How To Stain A Deck The Right Way Every Time

Best Of Hometalk
by Best Of Hometalk

All year round, outdoor decks get hammered by the elements. Winter weather especially takes a toll on outdoor surfaces, and wood decks suffer the most if they are not cared for properly. When spring rolls around, you may find that the deck that looked so beautiful last summer now seems dull and worn.

How To Stain A Deck (Pixabay)

Do not despair. Performing simple repairs and applying fresh deck stain are doable DIY tasks. This handy how-to guide includes all the information you need to apply deck stain and sealer the right way so you can continue to enjoy your outdoor living space for many years to come. 

Preparation is Essential

All of the experts agree that proper preparation is the most critical step in the whole process of refinishing a deck. New deck stain spread over an improperly prepared surface will fail, and all of your hard work will be for naught. So, do not cut corners and gloss over the details. Each step matters.

Perform Minor Repairs

Even if your outdoor deck is in a decent, safe state, it still might need a few minor repairs. Take some time to check the condition of the decking and swap out unsafe or rotten board for new ones. Hammer down nails that have popped up, or better yet, replace them with galvanized or stainless steel deck screws. Both are rust-resistant, they grab the wood better than nails, and special deck screws hold up well over time. If the wood has separated around the head of an old screw, add a new screw nearby and remove the old one if possible.

Prep Deck For Stain (Vineta @ The Handyman’s Daughter)

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Squeaky Clean Wood is Deck Stain Ready!

One of the most common reasons why new deck stain fails is because it was applied on top of a dirty surface. Dirt, grime, and mildew all prevent deck stain from soaking into the wood grain evenly, and a sealer applied to soiled wood will not adhere properly. It will peel or flake off almost immediately leaving the deck vulnerable to the elements.

Before you begin cleaning your deck, cover nearby plants and grass with tarps or plastic.


Start with a high-quality deck cleaner or cleaner/stain remover combo. Spray it evenly with a hand-pump chemical sprayer. Specialty deck cleaners neutralize old chemicals, and some even contain chemical stripper too. Using an all-in-one product saves additional steps.

You may be surprised to read that even a brand new deck should be cleaned before applying deck stain. New wood is coated with chemicals, and again, deck cleaners neutralize those chemicals and open the pores in the grain for more so the stain will distribute more evenly. It is tempting to skip this step when your deck is new and it looks clean, but for best results, give it a good scrub anyway.  

Wood Deck Stain (Vineta @ The Handyman’s Daughter)

See post: Vineta @ The Handyman’s Daughter|Fix up Your Deck for Summer!

Washing the deck with a long-handled scrub brush is a back saver.

Deck Stain Brush (SimplePracticalBeautiful)

See post: SimplePracticalBeautiful|Refinishing a Wood Deck

Follow the manufacturer's directions regarding how long the cleaner should sit on the wood before it is time to rinse.

After the recommended amount of time, rinse the entire deck thoroughly with a pressure washer set to a low-pressure setting to avoid gouging the damp wood. The power wash should remove not only the cleaner but any loose bits of old stain or sealer too. Repeat the cleaning process if necessary.

Deck Cleaning and Staining (SimplePracticalBeautiful)

See post: SimplePracticalBeautiful|Refinishing a Wood Deck

Tip: If you do not own a pressure washer, rent one from a local rental store or Home Depot. It will make the job much easier than a garden hose fitted with a regular nozzle. Pressure washers come in various sizes, and they have several nozzle strength options. Consult the store to decide which type of washer will work best for this type of project. The last thing you want to do is damage the wood with a stream of water that is too forceful.

Though chemical cleaners are excellent for removing tough stains and surface dirt, they can also darken the wood by changing the PH level. To solve that problem, apply a wood brightener with a separate chemical sprayer, and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Cleaning Deck Before Staining (Vineta @ The Handyman’s Daughter)

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Rinse, rinse, and rinse some more until you are certain that all of the cleaner and brightener has been washed away. Even if the deck looks clean, improperly rinsed sections will show through the new stain as unsightly dark spots. Take a few extra minutes and do the job the right way.

Let the deck dry thoroughly before moving forward with the rest of the steps in this how-to guide. It may take a day or two or even longer for everything to dry if the weather is uncooperative. Be patient.

Preparing Wood for Deck Stain | Sanding  

Now that the deck is clean, it may need to be partially or even completely sanded. Water opens up the wood grain, so always make sure to sand after cleaning, not before. For best results, use an orbital sander starting with coarse (50-60-grit) sandpaper and work down to finer grit (80-120-grit). Pay particular attention to handrails and other areas where someone is likely to get splinters.

Remove all of the sanding dust with a shop vacuum, and wipe everything down with a dry cloth. We recommend that you do not rinse the deck again. Rinsing will open up the pores of the wood again and negate some, if not all of your sanding efforts. 

If you choose to rinse the deck or it rains after you sand, let the everything dry thoroughly before you move to the next step.

Deck Stain Finally!

With many types of projects, preparation is 90% of the job, and the last 10% is what we expect we will be doing when we start the project. For instance, when we say we are painting, what we really end up doing is spending a lot of time getting ready to paint, and the actual painting takes very little time in comparison. Applying deck stain is no different, but all the hard work of preparing the deck is about to pay off because applying deck stain is the fun part.

Be sure to read more in-depth about choosing the best deck stain and deck stain colors below. However, in the interest of wrapping up the tutorial portion of this how-to guide, let’s move forward with the process of applying deck stain and sealer.

Before you begin, take a look at the forecast and try to start this part of the project when there are two or more dry days in a row. Low humidity is best, but that is not always possible depending on the climate where you live.

Apply the deck stain or deck stain/sealer combo with a low-nap roller on a long handle or a specialty pad made for spreading stain on deck boards which have gaps between them. 

How to Prep a Deck for Staining (Diane and Dean DIY)

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Make sure to apply the stain and sealer in the gaps too. A specialty pad works better than a roller for this purpose. 

Deck Stain and Sealer (Diane and Dean DIY)

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Work the entire length of one board at a time instead of one full section at a time. Working in this pattern will eliminate overlap marks especially if the deck is drying quickly.

Stain only:

  • Apply according to the manufacturer’s directions. 
  • More coats equal a darker shade.
  • Follow the deck stain with a high-quality clear sealer.

Stain and Sealer Combo:

  • Apply several thin coats according to the directions on the can. 
  • Applying a stain and sealer too thick will cause it to peel off, and it will take longer to dry. 

Let the deck stain and sealer dry completely, preferably for 24-48 hours or whatever the manufacturer suggests.

After the deck stain is dry, bring out the patio furniture, sit back, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You deserve it! 

How Long for Deck Stain to Dry (Diane and Dean DIY)

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Deck Stain Ideas (B)

See post: B|Staining a deck with Sikkens stain

How to Choose the Best Deck Stain

Regular deck maintenance is a perfect job for DIYers and weekend warriors, but it requires a time commitment, and the products and tools are not free. It is essential to use your money and time wisely by doing the job the right way the first time. Deciding whether to use an oil-based or water-based stain and sealer is a personal choice, but they do differ. Here are a few thoughts to help steer you in the direction of the best deck stain product for your project.

Oil-Based Vs. Water-Based Deck Stain

As we mentioned before, there are two different formulas of deck stain and sealer, oil-based and water-based, and there are differences between the two.

Oil-based stains and sealers have been around for a long time, maybe even before you were born. Since oil-based products are time tested, they are commonly used by preservationists and for historic reproduction work. Whether or not this formula is considered more durable, depends on who you ask. It is difficult to get a straight answer because experts seem to have a distinct preference for one over the other. 

Best Deck Stain (B)

See post: B|Staining a deck with Sikkens stain

Despite their widespread use, oil-based deck stains and sealers do have drawbacks.

First, they are high in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which contribute to greenhouse gases, and they are toxic to breathe. Although most deck projects take place outdoors, proper ventilation is critical if any part of your space is enclosed such as a sun porch. Inhaling products with a high amount of VOCs causes serious health risks.


Oil-based products are also more difficult to clean up and dispose of properly and safely. They require additional chemicals, mineral spirits or paint thinner, for thinning or cleaning up drips and spills. Also, used rags covered in oil-based products are combustible and should not put in the garbage can.

Water-based deck stain and sealer is considered more eco-friendly (low to no VOCs), it cleans up easily with water, and it dries faster. Some experts swear by the durability of water-based deck stain and sealers over oil-based.

Regardless of which type you choose, both formulas come in a variety of colors.

Choosing a Deck Stain Color

There are many deck stain colors to choose from, but the first decision to make is which of the three main kinds of deck stain colors that you want to use: 

  • Transparent (clear)
  • Semi-transparent
  • Solid

As you may surmise, transparent stain offers no color at all. Semi-transparent deck stain, available in a wide variety of colors, seeps into the wood but the wood grain still shows through. Solid deck stain colors sit on top of the decking boards like paint. For the most part, no wood grain shows through. Solid stain offers the most coverage, but much like paint, it is more likely to peel or crack over time.

It is worth noting that solid stain can be used over a semi-transparent or transparent stain. However, if the products are applied the other way around, transparent and semi-transparent stains will lose their opacity.

Take a trip to the hardware store to look at all of the deck stain colors available. Which one you decide to buy will depend on the look you want, and it’s a very personal decision. Deck stain colors look different applied to various wood varieties. Keep that in mind, and consult the color guide that comes with each brand. 

Deck Stain Colors (Diane and Dean DIY)

See post: Diane and Dean DIY|How To Stain Your Deck In Less Than An Hour

Applying deck stain and sealer is a DIY task that does not require a complex set of skills. As long as you set aside some time and the weather cooperates, your outdoor living space will be summer-ready in no time. Remember that proper preparation is vital, and a well maintained and protected deck should last for years. Be sure to pin this handy how-to guide for later, and visit Hometalk for more terrific DIY projects. 

Written for the Hometalk community by: Stacy | BlakeHillHouse

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