How to Stain a Deck for a Beautiful, Long-Lasting Finish

Staining your deck provides fresh color and added protection from the elements. Learn the steps to stain a deck for a major style boost.

Deck stain does more than add beautiful color to your outdoor space. This coating can also help protect your deck, guarding against damage from water, rot, mold, and other pesky problems. Newly built decks should generally be stained right away, and existing decks require restaining about every two or three years or at the earliest signs of wear. Learn the steps to stain a deck, which you'll need to do when drops of water sprinkled on the surface absorb quickly into the wood. If the water beads on top, your deck stain is likely good for another few months.

back deck eating area remodeled
Anthony Masterson

You can easily customize your deck with the stain that best matches your style, with options ranging from clear finishes to rich, solid colors. Clear or light-toned finishes highlight the natural color and pattern of the wood with minimal pigment, while semi-transparent stains let you alter the wood's tone while still allowing the grain to show through. Semi-solid and solid stains cover most or all of the wood grain with color and offer the most long-lasting finish.

Whatever finish you choose, look for a deck stain and sealant that repels water and offers protection against UV rays. Exterior wood stains are available in oil-based formulas, which penetrate the wood and take longer to dry, and water-based versions that sit on top of the surface and dry much faster. Read the manufacturer's instructions carefully to ensure proper application.

Whether tackling this job for the first time or touching up an existing stain job, learning how to stain a deck with these simple steps will help your deck look its best. All you need to do is prep the wood, power wash, and apply the deck stain. The project is simple but will require manual labor and dry time. Follow the instructions below to learn how to stain a deck.

How to Stain a Deck

staining a deck with a paint brush
Matthew Clark and Hannah Bigot

How much time you'll need to devote to this project depends on the size of your deck. Most can be stained in one weekend, plus a few days of dry time. Plan to stain your deck when the weather is dry, and the temperature is between 50 and 90°F. The stain needs time to be absorbed into the wood before it dries thoroughly, so avoid staining your deck in direct sunlight.

What You Need

  • Belt or orbital sander
  • 60- or 80-grit sandpaper
  • Broom
  • Deck cleaner
  • Stiff brush
  • Garden hose or power washer
  • Painters tape
  • Deck stain or paint
  • Paint roller
  • 5- to 6-inch-wide paintbrush
  • 2- to 3-inch-wide paintbrush
  • Clear sealant (optional)

Step 1: Prep the deck for staining.

Before applying any stain or paint, you'll need to prep the deck's surface. Use a belt sander or orbital sander to lightly sand the deck, working in the direction of the wood grain. Thoroughly sweep the deck to remove any wood dust particles.

Mix a batch of deck cleaner according to the manufacturer's directions. Apply it, then scrub with a stiff brush. Make sure to scrub in the direction of the wood grain to clean the surface thoroughly. Depending on how dirty your deck is, this might be a process you'll need to repeat to clean the wood thoroughly.

Step 2: Power-wash the surface.

After you've scrubbed your deck, use a power washer to rinse off the cleaner. Use the fan or 40-degree nozzle, careful not to get too close to the wood. The heavy, direct water pressure can damage the deck's surface. Allow the deck to dry completely, which can take 12-24 hours.

Editor's Tip: If you don't have a power washer, you can rent one from your local home improvement store. You can also use a garden hose with a sprayer set on the jet spray.

Step 3: Apply stain on the deck.

Once the deck is completely dry, use painters tape to protect your home's siding adjacent to the deck. Then apply stain or paint with a roller. Work carefully to avoid blobs and streaks. Stain small, 3-foot-square sections at a time, then pause with the roller and brush the surface with your large paintbrush. This step eliminates drips and puddles and creates a more natural brushstroke. Make sure to apply stain along the wood grain.

Editor's Tip: To make the staining process easier, work with a helper. Have one person roll on the stain while the other brushes.

Step 4: Stain the remaining details.

Use a smaller paintbrush to stain deck railings, spindles, stairs, skirt boards, and other remaining deck portions. Pay close attention to the edges of the boards, so you don't have brushstrokes that run against the grain. Let the stain dry for 48 hours before walking on it.

Optional: Seal your stained deck.

Most high-quality exterior stains combine pigment with a sealer that offers weather-proofing protection. If you choose to use a simple stain that doesn't protect against water or UV rays, apply a clear sealant over the stained deck. Wait at least 48 hours after staining to ensure the surface is completely dry, and apply one thin coat using the same roller-and-brush technique outlined above.

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