How to Stain Your Deck

Is your front porch in need of a facelift to bring the curb appeal back to your property? Is your back deck in need of a little TLC to return it to its former summertime glory? Whether you want to change your outdoor design with a new color or just freshen up your existing finish, an effective and cost-efficient way to give your old wood a new look is with a little hard work and some deck stain know-how. Follow our easy how-to guide to get your deck refreshed for summer.

Choose Your Stain

Similar to interior paint, wood stains come in a variety of bases, colors and finishes. You'll want to identify the level of coverage you want for your deck. Options vary from transparent, which seals the wood but does not change the color, to semi-transparent, which adds a hint of color while allowing the wood grain to show clearly, through to opaque, which fully covers the wood like a coat of paint.

If your deck is new or is otherwise in good condition, you can choose any range of transparency for your stain and expect a consistent finish. However, if your deck has areas of discoloration that cannot be sanded out or you've replaced boards that are now not the same shade as the older portions of your deck, you might consider a semi-transparent or full coverage option to get an even result across your deck. In addition to semi-transparent or opaque stains, you can use a restoration or resurfacing product, which also fully covers the deck with no show-through of previous color or wood grain.

Aside from varying finishes, stains also come in a wide range of colors from natural wood tones to full and bright colors giving DIYers the option to match their deck to any design plans they have for their home.

Choose a combination of finish and color that gives you the coverage and design look you're trying to achieve.

Check the Weather

Before you open the lid to that stain and get out your rollers, you'll want to ensure you’re working within a window of dry weather that allows you to complete the application and account for drying time. Most stains require a 48-72 hour window of warm, dry weather for curing before the deck is ready to be back in use. If possible, you want to find a few rain-free days with temperatures between 10-30 degrees.

Prep Your Deck

Once you've chosen your stain and found a few days of cooperating weather, you'll need to prep your deck to ensure the application gets the best possible results.

  • Remove all furniture from the deck and clear any debris.

  • Wash the deck. If your deck hasn’t just been built, you will almost certainly want to use a deck cleaner to remove any dirt, mildew or stains. If using a pressure washer, be sure to follow the wood cleaner’s instructions on how to get the deck clean without gouging or damaging the wood.

  • Scrub any stuck-on stains with a stiff brush, but never use a wire brush as it can damage the wood and leave rust spots behind. Use a small tool, like a putty knife to remove any debris from between the deck boards.

  • Use 80 grit sandpaper over any splintered areas. Hammer in any raised nails or replace any screws. If necessary, replace any damaged or rotted boards.

  • Rinse your cleaner and allow the deck to dry according to the cleaner’s instructions, often at least two days is recommended.

Apply Your Stain

You've chosen your stain, checked the weather and prepped your deck. Now it's time to put your brushes to your boards. 

While you've already made sure you're working in dry, warm weather, it's also best not to apply your stain in direct sunlight as this will cause the stain to dry too quickly, before it has a chance to be spread or absorbed into the boards.

You'll want to apply your stain in thin, even coats, over two to three board sections at a time. It's best to apply two or more thin coats rather than one thick layer that may not dry or properly adhere to the wood.

If you've got the help on hand, you can speed up the application using a process known as back-rolling. Without allowing the stain to puddle, one person can apply the finish while the other uses a roller to spread the puddles and work the stain into the deck.

Use a paint brush to apply the stain to any difficult areas like corners, steps, railings and cracks.

Cover the deck entirely and determine if you want to add an additional coat.

Allow the deck to dry completely before replacing any furniture or allowing any foot traffic.

Maintain your Look

Now that your deck is refinished and revitalized with its fresh new look, be sure to regularly sweep off any debris to avoid stains and damage.

Every few months check your deck to ensure your finish is still repelling water. Do this by pouring a small amount of water on the deck and watching to see if the water pools or forms droplets rather than absorbing into the wood.