How to Clean and Refinish a Deck to Make It Look Brand New

sunny deck with light wood and green accents
Photo: Peter Krumhardt

Refinishing your deck requires good preparation for a successful result. Starting with a clean surface and the right tools will make staining a wood deck much easier. Use this step-by-step guide on how to refinish a deck to revamp your outdoor space with a brand-new look.

01 of 10

How to Clean a Deck Before Staining

washing deck
Peter Krumhardt

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 surface type, 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.

02 of 10

How to Scrub a Deck Clean

deck cleaner
Peter Krumhardt

Scrubbing by hand or with a stiff-bristle push broom ($9, 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.

03 of 10

How to Strip a Deck

deck stripper
Peter Krumhardt

Removing old stain with a chemical stripper ($17, 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 biodegradable formula, and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Wear protective clothing and cover any plants that might get sprayed with the solution.

04 of 10

How to Pressure Wash a Deck

pressure washer
Peter Krumhardt

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. It's better to remove discoloration or stubborn stains with a stripper than with overly aggressive washing.

05 of 10

Avoid Damaging Nearby Plants

spraying plants
Peter Krumhardt

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 cleaning the deck, respray plants to wash off any chemical residue.

06 of 10

Apply the Deck Finish

multi-level back deck with outdoor dining, kitchen and lounge areas
Aniko Levai

Once your deck is clean, allow ample time for the surface to dry before applying the deck stain. Read the product label for guidance. Before refinishing, you should also reset popped nailheads and replace warped or split boards.

Exterior finishes come in transparent, tinted, semi-transparent, and solid colors. The look you choose is mainly a matter of personal preference, but there's a practical consideration: Clear or tinted products usually last just a year or two, depending on the climate. Semi-transparent and solid stains may last two to four years. Whatever finish you choose, deck stain can be applied in several ways, including with some new products that make the job a lot easier.

07 of 10

Using Rollers and Brushes to Stain a Deck

painting on deck stain
Peter Krumhardt

An ordinary paint roller can make easy work of staining a deck, especially if you attach an extension handle ($26, 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. Instead, use a brush to stain deck railings and recesses that rollers can't reach.

08 of 10

Refinishing a Deck with a Sprayer

stain sprayer
Peter Krumhardt

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. (However, not all deck finishes are appropriate for sprayer application, so check the product label.)

09 of 10

Other Alternatives for Refinishing a Deck

applying gel deck stain
Peter Krumhardt

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 ($11, 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.

10 of 10

When to Refinish a Deck

sunny deck with light wood and green accents
Peter Krumhardt

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. Regular refinishing will make your deck look beautiful and wear well for years to come.

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