Decks are typically at the center of backyard entertainment. They are where you lounge, barbeque, and relax with friends and family.
But to keep your deck beautiful and inviting, you need to maintain it properly. With wooden decks, this means regularly staining and sealing your deck every 3-5 years.
How To Stain A Deck: Index
- Why You Should Stain Your Deck
- How Long Does Deck Stain Last
- How Much Does It Cost
- How Long Does Deck Stain Last
- How Long Does It Take To Stain A Deck
- How To Stain A Deck
- Deck Staining FAQ
Why You Should Stain Your Deck
Staining your deck serves multiple purposes. First, it makes your deck look amazing, second it protects your deck from the elements that would prematurely deteriorate it.
To Beautify Your Deck
Staining your deck highlights the natural beauty of the wood by adding color and accenting the graining in the wood.
Staining can bring old wood back to life with fresh color or it can alter the color of the wood on your deck to better match your decor.
Solid and semi-solid stains can even cover up the wood on your deck if it is not a wood known for its beauty such as a green treated wood.
To Protect Your Deck From The Elements (Sun & Moisture)
More importantly than beautifying your deck is that staining and sealing your deck will help protect your deck from the sun’s harsh UV rays and moisture, both of which will shorten the life of exterior woods.
Sun damage, caused by the sun’s UV rays, will grey out your deck’s wood after time. This is typically a cosmetic issue but with enough time, it can cause structural issues in wood as well.
Deck stains have UV protection built into them to prevent sun damage. Today, you can find UV protectants in clear sealers all the way to solid stains.
Even more harmful than UV rays is moisture damage. This can be from humidity, rain, and snow.
Moisture damage will cause wood to crack, splinter, and even start rotting.
A deck stain will seal the wood and protect it from moisture. When properly sealed, water should bead up on the deck’s surface. When water no longer beads up, then you know it’s time to re-seal your deck.
How Long Does Deck Stain Last?
Deck stains have notoriously short lifespans.
Many people get frustrated with how often they have to keep re-staining and sealing their decks. Typically, decks need to be re-sealed / re-stained every 1-4 years depending on what type of product you used on your deck.
But why do you need to keep doing your deck so often? There are three major reasons and none of them have to do with your deck stain being poor quality.
Foot traffic, UV Rays, and Rain.
Just like UV rays and rain will cause damage to your wood, they also cause your stain to break down as well. Add in the wearing effects of foot traffic and it’s no wonder that you only get a 1-4 year lifespan.
Clear sealers have the shortest life span and typically need to be reapplied every year.
Semi-transparent stains fall in the middle and will need to be re-applied every 2-3 years.
Solid color stains last the longest and will need to be re-applied every 3-4 years.
Note: Horizontal boards wear out the fastest due to more direct exposure to moisture, UV rays, and traffic. Verticle boards can often last twice as long as horizontal boards.
How Long Does It Take To Stain A Deck
The time it takes to stain your deck is dependant on a few different factors.
First, how many stairs and rails do you have?
Stairs, railings, and spindles take up 80% of the time it takes to stain a deck. This is because staining your spindles, stairs, and handrails are tedious brush and/or roller work. If you have a ground-level deck with no rails, you’re in luck! You’re able to stain floorboards drastically faster.
How Big Is Your Deck?
Does your deck have multiple levels? Is it large or small?
If you have a smaller deck with minimal handrails and stairs, staining your deck can easily be a day and a half project. One half-day to prep and clean and one full day to stain the deck.
If you have a bigger deck with lots of rails and a large set of stairs leading up from the yard, then staining your deck can easily take 3-5 days for the average homeowner. One day to prep and clean, 2-4 days to apply the stain.
How To Stain A Deck
Prepping Your Deck
- Power Washer – Gas or Electric. Gas will be much faster, but electric power washers are cheaper.
- Surface Cleaner Attachment – A surface cleaner attachment will flawless clean all of your deck floorboards and leave them even and damage-free.
- Garden Hose
Staining Your Deck
- Large Stain Brush – For floorboards.
- Small Deck Brush – For railings and spindles.
- Extension Pole – To save your back!
- Multi-Ladder – Read more about the best ladders for painting here.
Prepping and Cleaning Your Deck
The first thing you need to do with any deck staining job is the prep work. If you don’t properly clean and prep your deck, you will have adhesion issues with your new stain, which will shorten the life span of your deck stain.
I always pressure wash every deck before staining.
You may have read online some people recommending that you not power wash your deck due to damage it may cause. This is typically because the writer has no experience power washing and/or is trying to push some new deck cleaning products.
Nothing works as well as power-washing to remove dirt, debris, and old stain.
Power washing will ensure a clean surface that new stain will adhere properly to.
Always start your pressure washing in an inconspicuous area to get the feel of your machine and the distance you need to be from the wood in order to clean it without damaging the wood.
A 45 degree tip on your power washer is usually ideal. This will spread the spray fan 45 degrees and give you a larger cleaning area. Smaller tips such as a 25 or 35 degree will concentrate the water, shorten the cleaning area and can be more likely to cause damage.
When cleaning the floorboards, try using a Surface Cleaning attachment on your power washer. These attachments are amazing. They save time and give you perfect results.
A Surface Cleaning attachment is a round attachment that goes on the end of your power washer’s wand. It has two nozzles that rotate withing the round head at a perfect distance from the surface of the wood. They spin at such a high rate that the floorboards get a perfect and even cleaning.
If you don’t end up using a surface cleaning attachment, you’ll need to keep a steady hand when power washing and go in long, even strokes. Inspect the wood of your deck every so often to make sure that you are not damaging in any way and that the cleaned surface looks clean and even, not streaky.
Read our tips on: How To Stain A Fence
Allow Proper Drying Time
Once you are done cleaning the deck, you need to allow it to properly dry.
A minimum of 24 hours of warm sunny weather will leave your deck ready for stain.
If you are more of a perfectionist and don’t want to take any chances, you can purchase a moisture meter and ensure that your wood has less than 18% moisture before staining.
Applying The Stain
Now you’re finally ready to start applying your deck stain!
The first thing you’ll want to do is to prep off any concrete under your deck to prevent dripping. You should also run some masking paper or drop clothes next to your siding where your deck rail meets your home to prevent splatter on your siding.
Now, you need to determine the best order for efficiently staining. I always start on the outside of the rails and spindles. Then I move to the inside of the rails and spindles. Last, I stain the floorboards and work my way off the deck or down the stairs.
When staining the outside of the rails and spindles, you’ll want to use your smaller deck brush and do your best not to splatter onto the floorboards. extra splatter on the floorboards can leave dark spots on the floor when you go to stain the floor.
Try not to leave runs on the inner sides of the rails as this will also cause darker spots.
There are really no tricks to staining rails and spindles. It’s slow, tedious and requires patience.
When the rails and spindles are done, you’ll want to move onto the floorboards.
I prefer to use a wooden pole attached to a large 7″ deck brush when staining floorboards. This saves my back and allows me to move much quicker than I could on my knees or with a smaller brush.
If the shape of the deck allows me to do so, I like to stain 3-4 boards at a time from one end of the deck all the way to the other end. This ensures that you don’t leave any areas to dry out while and thus leave ugly lines on your deck.
Curious about which deck stain is the best? Check out our posts on the Best Deck Stains.
One Coat Or Two?
Every stain you purchase will tell you if it requires one coat of two. Most clear sealers up to semi-transparent stains only require one coat. Solid color stains typically require two coats for optimum coverage.
De-Prep and Cleanup
When you are done staining, make sure to de-prep and clean up right away. If you clean up and de-prep right away and find that you dripped onto concrete or splattered on your home, it will usually come off pretty easy if it hasn’t had time to dry and cure.
It can also be a good idea to stop every 3-4 hours and clean out your deck brush so that it doesn’t get too full of dried paint.
Critical drying time for most stains is 24 hours. This means that you’ll want to plan on zero use of the deck for a minimum of 24 hours. You should try to also plan on the deck not getting rained on during the first 24 hours. Rain in the first 24 hours can result in a spotted finish on your deck.
After 24 hours, you can walk on the deck lightly (socks). After 72 hours it is usually safe to place all furniture back onto the deck and resume normal activity.
Deck Staining FAQ
The typical cost to hire a professional to stain your deck is $750 for a small deck with few to no spindles. A larger deck with lots of spindles and stairs can cost up to $2,500.
If you want to stain your deck yourself, you can save a significant amount of money.
Your costs should only be renting a power washer for a day ($50), 2-5 gallons of stain (roughly $40 per gallon), and 2 deck brushes ($20 per brush).
This would put your total cost between $170 – $290.
When staining a deck, you want to use a large deck brush. Deck brushes are thick wide brushes with shorter bristles than normal brushes. They hold more stain and are designed to be the width of the deck boards.
While we consider Behr Wood Stain and Sealer to be the best deck stain, we discussed this topic in more detail here.
When staining your deck, always use a solid deck stain over a paint or porch and floor paint. Deck stains are designed specifically to handle foot traffic, moisture and UV rays where paints and floor paints are not.
Yes, by staining your deck you are protecting it against the Sun’s UV rays, damaging moisture and foot traffic. All of which will fade, splinter and crack your deck boards.
Deck stains peel for two reasons, over application and poor adhesion.
Over application happens when you apply too much stain or too many coats, thus making a thick film that is more likely to peel. Poor adhesion happens when you don’t properly clean your deck before staining or the wood had too much moisture in it.
I’ve been a professional painter since 2001 and spent the last 12 years specializing in kitchen cabinet refinishing. I started the DIY Painting Tips blog in 2015 to start sharing everything I’ve learned over the years and help all the people who’d rather tackle their painting projects themselves. In 2019 I started the DIY Painting Tips Youtube channel where I publish in depth videos all about kitchen cabinet painting, painting gear reviews, and interior/exterior tutorials.