A deck is a considerable investment for any homeowner.
Making sure it stays clean and protected will ensure it has a long life. With the proper prep, application of stain, and cleanup, you can avoid costly repairs and regular degradation that many wood deck owners experience.
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The following is a general “how-to” on exterior wood staining. As with any specialized product, please consult the can, manufacturer’s website, or our paint specialist for specific instructions for your brand of stain before proceeding.
Click logos below for direct links to manufacturer application instructions.
*For PPG exterior stains, click below, pick your specific stain and click on “product steps.”
Prep and Cleaning
Tools for the job: Elbow Grease, push broom, Flathead screwdriver or putty knife, plastic drop cloth, possibly new deck boards, and fasteners as needed.
This is the most important part of staining your deck. Follow directions, be patient and you will be rewarded with an easy staining experience.
Clear your deck of all potted plants, outdoor furniture, and other obstacles on your deck.
Blow off or sweep the deck clean of any debris, leaves, and dirt.
Use a screwdriver or putty knife to clean the areas between the deck boards.
Cover all perimeter plants and shrubs located around the deck with aplastic drop cloth.
Inspect Your Deck Boards
- Replace rotten, split, or severely warped deck boards. Use larger nails to re-secure the boards that may have raised. Sand minor splits down using an orbital sander to smooth the surface.
- Check your gaps between boards and remove the buildup of old leaves, pine needles, and dirt with a flat plastic putty knife or straight edge.
- For decks that have rails, it is essential to periodically check the rails to make sure that they are tight to the deck.
- Check where the deck is attached to the house. Tighten the bolts that hold the deck to the house.
- Re-sweep the deck and hose the surface down to remove any stubborn debris.
Chemical Cleaning and Brightening
Tools for the job: Protective gear, wood cleaner, and brightener, hose, pressurized sprayer, plastic drop cloth.
A wood deck usually requires being cleaned and retreated every year or two. Wood cleaners are essential in prepping the wood correctly before staining.
Wood cleaners raise the pH level of the wood and darken the wood’s appearance. A deck brightener should be applied to ensure proper stain penetration. The brightener will lower the pH of the wood and leave it bright and ready to accept a wood stain.
Suit up with protective gloves, old clothing, and safety glasses.
When working with any chemical cleaners, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
If applicable, use a wood cleaner of the same brand of stain and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Wet down the area you want to start cleaning. If you have an adjustable nozzle on your hose, put it on the mist setting.
Use a pressurized sprayer to apply the cleaner.
With most cleaners, DO NOT let the solution dry.
Agitate the cleaner into the wood with a long-handled stiff brush for 10 minutes and rinse thoroughly for several minutes to make sure you remove all the solution. Pay attention to your trim pieces along the sides as well.
Repeat this procedure over the entire deck surface.
For the more challenging spots, you might need to add a little extra cleaner and repeat the process.
Once cleaned, a brightener will bring the natural color of the deck back. Best to do this right after rinsing off the cleaner to avoid furring. If any furring has taken place, just sand the surface by hand.
Suit back up in your protective gear and make sure your garden sprayer is clean of any previous chemicals. Use it to apply the wood brightener in the same way as the cleaner. Don’t let the solution dry and agitate the cleaner into the wood with a long-handled stiff brush for 10 -15 minutes, then rinse off with water.
Rinse off the plastic you used to protect the surrounding plants and store it away for use when staining.
Allow your deck to dry completely after cleaning; two days is ideal. Most deck stains and sealers recommend your wood is 17% moisture level or less before applying and product. Sealing wood that is too damp may cause you to lock moisture into your wood and could cause premature rot along with mold and mildew problems.
We do not advise pressure washing a wood deck as it can embed moisture into the wood and will likely damage wood surfaces.
Staining the Deck
Tools for the job: Stain applicators, brushes, roller, paint tray, bucket, disposable tarps.
Synthetic brushes are ideal for working a water-based stain into the wood.
Use natural bristles when working with an oil-based stain.
Prefer a roller? Use one with a nap that’s ¼ inch or shorter. That lets you apply a thin layer of stain that adheres to wood without pooling.
Deck stain applicators are also an excellent option for a nice even finish.
If you don’t have a favorite stain and color, there are many to choose from. We advise getting some advice in our stores from one of our paint specialists for your specific wood deck and environment.
Take advantage of our annual exterior stain sale that starts in June of each year. You can save 20%!
When sunny skies are in your forecast and low humidity is called for now is the time to stain or seal your deck. Temperatures between 50-90 degrees are ideal, but remember not to work in direct sun, which can cause your stain to cure too quickly, not penetrate your wood, and can also cause clouding on your deck. Give yourself plenty of early mornings and late afternoon hours to work around the direct sun. An overcast but dry day is good for this.
Cover any plants in the area to protect them from splattering stains.
Stir the stain thoroughly and pour the stain into a paint tray.
Apply stain following manufacturers instructions, usually with a paint roller attached to a long handle rolling it over 2-3 boards at a time in the direction of the boards. Two thin coats are better than one thick coat that doesn’t properly adhere or dry.
Don’t allow the finish to puddle. To speed up the process, one person can apply the stain or sealer, and another person uses a roller or broom to spread puddles and to work the finish into the wood, a process known as back-rolling.
With a paintbrush, get all the ends of the boards stained and allow the deck to dry thoroughly. Sometimes manufacturers desire you to repeat this process utilizing multiple thin coats rather than a single heavy coat but check your can for specifics.
Once you have completed the process inspect the deck fully for any areas you might have missed, paying attention to the ends of boards, stairs, railings or other attached wood structures.
Now is the fun part!
Remove the plastic protecting the plants, return your outdoor furniture to its place and start planning that summer bar-b-que to show off your hard work!
Consult your stain can for specifics, but if you keep clean and stain your deck as instructed you will have a deck that will stay protected, looking new and have a long life.