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Old 31-03-2014, 17:40   #1
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Help with Exterior Teak issue

Hi all,

I own a Cape Dory 25D and decided to today to set about cleaning the exterior teak woodwork. It's unvarnished and has gone gray. I used a cleaning solution suggested by Don Casey in his book "This Old Boat" - 75% liquid detergent, 25% bleach, and TSP. The problem is I accidentally incorrectly calculated the TSP amount. I probably put between 3-4 times more TSP than I should have based on the packaging recommendations. It took a little bit long to wash the solution off the wood but otherwise everything seemed ok. Then the wood dried and the color is no longer a pure gray - yikes. The gray is infused with light brown, so now it's sort of a mostly gray with a brownish hue. What I'm wondering is if the brown is simply the natural color of the teak that's shining through the gray since I cleaned it, or a side effect of using too much TSP? Any thoughts or recommendations on this and how to fix it would be greatly appreciated. My next planned step was to bleach the wood with oxaclic acid to make the color uniform before oiling it.


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Old 31-03-2014, 18:12   #2
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue


Have no fear, your teak is not ruined. If it has been a few years since the teak was last oiled, sealed, varnished, etc. it is normal for some moderate oxidation (grey color). Don't be afraid to give it a sanding 150 is probably a good grit to start. Mask any adjacent fiberglass so as not to scratch it. I would sand all of it first, then give it a good cleaning and rinse.

Have you thought about a sealer?

This is a good example of what a little sanding will do:

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Old 31-03-2014, 18:41   #3
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

yes, brown is the correct color for clean teak. mine was equally black and squalid when i first bought my boat ten years ago. i did the don casey treatment - minus the tsp - and had to do it a few times. i think i put a cup of liquid detergent and a half cup of bleach in a two gallon bucket and scrubbed it with a brush. make sure you brush across the grain, not with it, or you will wear grooves in the wood and after a while will have no teak wood left.

when it's back to looking like wood, do yourself a real favor. go to west marine or go online and buy STARBRITE TROPICAL TEAK OIL. it comes in a can. it's thicker than plain teak oil because it contains a UV inhibitor. just brush on two coats. it will last a couple of years. it gradually wears away. then just brush on two more coats. unless you're into sado-masochism (also known as varnishing teak) you will thank me.
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Old 31-03-2014, 18:53   #4
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

Hey Onestep,

Thanks so much for the reply. That's a relief to hear that it seems like I didn't damage the wood but only started to bring back its natural color. Mine isn't black btw, just pure gray from not having been oiled or varnished in a while.

Quick follow up question - when you say I should brush across the grain, not with it, do you mean I should scrub up and down rather than back and forth? This would be helpful for me to know because most things I've read say that you should go with the grain when doing things to wood.

Thanks very much for the tip on the teak oil, I'll get that brand. There's no way I'm varnishing anything haha, I've already been warned.
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Old 31-03-2014, 20:37   #5
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

Yes, basically what you have is partially "restored" teak. By the end of your process, before oiling, it should all be a "natural" color. What you need to bring it to that point depends on how weathered and worn/stained it is. With teak, to preserve it's service life, you want to start with the least destructive approach first, see if that gets the results you want, and move on to a more aggressive treatment if it does not. Casey's prescription is a basic teak cleaner that cleans dirt and stains off the teak and restores lightly weathered wood. The next step is a "one part" cleaner, which is a weak solution of oxalic acid. All one part teak cleaners are basically composed of this. If you have acres of teak, do yourself a favor and buy a jar of the crystals that you mix into solution yourself instead of getting raped buying the pre-mixed quarts of it at West Marine.

If you had some joy with your most recent approach, doing it again may give you incrementally better results. The key is to let the solution "soak" on the teak for 5-10 minutes. If that does not yield an even color, move on to the one part teak cleaner. And if that does not work, you need a two part cleaner, which is more destructive to the wood.

You want to scrub across the grain because the pulp between the hardwood in teak is relatively soft and easily worn away by the bristles in the brush if you scrub with the grain. Teak is very hard overall because silica in the soil of the tree is embedded in the hardwood of the wood as it grows, making it very resistant to wear, IF you don't scrub out the soft pulp.

The best approach is to use a Scotch-brite scrubby pad and run it perpendicular or diagonal to the grain, no matter what solution you are using. Use only as much pressure as you need to achieve the results you're looking for.

I've not used the Starbrite Tropical Teak Oil but have heard very good things about it, compared to other teak oils used on exterior teak. But, as with all brightwork, no matter what you coat it with, the key is conscientious annual maintenance. Let it slip for a year and you'll quickly find yourself back at square one.
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Old 01-04-2014, 04:40   #6
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

I used semco and like it. Apply once a year. Tried cetol, did not like. Tried varnish, looks good for a while, takes too much time.
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Old 01-04-2014, 05:00   #7
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

Naturally a lot of what must be done depends on what climate your in. Whatever method you choose, its a yearly teak task. I like cetol in the PNW. Lots of coats....its almost that time again.
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Old 01-04-2014, 05:12   #8
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

As was mentioned, the natural color is a light brown/tan so you're ok. Teak is hard to damage...

If your going to seal it with varnish or cetol, I'd suggest using a two part cleaner. West marine, of all places, has a good inexpensive cleaner. Afterwards, a sanding with appropriate grit (appropriate to the teak condition) to achieve a smooth surface. Then varnish or cetol or what ever you choose. Being in the south, I like cetol after decades of being a varnish bigot.
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Old 01-04-2014, 05:13   #9
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

Let me add one more option n terms of final topping - minwax spar varnish. Before that, the key is initial wood prep. So sand sand sand. If there is weathering do not be afraid to start with 40 grit and work to about 340. The wood is ready when there is no softness and no grooves from weathering. At that point clean the teak with one of several good cleaners. I found the Starlite to work well. Rinse with tons of water and let dry at least overnight. Now it is ready for multiple coats of oil, cetol, or varnish.
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Old 01-04-2014, 06:29   #10
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

Thanks everyone for all the great and informative replies! I'm relieved to know I didn't damage the wood and I'm getting back to it today with renewed confidence. Thanks again everyone!
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Old 02-04-2014, 10:33   #11
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Re: Help with Exterior Teak issue

I have nothing but great things to say of Semco teak sealer. Great product for where you don't "need" (read: desire), brightwork.

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