Articles and Buying Guides

How to Apply Deck Stain

Family hanging out on deck

As warmer weather draws near, we start to think about venturing back outside to our deck. It's the place where we spend summer days and nights with family and friends. But is your deck ready? We all know decks require maintenance, especially wood decks. Whether or not you need to add a fresh coat of stain depends on the type of stain currently on your deck, the amount of foot traffic you have, and weather conditions where you live. With preparation, you can easily stain your deck on your own. We’ve compiled a few tips to help!

How to Clean Your Deck Before Staining

  • Remove all furniture
  • Brush off deck
  • Drive in any popped nails or replace
  • Sand areas that are splintered (80-grit paper works great)
  • Repair or replace damaged boards
  • Apply cleaner and let it sit for 15 minutes. Make sure to keep the deck wet while the cleaner is soaking in.
  • Completely rinse the cleaner from the wood using a garden hose or a power washer on a lower setting. The best option is a psi of about 1200 – 1400 with a 45° tip on the pressure washer. If you don't own a pressure washer, before you buy one; read Pressure Washer Buying Guide
  • Make sure to spray with the wood grain to avoid damage to the surface of the deck. 

How to Choose the Right Deck Stain


Stain options range from transparent to solid stains. Semi-transparent and semi-solid stains fall in the middle, and all options really just depend on personal preference. 

  • Transparent Stains— allow the wood grain to show through, but require more work. Generally, transparent stains will need re-stained every year.
  • Solid Stains— cover the natural beauty of wood, but can usually last about five years before needing a new coat of stain.

Decide how important wood grain is versus how much upkeep a transparent stain will require. If you’re stuck between wanting wood grain to show and not wanting a lot of work to re-stain every year, try a semi-transparent or semi-solid stain. 

A Few Tips Before You Stain Your Deck

  • Don't apply deck product in direct sun. The finish will dry too quickly and won't absorb into the wood. The best temperatures to apply deck stain are between 50° - 90°. 
  • Don’t apply stain if rain is in the forecast in the next 12 – 24 hours.
  • If you have a brand-new deck made of treated lumber (as opposed to cedar or redwood), you should wait at least a few weeks before sealing it for the first time. The wood needs to dry, so the stain can be absorbed properly.
  • If you've replaced a warped or damaged board, the new wood will not be the same shade as the rest of your deck. It’s best to use a solid or semi-transparent stain to create a blended surface.
  • Test a small area first to make sure you like the end result.
  • If you’re covering a large area, mix all of the stains together. This will ensure the color is consistent across your entire deck.
  • The deck needs to be completely dry before staining. The stain will not adhere to damp or wet surfaces and will crack or peel as a result.

How to Apply Deck Stain

  1.  Apply an even coat of stain using a 4-inch brush or a roller, making sure to follow the wood grain. 
  2.  Natural bristle brushes are the best choice for effectively working the stain into the wood.
  3.  Start by heavily coating the open end-grain of the boards. Then brush 2—3 boards at a time, from one end to the other in long, smooth strokes. Note: To avoid “lap marks” make sure that the leading edge is kept wet and that wet stain is brushed into wet stain.
  4.  On new decks, apply only one coat of oil-based deck finish.
  5.  Keep in mind more stain is not better. If you over-apply, stain may peel or crack when exposed to moisture or produce a sticky surface, which can prevent it from drying properly.

How to Maintain Deck Stain


Wood decks take a lot of abuse from both weather and foot traffic, so you’ll need to reapply stain from time to time. The best way to know if your deck is ready for a fresh coat of stain is to check how well it repels water. You can do so by sprinkling water on the deck. If it beads up, it's still repelling water and performing as it should. You may just need to clean the deck this season.

Staining a deck takes time and quite a bit of effort, but the results are worth it once you can enjoy your deck with family and friends! Plus, regular maintenance will help your deck last much longer.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.