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Paint or Stain Deck? (Plus a Warning: Some Deck Restore Product Nightmares)

stain on deck
First, let's decide which direction to go:  decide here whether you will paint or stain deck material. Then we hook you up to how to get it done.
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Here we give clear steps on how to 1) choose the best product and 2) the first steps you’ll need to take to paint or stain deck material (or stain).

No matter what you apply, you will always need to first do a pressure wash: for the cost of paying someone to do it, you can own your own quality pressure washer (here you see the 2000 p.s.i., adequate for deck washing) or a smaller, less expensive 1740 p.s.i. version. With either you can wash the car in 10 minutes too! These babies last for decades even with hard use. I cannot kill mine. (Be sure to get the rotating tip shown below: it’s not included but it protects from gouging).

Deck restoration is possible (unless you have rotted decking), but some makers are in legal trouble: class-action complaints. Jump down to #3: Restoring a deck in bad shape?

  1. Think of the future by choosing your treatment carefully
  2. Removing old deck paint or deck stain (easier than you might think)
  3. Restoring a deck in bad shape
Fun fact: I did a deck treatment on my (big) deck last year. What does a professional painter use? See the end of Section #1 below! Or read about my favorite product a zero-maintenance wood stain you brush or spray

1. Paint or Stain Deck?

Paint or Stain a Deck
Stain a deck for easy maintenance

After you decide here whether you will paint or stain deck wood, read detailed posts about

  1. what is the best deck paint, or
  2. the best deck stain/sealer,
  3. how to paint a deck or
  4. how to stain a deck.

New deck? Lucky you.

  1. Pressure treated decking: Do you have the ‘green stuff’, (or brown stuff) … pressure treated wood? Big caution here! Before you can decide what you will do with the deck, you need to read about what this wood will accept. See just below.
  2. New deck with water repellent added? Your wood dealer will know if repellent was added. Ask. The common process is called “Thompsonization”. You have to use oil-based stains with this. They told you that, right?

    This rotating tip prevents you from gouging wood if you leave the pressure on one spot. This really should come with pressure washers!
  3. Do you have a new deck, but not pressure treated wood? Just gently wash with moderate water pressure, let dry. Read about how to paint or stain deck wood. (Links just above).
  4. Cedar? If you have cedar in a dry climate, you can take your time deciding. Cedar is the best naturally resistant wood. Some people never paint or stain deck make from cedar.
  5. New deck but kiln-dried wood? Go for it. No need to wait. Look at what’s on the market to paint or stain deck wood, in this section, just below.

Old deck? I’m with you amigo! Me too—have one that is. The most difficult job I do as a painter is paint removal. This includes ‘solid stain’ which is basically the same as paint. As Clint Eastwood said, “I guess you have to ask yourself one question.” Are you willing to take on the painful labor of scraping loose paint (opaque stain) every 5-7 years?  To us, the intense labor is not worth it just for the painted look.

Recommendations

We make 2 recommendations to our customers and both are low-maintenance. Sometimes they prefer solid stains or paint, but we feel these two are best.

  1. Faced with this choice, most of my customers choose a semi-transparent stain. A  low labor product is a semi-transparent stain because re-staining it is so easy. These come in colors, but color coverage is not as heavy as paint/opaque stain. That is a good thing! No build-up means no scraping. You simply refresh it every 3-7 years (depending on location) with no future prep cost (except a quick washing).
  2. The other one and my favorite (what I put on my home deck) is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime-treatment’. Well, we will see about my lifetime, but the product is very low-cost, easy to apply, non-toxic, and bugs and water and sun hate it. Read the full post on this  Zero-Maintenance Deck Stain.

Pressure Treated Wood

Depending on your seller, this wood has a green or brown tint. But after the first few months and years of exposure, the color will slowly turn gray.

Some people just let treated lumber age and gray naturally: that is nice too, but if want some color and more protection (especially from the cracking on flat surfaces where water freezes), you can apply deck paint or deck stain.

When it is aged properly, you can do whatever you want….but…

Be careful here. The wood is likely still wet from the treatment and do you know what happens when you put deck coatings on wet wood? You don’t want to know. Hot climates may reduce this waiting time. There is no way to test when it’s time to paint or stain deck wood because the deck coating will look fine for a while even if the wood is too wet.

This wood spent time in a pressure chamber getting deeply stained.

We say you should wait at least six months before staining pressure treated wood. Others say anywhere from 1-9 months. Discuss with YellaWood by email—they are king of pressure treated wood makers: they know the response of wood in your climate.

TIP: When prepping to paint or stain deck pressure-treated wood that is new, there is no need to sand it much: just scuff it with some medium sandpaper to break the surface barrier, then just apply light water pressure only: just remove the dust in the grooves: don’t try to remove the green/brown protection you paid for! You are ready for whatever treatment you select.


Why deck paint jobs go bad.

It’s not necessarily neglect. The main cause of trouble decks is the poor preparation before the last paint job was done. If you skip the mess and pain of scraping and so on and just paint over it, ignoring the growing problem of peeling paint (while the wood underneath begins to rot), you are in a fix.

Not staying on top of loose paint is the major culprit (not to mention painting wet wood—oh, your methods, Marlon—oh, the horror, Mr. Brando).


What kinds of deck stain and deck sealers are on the market today?

  • These are all listed in our deck paint/stain page (about deck supplies/prep tools etc).
  • Best Deck Paint: Ben Moore’s INSL-X ToughShield, hands-down the best deck paint.
  • Solid stain: the cleanest look of all, but much more work to maintain. If you choose to paint or use a solid stain, we recommend the so-called  “#1” from DEFY satins (shown just below). In my view it’s one of the best deck stains around.
  • And don’t let the weather beat you: How? Do some annual maintenance and big-time maintenance when it comes time. That means spot scraping and touch-ups. Don’t miss a year after it begins.
  • Semi-solid. Shows more grain than the above, but hides more imperfections that below. Very similar to semi-transparent. Low-maintenance.
  • Semi-transparent stain. Now we’re talking. See the section below on this for more on our pick. Semi-transparent is our 2nd favorite method: low effort, low maintenance, medium protection from the elements and UV.
  • Once-in-a-lifetime preservatives: What I used on my deck. Low effort, low cost, great protection. Really, there is no downside except limited colors, but that is true with many quality deck stains. See more just below. This Eco-Wood is my #1 choice.
  • What NOT to use: Restore Products. We have been watching the big paint makers for some years and have been following some lawsuits involving some that have lost lawsuits making claims of greatness. At the bottom of this article is a little bit about that.
  • The reason we recommend Benjamin Moore and other big-name makers, is that the research into the chemistry of deck and stain is state of the art. Yes, these cost more upfront, but that problem with peeling and failure you have read about will not happen with these big boys (unless it was applied when the deck was wet, etc). Plus, you don’t need to re-paint or re-stain nearly as often as you do with lesser brands.

BOTTOM LINE—Stain vs Paint:
we like low-maintenance deck stains.

Translucent, a.k.a. semi-solid and semi-transparent stains are like a clear sealant with some tint added. But that tint does offer more protection from UV.

Big plus: these products need one coat only—that usually does it. Read your label.

These deck stains are very easy to apply. Downside: they only last about 2-3 years on walking surfaces and about 4-5 on railings etc, depending on your climate, then you must re-apply. But this application is quick as there is no scraping or prepping other than a thorough washing. We recommend highly an electric pressure washer. (See #2 Removing Old Paint, below.)

TIP: to give your semi-transparent stain more power against wood’s graying, choose a darker color (more pigment = more UV filter).

Cat on stain deck


One-time treatments, including what I used on my deck

What did I use to stain my deck? I’m a lazy painter, so I only wanted to treat my deck once. I mean once in my lifetime. So I used what Parks Canada uses on structures like this one. If you are not into this, skip down to the next section, #2.

I recommend two other very similar products: all three seem to work the same way and prevent rot forever.

You’ll loooooove the prices too.

My deck: 20 years of fading then applied ECO-Wood deck stain.

These 3 deck stains are all powders. Just mix with water and it’s easy to spray.  I used this garden sprayer. (Big tip: keep nozzle wet when using and totally clean and dry in storage: years of service). It’s low-cost and you can control the pressure very easily (you need low pressure).

Definitely spray any of these 3 recommended products.

Overspray of Eco-Wood Treatment is not a big concern, but as with deck stain or deck paint,  it leaves a film on glass and vinyl siding. No worries about overspray less visible things like stone. A gallon sprayed this way will do a small deck: it’s hard to think of coverage because there is overspray when you shoot railings etc. Return packages that you don’t open! Our post on this type of spray wood stain explains more.

Here are the 3 competing products:

  1. ECO-Wood Treatment comes in 5 colors, but I just used the non-tinted one shown here. From this photo link you can choose 1- or 5-gallon mix and your color. I corresponded with the company and the reply was that it can be once in a lifetime, but depending on climate, may need a re-do for more color. So if you want to refresh your color, repeat in about 5-10 years depending on your climate.
  2. Valhalla Wood Preservative deck treatment seems to be the same. They stress that they have a formula for Wood Boring Insects (insert your own joke here), such as Carpenter Ants and Termites.
  3. OneTime Wood Protector also seems very good. I read a long blog of someone chronicling the product: it has stood up to 3 winters and summers on the Great Lakes.

2. Removing old paint or stain?

Whether you will paint or stain deck material, here is the way: all these tools are grouped together in my deck prep section.

The key tool is water pressure: use it to remove paint, yes you read that right. See my one-minute video demo.  Please be very careful with high-pressure water: it can severely cut your hands and feet etc. I sometimes recommend gasoline-powered washers and if you are set on one, this is it. Pricey, but with a Honda motor so you’ll find maintenance straightforward.

If the washer you buy does not have a rotating tip, buy one to protect your wood (a steady ‘fan’ of high-pressure water can easily gouge your wood). This one works with Sun Joe. The rotation protects the wood/surface from damage from water pressure.

Then when dry, use electricity and really blast the paint off with a drill attachment or a variable speed grinder you see here, with the awesome 3M Sandblaster pads (also shown).

Here is a video of how it works.  The grinder can also use a cutting wheel made with chips of diamond-like a hack saw that also cuts stone. You can try different pads for 4½-5-inch grinders too: some tools come with assorted washers so you get a tight fit.

Some Grinders may require the adapter rings for this pad. Handy to have as you might also buy the diamond cutting wheels etc. Fun.

Finally, it’s sandpaper time. Sorry to tell you, sanding is very hard work: use the rough stuff–50 grit or 80-grit in an electric orbital and/or belt sander.  My sander is Dewalt (shown on the deck tools page). It works with any 5-inch hook and loop sandpaper, also shown on that page.

Note: this process cannot fix a rotting deck. (See at the bottom of this post all about the lawsuits of products that claim they can restore a deck). If it’s too far gone, go to the next section and read about replacement options.

We’ve seen lots of decks that suffer from neglect or poor treatment choice, but the plan of attack will be the same: strip off that rot down to the good wood and start over. What about scraping in between the deck boards and in the corners? Don’t do it, or just get what you can. You’ll be using a preservative that will protect (see my recommendations above).


3. Restoring a deck in bad shape?

Dishonest advertising has resulted in many people buying some problem products: see more in the next section: Freddy Kruger awaits you.

Best deck treatment for restore projects:

At the bottom of this section is the only product we recommend.

Your wood is getting wet and slowly weakening. Ok, this is going to hurt. Like my bedside manner? You will need scrapers and the electric grinder or sander—and you follow Section #2 above. But if your deck is too far gone…

Don’t worry, there is light at the end of the tunnel, you can rest easy.

First, let’s discuss replacement.

Worst case: Deck restoration is urgent. Rot and weak lumber and you are going to need at least some sections of new lumber (or non-wood decking*) maybe in order and you need some experts to give you free estimates. If you think you can save the deck, by all means, spend your money on the sanding routine above, but it may be best and safest to just take out the bad sections and replace them.


Best deck stain for restore projects: More is Less

Well folks, I deleted this section. The only product I had faith in is not out of productions. More just below.

 

4. Not as advertised: Shortcomings of Deck Restore Products

(The only one that we trust is in #3 above.)
  • Deck resurfacing products are basically are extremely thick paint. The idea is to mask the wood cracks. It looks great at first, then one winter or even one summer and it’s all cracking. People are suing all companies (see below).
  • These all have one thing in common—high failure rate. If you will paint or stain deck wood, be careful with these products.

LAWSUITS OF

  1. RUST-OLEUM RESTORE
  2. OLYMPIC RESCUE
  3. BEHR DECKOVER

Note: Thompson’s WaterSeal does not appear here, but my customers complain about its short lifespan: from our experience.

1. Lawsuit: Rust-Oleum Deck Restore

Even though they have lost this lawsuit, Rust-Oleum Deck Restore is still sold to unsuspecting consumers and has not been pulled from the shelves.

Consumers who have used the Rust-Oleum Deck Restore 1ox, got thier money back, but no other comepensation was given.

2. Lawsuit: Olympic Rescue

Many customers are reporting the failure of this product and the company paid 6.5 million dollars to claimants in 2016, but still sell this product.

3. Lawsuit: Behr DeckOver

This lawsuit is just getting started, so I will just point you to topclassactions.com.Watch this pissed off customer. Ouch.


Now that you have decided whether to paint or stain deck (or hopefully not replace!), please go on to the details about your first step.

Big deck

Ps, if you live in the Mississauga area, you want to call Mississauga Painters Ltd. They are excellent painters. They do residential and commercial, interiors and exteriors and have been at it for a long time. They have a long list of satisfied customers.

Related:
Be sure to have all the painter tools that you need

How to Stain a Deck Quickly, the Right Way

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

Spray Wood Stain – Zero-Maintenance Deck Stain Treatment

Questions? Let us know in the comments anything about whether you might paint or stain deck.

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27 thoughts on “Paint or Stain Deck? (Plus a Warning: Some Deck Restore Product Nightmares)”

  1. Hi Brad,
    I used Olympic Rescue on my wood deck a couple of years ago and now its peeling badly. Is it too late to be a part of the class action lawsuit? Anyway I power washed my deck, ( 11 hp. 4.5gal minute gas power washer), but there is still some of the product remaining on the wood. I would like to use the “once in a lifetime “product you mentioned.The wood on my deck was in like new condition before I put the Olympic Restore on it. When I power washed the deck I used a turbo nozzle and chewed up a couple of boards so I have to replace them and also a couple of boards on the sides that have rotted. I have a palm sander and a grinder ,which one would you suggest using to remove the stuff that remains on my deck? Also should I go over the whole deck with a sander to smooth out any rough spots caused by the power washer. What grits should I use on the sander and or grinder?Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. This has been a nightmare .I’m so aggravated about this!

    • Hi. I think it’s too late, but follow that link to see. Depends when you did it and when you file I think. You used the rotating tip so the wood you lost was a healthy process: good to get rid of it. Safer that way. Consider Bondo for some boards if the rot is removed and you just have a big hole, but the Eco Wood Stain will not penetrate Bondo, is my guess. EcoWood will be a good choice for your deck if you can get all that old stuff off. Yes, grinder with a rough pad is what we’d do. Sander in the end just to take off splinters of wood after the grinder. Grit? Maybe 40 on the grinder and 80 on the sander? That is just from my memory. Get the grinder wheel if it makes sense. You may need the adapter kit for your grinder. This is mine.
      A good scraper and good metal file will come in handy: keep your scraper blade sharp. I have a video how to: just search site for “scraper”.
      A drill attachment is also good: using electricity is the way to go whenever possible.
      I know what you feel: it’s a mess. But decks cannot last forever: they have to be replaced. Our job is to delay that. Work hard with the knowledge that you will be done for a very long time. Take it section by section and feel good that each square foot is good before you move on. Spend the summer getting in your exercise! Stock up on grinder wheels!

  2. I have a pressure treated wood, 19 year old approximately 12×12 deck and bad knees. Would a hardwood floor sander work for the sanding step?

    • Hi. I’ve never tried it. I’m worried the edge of the circular sandpaper would catch in the gaps between the decking floor, if you have that. My advice is to stop by home depot with some photos on a phone, camera, and ask about the rental. They have a guy in most stores with experience in just about everything. Just don’t ask in the paint department as they hire drones who really cannot answer basic questions!! I’ve tested them! But the ‘expert desk’ or whatever they call it is usually very helpful. Good luck. PS, now that I think about it, why not try a 1/2 day rental. If no go, then hire a teen and give him some character!

    • Frank, I used a square buff floor sander that I rented at Home Depot with 60 & 120 grit sandpaper. It worked great and saved me so much time. My deck is 20×24 pressure treated also.

    • We just rented an “orbital deck and floor sander” from Home Depot I think it was $45 for 4 hours and it was easy to use and easy on my back. We used the 36 grit sandpaper at first but the 20 grit was better at removing layers of paint. Good luck!

  3. Rustoleum 6x Deck Restore is a terrible product. I paid $1500 for their prep paint and deck paint to end up having to strip it all off and use a different paint. It does not live up to all of Rustoleums promises. Avoid their deck products at all costs. TERRIBLE WASTE OF MONEY AND TIME

    • I Agree! Thought I would try product this since my deck started having some small cracks in it. Did all the prep work and now, 1 year later, it looks like crap! Now I have to sand it all down and start completely over yet they still sell this crap at stores! Where do I find the link for the lawsuit? Any advice would be helpful…
      -Todd from Minnesota

  4. I am actually looking to refinish a 2nd hand wooden playset. Wanted to do the house part red with white trim, and was looking for recommendations. I’m not sure if it’s painted or opaque stain. I was planning on power washing and sanding some spots if needed. What would you suggest for the floor? I’d rather not have to redo it in a few years. I picked up kilz barn paint for the house part, thoughts? Should I get something else?

    • Hi. I never tried Kilz Barn, but can’t be bad. The prep is key, yes wash and scrape, then prime raw wood, and 2 coats paint. For the floor, if exposed to the elements or even if not, use ToughShield from Ben Moore: not to worry about the abuse kids will wreak. You cannot keep the elements from making you re-do in some years. My approach: yearly spot scrape and paint. Never needs a full job that way: takes an hour.
      Good luck

  5. Hi, Brad! I have a new pressure treated wood covered porch that faces south. It was built last summer. I was hoping to stain it this fall, but I want all the vertical parts to be white and the floor gray. I’d prefer the look of paint, but I’m leaning towards semi-transparent for the sake of maintenance. My problem is I can’t find any semi-transparent stains in white. If I use the clear primer you recommended earlier, would I get more life out of an opaque stain? What exactly is the best process for prepping a pressure treated deck/porch that’s never had anything applied to it yet? Thanks for any help you can offer!

    • Hi. It’s funny but some things, like floor paint, are hard to find in white. Painter’s pants are white because it’s the most common color! Anyway, I did some testing of a once in a lif3etime stain… eco-friendly and you can add color. It’s not very opaque, not at all like paint…But please think this through— you love the look of paint on a porch, we all do. But…south-facing esp… paint and opaque stain (same thing) will chip, need scraping, etc and you will be doing this every so many years. Uff. Hard work too. Have a look at semi-transparent (they need upkeep) or the Eco-Wood that I mentioned: you would only re-do to freshen color, but that would never be necessary otherwise. My vote: no maintenance.
      The Eco wood white is not very white: very transparent. Watch my video on it:

      For prep, just pressure wash and let dry totally. You have waited long enough: new wood must age.
      Good luck.
      b

  6. I have a deck that is older but sturdy. I used restore about 12 years ago, it held up well now it is starting to peel. I already power washed and scrapped. Only the loose paint came off. What product would you recommend?

    • Wow, congrats. 12 years is great. I’d just be happy to take off what comes off, then spot-paint. First prime bare wood with good (oil) primer, then touch up. Lucky you. You’d be shocked at the nightmares people tell me about deck restore products.

      B

  7. Brad
    August 8, 2019
    I used Rustoleum restore on my deck 5 years ago and have not had a problem. I don’t have any peeling or any signs of any type of failure. Knowing that moisture would be a problem, I painted a thin coat on first and let it cure. Then I rolled on two coats of the thicker product letting it cure each time. I followed the instructions for cleaning the prepping the deck before applying the product. I think the product was good if applied properly. Now, the only problem I have is what to use to recoat the deck.

    • Well done indeed. I think the lawsuits are coming from the many people who thought these products would cure the rot, or stop the rot. I think to re-coat, use the same thing in the same way. Thanks for this info: I’ll remember it and pass it on.
      B

  8. Hello brad
    I used an oil based solid stain by Olympic 6 years ago , my deck is beside the lake so a lot of sun, it is no longer available so I am at a loss of what to use , I have minimal cracking in the wood and no peeling.what do you recommend?

    • I always went with Arborcoat but any high-end solid stain is good. Spend more here and you’ll save in the end: labor and you won’t be re-doing as often. Do a very very good prep job: scrape, sand, wash etc. Good luck!

  9. Hello brad,

    Arborcoat looks like a quality product. Do I have to remove all the old stain or just rough the top of it for adhesion . I have a pressure washer and when I started to clean the deck it started to remove some of the old stain. The rotating power nozzle is very strong. what percent of the old stain do I remove , as much as I can or just what is loose?
    Thanks Steve

  10. I Agree! Thought I would try this product since my deck is 12 years old now and started having some small cracks in it. Did all the prep work and now, 1 year later, it looks like crap! Now I have to sand it all down and start completely over yet they still sell this crap at stores! Where do I find the link for the lawsuit? Any advice would be helpful…
    -Todd from Minnesota

  11. I Agree! Thought I would try this product since my deck is 12 years old and started having some small cracks in it. Did all the prep work and now, 1 year later, it looks like crap! Now I have to sand it all down and start completely over yet they still sell this crap at stores! Where do I find the link for the lawsuit? Any advice would be helpful…

    -Todd from Minnesota

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