Here is how to stain a deck (with a list of staining tools you’ll need at the bottom, even if you decide to spray).
To decide on what product you should use to stain a deck, read our short summary of Deck Stain vs Deck Paint. If you decide to stain, read about the best deck stains available these days. I always recommend avoiding paint and opaque stain (which is, wait for it, paint). The low-maintenance of lighter stains is a no-brainer to me. Looks great, less filling (of the painter`s wallet every 3-7 years).
Picking deck stains: we only recommend two brands: Benjamin Moore deck stains and paints (company website) or the Sherwin Williams selections (company website). Other companies talk big, but you will save money by spending more on quality deck stains up front. Think of labor costs!
- If your deck was stained before with heavy (opaque) stain, pressure wash (described below-this will do most of your prep—use water pressure to remove chips (described below), but be sure to cover the land with drop cloths
- If your deck was not treated before or was but with only light stains, you don`t have much to do: pressure wash lightly (described below)
- Let the wood dry completely
- Remove or mask well the door/window hardware you do not want stained (even if you do not spray) and spread dropcloths
- Create a work area and cover with cloth or plastic (keeps dirt and objects from polluting your liquids, etc)
- The tools you will need are listed below
- Begin staining (described below is how to use a roller for very fast, quality results)—best to roll small sections with a regular roller (wool/poly, 1/2″ nap) roller and then brush into all cracks and grooves well with a very good brush*(this is my biggest tip to save you time)
- No need to repeat if you are using lighter stains, but with opaque stains, you may need a 2nd coat (no matter what you saw on TV !)
- Soak brushes and rollers etc right away until you have time to clean them
- Spraying deck paint is explained below as well
How to stain a deck (big time-saving tip ahead)
Two cases for two basic conditions (and how to pressure wash) in this section
Stain a deck that is new
If your deck is in good shape (and not pressure treated wood), go to the painting section of how to stain a deck (below). Lucky you do not need to do any sanding or any prep other than a washing (for new decks only). See below regarding pressure treated wood: be careful here.
Peeling deck paint? How to stain a deck that is old and beat up
Scraping old paint or opaque stain is very hard work. For that work, I would hire a young person with young wrist tendons: I’ve damaged mine doing scraping. If you want to do it yourself, have a good set of scrapers: see my favorites below. You must have a good file to sharpen every few minutes of scraping: yes, that often. Dull scrapers cannot cut a sharp edge that you can sand and later coat. This short video show how to sharpen with a file.
- This scraper with extra blades and the right file could be all you need
- A “5 in 1” is very useful in many ways
- This one is graeat and pulls nails
- For deck flooring this long handle is great
- The triangle shape is very helpful and does not need as much sharpening
- Finally, an oval comes in handy
Tip: We pros try not to do much hard work: we rely on electric tools. This rotary grinder (low-RPM, by Porter-Cable, the best on the market), is slow so the paint or old stain cannot be melted. Don’t get a high speed grinder for metal etc. Extra pads are here. You will need an extension cord an awesome perfect rating.
Start your prep with a pressure wash*
Deck wood can be washed with the garden hose (but it’s slow and not very efficient). We use a small electric pressure washer. This one is much like the one I bought years ago. I used it very hard as a workhorse tool Eight years since then, it is still pumping like new (I need to replace the hose and handle, but I’ll probably just upgrade to a 3000p.s.i. so I can go faster.) Watch it in prepping action in the video at the bottom. It’s not essential to have the extra hose, but it’s good to have a long extension cord with a capacity of 15 amps (I can’t get over this extension cord’s ratings: wow).
We only use a washer with the rotating tip (called ‘turbo’ tip) prevent damage to wood.
* Don’t pressure wash “pressure treated” wood. We explain why in our other post that discusses whether your should Paint or Stain Deck.
2: How to stain a deck:
My big “tip” is to use both roller and brush
How to stain a deck in a very fast, but still very proper way. What stain should you use? We cover that in another short post. When you have all those decisions made, you are ready.
For any deck paint:
- Dip roller with a good deal of deck stain (don’t let it drip, just like you would with deck paint)
- Start rolling gently and let the stain come out of the roller, pressing more firmly as you go
- Follow up with a brush (not much need to put a brush in the liquid)
- Some stain will drip through the cracks of the deck but you can catch it in plastic under the deck if you want to try to save it (sure you can re-use it ! I would)
- Repeat steps 1-3
So there is not much need for brush dipping! When you do corners etc, where the roller cannot reach.
Spray that puppy?
Spray painting a deck is many times faster than rolling or brushing, but you have to consider the damage overspray stain will do. You have to be very careful and move all cars in
Read our post just about sprayers.
Two recommendations for two budgets:
- The best non-commercial paint sprayer today is hands down the Graco17D889. It’s pricey but will last a lifetime with proper care
- The budget choice is the Wagner Spray Tech. It has a very reasonable price for what you get.
The spray tips wear out after many hours of use, and if you buy a well-known brand, you can easily find tips easily.
Some keys to spraying painting a deck:
- Carefully mask (see a great hand-masking tool for this below) what is not getting painted: use plastic and/or canvas and lots of tape. You’ll save time in the end if you go slowly here (use a razor knife to get sharp lines)
- Practice spraying technique first: You can just put water in your sprayer to practice this. Keep the sprayer hand moving at a uniform speed, and when you reverse direction, try to make a quick flick of the wrist (avoids puddles)
- Spraying Oil? Keep the tip of the sprayer wet with thinner: you can use a wet rag or a small can of paint thinner
- Spraying Latex? Soak the tip in water when you put it down: if you don`t it will clog fast
- Use the best deck stain and even if you are spraying opaque stain, it should cover in one coat
- A short video from Graco is excellent to see how it`s really done well
Stain a deck made of pressure treated wood
Wait 6-9 months after installation to put any stain on your pressure treated wood: it’s still wet from the factory and if you don’t wait, you’ll have a big problem later on. We discussed this more fully in our post on choosing whether to paint or stain a deck.
This is not really necessary for the lighter stains like semi-transparent and so on. Keep an eye on the opaque stain. In fact, if you choose an opaque stain, which is much like paint, read the maintenance section of the post on how to paint a deck.
- A complete list of tools for all types of painting jobs
- bucket (we don’t use pans)
- screen (goes with the bucket)
- brush * (for water-based stains)
- roller covers** — we would use almost any nap roller cover to stain a deck (we have a post explaining the many options )
- roller handles: we use good ones with good poles ( all explained in this post)
- hand masker
- paper for masker
- drop cloths (I like the grippy kind)
- plastic drop cloths
- Utility knife for cutting sharp lines in your tape and plastic with extra blades
- Razor blade scraper for glass and many other uses with extra blades
*Read about how easy it is to clean a good brush: you will make them last a lifetime.
** Read about the easy way to clean a roller: like magic!
- We also have a list of all the painting tools that you could ever need
Any concerns about how to stain a deck: just ask.
Here is a video showing how to do pressure washer paint prep before staining your deck.
How to stain a deck with a roller and brush
You might think you either spray or brush to stain a deck, but we use a normal 9-inch roller to get the stain evenly were we want it, then use the brush to wet the areas that the roller does not reach. Why?
What takes up all your time when staining a deck is going back and forth between the can and the wood. But the roller holds many times what the brush can hold. So the roller is just doing the heavy lifting–you are still brushing your deck, but your brush rarely gets dipped in the can of stain.
Stain your Deck in 5 steps:
- Dip roller with as much satin as it will hold—so it’s not dripping)
- Push paint into the ceiling corner and slide maybe a foot to one side
- Lift off the roller and rotate the cylinder about 1/3 turn
- Repeat steps 1-3 until you need more paint
- Push harder as you run out of paint before you have to dip
Be sure to have all the painter tools that you need
Coming Soon: The Best Deck Treatment: Part Two–What a Professional Painter Uses on His Deck