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How to Stain a Deck - Simple DIY Tips and Handy Guide

New deck in the process of being stained

A few years ago I was having a new roof put on my house and thought it would be a good idea to get a new deck built as well. The older deck had seen better days (you can see my $50.00 DIY Deck Makeover for that wood deck here) and it was time to spruce up my home and add some much needed curb appeal. 

A new wood deck in the process of being stained.

After the project was completed I asked the contactor a few questions. I already knew how to stain a deck because of the other older ones I had but still had a few questions especially since this was a new build.

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First, I asked him how long to wait before staining. The deck builder told me that the general rule of thumb was to wait at least 30 days for the new wood to dry but recommended that I wait out the summer months and do it in the early fall making sure the forecast called for several dry days in a row before starting this endeavor.

front view of a new wooden deck with railings on the front of a split entry house

I also asked him for a pro tip concerning what brand of stain to use and he told me that, in his opinion, the best choice was PPG ProLuxe which was a little pricey but the good news is he assured me it was money well spent. 

Protect Your Investment

It should be noted that a well-maintained and beautifully stained deck can significantly enhance the appearance and value of your outdoor space. Staining your deck yourself is a simple and rewarding DIY project that not only saves you money but also allows you to customize the look.

This article will guide you through the process of staining your deck, including how to choose the appropriate stain, prep the surface, and apply the stain to achieve professional results.

side view of a freshly built wooden deck with stairs and railings

DIY Staining Deck Benefits

Cost Savings

One of the main benefits of staining your own deck is the cost savings. By doing it yourself, you can save on labor costs that come with hiring a professional. The only expenses you'll have are the cost of the stain and any tools you might need to purchase or rent. In most cases, these costs are significantly lower than the fees you would pay to a professional.

Moreover, maintaining your deck with regular staining helps preserve the wood and prolong the life of your deck, saving you money in the long run by preventing the need for expensive repairs or replacements. Trust me, I learned this the hard way! 

Choosing the Right Stain

Close up of a can of PPG ProLuxe wood stain being used to stain a deck

Before you dive into staining your deck, it's crucial to choose the right type of stain for your specific wood and desired look. Stains come in a variety of colors and opacities – transparent, semi-transparent wood stains, opaque stains, and solid stains. Some can also offer added protection against harsh conditions and UV rays. 

Always take your time to test an inconspicuous small area first, such as the side of the deck, to ensure the color matches your vision. I would recommend, if possible, keeping any wood scraps on hand leftover from the build for this very important first step.

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Oil-Based

When staining your deck, it is important to consider the type of stain that will best suit your needs. One option to consider is an oil-based stain. These stains have a few key advantages, such as:

  • Penetrating deep into the wood fibers, providing better protection
  • Offering a longer-lasting finish than water-based stains
  • Enhancing the natural color and grain of the wood

However, oil-based stains also have some drawbacks, including:

  • Longer drying times, which means you'll have to wait longer before you can use your deck
  • Potential environmental concerns due to their higher VOC content

Before opting for an oil-based product, consider the above pros and cons and whether this type of stain aligns with your preferences and concerns.

Water-Based

Another option for staining your deck is a water-based stain. These stains offer several benefits, such as:

  • A faster drying time, allowing you to use your deck sooner
  • Easier cleanup and application, as they can be cleaned with soap and water
  • Lower VOC content, making them a more environmentally friendly option

However, water-based stains also come with a few disadvantages, including:

  • Not penetrating as deep into the wood fibers, potentially offering less protection
  • Possibly not lasting as long as oil-based stains

When looking for the right stain for your deck, take these factors into account when deciding if a water-based option is right for you.

Transparency

When selecting a stain for your deck, another factor to consider is the level of transparency. Stain options range from clear and transparent to semi-transparent, semi-solid, and solid. Each level of transparency offers different levels of protection and aesthetic appeal:

  • Clear and transparent stains: These stains highlight the wood grain and natural color while providing basic protection against UV damage and water penetration.
  • Semi-transparent stain: These stains offer a balance of wood grain visibility and color, with increased UV protection and water resistance.
  • Semi-solid and solid stains: These stains provide the highest level of protection, but cover the wood grain with a more opaque color.

Consider your deck's wood type, age, and your desired level of maintenance when choosing the right stain transparency for your project.

Preparation Steps

Before staining your deck, it's essential to prepare the surface to ensure optimal results. This section will guide you through the process, focusing on cleaning the deck and establishing a solid foundation for the stain.

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Cleaning the Deck

Before applying any stain, you need to clean your deck thoroughly. Start by removing any furniture, plants, or other items from the deck's surface. After clearing everything away, sweep the deck to remove loose debris, dirt, and dust.

Next, you'll need a deck cleaner to treat the surface. Choose a product suitable for your specific decking material and follow the manufacturer's instructions for application. You can use a garden sprayer to distribute the cleaner evenly across the deck or apply it manually with a long-handled roller or push broom.

Allow the cleaner to sit on the deck for the recommended amount of time, typically 10 to 15 minutes. Following that, use a stiff bristle broom to scrub the deck, ensuring you cover all areas. Finally, rinse the entire deck with a garden hose to remove the cleaning solution and any remaining dirt. Allow the deck to dry completely (at least 24 to 48 hours) before moving on to the staining process.

To determine if your deck stain is water-based or oil-based, apply a small amount of deck stripper to an inconspicuous spot on the surface. Let it sit for 15 minutes before wiping it off with a rag. If the stain comes off, your stain is water-based; if not, it's oil-based. Follow the product's directions for removing the current stain, whether water or oil-based.

In summary, preparing your deck for staining involves cleaning the deck, removing the old stain, and ensuring that the deck is completely dry. By following these steps, you'll create an ideal surface for your new stain to adhere to, ensuring a beautiful and long-lasting finish.

Staining Techniques

Brushing

When staining your deck, one effective technique is brushing. Make sure the deck is clean and dry for optimal results. Also, to get the best results avoid working in direct sunlight. For my particular deck I started early in the morning and as the sun started to hit the deck, I stopped for the day. 

overhead view of a can of PPG ProLuxe wood stain and a set of new paint brushes on top of a wooden deck

Here are some steps to follow when using the brushing method:

  1. Choose the right stain or paint brush: A 3- to 4-inch-wide brush works best for staining a deck.
  2. Dip the brush: Use a paint tray to hold the stain, and dip the brush in the tray.
  3. Apply the stain: Brush the deck railings first, then the deck boards parallel to their length, making sure the strokes are even and follow the wood grain. Apply the stain generously and let it soak into the wood for a few minutes.
  4. Check for pools: After a few minutes, return and examine the stained area for any pools of excess stain that didn't soak in. If you find any, smooth them out with your brush or a dry cloth to ensure an even finish.
deck railings being stained first

Spraying

An alternative technique to consider is spraying. This can help you stain your deck quickly and efficiently.

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Here are some steps to follow when using the spraying method:

  1. Protect the surrounding area: Lay down drop cloths or plastic sheeting on the deck floor and over any plants or furniture to avoid unwanted exposure to the stain.
  2. Prepare the paint sprayer: Pour the stain into the sprayer reservoir, making sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper use.
  3. Wear a face mask: To protect yourself from possibly inhaling the stain, it's essential to wear a face mask when spraying, even when outside.
  4. Apply the stain: Evenly spray the stain onto the deck boards, maintaining a consistent distance from the surface.

Maintenance Tips

Consistently maintain your deck by performing the following tasks at least once a year:

  • Inspect your deck for any decay, rot, or damage
  • Clean the surface thoroughly, removing debris and dirt
  • Check for any loose or missing screws or nails
  • Sand any rough spots and remove dust
  • Reapply stain or sealant if needed. 

Final Thoughts

Brand new deck in the process of being stained

It's crucial to follow the manufacturer's instructions for both preparing the deck surface and applying the stain. Apply the stain in thin coats and make sure to maintain a wet edge to avoid lap marks. For an even finish, use a high-quality brush or roller and work systematically across the deck boards.

Furthermore, consider the environmental factors that may affect your deck finish. If your deck is close to the ground, installing a gravel layer underneath can help prevent moisture-related problems.

Lastly, be patient and allow the stain to dry thoroughly before using the deck to ensure the best possible finish. Resist the urge to rush the process, as doing so could affect the final result and longevity of your deck's new look.

closing signature with Photo of Mary Beth Your Homemaking Coach with a Floral Theme

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