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11 Common Deck Staining Questions

11 Common Deck Staining Questions

Common Deck Staining Questions and Answers

It is common for many homeowners to have questions about taking care of their old decks or new decks. We hope that in this post we can add some value and answer some of the most common deck staining questions. Whether you are looking for a professional deck staining company to do the work or plan on doing the staining themselves, our goal to cover a lot of ground and hopefully answer some questions you may have about deck staining.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to send us an email or call Legacy Painting at (317) 560-7428.

So here are 11 common questions and answers about deck staining in no particular order:

Do I need to sand the deck before staining?

The answer to this is “it depends.” You won’t hurt the deck by applying a light sanding. It really depends on the age of the decking and it’s condition. Sanding is more for the feel of the deck than to prepare it to accept a new stain. So do you want the wood to be as smooth and slick as newly stained furniture from a showroom floor, or do you want it a little rough for some extra traction? Do you want to take the extra time and expense to complete the process? Are the boards warped making it difficult to even sand it flat? All of these are questions to consider. But sanding definitely won’t hurt anything.

Ideally, applying a light wood stripper and then pressure washing in a board by board manner is highly recommended to clean the surface and open up the wood grain for staining. After washing the deck, if you feel it is too rough then go ahead and do some sanding when it has thoroughly dried out. This will remove some of the roughness and final layer of loose wood grain.

You can always do a heavy sanding (if your lower back is up to the task) and get a super smooth finish, but it’s always up to your personal preference. A heavy sanding of your deck will not affect the stain soaking into the wood – The product is designed to soak in. But keep in mind an oil based stain will condition the wood much better and usually last longer than a water based stain.

How long should I allow my wood to “weather” prior to putting a stain on it?

It’s never a bad idea to allow your wood to “weather” for a few months before staining, but it is not necessary with today’s products (if you follow the right process).

Many deck companies say that once your deck is built, you can stain it without allowing it to “weather” first. Others will tell you to let it “weather.” 

There are two main factors to pay attention to in answering this question. The first is moisture content, and the second is mill glaze. Most decks today are built using pressure treated lumber which has a very high moisture content when installed. Pressure treated lumber also has a slick layer called “mill glaze” from the manufacturing process. In the past most contractors would wait up to 12 months to stain a deck because the weathering process would allow the wood to dry and the mill glaze would break down naturally. In the summer time the moisture content can evaporate pretty quickly, but mill glaze won’t break down for several months.
As a deck staining company, we have stained decks within a few weeks of installation because the wood had dried out and the wood was stripped and prepared correctly to remove mill glaze
. This is fairly easy to do with the professional products that are available today. Skipping stripping and washing the deck will increase the likelihood of mill-glaze or other elements on the wood preventing the stain from bonding and causing premature peeling.

Keep in mind that even if a homeowner decides to allow a deck to “weather” for 3-6 months (or up to 1 year depending on your type of wood and contractor recommendations), they will still need to strip and wash the deck of any impurities that have settled or grown onto the wood. 

Bottom-line is that you don’t have to allow your wood deck or wood fence to “weather” prior to staining as long as you prep the wood prior to staining using a quality deck stripper and pressure wash. In some cases, a deck staining company will go as far as applying a brightener to the wood as well to open up the wood grains a little more for an even better surface for the stain to bond. 

How do I know if I need to sand my deck prior to staining?

If you have a previously stained deck, apply a piece of tape on the deck.  Lift the tape and if wood fibers pull off on the tape, it’s time to sand again at a minimum. 

Ideally, you will need to clean the wood with a cleaner and brightener followed by a light pressure wash.  This will remove the oxidized top layer of the wood and prepare it to bond with the stain again.

The short answer is that you can never go wrong with a light sanding regardless of the age of the stain or age of the wood.

deck pressure wash and stain 2Do I need to clean my deck prior to staining?

100% Yes.

Regardless if it’s a newly built deck or a restain on a previously stained deck, cleaning the deck prior to any staining will ensure a beautiful and lasting finish. 

Cleaning the wood properly before any deck staining will remove any mildew or mold spores and allow the stain to bond better to the wood.

How do I know it is time to restain my deck?

No matter what stain, toner or finish you use – it will always break down over time, especially if it is an outdoor wood structure or object.

One way to test if you need to refinish your deck is a water test.

Pour a small amount of water on a few areas of your deck and wait.  After a couple minutes, see if the water is soaking into the wood or the water is still being repelled by just laying on the surface.

If the water soaks into the wood after a couple minutes, the wood is ready to be stained again.

If the stain is still repelling the water, you can hold off a little longer if you would like.

Nonetheless, if the water is soaking in or is being repelled if you decided to go ahead and stain, always apply a light wood stripper and then pressure wash the deck prior to any staining to make sure you prep the wood.

How long do I have to wait to restain my deck if it is stained with a solid color stain?

deck restaining before and after

With a solid color stain, there is no minimum recoat timeline as there is with transparent or semi-transparent stains.

With a solid color stain, anytime you would like to give your deck a fresh coat, simply go-ahead with a simple light cleaning and put another coat on. You don’t even have to sand unless you want or if it could really use one. The reason you want to clean the wood first is to remove any dirt, mold or mildew spores to make sure the stain has a clean surface to bond.

If I want to ensure that I have the best long-lasting finish what steps should I take?

If you want a long-lasting finish on your deck staining, it is recommended to do the following:

  • Strip off any old stain with a wood stripper and pressure wash.
  • Clean and light-sand the surface to ensure you have removed any possible elements or contaminants.
  • Choose your desired finish and apply according to the manufactures directions.

How many coats of stain should I apply?

The number of coats required depends on the type of stain you choose.

Transparent and semi-transparent stains are 1 coat systems. Solid color stains require a 2 coats system.

What is the best method to apply my stain?

The best method to apply a transparent or semi-transparent wood stain is by brush, however, using an airless sprayer is also acceptable.  These methods ensure an even and uniform finish.  Airless sprayers have the advantage or reaching areas where a brush may have some difficulty, for example, in-between the deck boards. But if you are going to use an airless sprayer, make sure you back-brush the stain to work it into the wood. Using an airless sprayer and back-brush can save a significant amount of time vs using a brush exclusively.

Also, if you are using a transparent or semi-transparent stain you want to make sure you’re staining the deck board by board.  Ignoring the board by board method could result in noticeable “lap-marks.” If you are using a solid color stain, it doesn’t matter as much.

When applying a solid color stain, you can use a brush, paint roller or airless sprayer if you have access to one. Again, if you’re using an airless sprayer, make sure to back-roll the stain to work it into the wood for a better bond.

What is one tip I can use to ensure my project turns out the way I want it?

plainfield deck staining - butternut - Slide8The one tip we can provide in ensuring your project turns out the way you want is to try a test area first.  The benefit of a test area is to see how the final product will look before you do the entire deck in that particular finish.  If you have extra wood from the project, use those spare pieces to test the stain instead of applying the stain on the deck.  Use your best judgment.

Keep in mind – if you are using a transparent stain, be conscious of possible lap-marks and you may want the test area to be in a spot that is less noticeable.  If you don’t like the stain after the test area, you will have to re-strip the stain off as much as possible before you apply another stain – otherwise, you may not like how that area looks when applying a different color stain overtop of the test area stain. That is one reason we suggest using a piece of scrap wood if you have any available.

If you are using a solid color stain, this is much easier than using a transparent or semi-transparent stain.  We still recommend a using a test area or utilizing a scrap piece of wood, but at least with a solid color stain, you do not have to worry about “lap-marks.” With solid color stains, if you don’t like the color, you can stain right over it and it should cover over the undesired color fairly well.

How do I know what type of stain to use?

It ultimately depends on what type of look you desire.

If you are looking into a transparent stain, keep in mind that the darker the stain, the more UV protection the stain provides – the lighter the stain, the less UV protection.

Furthermore, you will want to look into if the stain is a water-based stain or an oil-based stain and which is best for your particular project.

Overall, it will depend on your personal preference, but we hope that we have provided some valuable information to help with your decision.

If you live in the Indianapolis, IN area (Indy, Carmel, Fishers, Greenwood, Martinsville, Franklin, Greenfield, Plainfield, Avon, etc), feel free to reach out to Legacy Painting with any additional questions that you may have about your deck staining project.  We will be glad to help in any way we can.

If you would like a free deck staining quote, call Legacy Painting at (317) 560-7428 or fill out the FREE ESTIMATE form and we will contact you.


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