How to Refinish Your Deck and Make It Look Brand-New
How to Clean a Deck Before Staining
Before you reach for a roller and deck stain, you'll need to clean and strip the wood. The best way to clean a wooden deck varies by the type of surface, so you might need to use different cleaning methods for the decking, railings, and other areas. Some combination of scrubbing, stripping, and pressure washing is usually sufficient to prepare the surface for refinishing.
How to Scrub a Deck Clean
Scrubbing by hand or with a stiff-bristle push broom ($8, The Home Depot) can be an effective way to prep a deck. It might not scour tight corners or deep cracks the way a pressure washer can, but if you use trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a commercial deck cleaner, scrubbing can suffice for small decks. Some professionals actually prefer brush-scrubbing as a less harsh alternative to power-washing.
How to Strip a Deck
Removing old stain with a chemical stripper ($12, Lowe's) is another effective way to prepare a deck for refinishing. It often leaves wood noticeably cleaner than using a power washer alone. Stripper is particularly valuable for areas where old stain still adheres tightly, such as on deck railings and other areas exposed to less wear than the main deck surface. Be sure to choose a formula that's biodegradable, and follow the manufactuer's instructions. Wear protective clothing and cover any plants that might get sprayed with the solution.
How to Pressure Wash a Deck
The standard method for deck cleaning, pressure washing 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 as this could gouge the wood. Discoloration or stubborn stains are better removed with a stripper than with overly aggressive washing.
Avoid Damaging Nearby Plants
Protect your lawn and plants from overspray when cleaning your deck. To reduce chemical damage, use a hose to wet nearby foliage before using deck cleaner or stripper. After you finish cleaning the deck, spray plants again to wash off any chemical residue.
Apply the Deck Finish
Once your deck is clean, allow ample time for the surface to dry before applying the deck stain. Read the product label for guidance. You should also reset popped nailheads and replace warped or split boards before refinishing. Exterior 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. Whatever finish you choose, deck stain can be applied several ways, including with some new products that make the job a lot easier.
Using Rollers and Brushes to Stain a Deck
An ordinary paint roller can make easy work of staining a deck, especially if you attach an extension handle ($25, The Home Depot) so you don't have to kneel. (Check the recommendations on your stain's label; 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 as efficient for large surfaces. Use a brush to stain deck railings and recesses that rollers can't reach.
Refinishing a Deck with a Sprayer
Sprayers are excellent for applying deck 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-reach surfaces. Powered sprayers are available, but even simple pump-type sprayers will work. (Not all deck finishes are appropriate for sprayer application, however, so check the product label.)
Other Alternatives for Refinishing a Deck
The exterior stain aisles at home improvement centers offer a variety of other handy tools for refinishing a deck. For example, gel stains can be applied with pads and are easy to use without drips or runs. Deck stain pad applicators ($10, The Home Depot) are designed to reach difficult spots. Choose tools that will work with your exterior stain and make refinishing your deck as easy as possible.
When to Refinish a Deck
Plan to refinish your deck about every year or two. This helps reduce cracks and splinters, keeping the surface of the wood attractive and friendly to bare feet. With regular refinishing, your deck will continue to look beautiful and wear well for years to come.