How to Stain a Deck Like A Professional

Deck restoration, the right way.

Deck restoration, the right way. Natural Stain.

Here’s Some things you need to know:

Staining a deck is easy right? Think again. There’s more to staining a deck that rinsing the loose dirt off and slapping a stain on it. Do that and you’re headed for a splotchy, uneven finish you’ll regret – especially after you’ve invested so much time and money into it. A weekend project can turn into a year long nightmare real fast.

Let me give you a few tips that I think will help you out this fall as you prepare your deck for the winter season. Lets start at the beginning:

1. Why do we stain decks?


We want that junk to look good! After spending all that money for our beautiful deck we get a since of pride when we walk out on it, but give it two years and you’ll wonder why you wasted your money. It doesn’t take long for that beautiful golden, lush wood to turn gray and begin to crack. If you want an eye soar then you’re good to go, but I doubt that’s the case. However, leave a deck unprotected and that’s exactly what you’ll have in a few years. Which leads us to the next reason to have it stained,

Save Money

I’ve dealt with wood decks, wood houses, and wood roofs. I can tell you right now that the worse thing for wood is the sun. It will literally break down the fibers of the wood and cause it to lose layers over the years. UV rays turn the wood a gray color as it dries out the oils, which also leads to cracking, and before long replacing.¬† reports the average cost of a pressure treated deck running about $25.00 per square foot. So a simple 12 x 12 deck can run upwards of $3,600. No one wants to pay that every 10 years, but left unprotected that’s exactly what will happen.

Mold, mildew, wood rot and algae are other problems we find on decks, and these organisms tend to grow on shaded areas of the deck. These also damage the wood and cause a risk factor as the deck becomes extremely slippery and dangerous to walk on.

These are the issues we deal with when we leave wood unprotected, so a stain should be properly applied periodically. Doing this will keep your deck protected from UV rays, all the harmful effects of the environment, and will ultimately save you thousands in replacement costs (plus you lessen the risk of slipping and breaking your arm, leading to health care issues, which leads us to more problems than we are ready to deal with in the USA at this time. Have your deck stain and make America a safer place).


2. Here’s the fun part – How?

Easy right? Rinse the loose dirt off and slap some stain on it! Wrong. If you want a splotchy finish along with fading and chipping in a few months, go right ahead. So much for saving thousands in replacement costs though. You’ll end up spending more trying to reapply year after year due to improper application.

Prepare Surface

In order to properly stain a deck the surface first needs to be prepared to receive it. How to prepare the wood all depends on what condition the wood is currently in and whether or not it’s been stained before. If it’s been stained before, the next question becomes whether or not it was oil based or water based. After that is established, we need to determine if this will be a maintenance re-stain or if we are starting from scratch. All these factors need to be understood before moving forward.


Once these things have been established we can begin the preparation process. Preparation starts with a good cleaning. Stain cannot be applied over sun damaged wood or over moldy wood, so these things will need to be removed. Using professional grade cleaners will be able to kill these infestations, as well as lift sun damage from the wood. After allowing the cleaners to set, it needs to be washed with low to medium pressure rinse by way of a pressure washer. Caution is recommended. Too much pressure will damage the wood, to little pressure will not get the job done, and improper techniques will leave wand streaks in the wood and will effect the overall appearance of the finish, and that would be a waste.

Restore pH Balance

After the wood has been cleaned a brightener will need to be applied to restore the pH balance back to the wood. When using cleaners the pH levels in the wood raise up causing an imbalance. The stain will not adhere to the wood properly unless proper pH is restored. Therefore a brightener should be applied which will bring the levels back to natural, making the wood able to receive the stain. Remember, the idea of staining isn’t to cover the surface. We want the stain to actually penetrate the pours of the wood, so proper preparation of the wood is key to any staining project. This will help the stain last a long time which saves money (and that’s the goal here).


Once the wood is cleaned and restored to a proper pH balance, it is then ready for stain.

NOTE: Staining needs to be done in the proper temperature. Extreme cold and extreme heat is never a good time to stain a deck. Nor is it a good time to stain when it is damp outside.

The next step in the process is the type of stain. This is always a difficult task, but I have a couple things to say to assist:

Choosing a finish – The choices are Natural, Semi-Transparent, Semi-Solid and Solid. I have used all of these and really it comes down to the brands quality. A natural may fade a little faster than the others, a solid may peel. A Semi-transparent or semi-solid may give you the best of both worlds: Protection, minimal fade and minimal peeling. But like I said, if you choose a quality stain, either will be fine. It will come down to personal preference regarding it’s appearance. Here’s some information that will help:

Natural – With a natural stain you will still have full visibility of the wood grain. It will make the wood slightly richer, but will not alter the color.

Semi-Transparent – This finish allows you to still see the grain of the wood with the extra benefit of adding some color.

Semi-Solid – The wood grain will not be very visible with this finish but the color becomes more vibrate.

Solid – No wood grain can be seen here.

Note: Since solid stains don’t penetrate quite as well as the transparent stains, chipping can occur. And the transparent stains can fade over time. These aren’t alarming issues, they are just the natural process. But choose a quality brand and you’re good to go. All you would need is a routine re-stain and this will eliminate chipping risks and correct fading.

3. Let’s review:

A proper deck staining starts with accessing the situation and goal you want to achieve. Is this new wood, stained wood or unprotected sun damaged wood? Is this a re-stain? Next, prep the wood accordingly. Once the preparation is done correctly, pick a pretty day where the temperature is right and apply the stain. Stain can be applied either by a sprayer or using brushes and rollers that are made for stain finishes. Lastly, choose a high quality stain for the job. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more than the bargain brand.

This is a job a Do It Yourselfer can tackle if they are up to the challenge. When in doubt, use a professional. Quality cleaners and stains are key in this job. A professional will know what works best in your area and will have the equipment to do the job.

Happy Staining!

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