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Project Guide

How to Stain a Deck

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Check the Weather and Choose the Stain
Water droplets stand on deck boards.
  • Try a simple test to see if your deck repels water or needs staining. Sprinkle water on the wood: if the wood absorbs it within 10 minutes, plan to stain as soon as possible. If the water pools on the wood surface, the need for exterior stain is less urgent. A stained wood deck should be maintained every one to three years. 
  • Learning how to stain a deck begins with scheduling. Unless the deck is entirely new, you’ll need to clean the surface and allow a day to dry before staining. Stain needs time to absorb into the wood but dries quickly, so avoid applying the stain in direct sunlight. Try to schedule your staining project on days forecasted for 50 to 90 degree temperatures with no rain. 
  • Match the stain to your deck’s type of wood. 
  • If your deck has been previously stained, note that oil-based stain can go over water-based stain, but water-based stain cannot go over oil-based stain. For best results, use oil-based stains over old oil-based stain and water-based stains over old water-based stain.
  • Try to find exterior wood stain formulated to repel water, preserve wood and protect against harmful UV rays.
Prepare the Deck
A person hammers a nail into a deck board.
  • Remove all furnishings from the deck. 
  • Inspect the decking wood, repairing imperfections and replacing missing nails as needed.
  • Sand any splintered areas with 80-grit paper using a belt or pole sander. 
  • Sweep away dust and debris, including between deck boards. 
  • If there are plants alongside the deck, moisten and cover them with a tarp or sheeting to keep chemicals or stain from getting on them.
Wash the Wood
A person washes a deck with a sprayer.
  • You’ll want to clean the deck boards to be free of dirt or mildew before finishing so the wood stain doesn’t trap any imperfections. 
  • Wash the wood with a deck cleaner and scrub the wood surface with a brush while wet. 
  • Allow the wet cleaner to soak into the wood for about 10 minutes or according to the manufacturer’s directions. 
  • Rinse thoroughly with a garden hose or pressure washer. 
  • Allow two days to dry before applying stain. 
Stain Railings and Other Raised Features
A person stains the balusters of a deck with a brush.
  • Before applying the stain, use painter’s tape to protect areas like the house's siding, if needed. 
  • Sweep the deck one more time to remove any leaves, dust or debris that settled when the cleaner was drying. 
  • Stir stain thoroughly before applying and pour into a paint tray.
  • Apply the stain to a test patch of wood to confirm that you're satisfied with its color and appearance.
  • Begin by staining the deck’s highest wood features, such as the railings, posts and balusters, and make your way down. 
  • Make long, even strokes with a paintbrush.
Stain the Deck Boards
A person stains deck boards with a pad applicator.
  • Stain the deck boards using a paint pad applicator, which is easier than brushing a large deck by hand and more accurate than using a pressurized sprayer. 
  • Apply one coat of stain in long, even strokes.
  • Use a paintbrush to stain between cracks and in problem areas.
  • Choose the place you want to exit, such as the deck stairs or your home’s back door, and apply the stain while moving in that direction. Usually one coat is enough.
  • Once you're finished, clean the brushes and paint tray.
  • Allow the stain to dry for at least 24 hours. 

Staining a deck will protect your deck from fading, natural wear and water damage. Make staining easy and get professional results by prepping and cleaning your deck in advance. Once you have learned how to stain a deck, you can refresh its appearance every few years so that your deck stays long-lasting and beautiful. 

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