How to Stain a Deck: What You Should Know

Decks are exposed to harsh conditions, including rain, sunlight, and the occasional barbecue sauce and red wine spills. Staining your deck — and periodic refinishing — are essential steps you need to take to keep your deck looking good for years.

When it comes to choosing the best deck stain, you’ve got several choices. In general, the more opaque the stain, the better its weather- and wear-fighting abilities. However, lighter finishes let more of the wood’s natural grain and beauty show through.

• Clear and wood-toned finishes are designed to enhance wood’s natural color.

• Semi-transparent deck stains are lightly pigmented and let grain show through but go a long way toward changing the tone of your wood. Choose grays, blues, greens, reds, and browns.

• Solids and semi-solids nearly obscure wood grain but allow deep, vibrant colors. These are the toughest finishes.

You can stain synthetic decking material but the composition of synthetics varies so check the manufacturer’s recommendations first.

When staining deck boards, the decking should be clean and dry. That means staining as soon as possible after your deck is complete to prevent dust and dirt from accumulating on the surface of your deck. Apply stain when the temps are between 50 and 90 degrees, and avoid staining in direct sunlight if possible. Sun dries out stain quickly and can create uneven color or brush marks. Check the weather forecast to make sure you have several dry days ahead.

Apply painter’s tape to any nearby surfaces — such as siding — that you need to protect. Apply the deck stain with a natural bristle brush. A roller gets the job done faster, but brushing helps force the stain into open grain and pores. It’s especially important to work stain into butt joints where two boards meet. Work several boards at once an avoid spilling over onto adjacent boards or you’ll have splotches.

Even the best staining jobs require periodic refinishing, usually every two or three years. To keep your deck looking great, refinish at the earliest signs of wear.

The biggest challenge for re-staining a deck is to make sure it’s clean. Sweep it thoroughly and use a screwdriver to clean out debris from between decking boards and butt joints. Clean obvious grease spills with a TSP solution.

Apply a quality deck cleaner according to the manufacturer’s directions. Thoroughly rinse the surface with a garden hose and high-pressure nozzle attachment. Pressure-washing isn’t recommended — linger too long in one spot or use too high of a pressure setting and you’re likely to damage boards. Once the deck is thoroughly dry, sand down any fuzzy spots with 80-grit sandpaper, and sweep up residual dust. Then apply fresh stain. You can change colors by going darker, but lightening up won’t work.

Selecting Stains & Sealers

Learn how to select the right stain or sealer to protect your outdoor deck.

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