Easy Guide to Staining a Deck by Yourself

Wood deck stain
ChristopherBernard / Getty Images
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 8 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0.50 to $1 per square foot

Wood decks require regular maintenance because of their constant exposure to the weather. Unlike siding or even roofs, the deck is horizontally exposed to all weather elements, taking the full brunt of water, snow, and ultraviolet light. Unlike siding or a roof, rain does not runoff. That's why it's no wonder that the stained wood deck surface must be maintained every one to three years, depending on the situation and products used.

This tutorial will explain how to stain a wood deck with a stain after it has been power washed/ cleaned and sanded.

Choosing a Stain and Brush

Use a quality oil-based penetrating exterior semi-transparent stain, such as the Sikkens product used in this tutorial. As for a brush, make sure to use a high-quality natural China-bristle brush, such as those made by Purdy. Avoid polyester or nylon brushes, which are not good choices with oil-based products. And always follow the stain manufacturer's application instructions.


Watch Now: How to Properly Seal a Deck With Stain

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 2- or 3-inch natural-bristle paintbrush
  • Canvas drop cloth
  • Paint pad and pole
  • Paint pad tray
  • Rubber gloves


  • Wood deck stain (preferably oil-based)


  1. Start With the Handrail

    Once the wood has been sanded, it's best to start staining with the handrail or the highest part of the deck. That way, drips will not fall on finished stain work. Make sure to get the edges and underside of the handrail. For a smooth finish with consistent coloring, maintain a wet edge by working from the wet area to the dry area.

    If possible, choose a cloudy day with moderate temperatures to do your staining. Applying stain in harsh direct sunlight can make it difficult to avoid lap marks, since the stain will dry so quickly.

    Back brushing a deck
  2. Stain Posts and Horizontal Members

    Once the handrail is complete, stain the vertical and horizontal members of the deck rail system.

    Staining horizontal supports
  3. Stain Under the Handrail

    Make sure to get the corners of all underside areas and places you cannot easily see. These areas will become very visible from the outside of the deck area, especially if you have an elevated deck. This attention to detail is all part of doing a good job, and it's much easier to do the job correctly now, rather than touching up after the project is done.

    Stain under the handrail
  4. Protect the Deck Surface

    As you move to the last task—staining of the deck surface itself—place a drop cloth under the stain-pan and pad loading area. A heavy-weight canvas drop cloth is better than plastic because canvas will not blow around as easily. Some tarps have a plastic or rubber lining on the backside to prevent stain from soaking through.

    Canvas drop cloth
  5. Stain the Deck Surface

    Staining the deck surface can be done in a number of ways. You can use a pressurized sprayer (and deal with wind possibly staining the side of your house), you can use a brush (if you like to kneel and bend over for hours at a time), or you can use a large pad applicator (the very best approach).

    The paint pad applicator does a great job in providing a nice, even coating of stain and covers large areas quickly. The only downside is the possibility of poor coverage in the cracks between the deck boards if you have a deck with larger gaps.

    In that case, you may have to use a brush to get the joints, wipe off the stain from the surface while it is wet, then use a pad applicator for the deck surface. Or, since you're down there staining the joints by hand, you may just want to stain the deck boards, too, while maintaining a wet edge on the brush. If you do stain the deck with a brush, use a 3- to 4-inch-wide brush.

    Apply the stain by dipping the applicator pad into the paint tray, then brushing the deck boards with strokes running the parallel to length of the boards. Apply the stain liberally, then let it soak in for a few minutes, and come back and check for pools of stain that didn't soak in; wipe these into the wood with a rag.

    Pad applicator to apply stain
  6. Work Toward Your Exit Point

    Complete the staining process at an exit point, such as a door or stairs, so you don't stain yourself into a corner. Ordinarily, you'd want to start at the house and work outward; however, you may have to alter that plan so you can finish at the stairs and exit the deck when you're finished staining.


    Store or dispose of oily rags safely so as not to create a fire hazard. Clean up paintbrushes with mineral spirits.

    Man staining his wooden deck
  7. Stay Off the Deck

    Let the deck dry, as directed by the manufacturer, but typically for up to 24 hours, before walking on it.

    A fully stained deck
  • When should I apply deck stain?

    Aim to stain your deck either in the spring or fall. Your wood stain should have a temperature range in which it can be applied. In general, staining in very hot or very cold weather is not recommended.

  • How do you prepare a deck for staining?

    Fix any popped nails and damaged boards. Sweep dirt and debris off the deck, and then wash it with a deck cleaner. Finally, a light sanding followed by cleaning up the dust will help the stain to absorb better.

  • How many coats of stain should you put on a deck?

    Many deck stains recommend two coats for the best coverage and durability. Be sure to check what your specific stain suggests.