Here I give clear steps on how I go about treating a deck.
No matter what deck paint or stain we are going to apply, I always first do a pressure wash: for the cost of paying someone to do this for you, you can own your own quality pressure washer (here you see the 2000 p.s.i., or a smaller, less expensive 1740 p.s.i. version (adequate for deck washing). With either, you can wash the car in 10 minutes too!
I love Sun Joe, and no, I don’t work for them. I work for me.
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 wooden decks etc., 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?
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
Paint or Stain Deck?
1. Think 5 years ahead
After you decide here whether you will paint or stain deck wood, read detailed posts about:
- what is the best deck paint, or
- the best deck stain/sealer,
- how to paint a deck or
- how to stain a deck.
New deck? Lucky you.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
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’s on the market today?
Deck stains and deck sealers change with the chemical industry.
- 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.
Key Point—Stain vs. Paint
I use low-maintenance deck stain in my home.
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).
What I used to stain decks at my home
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.
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).
- Read about garden “backpack” sprayers and what stains they can shoot: some are just for very light stains, others do more.
- We also have a post about all the best paint sprayers: big time savers.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
None. There are none. Please trust me. Do the research. These things cannot save a deck.
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.
Let’s discuss a 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.
- RUST-OLEUM RESTORE
- OLYMPIC RESCUE
- BEHR DECKOVER
Note: Thompson’s WaterSeal does not appear here, but my customers complain about its short lifespan: from our experience.
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 their money back, but no other compensation was given.
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.
Lawsuit: Behr DeckOver
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.
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.
Be sure to have all the painter tools that you need
Questions? Let us know in the comments anything about whether you might paint or stain deck.