How to Stain a Deck for a Long-Lasting Finish

We'll also walk you through the prep work you shouldn't skip—and help you choose the right stain color and opacity level for your wood.

In This Article
View All
In This Article
modern wood deck


If you're busy getting your backyard ready for summer, one thing you don't want to overlook is deck maintenance. Beyond cleaning, another important aspect of caring for your deck is staining it. Not only are stains a great way to enhance the overall appearance of this outdoor feature, but they also protect it from the elements and, in turn, extend its lifespan. While it may seem like a time-consuming process, staining your deck is relatively straightforward once you're armed with a few tips and the right materials. 

Materials Needed

Before tackling this project, take a trip to your local home improvement store and stock up on the following tools.

  • Pressure washer or garden hose
  • Sand paper
  • Deck cleaner
  • Deck brush
  • Eye goggles
  • Cleaning gloves
  • Paint roller with extension handle
  • Deck stripper
  • Stain
  • Painter's tape
  • Drop cloth

How to Prepare Your Deck 

pressure-washing deck

ronstik / GETTY IMAGES

Proper preparation is crucial when it comes to staining your deck—and it's a step that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Check for Damage 

The first and most important step is to inspect your deck for any damage prior to staining it. "Look for any broken or warped deck boards," says Karielle Day, merchant of paint and interior and exterior stains and waterproofers at Home Depot. "Replace any nails, deck screws, and wood boards as needed prior to cleaning." Additionally, you should check the foundation of your deck for water damage and loose or rusted screws. 

Rinse Your Deck

Cleaning your deck before you stain it is also key; any impurities and dirt that are left behind can affect how well the stain adheres to the wood. "Using a pressure washer helps remove any stain, dirt, debris, and mildew that's accumulated through the years," says Gary McCoy, the store manager at Lowe's

While the deck is wet, inspect it for mill glaze, which is water beading that indicates the surface is not porous. "If mill glaze exists, either sand lightly or scrub the area until water is easily absorbed into the wood," says Day. This is also a good time to check for black spots, which is a sign of mold or mildew.

Apply Deck Cleaner 

After rinsing the deck with water, apply a deck cleaner. "It's important to use a deck cleaner, because it will penetrate the boards and bring up dirt that's deeper than surface level, which better ensures that your stain will adhere to your deck," says McCoy. "If this step is skipped, it can cause peeling or a shorter-term finish."

Consider the weather when you reach this step: You shouldn't apply wood cleaner if it's hotter than 90 degrees outside. "If it is too hot, the cleaner may dry too quickly, causing uneven penetration," says Day. 

  1. Put on protective gloves and goggles. 
  2. Remove furniture or plants from the deck. 
  3. Mix wood cleaner according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
  4. Use a paint roller with an extension handle to apply cleaner to the entire deck, making sure it doesn't puddle in any area. 
  5. Scrub any tough areas with a stiff deck brush or broom. 
  6. Allow the cleaner to soak into the wood (about 10 minutes).
  7. Rinse the deck thoroughly with a pressure washer or garden hose.  
  8. Let your deck dry for at least 24 hours.

Apply Deck Stripper

If your deck has a water-based stain on it already, it needs to be stripped off before you can apply a fresh coat. Oil-based stains can be re-coated after you apply the deck cleaner.

To test which type of stain your deck has, apply deck stripper to a small area of your deck. "Let it sit for about 15 minutes, then wipe it off with a cleaning rag," says Day. If the stain wipes off, it's water-based and will need to be removed. 

  1. Check that the deck is completely dry.
  2. Use a paint roller with an extension handle to apply deck stripper to the entire deck. 
  3. Let the product sit on the surface for five to 45 minutes, depending on product description and the condition of the wood. 
  4. Scrub with a rough bristle brush.
  5. Rinse the old stain off.
  6. Let the deck dry for around 24 hours, and then lightly sand the entire surface.  

How to Choose a Stain

can of stain for wood deck

ChristopherBernard / GETTY IMAGES

There are so many deck stain colors on the market, and the one you go with ultimately comes down to personal preference. Once you select a stain for your deck, decide on the color's opacity; there are four levels to choose from.


Clear or transparent stains are ideal for new or premium wood surfaces. "Transparent stains show a great deal of wood grain while hiding a few imperfections," says Day. "These nearly clear stains contain a hint of wood-inspired color." If you have a new deck or one that's still in good condition, it's smart to start with a clear stain; then, you can work your way up in opacity as your deck ages. 


A level up from clear, semi-transparent stains are a popular choice. "They provide more color to hide imperfections while allowing some wood grain and texture to show through," says Day. "Also called translucent stains, semi-transparent stains often [come in] natural wood-tones of red, brown, or tan.”


Semi-solid stains provide a heavier application of color than semi-transparent, meaning they conceal damage better. Despite being less transparent, this type of opacity still allows you to see the wood's natural graining. 


Solid stains are best for older decks that have accumulated noticeable damage over the years. "Solid stains provide the most color, protective durability, and ability to hide imperfections," says Day. "They're available in a wide variety of colors, including natural browns and reds as well as blues, grays, and blacks."

It's important to note that in sunny climates, less natural solid stain colors may not be as durable.

How to Stain a Deck

deck with minimalist furniture

Getty Images

Now that you have prepared your deck and chosen a stain, start the application process. 

  1. Sweep any debris that landed on your deck while it was drying.
  2. Apply painter's tape to your home’s adjacent siding. 
  3. Use a drop cloth to cover surrounding plants.
  4. Stir the stain thoroughly.
  5. Pour the stain onto a paint tray. 
  6. Use a roller with an extension handle to apply an even, thin coat of stain to a two-to-three board section. 
  7. Repeat the entire process until the deck is covered. 
  8. Use a paint brush to apply the stain in corners and other small areas, like steps, railings, end grain, and cracks. 
  9. Allow the deck to dry completely.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles