With the fun outdoors season on the horizon, this is the perfect time of year for last-minute upgrades to your outdoor areas – your deck as well, of course. If the wood looks a little worse due to wear and tear, it might be a good idea to think about staining it again. Before you go to the hardware store, however, you should know how to choose the right stain and how to apply it. Not sure where to start? We spoke to the experts at to find out everything you need to know before doing a deck makeover.
Get the stains out
Before you pick up a brush, make sure the surface of your deck is completely clean, says Behr national coach Jessica Barr. “If you don’t clean properly, I can’t promise the new stain will actually last as long as it stands on the outside of the can,” she warns.
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The first step is to remove any remnants of the existing stain, even if the new stain you want to use is the same color and transparency as the original. “Think of your deck as a sponge – when the wood is clean it acts like a dry sponge and easily picks up the new stain, but if there are already stains the wood is like a wet sponge and nothing else will . ” be able to dive in, “says Barr.
For best results, use a specialty stain and paint remover. “Typically, you apply it to the wood, let it sit for 15 to 45 minutes, then take an outside brush and squeeze it a little until the stain comes off and the cleaner stains itself,” says Barr. Depending on how many stains you want to remove, you may need to repeat this several times.
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Prepare the wood
After the old stain has been completely removed, consider using a wood cleaner. “The stain remover only removes the top layer, but the wood cleaner neutralizes the stripper and penetrates the wood pores, digging up dirt, debris and even powdery mildew,” explains Barr.
When flushing the squeegee and cleaner, Barr suggests using a garden hose – and staying away from pressure washers. “Most people think they can just wash under pressure and then apply the stain, but the reality is that wood surfaces are very soft and should be handled carefully,” she says. “Using a pressure washer too close or at too high a speed can cause splinters, blurring, or other damage.”
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Choose your type of stain
Now for the fun part: pick the stain yourself. Cover stains range from essentially colorless to completely opaque. Choosing the right stain will depend on a number of factors including the age of the surface you’re staining (older decks are, of course, more weathered and grayer) and how long you would like the new stain to last.
For a newer deck, Barr recommends a clear patch that lets you take advantage of the existing wood grain. “You can see through it, but there is still some color in it,” says Barr. If your deck is five to ten years old, the surface has likely stained a bit, so it suggests going semi-transparent. “It’s still a little see-through, but there’s a lot more infusion of color so you can see less of the wood grain,” she says. “There are also a lot more color options than with a transparent patch.” Finally, for an older deck with gray wood, try a solid color stain. “It looks like paint, but it still lets the texture of the wood through,” she says.
The more opaque the stain, the better the wood protection and the long-term effect. “Using a solid patch is like applying SPF 70 to your skin,” says Barr. “If the sun can’t get to the forest, it won’t fade as much!”
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Look at color
The type of wood you start with will affect the end result. So keep that in mind when choosing a color. The most common types of decking are pine and cedar, and even redwood on the west coast. “Pine is naturally much lighter, which means it can pick up colors more evenly,” says Barr. “Cedar is more of a brownish hue, while redwood has that strong red undertone that can look funky with certain blotch colors.”
Some companies, including Behr, sell sample pots of their stains. Barr recommends taking a few home and trying them out in an inconspicuous area of your deck to see what it looks like.
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When actually applying the stain, follow the directions on the can. You should use a paintbrush to stain the edges by just doing a couple of boards at a time, and then a roller or pad to get the larger areas in between. (You can also use a pump sprayer if you have one, but it is not required.) Walk back and forth to ensure even application. If you’re applying more than one coat, let the stain dry completely in between.
What about new decks?
If you have a brand new deck, you can probably skip the stain, right? No way, says Barr. “Wood’s greatest enemy is the sun. If left untreated, those UV rays will crack open the wood pores and turn them gray and other nasty colors,” she explains. “Stain provides UV resistance with colorant or silicone while allowing the wood to expand and contract.”
You should still start with a wood cleaner even when dealing with a new deck. Even untreated wood has a clear coating, a naturally occurring substance known as mill glaze.
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A bit of maintenance can help your deck keep that straight-mottled look longer, says Barr. Regularly sweep away any debris, especially fallen leaves (they have tannins that can stain the surface of the deck). Remove spills and other sticky material with mild detergent. Do a more thorough cleaning twice a year, preferably once in the fall and once in the spring.
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