Before you stain your deck, do the right prep



To get the best and longest-lasting results with deck stain, make sure you prepare the surface properly.

Sun, rain, snow and ice all take their toll on West Michigan’s wood decks. After a few years, the surface can look worn. Fortunately, restoring a deck’s finish is a job most DIYers can handle. For deck stain that looks professionally done, preparation is key. Here is what you need to do before you stain.

Plan around Mother Nature

Check the weather forecast and make sure there are enough clear days to both prep and stain your deck.

Allow time between prep and staining for the wood to dry. Two to three days is usually sufficient. If your deck is in direct sun and humidity is low, 48 hours may be enough time to dry. Decks that get a lot of shade or high humidity mean longer drying times.

You don’t want to leave too much time between prep and staining because dirt and debris can build up and could necessitate another round of cleaning. Who wants to do that twice?

New decks

If the deck wood is new, your job is pretty straightforward. Sweep and the clean off dirt and pollen with a deck cleaning solution (see step 3 for older decks below).

Home Depot says to check new deck wood for mill glaze while the deck is wet. If water beads up on the surface, mill glaze is present, and you’ll have to either scrub or lightly sand the wood until water is absorbed into the wood.

After cleaning new wood, allow the deck to dry completely before applying stain.

Older decks

If you’re working on a deck with older wood, you’ll have more work to do. But don’t lose heart – most homeowners can do the job.

  1. Remove all furniture and planters from the deck. Sweep off leaves and loose debris.
  2. Your next task is to remove any loose paint or opaque stain with a paint scraper.
    To make sure the new finish adheres, sand down the edges between the paint or stain that remains on the deck and the bare spots.
  3. Now it’s time for deep cleaning.
    Clean the wood thoroughly with a deck cleaning solution. Use a roller or pump sprayer to apply the cleaner, taking care to wear protective clothing and safety glasses. Once the deck is covered in solution, use a brush to scrub away those pet, tree and BBQ stains. Alternatively, you could power wash the deck on low to moderate power. (Read our power washing tips here.) Give the solution time to loosen up the dirt and grime but don’t let the solution dry. Check the label for the optimal soaking time—it may take up to 15 minutes. Then it’s time for a good rinse with your garden hose. Check out how HGTV gets the job done. Be sure to protect your skin and eyes from contact with the dirt and solution.
  4. Inspect as you go. The deep cleaning step is a good time to inspect the deck and determine if any broken or damaged boards need to be replaced. If there are any nails that stick up replace them with wood screws.

Don’t skip deck prep steps in an effort to save time. Lackadaisical prep is the most common reason deck stains and sealers fail. And, remember to give your deck plenty of time to dry; stain or paint will not adhere to wet wood.

When the work’s all done, sit back, relax and enjoy your newly rejuvenated deck!

Consumers helps more than 1,000 members finance land, homes, and home improvement projects each year. When you need a mortgage or home equity line of credit, call us at 800-991-2221. We’re here to help you get the home of your dreams!


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