How to Refinish Your Deck

The right tools will make refinishing your wooden deck seem like a breeze.

Prep: Cleaning the Deck

Like so many other projects, refinishing your deck depends on good preparation. That means thoroughly cleaning and stripping the wood beforehand. There are several ways to clean a wooden deck, and, chances are, you'll need more than one method. Read on for our step-by-step refinishing guide.


Scrubbing by hand or with a stiff-bristle push broom can be an effective way to prep a deck. It may not scour tight corners or deep cracks the way a pressure washer can, but if you use trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a commercial cleaner, scrubbing can be adequate for small jobs. Some professionals actually prefer brush-scrubbing as a less-harsh alternative to power washing.


Removing old stain with a chemical stripper is relatively uncommon with decks, but we found that it did an excellent job, leaving wood noticeably cleaner than using a power washer alone. Stripper is particularly valuable for areas where old stain still adheres tightly, such as on railings and other areas exposed to less wear than the main deck surface.

Pressure Washing

Pressure washing, the standard in deck cleaning, efficiently removes dirt, old stain, and debris from wood. Most pressure washers can be used with trisodium phosphate (TSP) or other deck cleaners for an even better result. When you use a pressure washer, don't let the spray linger in one spot too long, or it may gouge the wood. Discoloration or stubborn stains are better removed with a stripper than with overly aggressive washing.

Prep Tip: Avoid Damaging Nearby Plants

Wet nearby foliage before using deck cleaner or
stripper to reduce chemical damage. After you finish
cleaning the deck, spray plants again to wash off any chemical residue.

Treat: Applying the Finish

Before applying the finish allow ample time for the deck to dry. Read the product label for guidance. Also, reset popped nailheads and replace warped or split boards before refinishing.

Once your deck is clean and dry, it's time to apply finish. Finishes come in clear, tinted, semitransparent, and solid colors. The look you choose is mainly a matter of personal preference, but there is a practical consideration: Clear or tinted products usually last just a year or two, depending on the climate. Semitransparent and solid stains may last two to four years. Stain can be applied several ways, including with some new products that make the job a lot easier.

Rollers and Brushes

An ordinary paint roller can make easy work of staining a deck, especially if you attach an extension handle so you don't have to kneel. (Check product recommendations -- some finishes are not suitable for roller application.) To reduce overlap marks, roll no more than a few deck boards at a time, completing their full length before starting the next. Paint brushes can be used on decks, too, but they're not efficient for large surfaces. They are useful for railings and recesses that rollers can't reach, however.


Sprayers are excellent for applying stain because they allow you to cover large areas quickly and uniformly. Another advantage is the ease with which sprayers treat railings and other awkward, hard-to- paint surfaces. Powered sprayers are available, but even simple pump-type sprayers will work. (Not all deck finishes are appropriate for sprayer application; check the product label.)

Other Alternatives to Rollers and Brushes

Browsing stain aisles at home improvement centers can reveal some nifty innovations. For instance, gel stains applied with pads are easy to use without drips or runs, and various pad applicators, pictured on the next slide, are designed to reach difficult spots.

Refinishing Tip

Refinishing your deck every year or two reduces cracks and splinters, keeping the surface of the
wood attractive and friendly to tender feet.

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