Deck Staining 101: Best Tips for Improving Your Deck at Home

Deck Staining 101: Best Tips for Improving Your Deck at Home

Every deck will experience wear and tear over time and require maintenance. This is especially true if it’s been a few years since your deck boards received a fresh coat of stain. Luckily, you can revitalize your deck — and protect the wooden boards from mold, mildew, and moisture — in a few easy steps. Read on to learn more about deck staining at home. You’ll also find a printable project checklist you can follow to help ensure your deck stain goes on correctly and provides effective coverage for years to come.

peel deck stain

What to Do Before a DIY Deck Staining Project

Applying deck stain doesn’t have to be complicated. That said, there are a few steps to take before you get started to ensure your project yields the best results and you get the yard and patio that fits your needs.. 

Determine If Your Deck Needs a Fresh Coat of Stain

Some of the most common signs your deck could use a fresh coat of stain include: 

  • Mold or mildew growth
  • Moisture damage
  • Rough or splintered wooden boards
  • Cracked or peeling stain
  • Excess dirt and grime on the deck boards

If you notice any of these signs, it may be time to apply a fresh coat of stain to protect your wooden deck.

Check the Weather Before Getting Started

Generally speaking, it’s best to apply deck stain in the spring or fall when the weather is dry and humidity levels are at or below average ranges. For best results, keep an eye out for the following weather conditions: 

  • At least two consecutive days without rain
  • Low humidity levels
  • Temperatures between 50° and 90° Fahrenheit
  • At least a few hours of indirect sunlight to allow the deck stain to dry slowly and absorb into the wood

Choose the Right Type of Stain for Your Deck

Lastly, make sure you choose the right type of stain for your deck. Here are the two main types of deck stains, plus a few characteristics of each.

  • Oil-based stains: Oil-based stains typically dry slowly and allow the stain to penetrate deeply into the wood, which may improve the durability of the stain and offer added protection against UV and moisture damage. Oil-based stains can be slightly trickier to apply than water-based stains. However, they can yield a more professional finish, making them a favorite for DIY deck-staining projects.
  • Water-based stains: Water-based stains are newer to the market, but the more environmentally friendly products can help protect your wooden deck from moisture and UV rays. Water-based stains are usually easier to apply than oil-based stains and allow for easy clean-up and storage. While not all water-based stains perform as well as oil-based products, there are several hard-working options that offer rich color and long-lasting protection. 

One thing to note: It’s generally a good idea to avoid mixing stains. That means if your deck currently has an oil-based stain, you’ll likely need to strip it before applying a water-based stain, and vice-versa. 

What’s the Best Stain for My Deck?

If you’re not sure about the best deck stain for your project, you’re not alone. Luckily, we’re here to help! Our picks for the top deck stains include

  1. TWP 100 Pro Series Stain: This product is our top-rated deck stain overall, and our pick for the best oil-based stain.
  2. Restore-A-Deck Semi-Transparent Wood Stain: Restore-A-Deck produces some of our favorite semi-transparent and solid-color water-based stains.
  3. Armstrong Clark Wood Stain: Armstrong Clark’s wood stain makes reapplication a breeze. 
  4. TWP Pro Series Semi-Solid Wood Stain: In search of a more opaque finish for your deck? Look no further than TWP’s Pro Series Semi-Solid Wood Stain.
  5. TWP 1500 Series Stain: TWP’s 1500 Series offers exceptional protection for wooden decks against moisture and UV damage. 
  6. TWP Natural Effect Impregnating Stain: This stain leverages iron oxide pigments to preserve wooden decks and protect against UV radiation.
  7. Defy Extreme Wood Stain: Defy’s deck stain offers enhanced protection against mold and mildew. 
  8. Ready Seal Wood Stain: Ready Seal’s wood deck stain is a non-curing option that’s easy to apply, making it a go-to for beginners in search of a non-drying option.
deck stain in a can on a stained deck

How to Stain Your Deck at Home

Ready to start staining your deck? Once you’ve checked the forecast and picked the best deck stain for your project, it’s time to get started.

1. Gather Your Materials

Collect all necessary materials before you start staining, including: 

  • Broom or pressure washer, depending on your deck’s condition
  • Scrub brush
  • Deck cleaner
  • Deck stain
  • Paint tray
  • 4” or 6” paintbrush
  • Deck stain pad and paint pole
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint stirrer

2. Prep Your Deck

Next, get your deck ready for a fresh coat of stain. If your boards are new or the existing stain is in good condition, you may not need to do more than sweep thoroughly, then give your deck a quick scrub with a deck cleaner before applying stain.

However, if your deck stain is cracked and peeling, or if you’re swapping to a new type of stain, you may need to strip the old stain from the deck and use a brightener before applying a new coat of stain. In some cases, you may even need to use a pressure washer to remove flaking deck stain, mold, or mildew. Regardless, it’s essential to take the time to prep your deck before applying new stain to ensure a long-lasting finish.

After you finish removing the dirt, grime, and old stain from your deck, take some time to tape along exterior siding, windows, and door frames to prevent unwanted splatters. 

3. Apply the Stain

After prepping your deck and allowing it to dry, you can start applying your stain. Check out the following steps for easy application — and fewer drips, brush lines, or smears. 

  • Start with rails and other raised elements. Use a roller or stain brush to apply the stain, making sure to coat all sides of the banisters and along the railings.
  • Apply stain to the deck boards. Dip your deck stain pad into the tray and evenly coat it with stain. Then, apply the stain to the wooden boards in long, even strokes. If needed, use your paintbrush to cut into corners or along the exterior siding of your home, then promptly stain the rest of the boards using your stain pad to avoid lap marks.
  • Stain the stairs. Lastly, apply stain to your stairs using your paintbrush or stain pad.

4. Let the Stain Dry and Reapply

Depending on the type of stain used, you may need to wait 12 to 72 hours before it’s completely dry. While the dry-time may seem unnecessary, it’s critical to let stain dry fully before applying additional coats or using your deck.

5. Clean Up and Reset Your Deck

You’re almost done! Now that your deck stain has dried, take a moment to check for any uneven areas or spots you may have missed. Touch them up as needed before disposing of trash, rinsing your brushes and stain trays, and storing any leftover stain. Once you’re done, move your deck furniture back in place and get ready for your next outdoor gathering. 

One more thing to keep in mind: Oil-based stains are extremely flammable. If you plan to store any leftover stain, make sure it’s sealed in its original container and housed at a safe distance from open flames.

part of a deck railing stained, the other side not

Deck Staining Checklist

DIY deck staining may seem complicated, but all you need is the perfect stain and some patience to make your deck look brand new. 

To make your project even easier, we created this handy checklist to guide you through the process. You can even click on the image to download it and print for quick reference.

DIY Deck Staining: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • Wait for the perfect weather: at least two days without rain, low- to mid-humidity levels, and temperatures between 50° and 90° Fahrenheit.
  • Choose the right stain for your deck.
  • Clean and prep the deck before applying the stain with long, even strokes.
  • Allow the stain to dry completely (12-72 hours, depending on the product) before applying additional coats as needed.
  • Most importantly, Always store leftover deck stains safely and in an airtight container to avoid fires or fumes. 
Deck Staining 101: Best Tips for Improving Your Deck at Home text with picture of a half stained deck


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