I've spent my entire adult life working with paints and stains, so I've seen many homeowners dissatisfied with their deck staining projects. Either it didn't look as good as they thought that it would, or it didn't last as long. Following these steps will help guarantee a great-looking, long-lasting result.
Step 1: Take your Time
With every step of the staining process, take your time. When the project is completed and your tools are cleaned and put away, nothing will have had a greater impact on the quality of the job. Take your time and allow new, pressure treated-lumber to weather for a few months and dry out before staining it. Leave stain strippers on the surface long enough to break down old finishes before you rinse it off. Take your time in order to prevent overspray and spills on non-target surfaces; wait to start your project until the weather forecast is favorable.
Step 2: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
A scrub brush works best to work the wood cleaner into the pores of the wood
Preparation is key to the final results. All wood needs to be well cleaned before staining, whether it's a brand-new deck or an older deck that's been out in the weather and needs to be re-stained. Brand-new lumber needs to be cleaned to remove 'mill scale',which is a crushing of the grain that takes place during the milling process. If it's left uncleaned, it can prevent wood stains from properly penetrating into the wood pores.
On an older deck, dirt, graying from the sun, mildew, and old stains all need to be removed prior to staining. Sodium percarbonate wood cleaners, also known as oxygen bleach wood cleaners, are a great choice for this step. They are highly effective at cleaning the wood, yet won't harm plant life and vegetation. Best of all, they won't hurt you either. Their soapy consistency won't burn your skin.
If there is a build up of old stains on the deck, then the job gets a little tougher, but not impossible. Instead of a sodium percarbonate cleaner you'll need to use a stain stripper. Strippers are more caustic so follow the directions carefully. They work great and will remove most weathered stains in a single application. Lastly, if there are small spots of stain that won't come off during the cleaning process, a palm-type sander should remove them easily after the deck has dried. If those spots of stain are left on the deck, they will show through the new finish and detract from the deck's final appearance. Some stain manufacturers offer a free instructional video to help walk you through this entire process. They're a terrific tool to use to ensure that you do it right the first time. Check out a sample deck staining video here.
Step 3: Brighteners are Beautiful
In the deck staining process, no step is skipped more than this one. It's by far the easiest step and will have a dramatic effect on the final results. Wood brighteners are easy to apply. They open up the surface of the wood to improve penetration, neutralize any stain strippers that were used, and restore the appearance of old, weathered wood to look like new again. That's a lot for one product to accomplish, but brighteners will do all of that, so don't skip using them. To use them, simply spray them on, wait a few minutes, and rinse them off. No scrubbing and no 'elbow grease' needed. They're so easy to usse and have so many benefits, there's no reason not to use them!
Step 4: Rinse like Mad
Use plenty of water after using any cleaning chemicals. Even though some of these chemicals can seem safe and harmless, they all need to be rinsed off extremely well after they are used. Left in the wood, these chemicals can resurface over time and begin to attack and break down the new stain. So once you are done cleaning, rinse the deck thoroughly to get all of the chemicals out of the wood.
Step 5: Stay Away from the Cheap Stuff
Now that the deck is clean and dry, it's ready to be stained. Before you decide which stain to buy, keep in mind that you always get what you pay for. Better ingredients cost more money. If you expect premium results, then you'll need to buy a premium product. Quality differs when it comes to resins, pigments, mildewcides, and many other materials that make up a gallon of wood stain. So stay away from the cheap stuff if you expect it to last.
Step 6: Take a Look at Waterborne Stains
Water-based deck stains have become really popular in the last few years. If you have been reluctant to try them in the past, don't be reluctant any longer. Air quality regulations have forced manufacturers to really improve these products; some are now better, more durable, and longer lasting than conventional oil-based alternatives. They offer some distinct advantages that oil-based stains can't offer. Good quality water-based stains clean up with soap and water, have no nasty solvents to breathe, have a significantly better resistance to weathering, don't require that the wood be completely dry to use them, dry more quickly than solvents, and are much easier on the environment.
Additionally, some of the waterborne stains are synthetic, such as DEFY Extreme Wood Stain. Synthetic resin wood stains are far less susceptible to mold growth, mildew, and algae. If you're in area with a fair amount of moisture and humidity, waterborne, synthetic stains, like DEFY Wood Stains, have some real advantages.
Step 7: Read the Can; Follow the Directions
Every product is a little different, so always read the label for directions. It only takes a few minutes and it will ensure that you have all of the right information before you start. Pay attention to how many coats of stain to apply, how long to wait between coats, how long to wait after cleaning, and how long to allow wood to weather. Read the label first and you're likely to get it right the first time.
Step 8: More IS NOT always Better
Decks are best stained with a semi-transparent wood stain. These types of products allow the natural grain of the wood to show through, allow the wood to naturally breathe, and are easily cleaned and reapplied. Pay attention to the directions and don't over apply these types of products. You'll end up with a beautiful, shiny finish that will probably peel off over time. When too much stained is applied a film can form, much like paint, that will no longer allow the wood to breathe. The end result is peeling, and that's a real mess. Only apply as much stain as the wood can easily absorb.
Step 9: The Paint Brush is Still King
Deck stains can be applied in several different ways. Using a pump-up garden sprayer and roller are two popular methods. Regardless of how you apply your wood stain, keep a paint brush at hand. A paint brush will work the stain deep in to the pores of a board. The agitation and friction caused by a paint brush will cause the wood to absorb more stain. So if you are spraying or rolling the stain, always back-brush it in with a brush while the stain is still wet; you'll achieve much better penetration in to the wood. Watch the short video clip below for the best type of brush to use.
Step 10: Remember...Take Your Time
Step one of this article told you to take your time. When your project is finally done, take a little extra time before you use it. Let your deck dry out well before putting it back in use.
The stain needs to cure out before being subjected to the rigors of patio furniture and foot traffic. You've done everything correctly to this point, now make sure you allow it at least 24 hours for it to dry out before using it.
Step 11: A Little Maintenance
A small amount of effort can keep your deck looking great longer. Just as you would wash the dirt off of your car, you should wash down the surface of your deck occasionally to keep leaves and dirt from damaging the finish. If the deck stain starts to show signs of graying or loses its color, it can be easily cleaned up with a little wood brightener and a light maintenance coat of stain. That's all there is to it. Eleven keys to deck staining success. Go ahead and try them and see what the results are when you set out on your next project like a pro. You may just surprise yourself!
*Helpful Tips When using a wood cleaner, you can really speed the process up by using a scrub brush on the horizontal boards. These brushes can be found in the cleaning section of most home improvement stores. Get the type that can be attached to a four-foot extension pole. With a scrub brush, cleaning the surface of the deck will be as fast as mopping your floor!
When staining the deck rails, take care not to splatter stain on the deck surface below; it will most likely leave unsightly darker spots when you are done. The easiest way to avoid this problem is to cover the deck below the rails as you work. I use the cardboard from the box the stain came in. You can cut out notches in the cardboard so it will fit snugly around the rail posts.