How To Stain A Deck In 7 Steps

Are you about to stain a deck for the first time? Have you done it once before but need a refresher? We’ve got you and your project covered!

Staining your deck will allow you to bring out amazing textures and create new tones on your wood’s surface. Applying wood stain does more than just enhance the appearance of a deck. Exterior stain or sealer can help waterproof your deck and provide protection from natural elements to keep your decking boards from warping or cracking. It’s important to note that a staining project is a lengthy process, taking multiple days and requiring planning around weather conditions. We have created a guide with tips to provide instructions on how to prep your deck for staining and how to stain your deck boards properly.

When Should You Stain A Deck?

If your deck is brand new, you should stain it to preserve it and keep it long-lasting. A stained wood deck requires re-staining every 1-3 years. Test to see if your deck repels water to see if your deck requires re-staining. You can do this by simply sprinkling some water on the wood: if the wood absorbs the water within 10 minutes, it needs to be stained. If the water remains pooled on the surface, then the need to stain the wood is not urgent.

How To Stain A Deck: Step-by-Step

Step 1: Check The Weather

a person walking with an umbrella in a rainstorm.
Scheduling is the first important step when it comes to staining. Wood stain or sealer won’t adhere to damp wood properly, it can lead to cracking and peeling of the finished product. You will need at least 2 days of no rain, ideally between 50-90°F (10-32°C) for staining your deck. Stain must be applied to dry wood, therefore, choosing a period where it hasn’t rained for a few days and when there is a period of low to average humidity to promote faster drying is best. Staining in direct sunlight can also become a problem as the stain will dry faster than the wood is able to absorb. Unless your deck is entirely new, you will also need to clean the surface of the deck and allow it to dry for a least one day before.

Step 2: Choose A Stain

A close-up of water droplets on a wooden deck stained with a moisture barrier.

When choosing an exterior wood stain it’s important to match the stain to your deck’s type of wood and make sure that the stain is formulated to repel water, preserve the wood and protect it against UV rays.

There are two types of exterior wood stains, solid and semi-transparent. Each type of stain has its advantages to affect which one you will choose, but the type of stain already on your deck will also affect your choice. If your wood has a solid stain already on it you cannot apply a semi-transparent or clear stain over it. Solid stains plug up wood pores preventing semi-transparent or clear stains from being properly absorbed into the wood. Solid stains can be applied over any type of pre-existing stain. Similarly, if your deck is previously stained with an oil-based stain, you cannot apply a water-based stain over top of it. But, Oil-based stains can be applied on top of water-based stains. For the best results, continue to use the same based stain as previously used.

Step 3: Sand & Prep

A man using a power drill to sand and stain a wooden deck.

Start by removing all furnishings from your deck. If some items cannot be removed, cover or tape over areas you do not wish to stain including areas like the house’s siding. If there are plants alongside your deck, moisten and cover them with a tarp to keep the stain from touching them.

Inspect your wood decking and make sure to repair all imperfections and replace all missing screws or nails. Sand down any splintered areas with 80 grit sandpaper using a pole or belt sander. Remember to take the necessary safety precautions when sanding. Sweep all dust and debris off of your deck and use a screwdriver or putty knife to clean between the deck boards.

Step 4: Give It A Wash

A man pressure washing a deck to prepare it for staining.

To get your stain to adhere properly to your deck, the wood needs to be free from all dirt and stains. Removing all dirt or mildew is needed otherwise you will trap them into your wood by staining it while they are still present.

To clean your deck, wash it with a deck cleaner. Wet your deck boards and apply the cleaner, letting it soak into the wood for 10 minutes or follow the instructions on the cleaning products label. Scrub the wood surface with a brush while the cleaner is still wet until you are satisfied. Finish cleaning and use a garden hose or pressure washer to thoroughly rinse off the cleaner. When using a pressure washer, be cautious of the amount of pressure and distance as it can damage your deck. Wait two to three days to dry before applying any stain.

Step 5: Stain Features & Railings

A man staining a wooden deck wearing a black shirt and red gloves.

Before you stain you have to choose the right tools and brushes. Staining your deck with a brush made of synthetic materials is ideal for working with water-based stains. Natural bristles can lose their rigidity and go limp as they absorb too much water from the stain. If you prefer to use a roller, opt for a roller with a nap that’s 1/4 inch or shorter. This will let you apply a thin layer of the stain to the wood without pooling. Paint pad applicators are easier than brushing by hand and are more accurate than a pressurized sprayer for application.

Sweep the deck one more time to make sure all debris that could have settled when your deck was drying is removed. Stir the stain thoroughly before applying and make sure to follow your product’s instructions. Test a patch of your wood with the stain to make sure that you’re satisfied with its appearance. Begin with the deck’s highest wood points, such as all railings, posts and balusters. Make long, even strokes as you make your way from top to bottom. Brush over all runs or pooling of stain to ensure even results.

Step 6: Stain Deck Boards

a person staining a deck with a mop.

Choose the place you want to exit your deck from, like exterior stairs or a doorway, and apply stain moving in that direction. Paint one coat of stain in thin, long and even strokes. It is best to apply solid stains in thin coats and semi-transparent stains in even thinner coats. Doing so prevents puddles that will not soak into the wood and will cause those areas to flake off when dry. Go in with a paintbrush to stain between cracks or other problem areas. Typically, one coat is enough, but if another is needed make sure to wait for the first coat to fully dry, usually 24 hours, before re-applying. Make sure to read the product’s label for the best instructions on how to stain a deck with it. Once you are finished, clean the brushes and paint tray.

Step 7: Drying & Finishing Touches

To finish your job, allow the stain to dry for 24 to 48 hours, depending on your deck and its wood. The time it will take to dry is also dependant on the temperature and humidity of your location. After the wait, rinse all tarps and tape from the prep and remove them. Replace all moved furnishings back onto your deck.
A wooden broom on a freshly stained deck.

Enjoy Your Newly Stained Deck!

Whether it’s your first time learning how to stain a deck or not, a beautiful stain job at the finish is what we all want. On top of that, staining a deck is the best way to protect your deck from fading, wear and water damage. Once you know how to stain a deck, you can refresh and re-apply every few years to keep it beautiful and long-lasting.

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