How To Stain A Deck

Questions/Comments From Visitors To This Website

Why Stain Or Seal Your Deck?

A good quality stain or sealer can add color (stain) or make the wood look more rich (sealer). But the most important reason to seal or stain your deck is protection. If you've ever seen a raw deck (never stained) that's about 10 years old, you know how bad it can look: Gray wood, badly cracked wood, and probably areas where rot is visible.

An unstained deck might last for 10-15 years. Then it's time to rebuild it (possibly $1,000 to $4,000 or more). But if a deck is stained or sealed every few years, the deck will last probably twice as long -- and look better.

New Deck Surface
Wood Or Composite:

Most deck surfaces are built using 5/4" pressure-treated lumber. In recent years, some deck builders have been using a composite decking surface. The composite is often made from materials such as recycled plastic and wood fibers (sometimes recycled). Personally, I don't like the composite decking. It's not water resistant. If it gets stained, it's virtually impossible to remove the stain. There have been recalls of composite decking for degradation and breakage, and I believe one recall involved mold problems. Wood decking has been used for decades, can be water-proofed, and looks real.

Composite decking can be stained or sealed but should be done by somebody with experience doing so on composite materials. The finished product, after staining or sealing may have a non-uniform appearance.

Staining A New Deck:
Moisture Content Is Important

The wood must be "dry" (10% or less moisture). Decks are usually built using pressure-treated wood. The process forces liquid, under pressure, into the wood.

This liquid (moisture) will prevent the deck stain (or sealer) from soaking into the wood.

So it's important that the wood has time to dry before staining (or sealing). The moisture content should be below 10%.

How to check it? You can buy an inexpensive moisture meter, or you can simply wait for 3 to 6 months after the deck is built.

Moisture Meter:

How A Stain (or Sealer) Protects:

Sealers and stains protect the wood from the sun's UV rays and from moisture. Unprotected wood will turn gray and will eventually severely crack.

As a general rule of thumb, a deck should be resealed or restained every 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years.

How To Tell When It's Time
To Restain Or Seal:

Test by pouring a glass of water on the wood. If the water beads up, it means the sealer or stain is still working. If the water soaks into the wood, it's time to reseal or restain.

Deck Prep For An Existing Deck:

The deck should be cleaned. You can use deck cleaning or brightening solutions available from paint stores, Lowes, or Home Depot.

If the deck wood remains gray or dark, you can usually brighten it by pressure washing after applying a brightener. However, pressure washing usually results in roughness and (possibly) splintering. Don't be too aggressive with the pressure washer!

Allow the deck to dry for a day or two before applying a stain or sealer.

Clear Sealers:

As the name indicates, the sealer is clear and allows the wood's natural finish to show. We recommend a clear sealer with UV protection in areas exposed to the sun.

Semi-Transparent Stains:
Also called "semi-solid", these stains impart  a color to the wood but allow the natural woodgrain to be seen.

Solid Stains:

Solid stains are like paint. They are a solid color  and completely cover the wood--the woodgrain does not show through the finish.

We recommend either a clear sealer or a semi-transparent stain. Solid stains are more susceptible to cracking and peeling.

Oil Or Latex:

Deck stains are available in "latex" (Acrylic) or "oil" (Alkyd). Latex dries quickly and cleanup is easy (soap and water). But because it dries quickly, you must work quickly and try to avoid overlapping a dry area with wet stain. Oil-based stains penetrate better and they're more forgiving to work with. But cleanup requires paint thinner. (Personal preference: oil-based, because of the better penetration.) Oil-based products are being outlawed in some states.

Application - Brush and Roll
or Spray:

Some people use a sprayer to apply stain or sealer. Personally, I prefer brushing and rolling, which does a better job of forcing the stain or sealer into the wood. When a product is sprayed, it begins to dry as it vaporizes and the penetration into the wood is less than brushing and rolling.

Stains we use:
Sherwin Williams "DeckScapes"
Sikkens deck stains
Benjamin Moore deck stains

Semi-Transparent Sherwin Williams "Covered Bridge"

Semi-Transparent Sherwin Williams "Charwood"

Flood CWF-UV Cedar Tint

Pergola painted with Sherwin Williams "Duration"


Above: Deck before staining

Below: Deck stained with Sherwin Williams Deckscapes
"Yankee Barn:


"Hawthorne" - Sherwin Williams DeckScapes

Weathered deck before brightening & pressure washing

The deck after brightening, pressure washing
and application of Cabot clear sealer

Yankee Barn on deck - Pergola painted white

Sikkens Fawn - Click to view larger
Sikkens Semi-Transparent "Fawn"

Sherwin Williams Deckscapes, Cabot, Sikkens
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