How to Clean and Refinish a Wood Deck

  • 01 of 08

    So You Want a New Looking Deck?

    Wooden table, chairs and fruit and vegetables in plant pots on patio decking in garden
    Brian North/Getty Images

    A beautifully refinished wood deck not only looks great and extends the life of the wood, but it may also help improve the resale value of your home while allowing it to sell faster.

    Refinishing a wood deck involves some basic steps, such as:

    • Deck Inspection
    • Deck Cleaning
    • Power Washing (deep cleaning)
    • Sanding
    • Staining and Sealing
    • Waste Disposal

    In this tutorial, you'll learn how to do a professional-looking deck refinishing job in a weekend or two, transforming a drab, tired old wood deck into a vibrant beautiful entertainment area ready for a celebration barbecue!

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Inspecting and Initial Cleaning

    Weathered Deck Board Background
    BanksPhotos/Getty Images

    The first step in your wood deck refinishing should be an inspection, looking for any loose boards or other structural component problems, including rotting or severely split wood.

    If you do need to replace a damaged or rotten deck board, see the tutorial Replacing a Deck Plank for step-by-step instructions.

    If you have a varnished or painted wood deck and want a stained wood deck, then you will have to strip the paint or varnish off the deck surface using a paint stripper, and then use a deck cleaner and re-sand thoroughly before applying a new finish. (If you're repainting, though, then you can skip most of this tutorial, and simply clean and sand before repainting.)

    If you have a clear finish or a transparent or semi-transparent wood stain, then you just need to clean it with a wood deck cleaner, without bothering with paint stripper. During cleaning, it's recommended that you use an oxygen-based wood cleaner designed to remove mildew stains and graying caused by ultra-violet sun exposure on the wood deck, and also effective in cleaning the wood of dirt and deposits.

    The related tutorial Wood Deck Cleaning and Brightening will describe what you need to know to strip and/or clean your wood deck.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Power Washing a Wood Deck

    Pressure Washer Cleaning a Weathered Deck
    BanksPhotos/Getty Images

    Be careful here! Power washing a wood deck will either quickly deep-clean your deck (if you know what you're doing) or quickly ruin your wood deck boards (if you don't know what you're doing). Too much water-jet pressure and you will etch the wood and ruin deck boards. Too little pressure, and you'll get the deck wet but do no real effective deep cleaning.

    Power washers are versatile power tools that can be used to strip paint or even etch bricks. They come in a variety of styles and powers. Here are some tips for cleaning wood: 

    • Use the lowest pressure that still provides effective cleaning. 
    • Pressure for soft wood such as cedar or pine should be at about 500 psi to 600 psi; harder woods may go higher, but no more that 1200 to 1500 psi.

    Power washing your deck safely and successfully is easy if you are careful. Success comes down to these items:

    • Pressure selection
    • Tip selection
    • Power washing technique

    The related tutorial How to Power Wash a Wood Deck will describe what you need to know to safely power wash your wood deck.

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Sanding a Wood Deck

    Man sanding backyard deck
    Hero Images/Getty Images

    Once you power-wash the deck, it is very likely that the wood fibers will raise as they expand with water. After drying, wood fibers can often remain raised and may cause splinters. You should plan on sanding your wood deck before staining and final finishing. It is essential for getting professional results and will prevent dangerous splinters.

    Sanding the deck is easily accomplished using a random orbital sander. You also need to be careful about the grit of sandpaper you use. Using a grit that is too fine will restrict the stain from soaking in thoroughly into the wood. Sandpaper that is too coarse, though, may damage the wood if you are not careful. 

    The related tutorial Sanding a Wood Deck will describe what you need to know to properly sand your wood deck and rails after power washing, including what grit of sandpaper to use for best results.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Selecting a Wood Stain

    Staining hardwood patio deck
    Chris Bernard/Getty Images

    One of the most important decisions you will make in your deck refinishing project is the selection of the stain. Like many home repair projects, 80% of the work is in preparation. The application of the finish material such as stain is the easy part. However, selecting a cheap and ineffective staining material will only waste the labor you have invested in the project and lead to additional rework much sooner.

    • NOTE: All "stains" are not created equal. Some are effectively just paints that lie on the surface of the wood to provide color. These are not very durable and will require frequent recoating. Better products will be penetrating stains/finishes that soak in deeply. And the best of these will be oil-based products. They are a little messier to use and harder to clean up, but the results are worth the effort. 

    If you go the big box home improvement store, you'll see many options for exterior wood deck stains and sealers. Some will be water-based varieties and some will be oil-based. You may be tempted into what seems like the easy and inexpensive option of a water-based stain. But beware. They do not last as long as oil-based stains and do not soak into the wood's pores as thoroughly.

    For best results, use a quality oil-based, penetrating exterior semi-transparent stain, such as the Sikkens product used in this tutorial. You may have to look beyond the big box home improvement center and go to a professional paint store to find this product, but it will be worth the effort and expense.

    One other thing you should be aware of is that the actual color of the stain once applied may be different than what you see on the color brochure or the can's label. Make sure to confirm how the stain will look on your wood species before you buy.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Selecting a Brush for Stain Application

    Staining hardwood patio deck
    Chris Bernard / Getty Images


    As for a brush selection for applying the oil-based stain, use a quality natural bristle brush quality natural bristle brush and not a polyester brush. Natural bristle brushes allow for better flow of the stain. 

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Applying Wood Deck Stain

    Male Carpenter Applying Varnish To Wooden Furniture.
    stevecoleimages/Getty Images


    Now the fun starts! Staining the deck is where you see all your hard work come together. When staining, start with the handrails and work your way down to the deck boards. Use the natural china bristle brush for staining the small areas, such as handrails and trim boards. The wood deck boards are best stained with a flat paint-pad applicator. Using a paint pad applicator allows you fast coverage of a large area, the ability to easily maintain a wet edge (a technique explained in the tutorial below), and results in a nice, even application of stain.

    Let's review some of the key points of stain application:

    • It is very important to make sure the deck is dry for about 2 days without any rain on it before you proceed to stain the deck. Water in the pores of the wood will prevent proper absorption of the oil stain into the wood.
    • Select a quality penetrating oil-based semi-transparent stain if you want the grain of the wood to show through.
    • Buy a solid opaque stain if you want the finish to look like paint. Do not, however, use standard exterior house paint. 
    • DO: Make sure the stain or sealer is water repellent
    • DO NOT: Use clear finishes, such as polyurethane or varnish, as they will degrade under the sun's UV rays.
    • Use a paint pad applicator for the large flat deck board areas and apply the stain generously.
    • For railings, balusters and in between deck boards, use a natural china bristle brush.

    The related tutorial How to Stain a Wood Deck will describe the tips and techniques you need to know to easily stain your wood deck and rails after power washing and sanding.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    The Finished Stained Wood Deck

    M. Eric Honeycutt/Getty Images

    The end result of your hard work is a beautiful refinished wood deck. Using the proper preparation and application techniques along with quality materials will give you a lasting and beautiful end result. ​Fire up the BBQ!