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How to Prepare a Deck for Staining


By Carrie Dixon, Blog Editor

Deck that needs stainingDecks provide you and your family and friends with a way to enjoy the outdoors. They host get-togethers, birthday parties, after dinner drinks and plenty of other events. However, over time, your deck will wear and eventually start to look its age. Staining can help improve its appearance and give you years more use out of it, but you’ll need to know how to prepare it before you stain. What should you do?

Inspect the deck first

The first step is to inspect the deck visually. If the deck is old, there may be repairs that need to be made before you do anything else. Always take care of repairs or replacements before cleaning, sanding or staining. Look for areas of the deck that are worn or that have been damaged. Railings on stairs are common culprits, but you may find any number of items that need to be handled before you go further.

Clean the deck

Whether your deck is old and you’re reapplying stain once more, or if it’s brand new, you need to clean it before you do anything else. Why clean a new deck? It’s because new wood has what’s called mill scale (damage to the wood caused by milling and processing). Cleaning is needed to remove scale, as well as dirt, mold, mildew and debris on older decks. If your deck already has a coat of stain, it will need to be scrubbed and removed as well.

If your deck is already stained, you’ll need a good, stiff brush and some sodium percarbonate, as well as a stain stripper. Note that strippers can be caustic, so wear gloves and eye protection while you’re applying it. All the old stain must be removed before you can apply the new stain.

Make sure that the entire deck is completely clean. It might help to use a pressure washer, but be aware that these can actually damage the wood if the pressure is too high, or if you hold the nozzle to close to the wood surface. It’s better to err on the side of caution and rely on good old elbow grease in many instances, if you’re not 100% sure you can use a pressure washer without damaging the wood.

Consider using a brightener

Wood brighteners do exactly what the name would imply – they brighten the wood so that the stain stands out better. These are spray-on products and do not require any brushing to apply (or more scrubbing, so your tired arms get a break here). Note that using a brightener isn’t required, but it’s a good step, and one that most professionals use.

Rinse and dry your deck

Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned and brightened your deck, rinse it thoroughly. You need to make sure that all the chemicals you used are removed. Once completely rinsed, the wood needs to dry thoroughly. Don’t try to stain a wet deck, or you’ll end up with poor results.

Get your stain and start the process

 You can use either an oil-based stain or a water-based stain. Both are good choices (as long as you buy a quality product). Note that water-based stains can actually be sprayed on the floor and any elements facing away from the house. You’ll need to use a brush to stain the uprights, rails and floor near the house, though. Apply a light coating to your deck and do not over apply it – puddling will create a coating that peels off. You want the stain to soak into the wood.

Once you’re done staining, let it dry according to the instructions on the stain container.