Mar 20 2012

Properly Preparing a Wood Deck for Stain

Deck Cleaned

Deck Cleaned

When you’ve come to the decision to refinish your deck it’s important to understand the right and wrong way to do it. Cleaning a deck is the most crucial step in the wood restoration process. While some people may think the only thing that matters is the brand or type of deck stain they use, it’s really the preparation of the wood surface that makes the most difference.

A properly cleaned deck will hold a deck stain for a certain amount of time. If that same deck is not cleaned correctly and the same deck stain is used, it’s certain it won’t look as good or last as long. So regardless of the deck stain, the surface preparation is what will determine a lasting finish.

This isn’t to say that the brand of deck stain you use isn’t important or that the application methods don’t matter. Those are important factors as well, but it starts with the prep work. Get the prep work wrong and you might as well throw in the towel.

The few common mistakes that homeowners will make in preparing their wood deck for a new finish is not cleaning the deck at all, not using the right deck cleaners, or not using a deck brightener.

First of all, let’s be clear, you have to clean the wood before you stain it. This doesn’t mean to blow it off with a leaf blower or rinse it with the garden hose. A contractor grade deck cleaner should be used with a pressure washer or a stiff broom. This will loosen the dirt and gray wood fibers to reveal new wood. If an old stain is present, you need to use a deck stripper instead of a cleaner. The deck stripper will soften the old stain as well as remove dirt and gray wood fibers.

After cleaning or stripping the deck, whichever is the case, the wood then needs to be brightened back to the proper pH so the deck stain will penetrate properly. This is not a hard step but a very necessary step. After washing the deck, a deck brightener is applied, allowed to dwell, and then rinsed off. Now the wood is prepped correctly. After it dries for several days the deck stain can be applied.

Skipping any of these steps, or not using a quality 2-step deck restoration system will give you poor results. The deck won’t look as good and the deck stain won’t last as long. Do the right prep work with quality cleaners and use a good deck stain and you’ll get results like the pros.


6 Comments on this post


  1. wifey said:

    Please read!

    March 28th, 2012 at 6:29 pm
  2. Justin said:

    I have a new deck that I have let weather for about six months. The wood is pessure treated pine. I am getting ready to start the staining prep process. I have some questions. Is cleaning and brightening the deck enough or will adding some sanding as well help the stain set in better? Is there an ideal time frame to apply the stain after prep? I got caught in a bad weather forecast and did not get stain applied the same weekend as the cleaning. How much wood grain will defy extreme really let show? I tested some cabot semi-transparent and it was too much paint in my opinion.

    May 26th, 2012 at 9:07 am
  3. administrator said:


    Cleaning and brightening is enough to prep. You can apply the stain within 1-2 weeks after prepping. Defy Extreme Stain will not mask the wood grain but highlight the wood grain.


    May 26th, 2012 at 11:05 am
  4. Justin said:

    thanks for your response!

    May 26th, 2012 at 12:45 pm
  5. miki said:

    I’m building a new cedar deck and I’m not sure what the best approach is for staining:

    1) should I apply the stain to the new wood before installation? That would allow me to stain all 6 sides of the boards nicely, and then install it.

    2) install the deck and let the wood weather and dry some more. In that case, I won’t be able to stain the backside of the deck and staining the gaps would be difficult, too. However, most experts claim I would get better penetration and a more durable stain this way.

    Would the answer be different depending on the usage of oil vs. water-based stains?

    June 8th, 2012 at 11:05 pm
  6. administrator said:

    1. No need for all sides to be stained.
    2. This is the correct approach and works for both oil and water based stains. You will need to clean and brighten the wood after the drying.

    June 10th, 2012 at 12:29 pm


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