Deck Staining Like a Pro – How To Stain Your Deck

I have spent my entire adult life working with paints and stains, so I’ve seen many homeowners who were dissatisfied with their deck staining projects. Either it didn’t look as good as they thought it would, or it didn’t last as long. This article will show you how to stain your deck like the pros. Follow these steps to help guarantee a great-looking, long-lasting result.

Step 1: Take Your Time

With each step of the deck staining process, take your time. After the project is complete and your tools are cleaned and put away, nothing will have had a greater impact on the quality of the job. Take your time and allow new pressure-treated lumber to weather for a few months and dry out before staining it. Leave stain strippers on the surface long enough to break down old finishes before you rinse it off. Take your time in order to prevent overspray and spills on non-target surfaces; wait to start your project until the weather forecast is favorable.

Step 2: Preparation is Everything

Preparation is key to the final results. All wood needs to be well cleaned before staining — whether it’s a brand new deck or an older deck that’s been out in the weather and needs to be re-stained. Brand-new lumber needs to be cleaned to remove mill scale, which is a crushing of the grain during the milling process. If it’s left uncleaned, it can prevent wood stains from properly penetrating into the wood pores.

Sodium percarbonate wood cleaners, also known as oxygen bleach wood cleaners, are a great choice for this step. They are highly effective at cleaning the wood, yet don’t harm plant life and vegetation. Best of all, they won’t hurt you either. Their soapy consistency won’t burn your skin.

If there is a build-up of old stains on the deck, then the job gets a little tougher, but not impossible. Instead of a sodium percarbonate cleaner, you’ll need to use a wood stain stripper. Stain strippers are a little more caustic, so follow the directions carefully. They work well and will remove most weathered stains in a single application. Lastly, if there are small spots of stain that won’t come off during the cleaning process, they should sand off easily using a palm-type sander after the deck has dried. If those spots of stain are left on the deck, they will show through the new finish and detract from the deck’s final appearance.

Step 3: Brighteners are Beautiful

In the deck staining process, no step is skipped more than this one. It’s by far the easiest step to do and will have a dramatic effect on the final results. Wood brighteners are easy to apply. They help open up the surface of the wood to improve penetration, neutralize any stain strippers that were used, and restore the appearance of old, weathered wood to look like new again. That’s a lot for one product to accomplish, but brighteners will do all of that, so don’t skip using them. To use them, simply spray them on, wait a few minutes, and rinse them off. No scrubbing, no ‘elbow grease’ needed. They’re so easy to use and have so many benefits, there’s no reason not to use them!

Step 4: Rinse Like Mad

Use plenty of water after using any cleaning chemicals. Even though some of these chemicals can seem safe and harmless, they all need to be rinsed off extremely well after they are used. Left in the wood, these chemicals can resurface over time and begin to attack and break down the new stain. So once you are done cleaning, rinse the deck thoroughly to get all of the chemicals out of the wood.

Step 5: Stay Away From the Cheap Stuff

Now that the deck is clean and dry, it’s ready to be stained. Before you decide which stain to buy, keep in mind that you always get what you pay for. Better ingredients cost more money. If you expect premium results, then you’ll need to buy a premium product. Quality differs in resins, pigments, mildewcides, and many other materials that make up a gallon of wood stain. So stay away from the cheap stuff if you expect it to last.

Step 6: Take a Look at Waterborne Deck Stains

Water-based deck stains have become really popular in the last few years. If you have been reluctant to try them in the past, don’t be reluctant any longer. Air quality regulations have forced manufacturers to really improve these products, and some are now better, more durable, and longer lasting than conventional oil-based alternatives. They offer some distinct advantages that oil-based stains can’t offer. Good quality, water-based stains clean up with soap and water, have no nasty solvents, have a significantly better resistance to weathering, don’t need the wood to be completely dry, dry more quickly than solvents, and are much easier on the environment.

Additionally, some of the waterborne stains are synthetic, including DEFY Extreme Wood Stain. Synthetic resin wood stains are far less susceptible to mold growth, mildew and algae. If you’re in an area with a fair amount of moisture and humidity, then waterborne, synthetic stains, like DEFY Wood Stains, have some real advantages for you.

Step 7: Read the Can; Follow the Directions

Every product is a little different, so always read the label for directions. It only takes a few minutes and it will ensure that you have all of the right information before you get started. Pay attention to how many coats of stain to apply, how long to wait between coats, how long to wait after cleaning, and how long to allow wood to weather. Read the label first and you’re likely to get it right the first time.

Step 8: More IS NOT always Better

Semi-transparent deck stains are a great choice because they allow the natural grain of the wood to show through, allow the wood to naturally breathe, and are easily cleaned and reapplied. Pay attention to the directions and don’t over apply these types of products. When too much stained is applied, a film can form, much like paint, that will no longer allow the wood to breathe; the end result is peeling, which is a real mess. Only apply as much stain as the wood can easily absorb.

Step 9: The Paint Brush is Still King

Deck stain can be applied in several different ways. Using a pump-up garden sprayer and roller are two popular methods. An even better way is to use A car wash brush
that is available at most home improvement stores. Using this to stain the horizontal boards will save your back and your knees and allows you to move much more quickly than using a small paint brush.

Regardless of how you apply your wood stain, keep a paint brush at hand. A paint brush is necessary for the vertical posts and railings and will work the stain deep in to the pores of a board. The agitation and friction caused by a paint brush will cause the wood to absorb more stain. So if you are spraying or rolling the stain, always back-brush it in with a brush while the stain is still wet; you’ll achieve much better penetration in to the wood. Watch the short video clip below for the best type of brush to use.

Step 10: Let it Dry

Step one of this article told you to take your time. When your project is finally done, take a little extra time before you start use it. Let your deck dry out well before putting it back in use. The stain needs to cure out before being subjected to the rigors of patio furniture and foot traffic. You’ve done everything correctly to this point, so make sure you allow at least 24 hours for it to dry out before using it.

Step 11: Maintain It

A small amount of effort can keep your deck looking great longer. Just as you would wash the dirt off of your car, you should occasionally wash down the surface of your deck to keep leaves and dirt from damaging the finish. If the deck stain starts to show signs of graying or loses its color, it can be easily cleaned up with a little wood brightener and a light maintenance coat of stain.

Conclusion

That’s it; eleven keys to deck staining success. Go ahead and try them to see what the results are when you set out on your next project to do it like a pro. You may just surprise yourself!

28 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    Can I clean and brighten brand new never stained weathered one year cedar deck in one day, and how much time do I have before it can b stained? Oh yes using Defy products

  2. John M McIntosh says:

    #1 deck boards. Brand new deck and rails in NC . We have incredibly hot deck that was finished 1 month ago. I am told we must wait 3 months or more before we stain the deck but it is starting to crack and the deck boards are starting to cup. Should I wait for three more months or should I stain when humidity gets low?

    • defyadmin says:

      John, the deck may be ready now if it’s starting to crack, but make sure you don’t stain the deck in the direct sunlight. Do it in the morning or evening when the sun is low, or on a cloudy day. In your case, your boards may be well over 100 degrees F in the sun, and applying the stain to boards this hot would definitely be a problem.

  3. Martin Baddick says:

    I used the deck over from Behr, it is the medium grade. I have a feeling it is peeling because we put it on during the hottest time if the day. How do we remove the areas that are peeling, the whole porch is not peeling, only certain areas

    • defyadmin says:

      Martin, unfortunately you may be stuck with the Behr product. One of the issues this product is peeling. The easiest solution is to scrape any areas that can be easily peeled off, and then apply another coat of the same product over those areas. The only other alternative is to sand the deck down to bare wood with a floor sander, but can be time consuming and difficult.

    • Lisa Levy says:

      I have a brand new deck (NOT pressure treated but completely bare) With all this humid Nova Scotia weather and sporadic rain, should I wait until humidity is completely gone for a few days straight….or is it more important to get it covered asap ?? It gets direct hot sunlight all afternoon so realize it should be done in early morn or late afternoon but ‘m worried irs getting too dried out (3 weeks since built)….or is it more important for better weather? I have the acrylic white stain. Weather weather weather!!!!

      • defyadmin says:

        Lisa, I would wait until the humidity goes down. If you apply it in high humidity, it may not dry very fast, and if it gets rained on it could ruin the whole deck. I wouldn’t worry about it getting dried out. Allowing it to weather for a month or two isn’t a big deal. In fact, for pressure treated lumber, we recommend waiting at least 3 months.

  4. MARK FEENEY says:

    looking for a good deck cleaner and stripper. Also what is a good oil stain that will last. Price is not a factor quaity is.

    • defyadmin says:

      Mark, typically you would use either a cleaner OR a stripper, but not both. If you have a clear sealer, or semi-transparent stain on your deck that’s still holding up, try using DEFY Stain Stripper, then rinse with a pressure washer. This should remove the previous finish totally. If your wood is gray or has a previous finish that’s mostly weathered away, DEFY Wood Cleaner, followed by rinsing with a pressure washer should do the trick. Concerning stains, you may want to consider a water-based stain as they last longer than oil, and they don’t attract mold like oil based stains do. Our best stain is DEFY Extreme Wood Stain. It’s a premium, semi-transparent stain that’s easy to apply, cleans up with soap and water, and will last. We do have a water-based/oil-based hybrid stain called DEFY Wood Oil for Decks, but DEFY Extreme is our longest lasting product.

    • Ron S says:

      I have a 40-year-old redwood deck that I removed all boards and ran them through a surface planer – they look great. However, I had to replace 6 of the 40 boards because they were too far gone. I used DEFY cleaner and brightener and the old and new boards look great. Can I stain the new boards? They were quite wet 2 weeks ago when delivered, but it’s been 95+ degrees since then. Water barely sits on the surface of the new boards and absorbs in 30 seconds or so.

  5. John Cowger says:

    OK — used Extreme transparent grey DEFY— new deck,dry 6 mos. —used cleaner, brightener, then DEFY early shade –hit it—- then hit it again in the not dry 20 min. Looks great thanks———–BUT the then the sun came in for parts of the rest of the deck—— I can see a few spots where I got wet stain on top of the dry. Is there anything I can do now or later? Thanks for any help you might have.

    • defyadmin says:

      John, you may need to let it weather for a little while. It should even out over time, and when it’s time to do a maintenance coat, everything should blend in at that point.

  6. sandra johnson says:

    Hi all. I live in South Carolina and had a deck built on the back of my house at the end of summer last year. Because it was so hot then I decided to wait until now to stain it. I pressure washed the deck and landing and let it thoroughly dry. The deck is built of pine and I am using Defy water-based stain in a cedar color which is very nice. I am horrified that all the wood looks patchy and I mean REALLY patchy.
    I didn’t condition the deck prior to staining because due to this virus outbreak I can’t get anyone to do any work at my house and I will be 66 this year. It is a lot of work for me to do just staining the deck and I’m not even done yet.
    I only apply the stain in the morning hours before the sun hits the deck. I know better than to paint and/or stain when it’s hot. Also, I dried the deck with my leaf blower before I applied the stain.
    The railings and steps look okay but the deck floor looks so awful I could cry. I know it’s too late to do anything about it but what should I have done prior to staining it?

    • defyadmin says:

      Sandra, my guess is the patchiness is caused by lack of preparation. The Wood Cleaner and Wood Brightener products are great at removing any dirt, debris and it will also neutralize the wood so the stain goes on evenly and absorbs properly. To fix, you’ll want to allow the wood to weather for a season, and then maybe in the late fall, you can try cleaning and brightening the flat parts of the deck, and re-applying the stain.

  7. Heide Green says:

    I have black metal spindles on a new PT deck. We are using Defy Extreme semi transparent to stain for the first time (deck built summer 2019). This page has been very helpful for finding the best way to do this and what product to use. My question is do you know is the stain will discolor the metal spindles if I just wipe it off or do I need to mask every spindle? Deck is 30’x12’.

    • defyadmin says:

      Hiede, as long as the stain is still wet, it will wipe off easily without discoloring. It’s up to you if you want to mask everything off, or simply wipe it down as you go. Just don’t let it dry, as it is difficult to remove after drying.

  8. Stacey Waring says:

    How long to get samples? We live in Virginia. Do local dealers carry those?

  9. Amy Gibson says:

    Hello! I just applied DEFY EXTREME transparent to my brand new cedar deck (1.3 gallons to 350 sq feet ) . I laid the deck, sanded + swept then applied the sealant in the last bit of sunlight. Left the deck to rest for 15 hours, then light rain showers moved in ( I live in the PNW and rain just visits us) for about 3 hours. Water seemed to be beading up marvelously. The deck then fully dried out in the afternoon sun. After drying, there are many dark grey/blackish spots on the deck wood, especially in areas where there was dripping water. Now, another 30 hours later, I’ve gone out on the deck after the dew evaporated off, and the discoloration has increased two fold. There is no discoloration in areas under the roof line. What went wrong, and what can I do to fix this?

    • defyadmin says:

      Amy, my initial thoughts are that the stain didn’t fully cure before the rain came. If you contact our customer service department at 800-860-6327 they can help troubleshoot more in depth. Photos may be helpful.

  10. I like that this post explained that deck staining is an excellent to make the deck appear brighter. My wife and I recently purchased a home that comes with a sun deck. I will definitely have it stained to give it a fresh new look.

  11. Richard Keil says:

    Hi I have just purchased a new grey coloured composite decking . I want to seal it so it does not stain when things like food are dropped on it . I also do not want to change the colour of the deck . Is your defy extreme composite decking sealer suitable for this ? Do you post to the United Kingdom ?

    • defyadmin says:

      Richard, first off, we do not ship to the UK. You may check to see if anyone on Amazon is shipping the product your way. Second off, if you have a new composite deck, you shouldn’t need to seal it. Newer composite decks should resist food stains as well as weathering. Our product was designed for older composite decks, especially decks built in the early 2000’s when there was a huge problem with mold growth and water absorption.

  12. Chris Vella says:

    I am having a deck built with pressure-treated lumber in mid-October in Delaware. I am worried about the timing of building this new deck (tornado knocked 5 trees on my old deck) and it has to go the winter without stain. I know I should wait 3 months, but will the snow/ice damage the wood? Would I be better off waiting till mid-November, cleaning, conditioning, and then applying stain early? What are your thoughts? I am looking to use DEFY Extreme Exterior redwood.

    Thanks in advance!

    • defyadmin says:

      Chris, it’s usually not a problem to allow a deck to weather through the winter. My recommendation would be to wait until spring. When it starts to warm up, use the cleaner and brightener to bring the wood back to it’s new look, and then proceed with staining.

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