How to Stain a Deck

How to Stain a Deck

Give your deck a brand new look every two to five years

By Stevie Donald

Contractor Staining Wood Furniture
Photo by iStockphoto.comBookmark and SharePhoto by iStockphoto.com

Protect and renew your deck with stain. It's a messy job, but cleaning and staining not only extends the life of your deck, it looks fabulous when it's done. Like most exterior horizontal surfaces, wood decks take a beating from the elements. Sunlight turns decks gray. Damp, shaded decking is a perfect medium for growing mildew, mold and moss. Every time the deck is walked on, dirt is ground into the wood fibers.

  • What You Need to Know
  • Make sure that your deck is completely dry before you begin. You never want to begin a wood staining project on wood that is not dry.
  • A paintbrush is the best method of applying stain. Brushing gives an even finish and allows you to work the stain deep into the wood fibers. Spraying, another popular application method, is extremely messy and creates a fog of sticky overspray, so the entire area will need to be masked and protected.

Step 1:

Clean your deck. Unless it is new, you will need to clean it with a deck wash to remove grime, mold and normal discoloration. Use a stiff-bristle brush attached to a broom handle to scrub the deck wash into the fibers and between the boards. Rinse clean with a hose.

Step 2:

Use a power washer for very dirty, weathered decks to save time. Power washers remove the weathered surface and can be used with deck cleaners. If you're renting a power washer, let the rental yard know what you're using it for and make sure you get a nozzle tip that is suitable for deck wood. Allow three consecutive dry days before staining.

Step 3:

Make necessary repairs. Go over your deck and railings. Tighten wood screws and replace badly cracked, weathered or rotted wood.

Step 4:

Choose a good oil deck stain. Avoid budget stains because they quickly lose protective value and fade. A good stain will protect your deck and hold its color for two to five years, depending on your climate. Let the paint store know the approximate square footage of your deck so they can calculate the amount of stain you'll need.

Step 5:

Apply the stain. For most residential decks, a 4 to 6-inch stain brush is your best method. If you use a roller, the stain will still have to be evened out with a brush afterwards. Spraying makes quick work of painting decking and rails, but requires expertise, a professional grade sprayer and the correct tip for spraying stain.

Step 6:

Start with the deck railings. Not only does it feel better to get the tedious part out of the way first, it's a good rule of thumb to work from the top down. Lay a drop cloth along the bottom of the rails as you work to avoid getting drips and puddles of stain on the deck planks.

Step 7:

Stain the deck in sections, working down the length of two to four planks at a time. Don't stop in the middle of a plank, but finish each section, maintaining a wet edge.

Step 8:

Wrap your entire stain set up -- bucket, brush and all -- in a plastic garbage bag, tucking the edges under to make it air tight, when taking a break. This will keep your tools and materials fresh, even overnight. Do all final clean-up with mineral spirits.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • Plan on re-staining a deck every two to five years, depending on your climate.
  • Most stains recommend only one coat. Two coats will not increase the durability of the deck staining job, and may result in a patchy appearance.

About the Author

Stevie Donald is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She has been a painting contractor since 1979.

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