How to Stain a Wood Deck

Wood deck stain
ChristopherBernard / Getty Images
  • 01 of 08


    wood deck staining
    Staining/sealing a wood deck is essential for its protection and long life.


    Is your stained wood deck looking tired?

    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 solar ultraviolet light beat down directly. Unlike siding or a roof, rain does not run off. 

    It is no wonder that the stained wood deck surface must be maintained every 1 to 3 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.

    Note on the stain and brush

    We recommend the use of 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.

    Compare Prices Natural China Bristle Brushes

    Purdy also has a great website for consumers that helps you select the right brushes, roller covers or other painting applicators for the right application.

    Difficulty Level

    • Easy

    Tools and Materials You Will Need

    • High-quality wood deck stain (preferably oil-based)
    • Quality brush, 2"-3" width
    • Canvas drop cloth (5x8 or larger)
    • Paint pad and pole
    • Paint pad tray
    • Rubber gloves
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  • 02 of 08

    Start with the Handrail

    Back bushing is essential to avoiding lap marks and providing an even stain application. © 2009

    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.

    • TIP: 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. 

    When staining, you'll want to maintain a wet edge so as to provide a smooth, blended stain appearance without dark spots from overlap. To maintain a wet edge just brush the stain into the wet area and blend by back-brushing.

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  • 03 of 08

    Next, Stain Posts and Horizontal Members

    Stain posts and horizontal supports after the handrail.

    Once the handrail is complete, stain the vertical and horizontal members of the deck rail system. Use the same back brushing technique here.

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  • 04 of 08

    Make Sure to Stain Under the Handrail

    Staining under the handrail is essential for a quality job.

    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.

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  • 05 of 08

    Use a Canvas Drop Cloth to Protect the Deck Surface

    Canvas drop cloths usually have a plastic backing and are heavier and do not blow around as easily as plastic. They are a good choice for exterior use.

    As you move to the last task—staining of the deck surface itself—you should use a drop cloth under the stain pan and pad loading area. A heavier-weight canvas drop cloth is better than plastic because a canvas drop cloth will not blow around as easily. They also come with a plastic or rubber lining on the back side to prevent any soaking through.

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  • 06 of 08

    Stain the Deck Surface with a Pad Applicator

    Applying stain with a pad is easy and fast.

    Staining the deck surface can be done a number of ways. You can use a pressurized sprayer (and deal with wind possibly staining the side of your house), or 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"-wide brush.

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  • 07 of 08

    Plan Your Exit

    Make sure to have an exit plan when staining. You want to end up at the stairs so you do not stain yourself into a corner.

    It's happened more than once: a homeowner stains himself into a corner. So make sure to plan your exit off the deck. Ordinarily, you'd want to start at the house and work out; however, you may have to alter that plan so you can finish at the stairs and exit the deck when finished with staining.

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  • 08 of 08

    The Completed Project

    The finished project.

    Once complete, your deck will look beautiful and will be protected for 1 to 3 years. Cleaning up tools after staining with oil-based products is done with paint thinner or mineral spirits. Use care with paint thinner to clean up your brushes. See this article for tips on how to dispose of oily rags. 

    Let the deck dry for 24 hours and you are on your way to a beautiful barbecue with friends and family!