Cleaning and yearly maintenance can add years to a deck and helps keep it looking its best. Ipe, pronounced ‘ee-pay’, is a beautiful Brazilian walnut from South and Central America that’s taking decking by storm. But is ipe deck maintenance the same as for cedar and pressure-treated decking?
Ipe decking is a hard, dense, wood that requires little maintenance. Weekly or monthly, remove dust, dirt, pollen, leaves, and other debris with a vacuum, broom, or hose, and the decking may last more than 75 years. To maintain the rich natural coloring, once or twice a year wash, sand, clean the boards, and apply an approved UV protecting oil – this affects the color, not the longevity.
In this guide, we’ll explain what Ipe decking is and how long it can last. We’ll discuss Ipe maintenance, the best way to clean the wood, and the best product to use. Plus, we’ll look at whether to treat the decking, what to use, and how, plus provide you with Ipe deck maintenance tips.
- What Is Ipe Wood Decking?
- How Long Does Ipe Decking Last?
- Does Ipe Wood Require Maintenance?
- How to Clean Ipe Deck
- What Is the Best Way to Clean Ipe Deck?
- What Is the Best Cleaner for Ipe Deck?
- Should I Sand or Pressure Wash Ipe Deck?
- Can You Leave Ipe Wood Untreated?
- Does Ipe Wood Need to Be Sealed?
- Should I Oil My Ipe Deck?
- How to Treat Ipe Wood
- Annual Ipe Wood Deck Maintenance
What Is Ipe Wood Decking?
Ipe wood decking is a very hard, exotic Brazilian walnut with a dense interlocking grain, and is indigenous to South and Central America. It scores 3,680 out of 4,000 on the wood hardness Janka scale, compared to 1,360 for White Oak and 870 for Southern Yellow Pine, making it one of the hardest woods available. The dense grain structure makes it naturally resistant to moisture, scratches, weathering, insects, mold, mildew, and even fire, so it will outlast most other decking.
Ipe wood decking has a long history of use and has been known to last more than 75 years in some cases. Available in various lengths, widths, and thicknesses, the decking needs to be predrilled for fasteners or edge clipped or fastened into place.
The wood starts out a rich medium to dark brown color with amber, red, and golden hues before fading over time to a grayish-silver patina if left untreated. Ipe also has very few knots or defects, making it ideal for decking.
Ipe is ideal for cool shaded or exposed hot sunny areas, and due to its low heat retention, slip-resistance, and resistance to moisture, is often used around pools and hot tubs. It has been used in commercial and residential construction for exterior cladding, flooring, ceilings, furniture, decking, railings, stairs, fencing, boardwalks (Atlantic City!), and even docks. It will outlast and outperform most other woods, lasting for decades, and can be easily recycled or repurposed at the end of its use.
How Long Does Ipe Decking Last?
Ipe is a dense hardwood that is resistant to moisture, insects, abrasion, mold, and mildew, and will easily last 40 to 75 years or more if well maintained. It will outlast most other forms of natural and even manufactured decking, so even though it is expensive, the years of use and long lifespan make the long-term costs lower.
The main detractors of Ipe wood are sourcing from the Amazon and the environmental costs of deforestation. The high price of the lumber is also a deterrent, plus the possible need to replace the deck framing structure long before the decking needs to be. However, reusing the Ipe decking after replacing the substructure is a common practice.
Does Ipe Wood Require Maintenance?
The hardness and density of Ipe decking make it a very durable and low-maintenance wood. Keeping it free of dirt and debris is typically all that is necessary, and the decking will fade to a silvery gray over time. To retain the dark brown color and amber, gold, and red hues, the decking will require more care. It should be noted too, that spills should be wiped up as they occur.
To maintain the darker tones and hues, use a broom or vacuum to remove dirt or lightly clean with an approved cleaner and brightener once or twice a year depending on climate. Use a high-grit (220 fine-grit or higher) sandpaper going with the grain to remove any scratches, rough spots, or stains, and seal with a recommended UV protective ‘oil’. Remember to let the wood fully dry between cleaning, sanding, and sealing tasks.
How to Clean Ipe Deck
Cleaning an Ipe deck is usually only a matter of sweeping or vacuuming off dirt and debris weekly to prevent staining or leaf mold growth. If the boards have become stained by organic material, spot clean with a small amount of dish soap in warm water using a soft-bristle cleaning brush. Alternatively, you can use the following three methods:
With TSPTSP will remove dirt and grime without harming plant life and grass. For decks that have become dirty from use or seasonal weathering and need heavy-duty cleaning, mix 1-1/2 cups of TSP in 2-gallons of warm water – stir in 1/2 cup or less of household bleach or OxiClean if there is any leaf mold or mildew growth to kill.
Stir until the TSP is dissolved and use a soft bristle scrub brush on a long handle to brush the mixtures onto the boards, and a sponge on stubborn spots.
Rinse off the cleaning solution and dirt, and let dry fully before placing deck furniture on it.
With OxicleanA cup of OxiClean mixed with a gallon of warm water will clean Ipe decking and kill any organic mold or mildew growth.
Use a soft-bristle scrub brush and lightly scrub the deck, adding a long handle to the brush will save the knees and back too. Rinse the deck clean with hose water and let dry before resetting furniture.
Pressure WashingUsing a pressure washer isn’t recommended for regular cleaning of Ipe decking. Power washers use high pressure which can damage and roughen the surface of the wood.
Use a shop vac to remove debris and dirt from between planks, a soft-bristle broom to sweep it off, or just a regular garden hose.
Only use a pressure washer set at1200 PSI or less once a decade if the decking has been allowed to gray and you wish to restore it to its rich brown color, or you wish to remove built-up oil or sealer.
What Is the Best Way to Clean Ipe Deck?
Removing dirt, pollen, leaves, and other debris from the surface and between boards at least once a month – weekly is best. Using a soft-bristle broom, shop vac, or hose water is the best way to keep your Ipe deck clean. Use dish soap in warm water to clean up spills when they occur.
If stains are stubborn, mix a cup of OxiClean or 1/2 cup of household bleach in a gallon of warm water. Use a mop or soft-bristle scrub brush to clean the boards, and rinse well with hose water. Let the decking dry before replacing furniture, and always maintain furniture feet to prevent damage to the wood grain.
If you wish to remove built-up oil or restore the lustrous brown tones, use an orbital sander or 1200 PSI pressure washer to remove the old oil or silver-gray patina. Vacuum up the dust or rinse it off with a hose. Let the Ipe decking dry fully before applying an oil-based UV inhibitor if you wish to maintain the wood color, otherwise, let it age to its silver tones. Let the decking dry for 24-hours or more before replacing furniture.
What Is the Best Cleaner for Ipe Deck?
Ipe decking is a very dense hardwood with an interlocking grain that is resistant to moisture, molds, mildew, and insects. Typically, soap and water are all that is needed to do a thorough cleaning, but sometimes a product with oxygenated bleach or another cleaning agent is helpful. Here are two that are widely recommended for cleaning Ipe decking. Remember to always test any cleaning products on wood that isn’t visible.
Murphy’s Oil Soap Wood CleanerWith more than 80 years in the industry, Murphy’s has a history of success. Made of 98% natural ingredients and 2% synthetic, Murphy’s cleans without damaging, drying, or leaving a residue.
To remove dirt, stains, pollen, mildew, and even algae from Ipe decking, mix 1/4 cup of Murphy's Oil Soap Wood Cleaner – or 1/2 cup if the deck is really dirty – with a gallon of warm water. Use a mop or soft-bristled scrub brush to clean the decking, and rinse with hose water. Murphy’s is environmentally friendly, won’t damage plants, and brings out the natural beauty of wood.
Defy Wood Deck CleanerDefy Wood Deck Cleaner, also known as TimberWash, contains oxygenated bleach and is highly rated for cleaning Ipe decking. The formula opens pores and deep cleans to remove stubborn stains and residue, and will even remove graying caused by weathering. Defy’s TimberWash even removes mill scale – the crushed grain that occurs in the milling process – making it easier to seal and protect the decking.
Dissolve 6 ounces of powder in a gallon of warm water. Use a soft-bristle scrub brush or mop to apply the cleaner to the decking. The liquid works into the pores and foams as it removes dirt, mold, mildew, grime, and even graying from the wood to restore the wood’s beauty.
Once clean, rinse with clean water and let dry before replacing furniture or applying Brightener or oil. Defy Oxygenated Wood Cleaner is biodegradable and safe for pets, grass, and most shrubs and plant life.
Should I Sand or Pressure Wash Ipe Deck?
The recommendation by most professionals is to sand Ipe decking if the boards have grayed, become rough, or oil has built up and become sticky. Use a high grit 220 or more sandpaper on an orbital sander moving with the grain.
Sweep or vacuum up the dust, and rinse the planks with a hose. Let the wood dry completely, and then apply an approved oil-based UV inhibitor. Always wear a respirator and safety glasses when sanding Ipe as it contains silica.
Some pros do use a pressure washer set at 1200 PSI or less to remove oil residue or graying. If planning to try it, practice on a section that isn’t widely visible. Use a 15° or 25° tip and hold it 16 to 20-inches from the board, to begin with, moving closer as needed.
Adding a wood cleaner or brightener may be helpful too. Once the pressure washing is complete, let the wood dry for 24 to 48-hours, and then lightly sand to remove any graying and make the surfaces smooth.
Whether sanded or pressure washed, the decking may be left to weather gray over time, or be oiled to keep it looking a rich brown color with reddish-golden hues.
Can You Leave Ipe Wood Untreated?
Ipe wood will last as long untreated as it will if treated, between 40 and 75 years or more. Untreated wood will weather to a silver-gray over time due to UV rays. Oiling the wood once or twice a year will help maintain the rich dark brown color and amber, red, and golden highlights. Regular cleaning also helps protect the wood from contaminants and supports its natural resistance to moisture, mold, mildew, and insects.
Does Ipe Wood Need to Be Sealed?
The quick answer is ‘No’. Left to the weather and sunlight, the wood will slowly turn a silver-gray color but can still last more than 75 years. Ipe wood is a dense hardwood with a tight interlocking grain, making it moisture resistant. The wood isn’t receptive to sealers or pre-sealers, and their use can result in a sticky residue buildup. To maintain the rich dark brown with reddish-gold highlights, use an oil rub with a UV inhibitor once or twice a year.
Should I Oil My Ipe Deck?
Oiling Ipe decking is a personal choice. Unoiled wood will turn a silvery-gray over time and can last as long as oiled decking. It is, however, important to regularly clean the decking of dirt, leaves, and other debris to prevent mold, mildew, and staining that can turn the soft silver-gray tone almost black.
To maintain the rich natural wood tones and color, apply a thin coat of Ipe-approved, UV inhibiting deck oil, making sure to wipe off any excess with a dry rag. Always spot test the oil in an out-of-the-way location before applying it to the surface. It is recommended to apply the oil to all surfaces and ends prior to installation.
Oiling Ipe wood will protect it from UV rays, moisture, and stains. The oil helps prevent cracking, checking, and warping, plus keep it looking like new. For sunny locations, apply the oil in the spring and fall, otherwise, once a year in the spring is acceptable.
If you’ve let the decking gray and decide you’d like the rich natural coloring instead, sand and clean the decking, let it dry for 24 to 48 hours, and then apply several thin coats of Ipe-approved oil to the surface. Remember to wipe off any excess. As long as the decking is oiled once or twice a year, depending on the climate, the colors will continue to pop. Stopping the oiling will allow the decking to age to a warm silver-gray.
How to Treat Ipe Wood
When installing new Ipe decking, the boards may need some TLC prior to fastening into place, or once installed. The planks have traveled thousands of miles by truck and ship, and been exposed to dirt, sea salt, and other contaminants. New boards may have water marks, dirt, mold, salt, oil, and mineral deposits or stains, and the grain may be raised, torn, or gouged. So, some cleaning and sanding may be necessary to make the boards presentable.
If the lumber is in ready-to-install condition, then you’re good to go. Ipe, like most lumber, should be allowed to acclimate to its new location before installation or treatment. Some pros recommend treating all 4 sides and the ends of the planks with an Ipe-approved oil containing a UV inhibitor prior to installation. Others recommend applying it after installation, or not at all. Much depends on timelines as the oiled planks need to dry for 24 to 48 hours before handling.
The main decision is whether to leave the wood untreated so that it transitions to a uniform silver-gray over time, or to treat it once or twice a year to maintain the natural beauty of the wood’s color. Regardless of the decision though, the decking should be swept, vacuumed, or hose cleaned on a weekly or monthly basis to remove dirt and debris that can cause mold, mildew, and stains. Spills, however, should be cleaned up as they occur with dish soap and warm water.
For those who choose to allow the Ipe decking to silver, it is recommended to move the furniture periodically so UV rays can fade the wood equally. If the plan is to retain the rich chocolate color and its reddish, golden, and amber hues, then be prepared to clean, sand and UV oil the wood in the spring and if in a hot sunny climate, in the fall too. You should also consider installing an awning to protect the wood during the heat of the day.
Annual Ipe Wood Deck Maintenance
Annual maintenance for an Ipe deck depends on the color choice the owner wants. Allowing the decking to fade to a uniform silver-gray can take years depending on location, but reduces the care and maintenance. All that is required is to sweep, vacuum, or hose off dirt, leaves, sticks, and other debris on a weekly or monthly basis to prevent mold, mildew, or staining. Ipe decking will last as long untreated as it will treated.
Maintaining Ipe’s rich brown color with red, amber, and golden highlights requires much more care. The decking needs to be cleaned on a weekly or monthly basis, plus it needs to be treated with an approved UV inhibiting oil in the spring and possibly in the fall too – if in a warm sunny climate. That means once or twice a year scrubbing with a cleaner to remove oil residue, maybe sanding to remove graying or rough spots, and then applying UV oil to protect the wood.
Ipe Deck Maintenance Tips
- Clean up spills immediately with warm water and dish soap, and rinse clean.
- Monthly, remove and inspect deck furniture for rust or sharp edges that can stain, mark or scratch decking.
- Weekly or monthly, use a soft-bristle broom, vacuum, or hose water to remove dust, dirt, pollen, leaves, and other debris from on top of boards and between them too – this maintains air circulation and prevents mold, mildew, and staining.
- Remove stubborn dirt or stains with a mixture of warm water and OxiClean or TSP and-or household bleach using a soft-bristle scrub brush, and rinse well with clean water.
- To maintain the rich brown coloring, or to return silver-gray planks to their original color, wash the deck boards. Once the decking has dried for 24 to 48 hours, lightly sand it smooth to remove any graying. Vacuum and or rinse the boards and allow them to dry again. Using a soft bristle brush, apply an approved UV oil product with overlapping strokes, wipe off any excess with a soft clean cloth. Test the oil on an unseen part of the deck. Repeat this process every 6 or 12 months.
- Let the decking dry 24 hours before replacing furniture and planters.
Ipe is an extremely hard, dense wood that can last more than 75 years with minimal maintenance. Weekly or monthly cleaning to remove pollen, dirt, leaves, and other debris is all that is necessary.
To keep the rich cocoa coloring, the decking needs to be washed, sanded, cleaned, and UV oiled once or twice a year. Whether left to turn a uniform silver-gray or oiled to stay natural, the decking will have the same longevity.
Hopefully, you found this cleaning and maintenance guide helpful.