Does your dirty gray outdoor teak furniture look like it should go in the fire pit, not around it? How about your dull, weathered teak boat deck – does it look like it belongs on The Flying Dutchman? Or make you want to walk the deck, swearing at the wind because you don’t know how to bring your teak back from the brink?
Well you can stop swearing and start scrubbing because teak wood care is easy with the right products and a little elbow grease.
In this post, we’ll show you how to make your teak go from gray, stained, moldy, slimy, mildewy, and dingy to golden, bright, and beautiful in a few easy steps that include cleaning, brightening, and finishing (or leaving bare). Finishing can include applying some type of teak wood oil, teak sealer, varnish, or synthetic finish, depending on the look you want.
How to Clean and Brighten Teak Wood Without Damaging It
For fast, easy, amazing results, use a 2-part teak cleaner that’s safe for use on teak wood. This type of product includes a cleaner (Part A) and a brightener (Part B). The cleaner component removes dirt, grime, grease, and stains, while the brightener neutralizes the cleaner and returns teak to its natural golden tone.
Before you start cleaning your teak, put on some disposable gloves and wear protection for your face, eyes and skin. You’ll also want to protect any surrounding surfaces that might be damaged by the teak cleaner by masking or removing any painted parts or aluminum parts that are on or near the teak.
Step 1: How to Clean Teak Wood
Start by soaking the teak with fresh water.
Use a sponge to apply Part A, then use a soft bristle brush or a Scotch-Brite® pad to scrub lightly across the grain – not with the grain. If you scrub with the grain, you’re pushing the dirt and grime down deeper, and you can actually do damage because you’re removing more of the wood grain.
As you scrub, you’ll notice the froth turning a dark brown color as the dirt and grime comes out. Rinse the surface with fresh water.
It’s a good idea to scrub while rinsing because, in most cases, just rinsing won’t remove the dirt and the teak cleaner. Before applying Part B (brightener), rinse the surface and the scrub brush thoroughly.
Step 2: How to Brighten Teak Wood
Use a soft bristle brush to apply Part B, and scrub lightly across the grain. As you scrub, you’ll notice the teak begin to lighten in color.
Rinse thoroughly with fresh water to remove all residue from Part B. Remember to scrub while rinsing to help remove the brightener completely.
Here’s a little teak table top that was dirty and stained – see how different it looks after cleaning!
After cleaning your teak, always wait at least a few days for the teak to dry completely to a light, golden color.
You may notice that as the water evaporates, the wood grain gets raised a little. You’ll want to sand lightly – in the direction of the wood grain – until the surface is smooth, before applying a teak treatment.
How to Protect Teak Wood from Sun, Salt, Mold, Mildew, Dirt and Stains
So what do you do now that your teak is bright and beautiful again? You can either leave it as is, or apply some type of teak oil, teak sealer, varnish, or synthetic wood finish product. The choice is yours.
Certain teak items like boat swim platforms don’t really need to be coated with anything because they spend most of their time under water, though an application of teak oil will offer a degree of protection.
The important thing to note here is that some finishes will last longer, require less maintenance, and provide better protection than others. One thing’s for sure, if you do nothing, the teak will become silvery gray and weathered a lot sooner.
Teak Wood Oil
What is teak oil, anyway? It’s a blend of oils and solvents designed to replenish teak’s natural oils. A teak oil finish prevents wood from drying out, restores its original color, and provides an attractive matte finish.
Teak Wood Sealer
Teak sealer is used to seal in teak’s natural oils, prevent wood from drying out, and preserve the beguiling golden hue associated with teak. In addition to sealing in the natural oils, teak sealer also helps to repel dirt and stains, and prevent mold and mildew
When to Use Teak Oil or Teak Sealer
We recommend using marine teak oil for initial rejuvenation and maintenance coats. If the teak wood is not in great condition and needs better oil penetration initially, and some degree of mildew protection, apply teak sealer. Later on, you can use teak oil for maintenance coats. It’s not necessary to apply teak oil then follow with an application of teak sealer.
Advantages of Using Teak Oil and Teak Sealer
- Creates the most natural-looking results
- Fast and easy to apply
- Relatively inexpensive compared to varnish
- These finishes do not become slippery when wet, so they are ideal to use on teak swim platforms, teak decking, teak handrails
The downside of teak oils and teak sealers is that they require regular maintenance. And compared to varnish and synthetic wood finishes, teak oils and sealers don’t last as long, or provide as much protection from the elements. Maintenance coats are a must, and depending on sun exposure, climate, and the condition of the wood, you may need to apply maintenance coats monthly, twice a year, or annually.
Another type of natural finish for teak that’s worth mentioning is tung oil. It adds waterproofing properties, creates a low-sheen, hand-rubbed finish that won’t mildew or turn yellow, and it protects against staining. Here’s more information about the differences between teak oil vs. tung oil.
Synthetic Marine Wood Finish
For a finish that offers beauty, UV protection and moisture resistance similar to varnish, but is less expensive and easier to apply, try a synthetic marine wood finish. These products form a protective coating and come in a variety of finishes, including a natural teak wood finish, a gloss finish, and a satin finish.
Advantages of Using a Synthetic Marine Wood Finish on Teak Wood
- Faster and easier to apply, and more affordable than varnish
- Forms a protective coating and has UV protection similar to varnish
- Easier to repair than varnish
- More durable than teak oil and teak sealer
- Maintenance coats are applied annually – much less frequently than teak oil or teak sealer
- Not just for boats, synthetic wood finish products are great for outdoor teak furniture
Synthetic wood finishes look great on all types of wood, not just teak. Here’s an example of how beautiful TotalBoat Marine Wood Finish looks on a refinished porch floor.
There’s nothing quite like varnish to highlight the wood grain, protect against UV and moisture damage, and maintain the natural golden color of teak wood. But that beauty and protection take more time, effort, and money than teak oil, teak sealer, or synthetic wood finishes.
Varnish protects by forming a coating over the teak that shields it from the elements. This coating leaves a durable finish that comes in a variety of options, including high gloss varnish, rubbed effect varnish, matte varnish, and satin varnish.
Some traditional varnish products require thinning the initial coats, sanding between coats and applying multiple coats, while more modern varnish products feature rapid recoating, no sanding between coats, and up to 5 coats in 1 day! There are also water-based varnish products that dry fast to a durable finish, have no harsh odors, and are easy to clean up with soap and water.
Advantages of Using Varnish on Teak Wood
- Best at showcasing the wood grain
- Achieves distinctness of image (DOI), or gloss
- Helps restore and retain teak’s natural color and beauty
- Provides the best UV protection and moisture resistance
- Offers exceptional resistance to stains, oils, grease, and dirt
To read more about sealing teak and other woods with varnish, teak oil, teak sealer, and marine wood finish products, take a look at our TotalBoat Varnishing How To Guide. If you have any questions about teak care or teak finishing, please call our Tech Support Team at (800) 497-0010.