Painting Tips by a Professional

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How to Stain a Deck Quickly, the Right Way

How to stain a deck
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).
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I always recommend avoiding paint and opaque stain. Opaque 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). Here is how to stain a deck: key tips that will help you.

Read about my favorite products to stain a deck with: a short summary of Deck Stain vs Deck Paint. Its got all the best deck stains available these days.

Biggest time saver: start your deck prep with a pressure washer: click on my favorite pick one you see here. I’ve had mine for 8 years, and it has paid for itself a hundred times: I just can’t kill it: I want to kill it to get a new Sun Joe. “I want you to die, Mr. Bond.”

But start slow: and use the rotating tip that SHOULD but does not come with. The rotation protects the wood from gouging, even in the smaller machines. (Choose from various p.s.i., and one has a nice spool to reel in the hose.) Details on how to pressure wash a deck are below.

Need bigger? Washing a truck? Go gas or go home. Honda motor, very pricey, but will pay for itself if you are a pro and if not, you’ll never have major problems with it.

beautiful well stained deckPicking deck stains: We prefer Benjamin Moore deck stains (company website). You will save money by spending more on quality deck stains upfront. Think of future labor savings! We have a post all about the best deck stain.

Short summary of how to stain a deck (full details below)

  • The tools you will need are compiled on our deck tools list.
  • If your deck was stained before with heavy (opaque) stain or painted: pressure wash (how-to is below—this will do most of your prep—use water pressure to remove chips, etc., but be sure to cover the land with drop cloths.
  • If your deck was not treated before or was but with only light (semi-trans or fully transparent) stains, you don’t have much to do: pressure wash lightly. Ba da boom.
  • 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 drop cloths. This stuff has a mind of it’s own.
  • Create a central work area and cover it with cloth and/or plastic
  • Cover all your cans when you are not opening or using: this keeps dirt and objects from polluting your liquids, etc.

    For all paints and stains: 3/8″ is excellent for floors and decks.
  • Begin staining: Use a roller for very fast results—best to roll small squares with a regular roller cover (click on photo) and then brush into all cracks and grooves well with a very good brush (this is my biggest tip to save you time). This is described further below.

    For both water- and oil-based paints and stains.
  • No need to re-coat if you are using lighter stains, but check the can label. Some stains do not allow a 2nd coat! Others do. But with opaque stains, you may need a 2nd coat (no matter what you saw about one coat stains on TV !)
  • Soak brushes and rollers etc., right away until you have time to clean them which is easier than you think.
  • Spraying deck paint is explained below as well.

How to stain a deck (big time-saving tip ahead)

1. Preparation

—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 the scraping.

If you scrape it yourself, have a good set of scrapers: see my favorites on our deck tool list. You must have a good metal file to sharpen every 10-15 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.

    1. The pull scraper you see here is all you really need
    2. This multi-tool is very useful in many ways: my 3rd hand
Tip: We pros try not to do much hard work: we rely on electric tools. We went electric, like Dylan.

Stripping paint from metal and wood, etc., could involve other methods like including a drill attachment or my favorite…

A variable speed grinder you see here. Looks a bit pricey at first, but worth every penny and can be used with diamond cutting blades, etc. Mine has been going great for years of professional work.

Attach to any 4½-5 inch grinder, the very efficient 3M Sandblaster pads (click on photo). Here is a video of how it’s done. Depending on your type of grinder, you may require the universal adapter pad.

This kit is not expensive at all considering the time you save, then you have a great tool that can use cutting blades, etc. 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. It’s shown at the top of this page.

Watch a pressure washer in 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 the extension cord linked in the last section: ratings that could not be faked).

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 you should Paint or Stain Deck.

Brown pressure treated wood just needs a light washing
Brown pressure treated wood just needs a washing

2: How to stain a deck…
Big “tip”: use both roller and brush

stain a deck with a roller and a brush
stain a deck with a roller and a brush

How to stain a deck in a very fast, but very proper way. What stain should you use? We cover that in another short post on the best deck stain.

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 bucket/tray of stain.

For any deck stain or paint:

  1. Dip roller with a good deal of deck stain (don’t let it drip, just like you would with deck paint)—get as much stain as it will hold—so it’s not dripping.
  2. Start rolling gently and let the stain come out of the roller, pressing more firmly as it dries.
  3. Follow up with a brush. (Big tip: you don’t need to put a brush in the liquid—just dip roller, then ‘tip’ out the surface with the brush. See how fast you go? Easy.)
  4. 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).
  5. Repeat steps 1-3.
  6. The roller, brush, etc., are all on this deck tools list.

Spray that puppy?

Spray painting a deck

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 the cars around.

The two makers of paint sprayers you can trust are Graco (website) and Wagner (website).

Read our post about DIY airless sprayers.

Two recommendations for two budgets:

  • The best homeowner paint sprayer today is hands down the Graco Magnum line you see here. It will last a lifetime with proper care.
  • The budget choice is the Wagner Flexio 590. It has a very reasonable price for what you get.
  • Using a very light stain? I researched garden (backpack) sprayers for this and there are some that of course double in the garden, duh. Read about the 3 sprayers (but they are not all for all stains).

Airless spray tips wear out after many hours of use, and if you buy a well-known brand, like Graco and Wagner, you can easily find tips easily.

Some keys to spraying painting a deck:

  • Carefully mask what is not getting painted: use plastic, paper, and/or canvas and lots of tape. (See a great hand-masking tool for this in the deck tool list).
  • In this video, I show how to use this great 3M hand masker. So usefull and well-made.
  • 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.
  • Read about 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. I discussed this more fully in our post on choosing whether to paint or stain a deck.

3. Maintenance?

Annual upkeep is not really necessary for the lighter stains like semi-transparent and so on. Just quickly pressure wash, then re-apply whenever it gets faded. Keep an eye on the opaque stain, however. In fact, if you choose an opaque stain, which is cracks much like paint, read the maintenance section, (Section #3) of the post on how to paint a deck.

Here is a video showing how to do pressure washer paint prep before staining your deck.

Be sure to have all the painter tools that you need

How to Paint a Deck With One Big Timesaving Tip

Best Deck Paint (with a Big Word of Caution)

Best Deck Stain and Sealer: Complications Simplified

Paint or Stain Deck? (bonus: Deck Restore Products That Don’t Work)

Spray Wood Stain – Zero-Maintenance Deck Stain Treatment

Any questions about how to stain a deck? Let me know in the comments. Remember, how to stain a deck: there is not much need for brush dipping! Just dip when you do corners etc, where the roller cannot reach.


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12 thoughts on “How to Stain a Deck Quickly, the Right Way”

  1. How do you tell if your deck has been painted or stained? Can you stain it even if it’s been painted? I guess we’re a little skeptical. It seems like staining is the way to go but it will be so much prep work.

    • You can use OPAQUE stain, which is paint, but not the more transparent stains over paint… But you can paint over stain if you prep well. If it looks like wood, maybe with some weathering and maybe some color, it’s been stained probably. If it’s been a long time, you can probably pressure wash then paint. Use the right primer! My advice is stain as it never needs scraping: just wash and re-stain when needed. It’s a lot of work anyway. The once in a lifetime products I talk about on this site are still my fav. Good luck.

  2. Is it necessary to sand before applying preservative (to the top of our wide deck railings)? My wife wants me to sand AND wants to save the faded color, but this seems impossible…

    • Hi. I guess it depends on what you are planning to apply. Often the prep instructions on the label of your product will be clear. If you have splinters sticking out or a very rough grain, it cannot hurt to knock that back. If you have previously treated the wood, and you have any kind of a covering like paint or opaque stain, yes very much so, you must sand and/or remove that depending on what you will apply.
      I don’t see why sanding the wood and having a faded look are incompatible. The look will depend on the product. If you lightly sand (not taking off much wood) your old wood will be protected but still look like old faded wood.
      Anytime you apply a new product, it will renew your deck’s look for some years. So many products only last a few years depending on climate. Always buy a small quantity and do a test in a few spots: very weathered spots, then, underneath where it still looks ‘new’ etc. That way you’ll know for sure. Good luck.

  3. We have old paint on our deck that’s worn out and looking to completely remove and add a stain. Going after a weathered, raw and natural look. Can you share more info on sanding and tips to get to the nooks and crannies of a wood deck with railings?

    • Mechanically. First use water pressure … find the Sun Joe I talk about on this site… get the rotating tip so you don’t gouge the wood. That should get 90% of the paint. Cover all grounds as the chips really fly and if they get in the grass… you see.

      For tight corners, a very sharp scraper. Get a metal file to keep it sharp. It’s not easy work, but don’t rush… just listen to a baseball game. A slooooow one.

      Then, a grinder. Get more than one disc and don’t let the paint melt in it. Go slow and steady. Take off enough wood that you see no more paint. Search this site for ‘grinder’ if you don’t have one already. Then, look at the post on ‘zero-maintenance’ deck stain. I used it. Once per lifetime. The ‘silvery patina’ is no color, just weathered look.
      Good luck!

  4. Which should be stained first? The deck railing or the deck floor? I would think the deck railing as it will be slower going to stain every rail on every section. And how should the railing be stained? Brush, small roller or spray? There isnt much space between one rail and the next, so not sure if a brush or a roller would work.
    Deck is gray weathered, pressure treated wood, in good repair, natural wood-no stain or paint.
    Tips on deck railing would be much appreciated.
    Thank you!

    • Hi. You are asking the right questions. I don’t know what your stain is…but in general, to get into the nooks and crannies, yes a sprayer is good. I have used even old Windex bottles and roll/brush the big areas… But my fav way is a garden sprayer… clean well and you’ll have it for years for all kinds of things. Yes, do railings but still use non-leaking cloths to protect floor before you stain it as the drips will always show, even after you stain. We always work from the top down.
      If you have never sealed your deck and want to only do this once… look into the Eco-Wood lifetime stain, you can also spray. On this post I link to the video. It’s fine for decks, but the color will fade if you use the color versions. You never have to treat your deck again…It’s what I put on my deck. Ps the pressure treated wood alone will do the preserving, so adding anything for protection is almost not necessary. But you timed it right: let the green/brown treatment fade, then add color. Perfect. Good luck!

  5. We have a pressure treated platform deck ready for first stain. It’s approximately 42’x52’. How long do you think it would take to roll it? No railings, one long step! We are trying to dodge weather and chances of rain is why I ask. If we treat it one day and there’s 50% chance of rain the next day, is this a no go?

    Also, roll first, thank go in the cracks with excess stain that’s just laying there? I’m scared to death that we are going to screw something up as we have never done this before. How thick should the stain be? Just avoid puddles?

    Any tips on how to remove the ink stamping on the deck boards before stain? I really didn’t want to seal them in.

    Thanks Brad! Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Easily in one day. I cannot tell your speed, but these go fast. I hold a roller in one hand and brush in other and I do the railings etc and brush where roller cannot hit. No brushing what the roller can do.
      Don’t fear: do a test section. Look at weather also… these days very accurate to 5 days. 50 percent is way too high. Wait for 0.
      You can sand the ink, but if you have a darker stain, they will sort of be hidden.
      Not sure if you are using semi- or opaque stain.
      Just avoid puddles. You will see stain soak in in your testing.
      Good luck!

  6. If I am staining a wooden house and I am using a airless sprayer is it necessary to brush after being stained? Or even with a back pack sprayer do I need to brush afterwards? And can I use a broom?

    • Hi. Yes and no. Many painters will not, but you really should to push in the stain into the grain. We’d use a very wide brush…4 inches or more. You don’t need to be picky if it is semi-transparent, but if opaque stain, yes, you would brush like paint. It is paint.
      A garden sprayer is awesome for light stains, not opaque tho.
      A broom is an interesting idea. You might not get into all the crevaces tho. Let me know if you do that… a picture would be great! I’d post it here. Let me know by email?
      Good luck!

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