How to Stain a Deck

A beautiful, well-maintained deck not only provides extra space for relaxing and entertainment, but it also adds value to your home. Like any outdoor living space, however, the realities of Mother Nature make keeping up this type of space more challenging. Responsible ownership means taking special steps to protect your deck from wind, rain, sun and snow as well as the hands of time.

If you neglect it for too long, not only does the look and utility of the space diminish, but its materials begin to break down as well, leading to an unsafe surface full of protruding nails and wood ripe for splinters. The good news is that staining a deck to seal in its beauty and lengthen its life is a simple DIY task that requires more time than it does hard-earned skills.


How to Effectively Seal & Stain Your Deck

The main goal of a sealed and stained deck is keeping the wood fresh and strong by locking out moisture and preventing damage from the sun. Most commercial deck stains and sealants will do just that with only a coat or two, so long as the area is properly prepped and the stain is properly applied. Doing so requires first gathering the right materials and tools and then getting down to the business of staining.

Tools & Materials Needed

Below is a list of the items you need to purchase for a successful staining and sealing project.

  • Stiff-bristle broom
  • Pump sprayer
  • Deck cleaner
  • Protective gloves
  • Safety mask
  • Garden hose with high-pressure nozzle
  • 80-grit sandpaper or sponge
  • Plastic sheet or drop cloth
  • 2–2 1/2-inch paint brush
  • Paint roller and tray
  • Deck stain and/or sealant of choice

DIY: 8 Steps to Stain Your Deck

The process of actually staining a deck is pretty simple, but it’s notably divided into two distinct and equally important tasks: cleaning and preparation and the actual staining process. For the best and longest-lasting results, be sure to properly complete both of these tasks and allow the requisite time in between to give the seal and stain enough time to dry.

  1. Begin the cleaning process by removing all furniture and other objects from the deck surface and inspecting it for damage and protruding nails. Sand down any splintered boards with 80-grit sandpaper and an optional pole sander. Remove and replace any broken or rotted boards, and nail in any protruding nail heads to prevent snags. Once complete, sweep to remove large debris.
  2. Before actually applying the deck cleaner, be sure to wet and/or cover all live vegetation surrounding the space. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on the bucket or bottle of cleaning product regarding how to protect your plants. Then, apply the cleaner to a wet or dry surface (depending on the product) using the garden sprayer. Work the cleaner into the boards with the bristles of your broom and allow it to sit for the designated time (usually about 10 minutes) before rinsing away the cleaning solution with the garden hose fitted with a high-pressure nozzle.
  3. Once complete, allow the deck to dry for at least 48 hours, or the amount of time specified in the manufacturer’s directions, before moving on to the staining process. Because of this requirement, it’s a good idea to check the weather report before beginning a deck staining job to make sure you have adequate time without rain in between the cleaning and staining steps as well as immediately following the staining process.
  4. Prepare the sealer and/or stain according to the manufacturer’s directions, taking care to mix the entire batch thoroughly to ensure an even color across the surface of your deck. The following process works for applying both types of finishes.
  5. Begin by choosing a small section of 2–3 boards and carefully apply one thin coat over the section using a roller with an extension pole. Pay very close attention to the stain, avoiding any pools or puddles of stain or sealer and cleaning them up with a 2-inch paint brush. You may also choose to have a second person follow you around and smooth out those little pools with a paintbrush immediately after you apply the roller coat — a process called backrolling.
  6. Continue this careful process, focusing on a specific set of boards individually, across the entire deck. Be sure to use a paintbrush, rather than a large roller, to apply the stain or sealer in corners and on railings and poles.
  7. Allow adequate time for the stain or sealer to dry and then apply a second thin coat. Depending on the condition of the deck and the previous state of the sealant, you may only need to reapply a second coat in select areas, or not at all.
  8. Allow the deck to dry completely according to the time described on the package of your particular brand of stain or sealant. Once it is dry, re-rinse the surrounding vegetation and remove the plastic protective sheet, if you used one.

Hire a Pro

While the process of staining a deck is simple enough as a DIY job, it does require one thing that’s at a premium for many homeowners: time. Because of the drying process, staining can take days to complete from start to finish, even if the actual active time involved is closer to 3–5 hours. In addition, the painting process is also quite tedious and may involve some uncomfortable bending, which may not be comfortable for older or mobility-impaired homeowners.

Furthermore, professional painters and contractors are much better suited to staining a deck that needs substantial repair, either to individual boards or structural components. They’re also more likely to get the painting done quickly and evenly.

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