How to Stain a Deck

For many homeowners, the hottest spot for summertime fun and relaxation is their backyard deck. But if your deck is starting to resemble weathered driftwood, it’s probably time to restain it.

Restaining a deck isn’t just about enhancing its looks; it’s about increasing its longevity. Unlike replacing a patio furniture set that’s seen better days, replacing a deck can be far more costly and time-consuming. The average cost of a new deck is around $8,000, per HomeAdvisor.

That’s why staining or restaining your wooden deck “can be a great way to protect and enhance its appearance,” says Jeff Palla, president of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company.

Here’s what you need to do to prep your deck for the season and keep it looking good for many seasons to come:

Assess Your Deck’s Condition

Brand-new decks needing an inaugural coat of stain can likely do with a good sanding first to remove grit and splinters before applying stain. But for existing decks, experts say to try the water test to see if it needs a new coat of stain: Simply pour a bit of water onto a plank and wait for it to bead up. “If water beads up, you can wait another year,” Palla says.

Clean Thoroughly

Just as you wouldn’t mop a floor without giving it a good sweep or vacuum first, you must clean your deck before applying stain to remove dirt, grime and old stain says Bryan Clayton, CEO and co-founder of GreenPal, an online platform that connects homeowners with local lawn care professionals. “A power washer can be a handy tool for this, but be careful not to damage the wood,” he says.

Check the Forecast

While some DIY projects are perfect for passing a rainy afternoon, staining a deck is not one of them. “Moisture can ruin the staining process, so check the weather forecast before you begin,” Palla says. He recommends choosing a day when humidity levels are low and the temperature is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The stain container’s label will likely indicate the ideal temperature range for optimal application, but in general, it’s best to avoid extreme temperatures and high humidity when staining your deck, Clayton explains. “Typically, a warm, overcast day is perfect for this task,” he says.

Choose the Right Stain Color

Deck stain color is a matter of preference, though Palla says, “Consider the overall aesthetic of your home and outdoor space when selecting a stain color.” Apply the stain to a small test area and see if you like it.

Clayton says, “The choice depends on your aesthetic preference and the level of protection you need.” He explains that solid stains offer solid protection against the elements, but they also do an excellent job of hiding the wood grain.

Palla recommends choosing a semitransparent or semisolid stain to maintain a natural wood appearance.

Read the Label

“Different stains have different requirements,” says Palla. The number of coats and dry time will vary depending on the stain manufacturer, so be sure to read the label – a good move with any DIY project.

Another reason to read the label is to avoid the amateur move of purchasing an interior stain for your deck. You will need an exterior stain that can stand up to the elements.

Use the Right Tools

Using the right tools for the job makes a difference. “A brush gives you the most control, but a roller can make the job faster on larger, flat areas,” says Clayton.

Whether you use brushes, rollers, rags or even sprayers, make sure you have everything on hand to get you through the job, Palla says. That includes enough cans of stain. Many experienced DIYers would likely agree: It’s easier to return unused supplies than it is to return to the store halfway through a project to restock.

Apply Stain Correctly

Palla recommends starting from the farthest corner of your deck and working outward. Of course, this depends on your deck's size, design and layout. In general, choose a starting spot that won’t allow you to paint – or, rather, stain – yourself into a corner.

As for technique, aim for an even application going in the direction of the wood grain. “Make sure not to leave excess stain on the surface as it can create sticky patches,” says Clayton. Keep a cloth or rag handy to wipe up any spots where you’ve been heavy-handed with the brush.

Let It Dry Completely

Give your deck as much time as it needs to dry before enjoying it again. Palla says the manufacturer will list dry time on the label, though it’s usually a good idea to avoid walking on your newly stained deck or putting furniture on it for 24 to 48 hours. Remember that many stains will feel dry to the touch much sooner – but keep those hands, feet and furniture off for the duration.

Should You Hire a Pro to Stain Your Deck?

While staining a deck is indeed doable even for beginning DIYers, know your limits. If you have more deck than time or patience, hiring a pro might be worth it.

According to HomeAdvisor, the cost to stain your deck will range between $540 and $1,050, which breaks down to $2–$4 per square foot, including labor and materials. The total cost will rise if other steps are required, like cleaning or sealing the wood.

Be Proactive in Protecting Your Deck

Treat your wooden deck well, and it will be around for many seasons. “Being proactive about deck maintenance extends the lifespan of a wooden deck and simplifies maintenance,” says Sjoerd Bos, managing director of the Sansin Corp., which manufactures waterborne, low-VOC wood protection solutions.

Bos stresses the importance of a close yearly inspection for evidence of wear and tear, saying, “It’s easier and more cost-effective to put a maintenance coat on than have to redo an entire deck.” He is a proponent of the water bead test in determining when it’s time to apply that new coat of stain.

Palla recommends a thorough cleaning annually, with a stain reapplication every three to four years. When you consider other outdoor projects that require far more frequent maintenance, maintaining your deck is rather doable – DIY or otherwise.

“Your deck is a substantial investment,” says Clayton. “Properly staining and maintaining it can extend its life, enhance its appearance, and increase your home's overall value.” 



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