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How to Stain Your Wood Deck

How to Stain Your Wood Deck

Weather takes its toll on your deck with year-round exposure to sun, rain and snow. Your deck’s finish can start to wear off, leaving the wood looking old and battered. And, it’s not just the appearance of your deck that suffers; if the wood loses its layer of protection, the elements can eventually rot and split the boards. To prevent this, stain your deck regularly. It’s a home project you can tackle in a weekend.


Step 1: Test Your Deck

Do a simple test to see if your deck needs a fresh coat of stain as well as look for any obvious signs your deck is ailing. 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. 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.


Step 2: Prepare the Surface

Remove everything from your deck before starting your staining project; including furniture and potted plants. Loosely cover any delicate or fragile ground plants adjacent to the deck with tarps or drop cloths. Sweep off loose debris with a broom and clean between the cracks using a slender stick or tool. Sand splintered areas with a pole sander, repair damaged boards and hammer in popped-up nails.

Use a garden hose or a pressure washer; spray the surface of the deck, forcing away dirt, dust, oil and grease. 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.


Step 3: Strip Old Finish

Remove the old finish using a quality stripper such as Woodsman Wood Stripper for the best deck staining results and a longer-lasting finish. 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 before trying to remove it. Then 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, especially in hard-to-reach cracks and crevices. You can also try an old toothbrush, cotton swabs or steel wool for nooks and crannies. Rinse the deck thoroughly and allow the wood to dry completely.



Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and wear rubber gloves and protective goggles when using strong chemicals.

Never strip wood near an open flame. Chemical strippers are highly flammable.


Step 4: Apply Cleaners & Brighteners

Use a deck brightener or cleaner after stripping old finish away. 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. Before you start, you should know that chlorine bleach formulas might require more frequent cleanings. Consider using a non-chlorine bleach cleaner instead, such as Woodsman Wood Cleaner. Also, before you stain your deck, try Woodsman Wood Brightener to restore wood to its natural appearance and prepare the surface by also removing mildew, rust and tannin stains.

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. Don’t use wire brushes—wire bristles can break off into the wood and cause rust spots. 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.



Cleaners contain bleaching agents, so wear protective clothing, safety goggles and rubber gloves.


Step 5: Choose a Stain

Choosing the right stain can make your deck staining project last longer. Inexpensive deck sealers, such as clear or tinted water-repellent sealants, provide only basic protection. These options generally don’t last as long as semi-transparent or solid stains. Semi-transparent stains last about three to four years; solid stains can last five years or more, depending upon the weather. What’s more, solid stains come in a wide variety of decorative colors. Because they contain a significant amount of pigment, they are useful for covering up the damaged wood fibers of weathered wood. True Value carries a full line of quality Woodsman stain and sealers.



When choosing a stain, remember the finished color varies based upon 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.

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


Step 6: Apply Stain

Apply a thin, even coat of stain using a paint roller or pad painter with an extension handle, covering three boards at a time. You might also consider using a spray applicator—this provides the most even application. 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.



Never leave used rags, brushes or stain containers out in the direct sun; they could combust and start a fire.



The best temperature range for refinishing a wood deck is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not apply stain in direct sunlight—you don't want it to dry too quickly and not absorb properly.

Speed up the application process by enlisting an assistant 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 7: Clean Up

Rinse your roller covers and brushes with water or paint thinner until the water or solvent runs clear. Store applicators in plastic bags or hang them on nails or hooks to dry. Pick up drop cloths.



If you use paint thinner to clean your brushes, do not throw the used paint thinner down the drain. Some states don't allow it. Find out where and how you can dispose of it.


Step 8: Maintain Your Deck

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 fall or spring.

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.


Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

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