Stain Your Deck

A run-down deck can really suck the life (and backyard appeal) out of your home. Think staining a deck is better left to the pros? No way! Staining a deck is almost as simple as painting any surface. Sure, there’s a little more prep work involved, but this type of project provides such a drastic before and after, it will all be worth it in the end.


  • Stain
  • Deck Cleaner


  • Paint Brush
  • Rags
  • Stiff Brush

Step 1: Test Your Deck

Besides any obvious signs your deck is crying out for help, you can also do a simple test to see if your deck needs a fresh coat of stain. Drop several drops of water onto the deck. If the water beads up, the deck is still protected and doesn’t need to be refinished now (unless you just like a change now and then, which is totally acceptable. No judging here.). If a drop soaks into the wood, it means the old finish has worn away leaving the wood unprotected. It’s time to stain your deck.

Another test I like to use: if your deck looks janky, well, then put a new finish on it!

Step 2: Prepare the Surface

Remove everything from your deck and loosely cover any delicate or fragile ground plants next to the deck with tarps or drop cloths. Sweep off loose dirt and twigs with a broom and clean between the cracks using a slender stick or tool. Sand splintered areas, repair damaged boards and hammer in popped-up nails. Don’t let that last part scare you. I’ve found that you just need to do what you can and leave it at that. This isn’t about perfection.

Use a garden hose or a pressure washer (pressure washer! pressure washer!) to spray the surface of the deck, forcing away dirt, dust, oil and grease. This is really a fun step, your deck will start transforming before your eyes and you’ll wonder why you’ve never done this before. Begin at one end of the deck and continue until you have rinsed the entire surface and removed as much dirt as possible. If you use a pressure washer, keep the pressure set to less than 1,000 pounds per square inch and leave a few feet between the spray nozzle and the deck to avoid damaging the wood. Set it to spray a fan of water so it pushes dirt and debris away faster. Spray between the decking boards to eliminate any remaining debris. You won’t believe the junk that can accumulate in between those boards…ick.

Step 3: Strip Old Finish

For the best deck staining results and a longer-lasting finish, remove the old finish using a quality stripper such as Woodsman® Wood Stripper. Wood stripper removes stains, mill glaze and dead wood fibers from the deck surface. Apply with a medium-sized paintbrush, spreading the solution evenly across the surface. Brush a thick coat on with a single pass of the brush — don’t brush it on the same way you would with paint. Let it soak in for 20 to 30 minutes or until the finish has bubbled up (oh this is so fun!) before trying to remove it. Use a plastic paint scraper or a smooth, round-edged putty knife to scrape away the old stain residue. The surface may be soft so be careful not to damage it with the scraper. Keep a rag handy as well to wipe away residue. This can also help remove stain in hard-to-reach cracks and crevices. You can use an old toothbrush, cotton swabs or steel wool for nooks and crannies. Rinse the deck thoroughly and allow the wood to dry completely.

Step 4: Apply Cleaners & Brighteners

Deck cleaning products or deck brighteners are available in a variety of types and strengths. Some even offer a special chlorine bleach formula for eliminating mold, mildew and algae. This is great for decks that don’t see a lot of sun.

Helpful Tips: Make sure your deck is compatible with whatever cleaner you choose, especially if your deck is made of soft wood like redwood or cedar. Also check the manufacturer’s instructions to see whether you should start with a dry or wet deck. Try to clean on a calm day to keep wind from blowing the cleaning agent around the yard. Use a deck stain applicator to apply the cleaner to the entire deck, making sure the cleaner does not puddle.

Scrub tough areas with a stiff brush or a broom. Follow the product’s instructions regarding how long to let the cleaner soak into the wood – usually about 10 to 15 minutes. After the cleaner has been allowed to soak, rinse the deck thoroughly with a hose.

Step 5: Choose a Stain

Choosing the new stain for your deck is probably the best part of this project right? The options right now seem endless. You can go with a tinted water-repellent sealer, a semi-transparent or solid stain. All of them have their pluses and minuses, but at the end of the day pick what makes your heart happy.

Helpful Tips: When choosing a stain, remember the finished color varies based on the wood itself. If you are applying a new stain over an old one, choose a color that is similar to or darker than the original.

Test the stain in an inconspicuous area to ensure you are satisfied with its color and appearance on the wood. Or throw caution to the wind
and just start (that’s totally what I’d do…)!

Do not apply a liquid-resistant sealer prior to deck staining or the solution will be unable to soak into the wood.

Step 6: Apply Stain

Apply a thin, even coat of stain using a paint roller with an extension handle, covering multiple boards at a time. Do not allow stain to puddle. Repeat the process until the entire deck is covered. Use a paintbrush to cover corners and other difficult areas such as steps, railings, board ends and cracks.

Helpful Tips: Speed up the application process by enlisting an assistant (ooh, fancy!) to follow you with a paint roller to spread any puddles – a process known as back rolling.

Allow stain to dry completely before replacing furniture and potted plants. Wait a couple of days before letting people walk on the deck.

Step 8: Maintain Your Deck

Did you know? (I didn’t!) A new deck needs to be refinished every six to 12 months. As your deck gets older, the stain lasts longer, so you don’t have to refinish as often. Do the water test every year and remember that the best time to refinish your deck is in the spring or fall.

Congratulations! With a bit of work and deck-staining elbow grease, you’ve given your deck a fresh new look and a layer of protection against the elements. Now sit back and relax, you’ve earned it.

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