Deck Staining 101

Spring has sprung and your outdoor living space is once again becoming a focal point of your family entertaining and living. Don't spend your summer talking about how you need to do something about your deck, this article will show you deck staining is a great DIY project for any skill level!

If staining is really not your thing you can check out alternative decking options here.

Whether you have an old weather beaten deck or just finished building a new deck, staining your deck will not only revive it, enhancing the beauty and ambiance of your backyard living space, but it will also extend the life of your deck.

Before you start on your project, make sure to use free home improvement portfolio tool to collect everything about your project. You will never have issues remembering the stain formulation used or where have you placed (or misplaced) the warranty information! The easy home renovation planner tool will ensure everything is the right place and available at anytime!

Before and After - Deck Staining -

Whether you are doing the job yourself or hiring a contractor to do the work, you should have a thorough understanding of the staining process. You can always get expert advice by visiting your local home improvement retailer. Your deck might look great right after being staining, but lose it luster all too fast.  The following information will help ensure your deck, not only looks great, but maintains that look for a long time.

1. Selecting the right stain for your deck:

Stains come in different product types (deck and deck & siding), opacities (transparencies), and colours. The wide range of choices ensures that you can get the right stain for your particular project. Here are some important points to simplify your product selection.

Selecting the right stain:

Exterior Deck Stain products are designed to work on specific types of projects. For example, a deck stain is specially formulated to handle the foot traffic that is experienced on a deck. It is important to use a stain that is applicable to your project.

When selecting a stain, remember that better products usually cost more.  If you expecting a premium performance and finish, you need to start with a premium quality of stain.​ Then, follow the directions.

Opacity of the stain:

Stain opacity levels range from clear finishes to solid, with the amount of pigment in a stain determining its opacity. The more pigment in the stain, the more opaque the coverage will be, and the longer term of protection it will provide for the wood from the elements.

Transparent, Semi Transparent, and Semi Solid stains are designed to protect without completely obscuring the natural colour and texture of wood. As the opacity moves towards solid, less grain shows through the finish. Solid stains will completely mask the wood grain, while allowing the wood texture to show through.

Solid colour stains can also be used on substrates, such as aluminium, concrete, or hardboard, which have been properly primed. Speak to your local paint retailer for professional advice. They will be able to help you through the process of choosing stain with an Opacity Key, which helps show how opaque or transparent a stain is in relation to other types of stain.

selecting the Color:

Once you have determined the type of project (deck or siding) and opacity (Clear, Transparent, Semi Transparent, Semi Solid, or Solid), selecting a color is your next step.

The more opaque the stain, the more color choices available. Begin your colour selection by looking at existing colors around your home. Consider the color of your roof, siding, trim, driveway, and any stone fencing or foundation you may have, along with large plantings such as trees that surround your home. Select colors that enhance these existing features or hues that tie together elements for a coordinated look.

Always test your colour selections on your home's actual exterior so you can accurately gauge how the colour will look when applied. Remember that the natural colour or grain pattern of the wood itself can greatly influence the final colour. So a stain applied on cedar may look very different when applied to pressure treated lumber.

2. Preparing to stain your deck:

The first rule of successfully staining your deck is to apply patience. There is no greater satisfaction than admiring a job well done... or greater disappointment than living with a poor results. Take your time and ensure the job is done properly, the first time.


    • this starts with allowing new lumber time to properly dry out before staining it. This is especially true for pressure treated lumber, which may require a month or two to properly dry out. Applying stain before the wood had a chance to dry, traps the moisture in the wood.  This will eventually effect your stain finish and shorten the life of the lumber.
    • if you are refinishing your deck, allow stain strippers time to effectively break down old finished before washing it off.
    • take the time to protect other surfaces from overspray and spills
    • wait until the weather is right

​Preparation the wood:

​To achieve the best results, be sure to take the time to properly prepare the surface to be stained. As with paint, proper preparation is the key to a successful staining job that will last.  The following steps will ensure your deck is ready to be stained.

Preparing your Deck - Deck Staining -
  1. Deck Repairs:  Remove everything from your deck.  Inspect your deck for cracked boards, popped nails or loose railings. It is best to complete all repairs prior to staining your deck.
  2. Clean Your Deck: Whether your deck is brand new or old and grey, the wood need to be cleaned prior to staining. New lumber needs to be cleaned to remove "mill scale" which is the crushing of wood grain during the milling process. If not properly cleaned it can interfere with the adhesion and penetration of stain. Older decks need to be cleaned to remove dirt​, old stain, and mildew from the surface of the wood. This is an easy job if you use a sodium carbonate wood cleaner and a pressure washer.  Be careful not to apply too much water pressure as ir can damage your wood.
  3. Stain Stripper:  If there is old stain or paint that needs to be removed, you will need to apply a stain stripper. Follow the directions carefully, and most weathered stains will be removed in one application.  For tougher stains, palm sanding may be required.
  4. Brighten Your Wood:  Applying a "wood brightener" helps open the pours of your wood, neutralize any stain strippers used, and made make old wood look new again. This is a very easy step, however it is often skipped.
Applying Stain - Deck Staining -
Comparing Looks - Deck Staining -

Ensure the Weather is right:

Weather is a important factor in hindering a stains performance.  The  best time to stain your deck, siding, or outdoor furniture is when temperatures are moderate, the humidity is low to average, and there is no rain in the immediate forecast.

Most stains suggest temperatures above  45 degrees (8 degrees celsius) and below 90 degrees (32 degrees celsius). Temperatures should remain in this range while staining and for 8 -12 houses after. Try to avoid applying stain in direct sunlight, as the stain will dry too fast preventing it from penetrating properly into the wood.

Ideally, you should have  consecutive dry days prior to beginning any exterior staining project. This ensures the wood is dry, again allowing the stain to properly penetrate into the wood.

have the right Tools for the Job:

Certain stains need to be applied using a specific type of brushes Alkyd or oil-based stains should be applied with natural-bristle brushes. Synthetic-bristle brushes are ideal for latex stains.  Carefully read and follow the stain manufacturer's recommendations.

The following is a list of tools and supplies that may help ensure the success of your deck staining project. 

  • Stain brushes or pad applicators
  • Rollers and roller covers
  • Stain mitt
  • Sprayer
  • Gloves
  • Hose or power washer
  • Paint scraper
  • Painter's tape
  • Rags
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire brush

3. Applying the Stain

You have selected a great stain, properly prepared the deck, and waited until the weather was you are ready to start staining your deck.  But don't ruin the results by just slapping on the stain.  Take your time and do it right.  These are some "best practices" to remember when staining your deck.

    • ​Starting your staining project early in the day helps avoid exposure to the hot sun and rushing to get it done.  
    • Start by selecting an inconspicuous place on the actual wood you will be staining and test the stain to be sure you will be pleased with the final color results.
    • First stain the vertical sections of the deck, such as the rails and posts, so that drips will not land on previously finished areas.
    • The best way to apply deck stain is to use a roller or spray, followed by back brushing to even out the stain.
    • Stain two or three boards at a time.  Avoid "lap marks" by ensuring you don't stop in the middle of a board
    • Make sure you wipe up puddles or drops of excess stain, as you will be able to see them later.
    • Stain does not stay mixed for long. You will need to frequently stir the stain during application.
    • To ensure proper stain penetration and even drying results, avoid applying stain in direct sunlight.
    • Keep all traffic off the deck until fully dry. This includes pets.
Staining gives your deck a strong layer of protection from wear and tear. With the right staining products - prepared and applied correctly - you can maintain and enjoy your deck for many years to come.

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