Decking is becoming an increasingly popular choice in gardens all over the world. The beautiful, natural grains of different woods can compliment planting schemes and the structure of decking brings some real architectural interest to your outdoor space.
To keep your decking looking beautiful all year round, however, you will need to stain it from time to time. This doesn’t only maintain its aesthetic appearance, but also keeps the wood in great condition and ensures it remains safe and solid for years to come.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a little more to staining a deck than simply painting it with wood stain. Preparation, technique, and stain choice all go toward keeping your deck well maintained. Get any of these aspects wrong and you could be headed towards decking-disaster!
Where do you even begin when it comes to staining a deck, though? Sure, you could hire a professional landscaping company to come out and do it for you. But a much cheaper alternative is to do it yourself.
Don’t panic! It’s actually a relatively easy task to undertake and, if done correctly, will not only keep your deck in fantastic condition but will save you a ton of money along the way.
To help make things easier, we’ve put together this ultimate guide on how to stain your own deck. Here you’ll learn everything you need to know to stain your deck yourself, what tools you’ll need, and we’ve even put together some useful tips to help make things even easier.
So, keep reading and pretty soon you’ll be relaxing on your deck while admiring the beautiful stain that you single-handedly applied.
Introduction – Why Stain Your Decking?
Before we get into how to start staining your deck, let’s take a look at why it’s so important to stain your deck. Throughout the year, a deck is exposed to all kinds of extreme weather. From blazing hot sunshine to torrential downpours of rain, your deck is under constant attack.
This can affect the quality of the wood and can cause warping or splitting. Treating your deck with wood stain, however, significantly reduces the chances of this happening.
Your deck also has to withstand everything that you and your family put it through all year round. If you have a deck, you more than likely spend a lot of time out on it during the summer months.
This leads to increased foot traffic scuffing the existing stain, or the occasional spilled glass of wine or condiment dropped during an alfresco grilling session creating an off-color spot on the wood.
Neglecting your decking and allowing natural and human forces to wear away at it over time will cause significant damage in a few ways. The first of these is that the wood will begin to erode at uneven levels, meaning that your deck becomes an unsafe, unstable surface to walk on.
As the wood wears down, the nails and fixtures that were used to put it together will become exposed as well. Stepping on one of these can cause a nasty injury, and it could also create splinters that will do some real damage to the delicate paws of any pets that run across your deck.
Not treating your deck also makes it look neglected and unloved, completely taking away it’s aesthetic appeal and making it a less than desirable place to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.
Another reason to keep your deck well maintained is that it can add value to your property. So, if you’re thinking of selling your home any time soon (or even further into the future) and you have a deck in your garden, staining it is an essential part of your annual DIY task-list.
Benefits of Staining Your Deck
Looking above, we know what happens when you don’t stain your deck.
But what are the benefits of staining your deck? And how exactly does wood stain prevent any of the above issues from occurring?
The first thing that applying a thorough coating of wood stain to your deck will do is prevent it from rotting.
Wood rot can develop in a variety of ways but the most common causes are mold and mildew caused by a mixture of exposure to wet and warm weather.
Staining a deck helps keep moisture locked out of the wood and also prevents it from suffering from any sun damage.
Think of it like a protective sheet that you’ve laid all over your deck.
Rain is kept off and the wood is kept dry, while the sun is unable to cause any UVA damage that leads to warping or cracking.
While preventing rotting is the main benefit that comes from staining your deck, there are a few other things that regular staining can help prevent. These include the following:
- Maintains An Even Walking Surface: The fact a deck is made from a strong material makes it a much safer place to walk across. However, this does mean that it sees more foot traffic than any other part of your outdoor space. If left untreated, the surface of wood can erode over time and this results in an uneven surface, which is incredibly dangerous to walk across. Staining your deck will prevent this from happening as it will keep the wood strong and, in turn, the surface will remain even.
- Moisture Protection: We’ve spoken above about how a mixture of moisture and warmth can lead to mold and mildew that will rot your deck. However, exposure to both can also have other effects. In the winter, any moisture trapped within the wood of your deck can freeze. As it does this, it causes the wood to expand and crack. Over time, this process can lead to the total destruction of your deck.
- Sun Protection: It’s a fair bet that your decking is most probably located in an area of your garden that gets a lot of sunlight. While this means that you’re able to sit out and enjoy the warmth during the summer, it does increase the risk of sun damage. This manifests as unsightly discoloration that will completely ruin the aesthetic appeal of your deck.
Termites are another culprit responsible for deck-deterioration and, again, treating your deck with wood stain can help to prevent these little pests from causing total obliteration. There are even specialized wood stains that are designed specifically to deter termites.
Staining a deck isn’t particularly difficult, and doing it yourself can save you a lot of money.
However, depending on the size of your deck, it can be a time-consuming process, so you need to make sure that you’ve got enough of a gap in your schedule to do it properly.
If you’ve got a small deck, then you may find you’re able to do the job in only a few hours.
If your deck covers a wide expanse of space in your garden, then it will take you much longer and you may need to dedicate an entire weekend to the task.
Regardless of size, you need to remember to take your time to do it properly.
A rushed job will only result in ineffectiveness, and you’ll find yourself having to re-stain your deck much sooner than you would if you allocated enough time to the job the first time around.
Equipment You’ll Need
While staining a deck isn’t a difficult task, you do need to make sure that you’ve got the correct equipment.
This will allow you to do the job properly and make things much easier.
Below, we’ll take a look at all the tools you need when it comes to staining a deck.
We’ll also explain a little more about which tools suit certain needs the best, making it easier for you to find the right choice for your deck.
There are a few materials that you might not realize you need for staining a deck.
And, depending on the time of year you’re carrying out the task, each is useful in its own way.
Plastic sheeting is one of the best materials you can use for staining a deck, and it has a couple of uses. The first of these is to keep any furniture that you’ve removed from your decking protected from potential stain-splatters that come from your paintbrush.
Another reason that plastic sheeting is a useful material is that it can be laid across your deck a couple of days before you start staining to keep it dry. This means that if there is a sudden downpour of rain, the wood won’t get wet and you won’t have to delay the job.
You’ll also need to give your deck a thorough clean before you start painting, and one of the best ways to do this is with a deck cleaning solution. Applying this a couple of days before you lay your plastic sheeting down will help loosen up any ingrained dirt or algae.
You can then brush this away or blast it with a power washer, and the wood will absorb the stain much more effectively.
When you’re applying deck cleaner and wood stain, it’s also a good idea to wear rubber gloves. This will help to keep your hands protected from any potentially harmful chemicals that your skin could react to.
You’ll also reduce the risk of staining your hands while you paint your deck, so you won’t have to deal with the nightmare of trying to scrub them clean when you’re done!
Wearing a protective face mask is also beneficial when you’re staining your deck, as it will prevent you from breathing in any fumes coming from the wood stain or deck cleaner.
The most important tool you’ll need for staining your deck is a paintbrush or sprayer. You’ve got a few options available to choose from here, and each is designed to make staining quicker and easier. Let’s take a look at the three most common types of brush and sprayer used for staining.
The first is a standard, soft-bristled brush. This is the ideal tool if the wood on your deck features grooves as it will allow you to get right down into them with the wood stain. It also makes getting into sharp corners or painting any railings much easier.
Your second choice is a stain pad. This works very quickly and takes a lot of the backbreaking work out of the brushing motion as it glides smoothly across the surface of your deck. It’s also good for getting stain right into corners, but it’s not as effective as a soft-bristled brush on grooved-wood.
Finally, you might choose to stain your deck using a sprayer. This is the fastest way of applying stain and works a lot like a garden sprayer. Fill the reservoir with your chosen wood stain, pull the trigger, and point it directly at the wood.
A sprayer is a good choice for anybody with a really large deck as you’ll be able to cover a larger area in a shorter space of time. However, it can create a bit of a mess if it’s not operated with care, so you’ll need to keep your surroundings protected with plastic sheeting.
You can also use a roller if you’d like to cover a wider area of decking in a quicker time, but it is a little more difficult to get into the grooves and crevices.
There are few extra tools that can make staining your deck and preparing it for staining much easier too. These include the following:
- Stiff-Bristle Broom: This will allow you to sweep away any dirt that has gathered on your deck over time, as well as any grime that your deck cleaner has pulled out of the wood. Doing this before you start staining will allow the wood to absorb the wood stain more effectively.
- Garden Hose or Pressure Sprayer: If your deck is looking particularly grimy, it’s a good idea to blast it with a garden hose or a pressure sprayer a couple of days before you start staining. This, along with your deck cleaner, will loosen up any ingrained dirt and reveal the wood’s porous surface.
- Sandpaper: Any spots on your deck that have become really ingrained with dirt may need to be sanded down a little to shift it and make the wood porous. Sandpaper is the best tool for this job. Aim for 80-grit, but make sure it’s not so abrasive that it damages the wood.
You should also keep a screwdriver close to hand. This will help you re-secure any loose screws back in place when you perform your pre-staining checks, as well as replacing any damaged screws you might come across while you’re staining.
It’s worth making sure you have both a Philip’s (crosshead) screwdriver and a flat-head screwdriver in your tool kit. This way you won’t be restricted by the type of screws you can use to replace damaged ones.
A hammer is a useful tool here as well and will make it easier to free stubborn or rusted-in nails.
All Hands On Deck: Preparation
You’ve got your tools lined up and you’re ready to go. But, before you can start staining your deck, there are a few extra steps you need to take to prepare it.
These might seem like a delay in your progress, especially if you’re super keen to get started, but taking a little time to prepare your deck before applying the stain will result in a high-quality, effective finish.
Check the Weather
This is something that a lot of people overlook, but it’s an incredibly important factor to keep in mind when you’re staining your deck.
If there’s any chance of rain, then the wood stain you’ve lovingly applied to your deck could be rinsed away, meaning that you’ll have to start all over again.
The ideal time of year for deck staining in summer.
This is because the days are generally drier and the temperature is warmer, so there’s much less risk of rain interrupting your progress.
The warmer temperatures also mean that the stain will dry much faster, so you’ll be able to get out on your newly stained deck and enjoy the sun much sooner.
But can you stain a deck during cold weather?
While this is possible, it doesn’t come without its problems. These include slower drying times, and increased risk of rain, and an uneven finish. For these reasons, we recommend only staining your deck during warmer weather.
You should aim for a day that has two warm, dry days forecast on either side of it. For example, if you were planning on staining your deck on a Saturday, then the Thursday and Friday beforehand, and the following Sunday and Monday should be dry days.
The ideal temperature for staining is anywhere between 50ºF – 90ºF.
Choose the Stain
Before you can start staining your deck, you need to make sure that you’ve chosen the right wood stain!
This comes down to more than just choosing the best color for your deck.
You’re trying to maintain the wood and prevent it from deteriorating, so the stain needs to be up to the job!
As with tools, you have a few options available to you when choosing a deck stain.
These are solid-color wood stains, semi-solid wood stains, and semi-transparent wood stains.
Let’s take a look at each of them in a little more detail, starting with solid-color stains.
Solid-color wood stains are a popular choice for people that want to give their deck a dazzling, aesthetically pleasing appearance as well as ensuring the durability of the wood.
There are a huge variety of colors to choose from with solid-color stains, so you’re able to get really creative, and they are also great for hiding any flaws.
A solid-color wood stain will create a protective barrier on the wood which will prevent moisture from soaking in and causing rot. However, one thing to be aware of with solid-color stains is that wood doesn’t absorb them.
So, while they create a strong protective coating, they don’t strengthen the wood itself.
Your next option is semi-solid wood stains. These are also available in a variety of colors, but they have a slight transparency to them. This makes them the ideal choice for somebody that wants to stain their deck a certain color but still retain the wood’s natural grain.
As with solid-color stains, a semi-solid wood stain creates a protective coating on the wood to prevent moisture from seeping in and causing mold or mildew. They are also great at providing UV protection, so they’re an ideal choice for decks located in sunny areas.
If you’re looking to retain the natural appearance of your deck’s wood, then a semi-transparent stain would be the best choice. Unlike the solid-color and semi-solid stains, these are designed to work with the color of the wood and let it’s natural grain shine through.
Semi-transparent stains are also designed to soak into the wood and protect it from the inside out. This gives it the ability to protect itself against moisture and UV damage, and it also doesn’t create a thick coating that will get chipped away over time.
You do need to be a little careful with semi-transparent stains though, as applying the same stain on two different types of wood can create different stains. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to go for one that matches your deck as closely as possible.
If your fencing or shed is made of different wood to your deck, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate semi-transparent stain for that wood. Do not use the same stain that you did for your deck.
Prepare the Deck
You also need to give your deck a thorough inspection before you start applying your chosen stain.
This gives you the opportunity to tighten any loose screws or hammer any protruding nails back into place.
You can also take this opportunity to replace screws that are looking a little rusty or damaged.
This will reinforce your deck and add to its lifespan.
If you find any, you’ll be able to treat it appropriately rather than just painting over it with wood stain, which won’t help in any way at all.
If things look really bad, you might have to replace certain boards with new wood.
Again, this is the perfect opportunity to do this.
You can also use this stage to sand down any split wood that would otherwise create splinters.
Wash the Wood
Once you’ve made all your checks and rectified any issues, you can begin the cleaning process.
This is an essential step in staining your deck, so don’t skip over it!
If you do, then the wood stain won’t be able to create the thick protective coating or absorb into the wood nearly as effectively.
Begin by removing all of your furniture and any potted plants from your deck.
This will leave everything open so there’s no chance of missing any patches.
It also helps to keep your garden furniture protected.
As an extra precaution, we’d recommend covering it with a large plastic sheet so that any wayward drops of wood stain don’t come into contact with it.
Next, take your stiff-bristled broom and give the entire deck a thorough sweep. This will remove any loose dirt, debris, leaves, and anything else that has gathered on your deck over time. Collect your sweepings in a bucket and dispose of them accordingly.
Now, take a garden hose and soak any surrounding live vegetation. By doing this, you’ll immediately dilute any deck cleaner that comes into contact with your planting and significantly reduce the risk of them getting damaged by the chemicals.
Some deck cleaners are safe to use around vegetation, but we’d always recommend wetting your plants beforehand regardless. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and you’ll be giving your plants a nice drink!
Once you’ve done that, follow these steps to continue cleaning your deck:
- Apply your deck cleaner to your deck using a sprayer. Depending on the product you’ve chosen, it will either need to be applied to a wet or dry surface, so make sure you read the instructions. If it needs to be applied to a wet surface, give your deck a soaking at the same time as your surrounding plants.
- Take your stiff-bristled broom and work the cleaner into the wood, scrubbing with a moderate force so that it really gets into the grain and grooves.
- Allow the deck cleaner to sit for the time instructed on the packaging. This can range anywhere from 10 minutes to overnight. If it’s a longer period, make sure that nobody goes out onto the deck while the cleaner is doing its thing!
- Once the time has passed, rinse your deck thoroughly with a garden hose. If your hose is fitted with a multi-pattern spray head, choose the option with the most water pressure behind it. This will help to blast away any dirt the deck cleaner has loosened up.
You now need to let your deck dry for at least 48 hours. This is why it’s important to leave a two dry-day gap ahead of when you want to start staining your deck.
There are some deck cleaners available that will dry in a faster time, so these are worth looking out for if you’ve got a limited time frame to get everything done.
However, as with everything involved in the deck staining process, you shouldn’t try to speed the process up if at all possible. Slow and steady wins the race with deck staining, and your deck will benefit much better if you can exercise a little patience.
Stain Railings / Fences
If you’re super keen to get on with staining or you’re simply looking for something to do while you wait for your deck to dry, you can always stain any railings that surround your deck.
These will be in much better shape than the main deck as they’ll have seen less use, so preparation isn’t as important.
It’s still a good idea to give them a quick brush to remove any cobwebs, but take care not to accidentally sweep them onto the already cleaned deck.
You should also use a paintbrush, as you won’t risk spraying the deck with wood stain while you wait for it to dry.
You can also use this time to stain your fences so that they match your decking.
Again, they don’t need any special cleaner applied to them beforehand as they won’t have suffered as much wear and tear as your deck.
Just sweep them with a handheld brush to remove larger debris, cobwebs, or lumps of moss.
A sprayer can be used here, but if you’re staining fence panels near your decking you should switch to a paintbrush to prevent any wood stain from hitting your deck.
How To Get The Perfect Stain
Your patience has paid off and 48 hours have passed since you rinsed the deck cleaner away. Now you can finally begin the task of staining your deck! Don’t get too overcited and dive straight in, though. There is a little bit of technique needed to get that perfect stain.
No Stain Zone
Before you begin, you need to create a ‘no stain zone’.
This is an area where you should pile anything that you don’t want to get accidentally spattered with wood stain before covering it with a large plastic sheet or tarp.
Here’s a list of some things you might want to add to your no stain zone:
- Garden furniture
- Patio heaters
- Decorative garden ornaments
- Potted plants
- Outdoor toys
If your deck is surrounded by plants, it’s a good idea to cover that with a protective material too. This will prevent the leaves and flowers from getting stained, as well as protecting the soil they are planted in from absorbing the wood stain and feeding it to the plants.
Plastic sheeting isn’t the best material to use when you’re protecting surrounding plants as it will trap heat and moisture inside in a greenhouse-like effect, which can cause damage to delicate plants. Instead, choose a white, breathable fabric such as muslin.
This will allow the plants to breathe while reflecting sunlight away from them.
It’s also worth taping or fencing off certain areas of your garden to restrict access to your deck. This will stop excited children or pets from running across the deck while you’re staining it.
Creating a boundary with makeshift fencing will also help stop any wildlife from running across your newly stained deck during the night!
Apply Thin Coats
You need to continue exercising patience as soon as you begin staining your deck and making sure that you’re applying the wood stain in thin coats.
Slathering it on too thick will create little pools of wood stain that will harden as unsightly bubbles.
It will also take longer to dry if you paint it on too thickly, so you’ll have to wait even longer to get outside and enjoy your deck!
We recommend painting 2-3 boards at a time from a single application.
Continue this process across the entire of your deck and you’re almost guaranteed to achieve an even coating.
It will also prevent you from overloading your brush with wood stain, which means less will be rinsed down the sink when you come to clean your equipment.
It is worth noting, however, that if you’re using a sprayer you’ll be able to get a thin coat across a wider area in more time. But you’ll need to move quite quickly to prevent an uneven coating.
Once the entire deck has been treated with a thin coat of wood stain, give your deck time to dry before deciding whether it needs another layer applied to it.
Colors can fade while they’re drying and it can take a little time to see the final results. This is a little harder to judge if you’re using a semi-transparent wood stain, so you may have to get right down and inspect as closely as you can.
If you do feel like your deck needs a second coat, follow the same process again. Apply in thin coats and allow it to dry completely before removing restricted access and placing your furniture back on the deck.
Some wood stains can take up to 48 hours to dry completely, and this is why you should leave a two dry-day period following application.
Once your stain has completely dried, you should give any surrounding vegetation a second rinse with a garden hose. This will make sure that any wood stain that was accidentally spattered while you were painting is washed away.
Then you can replace your furniture and relax on your beautiful, newly stained deck!
One thing that you need to keep an eye out for while you’re staining your deck is little pools of wood stain forming on the areas you’ve just painted.
This is one of the reasons why you should paint in thin layers, as they will harden into unsightly bubbles if left in place.
Luckily, there is an easy way to prevent this from happening and it’s a process called ‘back brushing’.
Put simply, this means smoothing over any pools of wood stain while they are still wet with your paintbrush.
This stretches them across the surface of the wood, resulting in a smooth surface and zero bubbles!
To do this, take a look at the area you’ve stained immediately after brushing and smooth out any pools of wood stain with your paintbrush.
You can speed this process up a little more by having somebody else follow you and smooth out any of these pools with their own paintbrush.
Stain Disdain? – Common Mistakes
We’ve stressed the importance of both preparation and patience when it comes to staining your deck. Following the process outlined above and making sure you have the right tools for the job will result in a flawlessly stained deck. Ignoring them will result in a stain disdain!
Below, we’ll take a look at some common mistakes that are easy to make when you’re staining a deck. We’ll also talk you through how to prevent these from happening.
Insufficient Drying Time
Not giving your deck enough time to dry completely following staining will result in a couple of problems.
The first of these is that it won’t be able to sufficiently create the protective barrier that will keep the wood protected against moisture and UV damage.
Secondly, dragging your furniture across a deck that hasn’t completely dried yet will cause it to peel away.
It could also stick the furniture’s legs and weld it in place as it dries!
This is why you should leave a 48-hour period after you’ve finished staining your deck.
While many wood stains claim to dry within 6-8 hours, leaving this extra time guarantees you that the deck is totally safe to walk on and that there aren’t any patches still waiting to dry.
Incorrect or Low-Quality Stain
If you’ve noticed that your deck is starting to look a little deteriorated only a few months after staining, there’s a good chance that you’ve used an incorrect or low-quality stain.
The result of which has been less protection and less longevity, meaning that you’ll have to stain it all over again much sooner than you had anticipated.
Prevention is the best cure here, which is why it’s so important to make sure you’ve chosen a high-quality wood stain.
Purchase your stain from a reputable brand, and make sure that you’ve made the right choice between solid-color stains, semi-solid stains, and semi-transparent stains.
Here’s a little refresher to help separate them from each other and make things a little clearer:
|Solid-Color Stains||Semi-Solid Stains||Semi-Transparent Stains|
|Creates a bold coating that hides the natural grain of the wood||Creates a colored stain on the wood but leaves some of the natural grain visible||Creates a semi-transparent color on the wood that leaves the natural grain visible|
|Available in a wide range of colors||Available in a wide range of colors||Available in a smaller range of colors, most of which are natural-looking|
|Coats the wood for protection rather than soaking into it||Coats the wood for protection rather than soaking into it||Absorbs into the wood to protect it from the inside out|
There’s nothing worse than unsightly rain or water spots that have formed on your deck’s surface.
These are caused when water droplets mix with wet wood stain and essentially dilute it, resulting in spots that are fainter in color than the surrounding stain.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure you’re staining your deck during a period of warm weather with no rain forecast for at least 5 days.
This gives you enough time to clean your deck and allow that moisture to evaporate, stain your deck, and allow it to dry completely before any rain can fall onto it and ruin the finish.
Of course, the weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable and even if you’re certain you’ve got a long period of sunshine ahead of you, the occasional rainstorm could blow over.
If you’ve applied your wood stain and rain looks imminent, it’s a good idea to suspend plastic sheeting over the top. This will catch any water and keep your deck looking perfectly stained once it’s dry.
Certain areas of your deck looking darker than others is the result of uneven coverage.
The best way to prevent this from happening and to keep every inch of your deck looking evenly stained is to follow the process we’ve outlined above.
If you need a reminder, here’s how to get even coverage every time:
- Apply one brush-full of wood stain across just 2 or 3 boards at a time
- As soon as you’ve finished these few boards, immediately inspect for pools of wood stain and back brush over them to blend them with the rest of the stain
- Follow this process across the entire deck
- Allow time for your stain to dry and then determine whether you need a second coat
It’s not a good idea to try and fix an uneven coverage by staining the lighter areas of your deck, especially if some time has passed since you last stained it.
This is because factors such as sunlight, rain, and foot traffic will have affected the color. So, if you were to stain around the darker patches, you might end up turning these darker patches into lighter patches of wood once the newly added stain has dried!
Conclusion – Sustain Your Stain
As you can see, staining your deck by yourself isn’t a difficult task but it does take some preparation and patience. Make sure you stick to the summer months if possible, and equip yourself with tools that will help make it a quicker, easier task.
Once you’ve achieved that perfect stain, the next step is to sustain it. This is something that you’ll have to do on an annual basis, but it’s guaranteed to keep your deck looking fantastic all year long.
More than that, yearly staining will help preserve the wood for longer and give your deck the strength it needs to survive against the elements for years to come.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your tools, choose your wood stain, and get to work! Pretty soon you’ll be relaxing on a beautifully stained deck that you did all by yourself. You’ll also have the added joy of knowing you didn’t have to spend a fortune getting a landscaper to do it for you.