Teak Treatment & Care

Even though it is durable you must still provide treatment and care for Teak Wood in order to protect it from the elements. When left untreated, teak wood will eventually weather to a grayish-silver patina that some Teak Wood lovers find unique and attractive. This aging process is purely cosmetic and does not affect the strength or quality of the teak wood. Some people buy Teak Wood with the intention of letting it weather. Other Teak Wood enthusiasts would rather it to maintain the rich golden color that teak wood holds when it is freshly milled.

Teak wood has a natural resistance to mold, rot, and decay; however it is not completely impervious. Teak wood is naturally highly resistant due to its high oil content also known as silica. Occasionally mildew can develop on surfaces if you do not show proper treatment or care for Teak Wood.  This mildew that grows on the Teak wood can cause discoloring to both treated finishes and naturally weathered Teak wood.

If mildew is apparent then immediate treatment and care for Teak Wood will be required. Washing your Teak wood thoroughly with a mixture of mild soap, water, and a little bit of bleach or vinegar with a nylon scrub brush resolve the problem. Many manufacturers of Teak wood products frown upon the use of  any type of metal brush because it may scratch the Teak wood surface. Special cleaners are available which  provide a more rigorous cleaning, treatment and care for Teak Wood. Remember to carefully read and follow the instructions included with the Teak wood cleaner before application.

The frequency of your treatment and care for Teak Wood all depends on the environment your Teak wood is exposed to. For instance, Teak wood used in marine applications will more than likely require more frequent cleaning versus an Teak outdoor patio set. Indoor Teak wood pieces will require far less treatment and care. No matter how neglected your Teak wood maybe, we strongly recommend not using pressure washers, wire brushes, or steel wool to show your Teak wood treatment and care; these will damage the wood.

Cleaning Teak

Treatment and care for Teak Wood starting with keeping it clean! Teak can be cleaned using either store-bought or homemade cleaners. Strong chemical cleaners can literally dissolve teak, so always start off  with a more mild solution. If you decide you need something a bit stronger to get the job done, make sure the chemicals are safe for use on teak. If the teak has been previously coated with a sealer or varnish, that must be completely removed with the use of a wood-stripper or sander before cleaning.

Quick Tip: Perform a regular quick-clean using just water and a soft scrub brush – this will help prevent stains and discoloration.

Three common and easy to make homemade cleaning solutions are:

  • 1 cup each of ammonia and laundry detergent (without bleach) in 1 gallon of warm water
  • 1 cup each of chlorine bleach and laundry detergent in 1 gallon of warm water
  • 1 cup of vinegar to one gallon of warm water

Whichever mixture you choose, DO NOT combine them, and NEVER combine ammonia and chlorine, as the combination creates an extremely toxic gas.

Apply the mixture by gently scrubbing into the wood using a nylon scrub brush. Allow the cleaning mixture to soak on the teak for about 15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Some find it easiest to do everything outside, due to the involved and often-messy nature of cleaning teak – taking the items outdoors prevents any drips or spills from damaging the flooring in the home. If you clean indoors, be sure to protect yourself from potentially hazardous fumes by making sure the cleaning area is well ventilated: open doors, windows, and use a fan if available. And, as always when working with chemicals (even vinegar due to its acidity), wear rubber gloves and protective eyewear.

The above cleaning mixtures work well on most household teak items; particularly those that have been somewhat protected from the elements, and need only a mild cleaning. If your teak has been left to the elements for quite a while, or if you live in an area where the air is more corrosive (heavily polluted areas, coastal locations) then you may need a more aggressive cleaning system. Beware: most wood cleaners are highly caustic and should only be used when everything else has failed. Many of these cleaners can damage surrounding surfaces.

Quick Tip: When cleaning teak doors or other upright surfaces, start from the bottom and move upwards to keep drips from staining uncleaned sections.

Beyond cleaning, there are three different methods to treat your teak items: oil, sealant or varnish.

Sealing Teak

Treatment and care for Teak wood doesn’t mean you only have to oil it! Unlike oil, a sealer does not penetrate the wood, but forms a protective layer on its surface. If you’re restoring teak from an exposed and weathered state, then some of the oils and resins have  already been lost. In this particular case the teak should be cleaned and oiled two weeks prior to applying the sealer. This will restore the oils in the wood.

About two weeks after that initial cleaning and oiling, give the wood another gentle wash. There is no need to use harsh chemicals this time around. Just mild soap and water will do for this step. Once washed, let the Teak item dry thoroughly. In order to be effective the wood sealer must be applied to an oil or moisture free surface. Using a rag soaked in acetone will help surface oil, moisture or dust. The acetone will dry quickly and sub-surface oil will not be affected. You can use a brush to apply sealers just as you did when oiling. Apply a moderate amount of sealer until the teak’s surface has a uniform matte finish. Wipe away any excess with a clean rag.

To maintain this finish, wash the teak and re-apply as needed. Frequency of this particular type of treatment and care for Teak Wood will depend on use, exposure and the environment of the product. It may take 6-9 before any treatment or care for teak wood is needed when the item is stored indoors. Outdoor teak products may require treatment and care every 2-3 months.

Varnishing Teak

Go the extra mile when providing treatment and care for teak wood. Varnish is long-lasting and highly durable finish primarily used in marine applications where teak must endure extreme conditions. Salt water constant exposure to sunlight and other elements forces people to give more treatment and care for teak wood.  Varnishing is extensive and a very time-consuming task that should not be rushed if you want the finish to  look good and last. Before varnishing teak make sure to clean thoroughly using the method you prefer. If the teak is new, try using fine grit sand paper to rough up the surface a bit. This roughness your create will help the varnish grip and adhere to the teak wood.  Use a clean rag to wipe away any wood dust. Once that is done, wipe the item over with another rag soaked in acetone or denatured alcohol to remove surface oils.

Quick Tip: Some find it useful to sprinkle the floor with water or wet sawdust to control the dust from sanding.

If the Teak has been left to weather it can be re-varnished following the same steps as above. However sanding vigorously will be necessary. Make sure to stop when you begin to see the golden-brown teak showing through.  There are specialized teak cleaners that will essentially strip away the grayed surface layer. These cleaners usually include a wood brightener that will lighten the color.

If you’re refinishing teak that has already been varnished or sealed, then it will require more sanding before you can apply new varnish. The age of the original varnish and the number of layers present will determine how aggressive the sanding needs to be. Start sanding with 80 to 150 grit sandpaper and work up to 220 or 320 grit.

Take in to account the atmospheric temperature and humidity before you begin varnishing. Wood tends to expand when hot and contracts when cold. It may also expand if there’s high humidity, since wood can absorb moisture. The wood and the varnish should be “room temperature”, which is between 70-80 degrees. Hot, humid days and cold, foggy days are not good days for applying varnish.

The working area should be well ventilated. In addition to your health and safety varnish requires a good supply of oxygen. Varnish dries (cures) through the evaporation of volatile chemical ingredients, and by taking in oxygen from the air. If you’re working outdoors, try to pick a day with the least amount of wind, with very moderate temperatures and humidity.

When applying varnish, the initial goal is to put on several build-up coats. This will give the final “finishing coats” a good grip on the wood. With these final layers, you’ll also want to level out the surface.

A generic coating schedule looks something like:

  • Coat #1: Thin the varnish about 50% with a thinner. This thinned coat will basically act as the primer coat. Allow to dry completely (24 hours) before applying the next coat.
  • Coat #2: Thin the varnish about 20% with a thinner. Directly apply 2nd coat. Allow to dry completely (24 hours) before applying the next coat.
  • Coat #3: Thin the varnish about 10% with a thinner. Directly apply 3rd coat. Allow to dry completely (24 hours) before applying the next coat.
  • Coat #4: Check to make sure the 3rd coat is dry. Then sand with about a 220-grit sandpaper. Apply the 4th coat of varnish at full strength. Allow to dry for at least 2 days.
  • Coats #5 and 6: Same as coat 4, but sand more heavily in between coats 5 and 6 to ensure a flat, smooth surface. Be sure to let the coats dry completely before continuing with application.
  • Coats #7, 8, and 9: After applying each coat and allowing to dry completely, sand by hand with 320-grit paper in-between coats. Apply full strength with extra care to avoid runs, sags, and drips.

This coating schedule is a basic outline that should suit most applications. However, you may need to adjust the number of coats and how extensively you sand, etc. As always, read and follow the instructions of your varnish and thinner carefully.

Whether you prefer the warm, honey-brown charm of new teak, or that weathered “silver fox” look, regular cleaning will help your teak remain strong and beautiful for many years.

Oiling Teak

Once cleaned, the teak’s surface oils are gone. Additional treatment and care for teak wood will be required at this point. If you choose to leave the teak wood untreated, the wood will oxidize. This is be beginning of the aging process which results in a grayish/silver color to the surface. Organic oils have traditionally been used to replenish what’s been removed by cleaning and the environment, and to keep the wood looking new.

Most teak oils consist of either Tung or Linseed oil with resins added to make them it last longer. Many people prefer Tung to Linseed because it is slightly more water-resistant, and doesn’t darken the Teak Wood much. If the Teak product is left exposed to sunlight after oiling it will darken over time regardless of what type of oil is used. There are many specialized teak oils that address this issue using additives, pigments, UV blockers and mildew retardants.

Oil is best applied with a paintbrush, using long, even strokes; start at the bottom and work your way up. Immediately wipe away any drips or runs that may get on the surrounding material using a cloth dampened with mineral spirits. Continue applying until the oil begins to pool on the wood’s surface – once the teak has soaked up as much oil as possible, you should have a matte finish without shiny spots. On a side note, make sure to wipe the top of the teak oil can before you put the lid back on otherwise you will have a heck of a time trying to open it the next time you need to oil.

Special Note: Oiling doesn’t create a seal or barrier on the teak’s exterior: it’s simply a way to enhance and maintain its look. Oil-treated teak is usually not slippery, making it safe for use in walkways, on steps, and in bathing or swimming areas. Outdoor Teak products are usually not oiled. The reason for this is because of its high maintenance: constant exposure to the elements would require reapplication of oil every few months. With every re-application, the teak would need to be cleaned prior to.  This causes wearing away of the topmost layers which results in mildew feeding on the woods natural oils.