Project Guide

How to Refinish a Deck

1
Choose a Stain or Sealant
A selection of stains and sealants for refinishing decks.

When learning how to refinish a wood deck, determine whether your deck needs to be sealed and the appropriate types of exterior stains and sealers to choose from. 


  • Conduct a water drop test on the deck by pouring a few drops of water on a deck board. If the board absorbs the water, the deck definitely needs sealing for protection. If the water beads, the wood is already sealed and may only need cleaning, unless you want to change its appearance.
  • Stains color the wood and give your deck a new look. Most new types of exterior wood stain are formulated with sealants, so you only need to apply one product. 
  • Semitransparent stains or sealers let the wood grain show through and can be most effective on pressure treated lumber.
  • Avoid such clear finishes as varnish or polyurethane as they can degrade when exposed to sunlight over time.
2
Clean and Prepare the Deck
A person cleans a deck with a pressure washer.

Take care to clean and prepare the deck to ensure the best results before deck refinishing.


  • Schedule the project carefully. Do not apply a new finish if rain is expected within 24 hours.
  • Inspect the deck, handrails and steps. Replace damaged boards and make sure no nails are sticking up.
  • Clear the deck of all outdoor furniture, toys, potted plants, grills and other objects. 
  • Cover nearby plants or shrubs with plastic sheeting to make sure they don’t get spattered with cleaner or stain.
  • Apply painter’s tape along where the deck meets the side of the house to avoid getting stain on your home.
  • Clean the deck by spraying a biodegradable deck cleaner that removes mildew. Scrub with a stiff bristle brush, using an extension handle, if necessary.
  • After cleaning, consider applying a wood brightener to the surface to improve the deck's appearance.
  • Then rinse the deck with a garden hose.
  • Pressure washing is an option, but follow instructions to avoid damaging the wood. Use the pressure washer at a low setting with a fan spray nozzle.


Tip: Do not use a metal brush on cedar or redwood, as the bristles may scar the soft wood.

3
Sand the Deck
A person sands a deck with an orbital sander.

If you plan to stain the deck, sand the surface before application to make the wood better absorb the coating.


  • Use an orbital sander to remove any old gloss and smooth out any rough areas on decking boards.
  • You may need to use a sanding sponge on the railings or balustrades.
  • Use 60- or 80- grit sandpaper on the main deck boards, and use 80- or 100-grit on the handrails. 
  • After sanding, vacuum the deck thoroughly to ensure that dust does not settle on the new finish.


Safety: Always wear a dust mask and safety goggles to protect your eyes when sanding treated wood.

4
How to Refinish a Deck
A person applies stain to a deck with a paint brush.

When learning how to restain a wood deck, make sure the deck has had at least two days to dry before applying stain or sealant.


  • Begin by applying stain or sealant to handrails using a paintbrush, starting at the top and working down to the deck surface. You can also apply stain with a paint sprayer.
  • Use a natural-bristle paintbrush to apply oil-based products and a synthetic-bristle brush to apply water-based stains. 
  • Then stain or seal the surface decking boards with a flat paint-pad applicator. Let the stain soak according to instructions and remove excess with a rag.
  • Stain needs time to absorb into the wood but dries quickly, so avoid applying the stain in direct sunlight. 
  • Porous wood may require a second coat of staining sealer for even coverage.
  • Most decks do not require sealant on the underside, especially when made of pressure-treated wood.
  • Stay off the deck for a full day to ensure it dries completely.
  • Remove painter’s tape, return furnishings to their desired place and enjoy the results of your deck restoration.


Tip: Apply deck stain with your exit in mind, such as ending at the steps, so you don’t have to track through wet stain. 

Learning how to refinish a deck is a matter of following a few simple steps, such as allowing adequate drying time between cleaning and refinishing the wood. Deck refinishing can have appealing results that makes an old wooden deck look like new.


Once you’ve learned how to restain a deck, follow recommended deck maintenance steps. Keep the deck swept and perform regular inspections for signs of wear and tear. Replace damaged deck boards as needed. Periodically rearrange outdoor furniture to prevent sunlight from creating mismatched color patches. Give the deck annual cleanings with a cleaner that removes mildew. Steps like this will help extend the life of your deck’s finish.


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