wash off the deck/fencing w/ water first. You will not need to powerwash for a new deck/fence. Touch up w/ a brush as needed in between boards. You may not have much touch up to do.
If you want to do a protective finish only (no pigment of color) just buy Thompson's - this will put a layer of protective finish that penetrates into your boards.
So that is your method for NEW decks/fences. You will need to put the stain on again every two or three years, depending on where you live, what kind of extreme weather, etc. You will want to powerwash everything b/f you re-stain or put on Thompson's.
For older decks/fencing . . . and anything that has started to get grey looking
Either buy or rent a powerwasher (we own one). This can be a fun project so don't dread it, LOL. It is actually rather relaxing to blast away at your boards, Hee Hee. It is not necessary you hire someone to do this, unless you have the $$ and you don't have the time.
Powerwash your deck and fence. Wait a day or two to let it dry out (check your weather ahead if possible). Then do same as the procedure above. Choose what you will want to maintain your deck - either a semi-transparent penetrating stain (wh/ I especially recommend for older decks to perk up the natural color of the wood - and I like the CEDAR color) or use Thompson's deck sealant (wh/ has no color pigment). You will want to spray it on and then touch up in between boards.
This does take time! However, we have found that it can be a very rewarding project. Using the powerwasher is not that strenuous. If you have mold, mildew or even moss - the power washer will take it off.
If you need to break this process up over several days (or two weekends) that is fine! Even if you power wash and then can't come back and stain for two weeks - don't worry about it. It will be fine. Don't look at this as an impossible task. If you have a large fence to do - just do it in sections. Don't get overwhelmed. The wood will be fine sitting there til you stain it all. We are in the process of doing a very large (tall) privacy fence that hides our outdoor spa. DH powerwashed it one weekend . . . then during the week - has attacked some spraying/brush painting . . . and so far . . . this has strung out over 3 weeks. He will finish it this weekend.
Here are some tips of things to do to prep your deck/fenching b/f you start on this project. Check all boards to make sure nothing is warped. You may need to pull out and replace any boards on a really old deck. If you replace boards, use deck screws rather than nails. If you ever specify a deck to be built, specify stainless screws rather than nails.
If your current deck has nails, go over all areas of the deck and knock down any nail pops (well, that is my term - may have made it up!!!) Get all nails flush b/f you start. Check all handrails and stairs and do that same thing. Add any screws that might be needed. Use a hand sander (electric if possible) to sand any rough edges.
Same for fencing. Carefully check stability and address any issues. Spray hinges on gates that may attach to your fencing (WD-40). I take a hand sander (electric) and sand off any rough spots on gates. If you have rotten boards, pry them out and replace. You can get Lowe's to custom cut them to size b/f you leave the store! So if you don't have the equipment to cut things - just have them cut! If the boards have a "design" on the end, consider buying a length of fence and tear it apart and use the individual boards to match up w/ any that are rotten in your fence. Or you can replace a whole section of fence. Most common styles are available at Lowes (and probably other suppliers) If you have a rotten post, well that is a bigger job, wh/ requires a lot more work. You will need to get some professional advice about tearing that out and re-inserting a post (you will have to cement it in, etc. and I have helped but am no expert).
So that is how to keep your fencing and decking looking great year after year.
You may be surprised how your neighbors come and ask you - what did you do and how do I do it???? I think homeowners just don't know what is involved and how easy it really is to keep that deck and fence looking great!!!
Maybe others will post their methods. These are just my methods that I have devised over decades of home ownership. We have built new decks as well as inherited some really awful decks!!! We thought one was so ugly it had to be removed (but it was stable) so we powerwashed and it was like a miracle - the wood turned out to be beautiful. We did some hand sanding (w/ electric sander, of course) then stained it and wow - a beautiful new looking deck. In a case of an old deck, I would ALWAYS choose a semi-transparent penetrating stain to take the color up a level.
Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you put paint on your deck and fencing! Do not listen to anyone on this!!! You will live to regret it as it does peel over time!!! If you want color (and I have even done a dark grey before) stick to the semi-tranparent penetrating stains. Go to Benjamin Moore's if you are not sure what to do - and get the best advice on what to use if you want to add a color.
If you have painted "white picket fence" then that is a wholly different discussion and you need to seek out the best advice on how to care for and rejuvenate this type of look.