Having spent my entire adult life working with paints and stains, I've seen many homeowners who end up dissatisfied with their deck staining projects. Either it didn't look as good as they thought that 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. Here's a few tips before you get started. Take your time to allow new pressure treated lumber to weather for a few months and dry out before staining it. Allow stain strippers to be left on the surface long enough to break down old finishes before you rinse it off. Take your time to prevent overspray and spills on non-target surfaces and wait to start your project until the weather forecast is favorable.
Step 2: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Preparation is key to the final results. All wood needs to be cleaned well 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". Mill scale is a crushing of the grain that takes place during the milling process. If it's left un-cleaned, it can prevent wood stains from properly penetrating into the wood surface.
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 a little 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, they should sand off easily using a palm-type sander 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 to do and it will have a dramatic effect on the final results. Wood brighteners are easy to apply. They help 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 like new again. That's a lot of things 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. There are so many benefits and they're so easy, there's no reason to not use them!
Step 4: Rinse like Mad
Use lots and lots 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. There is a difference in quality 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 to the user that oil base stains can't offer. Good quality water based stains clean up with soap and water, there are no nasty solvents to breathe, they have a significantly better resistance to weathering, the wood doesn't need to be completely dry to use them, they dry more quickly than solvents and they are much easier on the environment.
Additionally, some of the waterborne stains are synthetic as well, such as DEFY Extreme Wood Stain. Synthetic resin wood stains are far less susceptible to mold growth, mildew and algae. So if you're in area with a fair amount of moisture and humidity, there are some real advantages in using waterborne synthetic stains such as DEFY Wood Stain.
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 get started. 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. So 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. When this happens the end result will be peeling and that's a real mess. So only apply as much stain as the wood can easily absorb.
Step 9: The Paint Brush is Still King
There are a lot of different ways to apply the deck stain. 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 and 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
I told you at the start of this article to take your time. When your project is finally done, take a little extra time before you start using it. Let your deck dry out good before putting it back in use.
The stain needs to cure out a bit before being subjected to the rigors of patio furniture and foot traffic. You've done everything right to this point, now make sure you allow it at least 24 hours to dry out before using it.
Step 11: How about 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, wash down the surface of your deck every now and then 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 it, 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 to do it like a pro. You may just surprise yourself!
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 4 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 as 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.