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How to stain your deck

If your deck looks like the one in the picture, then it is time to go to work and stain your deck to get it looking fresh again.  Here at S. Peek Painting, we know staining a deck is no walk in the park.  We want you to be as prepared as possible for the task at hand.   So we wrote up a quick guide to help you on your DIY journey!
old deck
A deck in need of some love.



First step step for prep is to clean off your deck with a broom or leaf blower.   Next, using a power sander with 80 – 120 grit sand paper, sand down any rough, fuzzy,  or splintered wood.   Look at the deck boards as well as the railings.  Be sure to dust off any residual sawdust from the sanding. Remember: with sanding, less is more- work in passes, it won’t ever look perfect, but it can definitely look better!

Next, put the proper ratio of water and wood brightener in your pump sprayer.  Normally, the ratio can be found on the product packaging.  Mix it up well and pressurize the sprayer.  Spray the deck in sections. Work from one end of the deck to the other, so that you do not track over areas you’ve sprayed.  Depending on the product, a wait time is generally applied to allow the brightener to penetrate the wood.  We recommend agitating the sprayed portion of the deck with a deck brush.  Applying pressure while brushing will help the wood brightener penetrate into the wood deeper.  

Once the entire deck has been treated with the wood brightener and your arms are tired from all that brush agitation, power on that pressure washer and clean off that deck.  When pressure washing, be careful not to spray too close to the deck, it may damage the wood.  Generally, you will be able to see the fan of the pressure washer doing its magic, cleaning away the surface dirt that would block the stain from seeping into your deck.  Once again, work in sections, so that you can minimize tracking over areas you have already washed.  


Depending on where you live and the time of the year, your deck may need anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to dry.  On the central coast of California, as long as you have sun in the forecast, a solid 24 hours should be enough.  Best thing you can do is check your deck, if you notice the wood is still wet, wait another day, and use that time to go to the beach and prepare yourself for the work ahead!  

We recommend staining in the morning and in the shade so that you don’t have to deal with any added variability from the sun.  Before you start hitting the deck with the stain, it is highly recommended to protect and cover any objects you would rather not get stain on.  Using your blue tape, you can tape on the body of the house where it meets the deck.  If your deck sits above concrete or anything you care about, lay painters plastic down to protect it.  Oil will seep through canvas drops, so it is important to use plastic or heavy duty tarps to protect anything around your deck.  Painters plastic tends to want to move, so using rocks or bricks are a great way to keep the plastic in place. 

Once you have double checked that everything surrounding your deck is “stain proof”, you can finally start the fun part.  Before you crack open the stain, put on some of those latex gloves you purchased.  Oil stain is messy stuff, minimizing contact with you skin is a very good idea.  Fill your two gallon buck a third of the way with stain.  With bigger decks, Instead of trying to conquer the job in one day, it is helpful to break the job up.  Perhaps on day one, you can focus on staining the railing and day two you stain the deck boards.  Don’t try and bite off more than you can chew, Rome wasn’t stained in a day.  

SOME WISDOM ABOUT STAINING WITH A BRUSH:  While we recommend the Wooster Bravo Stainer brush, the choice of stain is yours.  Whatever you go with, it is important to become familiar with the consistency and feel of both the brush and the stain.  Before you start on your deck, perfect your technique on some wood you may have lying around.  Finding a technique to minimize pooling and drips will give you the confidence you need to be successful.  The more practice on things you don’t care about will improve the end result of the thing that you do.  You can watch as many youtube videos as you like, but the experience of using the brush is the only thing that will guarantee your success.  


If you start with the railing, complete the railing in sections.  Either working outside-in or inside-out, stain one side, working top to bottom, then move to the other side of the railing in that same section.  Repeat the process, making sure you catch any drips or pooling. After you complete a section, double check your work looking for for excess stain (those drips and pools we keep talking about) or light areas.  It is all about the method to your madness, consistency will support the quality of your work.  After the railing is completed you can move onto the deck boards.  

If you choose to break up the job over several days, you will need to thoroughly clean your brush, or buy a new one.  Sometimes it is just easier to use a new brush, but if you are sentimental, like some painters can be regarding their brushes, you will want to know how to effectively clean your brush.  This requires that extra 2 gallon bucket and you’re paint thinner. 

I’ve saved you the hassle of finding the right video “how-to” on cleaning a oil stain brush, just click the link below and enjoy the cowboy with the knowledge on proper brush cleaning. 


It is a good idea to make a plan before you start staining.  Much like you did with the wood brightener and pressure washer, work in sections.  Again, you want to move towards the stairs of your deck.  By the time you get to the stairs, your entire deck should be stained.  In order to thoroughly stain your deck boards, first run your brush between each board in the section you are working on.   Then brush, always with the grain, along the boards so that consistency and color of each deck board matches.  It bears repeating to make sure you stain in sections, working,  your way towards your deck stairs, so that you do not find yourself walking over areas you have already stained.   You don’t want to be the DIY-er that painted themself into a corner, waiting to be rescued.

Once you finish the last step on the stairs, you are free to go.  You did it.  For the precautious homeowner, wait a couple days before you start using the deck.   Make sure you tell everyone; your neighbors, your family, your parents, so they can all be proud of you.  We definitely are.  If this how-to was helpful (or could be improved)  shoot us an email or give us a call!  We appreciate the feedback and wish you success on all your future home improvement projects!

Happy Painting!


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