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How to Apply Deck Stain (And Which Stain is the Best)

Updated
Deck stain not only preserves, it also makes your garden deck look like new.

Deck staining may not be the most glamorous task, but it is necessary. Wooden decks take a lot of punishment from wind, rain, and UV radiation. It’s no wonder that cracks, splits, and fading occur.

Knowing how to stain a deck is crucial if you want to keep it looking good. We show you how to apply deck stain and offer tips for a better result.


What Type of Deck Stain Should You Use?

Finding the best way to apply deck stain is one thing, but what deck stain should you use? Outdoor wooden decks must withstand continuous attack from the elements and heavy wear and tear from tables, chairs, and footfall.

You need a deck stain that can cope with all that punishment. This Ready-Seal Exterior Deck Stain is oil-based, making it more robust. Oil-based products penetrate the wood fibers to protect them from within.

You should always use the best quality brush you can afford. This European Professional Paintbrush has natural bristles that spread the paint better and lose fewer bristles.

Take Note

When working with oil-based stains, avoid polyester or nylon brushes.

This Defy Semi-Transparent Wood Stain is effective at protecting your exterior woodwork.

However, when working with water-based stain, watch for chips and scuffs, meaning you will probably need to restain more frequently.

This is because water-based stains dry to a hard shell on the surface of the wood, protecting what lies beneath.

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How Much Stain Do I Need?

Deck stain is expensive, so calculating how much you need for your DIY project is vital if you want to save money. The easiest way to work out the correct quantity is to measure the length and width of your deck and multiply the two numbers.

For example, the average deck measures 16 feet by 16 feet, which equals 256 square feet. Now refer to your paint coverage printed on the back of the paint tin. Most oil-based deck stains cover approximately 200 square feet, so you need three gallons when applying two coats.

You will have enough left over to stain your railing, porch, and patio.

When to Stain a New Deck

For the best results, leave the wood to acclimate for a minimum of three months. If you can wait longer, six months would be even better. It gives the wood the chance to dry out and settle into its new environment.

You can stain your new deck immediately after installing it for the first time. Initially, it might look good, but it will fade, crack, and shrink pretty quickly because the wood would still be wet.

Is It Better to Brush or Roll Stain on a Deck

Contract painter staining deck on home

Using a brush is more straightforward because we all know how to slap paint on with a brush. However, it takes a lot longer than using a roller. You might also leave brush marks, especially when using a water-based stain.

Staining a deck with a roller is a lot faster. You will finish the task in half the time. However, rollers leave air bubbles and a lot of splatters, so you will need to protect neighboring surfaces.

You could also stain the deck with a pad. This Cabot Pad Applicator is an excellent example because it applies the stain in even coats without streaks or air bubbles. And you can use extender poles to save wear and tear on your knees.

Another method for applying deck stain is with a paint sprayer. You can use a pump-action garden sprayer, like this Vivosun Pressure Sprayer, but you may need to thin the stain first.

Continuing the spray paint theme, why not get a mechanized paint sprayer and make your life easier. This Graco Magnum Painter Plus Sprayer is extremely popular, and it comes with a stand and powerful pump that sprays unthinned stain.

How to Stain a Deck

Staining a deck is pretty straightforward. Most of the hard work is done during the preparation stage. Before we begin, you will need the right tools and materials.

What You’ll Need

  • Three-inch natural paintbrush.
  • Drop cloths.
  • Paint pad, roller, and extension pole.
  • Paint tray.
  • Paint sprayer (optional).
  • Gloves.
  • Deck stain (oil-based).
  • Mineral spirits.
  • Garden hose.
  • Bucket.
  • Soap and water.
  • Scrubbing brush.

1. Get Cleaning

Before you stain your deck, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Fill the bucket with warm water and add dish soap. Dip the scrubbing brush in the water and rub it over the deck. Concentrate on areas of algae and moss growth.

When you have removed all the dirt and debris, dowse the deck using a garden hose and then leave it to dry.

2. Start With the Handrail

The last thing you want is for the stain to drip on freshly treated deck boards, so start on higher surfaces first. Use the brush to maintain a wet edge by working from the damp stain to the dry wood for the best results. Don’t forget to stain under the handrail.

Top Tip

Choose a cloudy day to restain your deck. Staining on a sunny day makes it harder to avoid lap marks because the paint dries rapidly.

3. Posts and Horizontal Surfaces

If your deck has a handrail system, stain the horizontal surfaces to avoid splatters landing on your newly stained deck boards. Make sure the brush gets into all the nooks and crannies to get an even coating, even on the undersides.

4. Lay Down the Drop Cloth

Lay the drop cloth under the paint tray to avoid drips and splatters. Heavy-weight canvas cloths are better than plastic ones because the added weight stops them from blowing away.

5. Stain the Deck

There are several ways to stain your deck: using a brush, a roller, a paint pad, or a paint sprayer. Which one you choose depends on your preference. You will probably combine a couple of different methods for the best results.

Using a paint sprayer is faster, but you risk splattering your pristine white sidings when the wind picks up. Using a brush is simple enough if you want to spend hours on your hands and knees.

The best tools are paint pads and rollers on an extended pole. It saves your joints, and it is efficient. You may need to paint between the gaps with a brush.

Dip the pad into the paint tray, ensuring an even coating. Run the applicator along the length of the board, working in straight lines. Cover the deck, working towards the exit point, applying the stain liberally.

6. Leave to Dry

When the stain is dry, apply the second coat the same way as the first. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the drying times. It is usually 24 hours, but it may differ between oil and water-based products.

Now it’s time to clean up your tools with mineral spirits.

How Long Does It Take to Stain a Deck?

It will take approximately eight hours to stain a 16 ft x 16 ft deck, but it could extend to a whole day for a second coat. It is a task for beginners and experienced decorators alike, and you will spend between $0.50 and $1.00 per square foot.

You could take multiple days if you are in no hurry because the longer you leave the stain to cure, the better it adheres.

Top Tips for Staining Decks

We all need a helping hand from time to time, so a few handy tips are always welcome to get the best possible results.

Plan an Exit Point

Work from the farthest corner towards an exit point. You will paint yourself into a corner and leave footprints if you don’t. It may sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised how many people forget.

Use Painter’s Tape

If any parts of your deck make contact with other surfaces, protect them with painter’s tape. This Frog Tape is an excellent product because it adheres well, stopping the stain from bleeding beneath the tape.

Use Knee Pads

If you use a paintbrush or a roller, knee pads save your knees from harsh punishment. These Thunderbolt pads are ideal because they cushion your knees and provide grip and stability.

Stain on Cloudy Days

Full sun is the enemy of deck stain. It dries the stain before getting it down properly, creating lap marks and weakening the seal. Keep one eye on the weather reports.

Also, watch out for rain, because that will ruin your efforts even more than the sun.

Keep Pets Indoors

You might adore your dog or cat, but not when they step over your freshly stained deck leaving paw prints. The same can be said for keeping little children indoors too.

Sand and Clean the Deck

Smoothing rough surfaces and dents is crucial if you want the best results. Use a shop-vac to ensure that the deck is clean and free from debris. Try a scrubbing brush to clear away stubborn grime.

Use a dedicated deck cleaner for stubborn stains, like this OxyClean Simple Green. It lifts oil, grease, and grime with ease.

Use Mini Rollers

Mini rollers are ideal for getting into gaps between the boards. This Pro Grade Kit is perfect because it comes with a tray and several replacement covers.

How to Maintain Your Wooden Deck Stain

Worn and peeling deck stain wooden boards.

The best way to reduce deck damage is to adopt a maintenance schedule. That involves regular inspections, repairs, and restaining.

From the moment your new deck stain dries, it starts to deteriorate. The sun bakes the wood, causing it to shrink and crack. You may not notice the changes at first, but you will as time passes.

The rain swells the wood, causing it to warp, and ice expands small cracks, making them more prominent. It is a constant battle of preservation vs. attack by Mother Nature. Luckily, most maintenance is easy.

Use deck cleaner once a month. Brush the deck down once or twice a week. This stops dirt buildup. It also keeps green gunk at bay.

One of the best tools in your arsenal is a pressure washer. It blasts the boards clean to get a noticeable before and after improvement. It also degreases, removes dirt, oil, and slippery moss.

Finally, you should restain your deck every two to three years to keep it looking good.

Staining Vs. Sealing a Deck

The two treatments are designed to protect your old deck, but what is the difference between them? Knowing the pros and cons of staining and sealing could influence your choices.

Staining

Staining your deck changes the color of the wood and is ideal for old wooden boards that have seen better days. If you want to preserve that natural wood grain, use a transparent sealer.

Deck stains come in oil and water-based products, but for the best results, use oil-based deck stain. It withstands the elements and soaks into the wood fibers to protect from within.

Water-based stain forms a hard seal on the surface of the wood to stop water from penetrating the wood below.

Pros of Deck Stain

  • Better for older wooden boards.
  • You can choose the shade you want.
  • Requires less prep work.
  • Hides blemishes better.
  • Enables you to color coordinate the deck.
  • Lasts three to five years.
  • Wide choice of colors.

Cons of Deck Stain

  • Hides natural wood grain.
  • Need multiple coats for best results.
  • Fading is more noticeable.

Sealing

Wood sealer is a transparent treatment that coats the surface of the wood and protects against the elements. However, the sealer is less effective at repelling UV rays.

If your deck is made from rare or exotic wood, you may want the grain pattern to shine through. Wood coated in sealer will likely fade within six months, turning a light gray color. It may also turn yellow under the heat of the sun.

Using a deck sealer preserves the appearance while offering some protection. Deck stain will change the look of the wood but penetrate for maximum protection.

Pros of Deck Sealer

  • Preserves natural wood grain.
  • Offers some weather protection.
  • Extends the life of your deck.
  • Seals the surface against water penetration.

Cons of Deck Sealer

  • Limited UV protection.
  • Takes longer to dry.
  • Wood may dry, crack, or split.

FAQs

Should You Stain the Bottom of a Deck?

It would be impossible to stain beneath the deck unless it is elevated. There is no need to stain the bottom of your deck because the water runs off and doesn’t pool on the surface.

How Do You Remove Stain From a Deck?

To remove oil-based deck stain from wood, use a deck stripper. Apply it to the surface and wait 15 to 20 minutes while it eats away at the stain. Then scrape the stripper away using a scraping tool.

How Many Coats of Stain Should You Put on a Deck?

You should apply a minimum of two coats of deck stain if you want the color to look good for longer.

What Grit Sandpaper Should I Use on My Deck?

You should use 60 to 80-grit sandpaper for old deck boards. It is coarse enough to remove old stains and finishes and fine enough to smooth the surface.


Take the Pain Out of Stain

Knowing how to remove deck stain is vital if you want your exterior woodwork to look good. Think about the punishment your deck gets; it has to deal with UV rays, rain, extreme temperature fluctuations, and wind.

It is no wonder you need to do your bit and look after it from time to time.

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Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.