What’s The Best Way To Stain A Deck? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On June 4, 2021

Getting ready to stain your wood deck and want to know how to do it like a pro? 

You've come to the right place!

In this ProPaintCorner.com guide, you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about staining a wood deck
  • Different types of stains to use on wood decks
  • Supplies you'll need to stain a deck

And much more!

What's The Best Way To Stain A Deck? (5-Step Guide)

It's always nice to run over the steps to make sure you get the job done right. 

It's also nice to see a list of recommended supplies, so you don't have to keep running back to the hardware store.

In this article, we go in-depth on the process necessary to stain a deck.

So, before you start staining your deck, keep reading to pick up a few helpful tips!

What Do You Need To Know About Staining Deck Boards?

Staining wood is really simple, and the process depends on the type of stain you use (see bottom of page).

Unfinished wood is nice, but it can leave slivers in your fingers, and the natural grain of the wood needs to be sealed in if you want it to last.

That's why it's smart to sand and stain wood surfaces like tabletops to give them a smooth touch.

Reading the label of the specific product you are using will give you exact instructions on how to successfully apply the stain.

The best way to learn any task these days is by searching online for someone who has done something similar, and here at Pro Paint Corner, we have stained our fair share of furniture.

Staining is actually easier than painting in most cases, but it can get messy if you don't mask things properly, so keeping the surrounding surfaces covered is important as well.

Staining wood can actually increase its lifespan.  This is because the stain prevents splintering, rot, and rain from destroying the wood's surface.

What Are The Different Kinds Of Wood Stain For Staining A Deck?

Aside from the different types of stain finishes (such as semi-transparent stains or solid stains) there are several different types of stains you can use on your deck.

Oil-Based Stain

Oil-based stains are certainly the most common stain that you will find at any hardware store or Home Depot. 

These stains are easily applied with a rag, paintbrush, or even a paint sprayer.

Gel Stain

Gel stains are thicker in consistency, and they don't absorb into the wood as oil-based stains do.

Note: You shouldn't put a gel stain inside a paint sprayer.

Read More >> What Are The Best Gel Stains Out There?

Clear Lacquer

Using a clear lacquer is a great way to get a tough and smooth finish on a piece of wood.

Polyurethane

Polyurethane finishes give wood a strong finish that will help enhance its life and appearance. 

Be careful, however, when applying polyurethane over oil-based stains, as some products are not recommended to be used with each other.

What Supplies Will You Need For Staining A Deck?

Deck staining does require quite a few materials - but it may require even more if you're refinishing wood decking that is old or worn.

That said, if you're a homeowner looking to completely refinish your wooden deck it might be worth it to DIY the job.

Even if you buy or rent all the supplies below, it'll probably cost less than it would to hire a professional. 

Of course, that depends on how big your deck is and how much work is required to get the job done, so feel free to reach out to pro's for quotes if it's your first time tackling a DIY project.

 Here's a quick list to help you remember everything when you go to buy:

(Psst! You can click on any of these links to jump forward to that section for more info.)

Masking Materials/Paint Masker

Staining is messy, so you'll want to have masking materials like plastic film, paper, and masking tape. Drop cloths always work great for covering up freshly tiled or floored surfaces. 

Remember, you can really mess up a project by getting stain blotches on something that you didn't mean to!! So be careful!!

Using a paint masker helps to get all surfaces covered and ready to stain fast. Check out 3M paint masker on Amazon for the best prices.

Nitrile Gloves

Since most stains are damaging to your skin, you'll want to pick up some nitrile gloves that keep your hands clean and your mind sane when staining.

Safety Glasses

Trust us, you do not want to stain your eyes. You could permanently damage your vision or even go blind from stain splashes, so wear some protective glasses. 

Be safe when working with nasty chemicals!

Microfiber towel

A microfiber towel is useful for cleaning off the surface of the wood when prepping, and it will also serve you in shining your project up after you are finished.

Sandpaper/Sander

Sandpaper is a must when working with wood and fiberglass.

Start with 80-grit sandpaper on rougher surfaces, and work your way up to 120 or even 200-grit for a smooth finish.

Because you're likely working with a larger surface area on your deck, it's probably a good idea to look into getting a handheld sander or an orbital deck sander to save yourself time (and save your knees, too!). 

If you don't want to break the budget, you can usually find a deck sander to rent from Home Depot.

You might even want to lightly sand your project after it has been stained.

Cotton Mask/Respirator

Since most paint stains are toxic, you should use a cotton mask or respirator to avoid causing damage to your respiratory system. 

Read More >> What Are The Best Respirators For Painting/Staining?

Paintbrush/Paint Roller/Paint Sprayer

Some jobs are more conveniently stained by using a paintbrush or even a foam brush.

However, if you're comfortable using a paint sprayer, that will help you cut down on time like crazy!

Using a paint sprayer not only helps you get a great coat of stain on your decking, but it can cut your staining time in half. 

In truth, however, there are tons of different applicators you can use for staining.

From bristle brushes to old t-shirts, you can use almost anything to refinish your deck boards.

Read More >> What Are The Best Paint Professional Paint Sprayers?

Deck Cleaner

One thing that's important to note is if you're decking is very weathered or dirty, it might be worth it to invest in a deck cleaner to help remove dirt and debris.

It can also help you get rid of any mildew on the deck boards and help you create a "blank canvas" on your decking so it's ready to absorb stain.

Pressure Washer/Power Washer

If you've never used a pressure washer or power washer before, prepare to have fun!

Not only is pressure washing very fun (and satisfying) but it's important for cleaning your wood surface so it's able to fully absorb stain evenly.

Don't worry if you don't have one, you can rent one from Home Depot or Lowe's if you need to.

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits will help you with the cleanup. 

Soak your brushes, and then rinse them off with water after all the stain has come out of the bristles. 

You can also try mineral spirits to remove spill spots.

Deck Stain/Varnish of Choice

You'll want to do some quick research online to figure out which deck stain or varnish product will work best for your specific project.

Stain color depends on the specific product you use. Keep in mind that you can always buy small samples that allow you to apply a small amount to your project to see how it looks.

Read More >> What Are The Best Deck Stains Out There?

Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

You might want to use a pre-stain conditioner to help the wood easily accept the stain because some types of bare wood will absorb the finish and end up using more than was necessary.

This is especially important if you just built your deck using something like pine wood.

That's because pine wood is a harder wood and if you don't pre-treat it before staining it, it might turn out blotchy and uneven.

I just build myself a wood desk using pine wood and I'm so glad I pre-stained it, the finish turned out amazing compared to the test piece that I stained (which was super blotchy!).

Topcoat/Clearcoat

Professional woodworkers will sometimes apply a clear coat over the top of the stained wood to give it a glossy look.

Read More >> How Much Does It Cost To Paint/Stain A Deck (DIY vs. Pro)?

How To Stain A Deck Like A Pro (5-Step Guide)

Now for the fun part: Let's dive into the 5 step guide for staining a deck like a pro!

(Psst! You can click on any of the links below to jump ahead to that step.)

  1. Sand The Deck Boards & Cover Surrounding Areas
  2. Vacuum Or Brush Off Dust
  3. Pressure Wash The Wood Deck Boards
  4. Apply Stain Using Your Chosen Method
  5. Let The Stain Dry And Lightly Sand For The Best Results

Step 1 - Sand The Deck Boards & Cover Surrounding Areas

Before you get started, take some time to sand all the deck boards and wooden surfaces that you plan on staining.

This is especially important if you're refinishing an old deck that has seen some weathering.

However, even if you're applying stain do a wood deck for the first time, I'd recommend sanding down the boards first anyway just to remove any imperfections in the wood grain that could cause splinters.

Then, take some time to cover up any surrounding areas to protect any stain from destroying them.

Step 2 - Vacuum Or Brush Off Dust

Using a vacuum is key after sanding because - as you can imagine - that wood dust can prevent stain from completely adhering to the wood grain.

Professionals typically use a brush or larger attachment for larger surfaces, and they might even use a skinny vacuum attachment for high suction to remove dust from all the small cracks in the paint job.

If you don't already have a little shop vac in your garage, now is a great time to get a good price on one using Amazon.

Step 3 - Pressure Wash The Wood Deck Boards

Next you'll want to pressure wash the boards!

This is really important if you're refinishing a weathered deck or a deck that has any mildew or dirt left on it.

(You may be tempted to skip the vacuuming/brushing step and start pressure washing, but if you go straight in with a pressure wash it might create a wood dust pulp that can be a nightmare to get off, so make sure you vacuum first.)

As you pressure wash, make sure you take your time on each wood deck board to ensure its surface is smooth and clean. This will lead to optimal staining later.

Step 4 - Apply Stain Using Your Chosen Method (Aim for 1-3 Coats)

The method for applying the stain depends on the project and your personal preference.

Applying With A Rag Or Old T-Shirt Works Well

For example, if you are staining a wood handrail, you might want to simply throw on some nitrile gloves, and apply the stain using a rag/microfiber towel/old t-shirt - or some other type of fabric.

Bunch the fabric up, pour some stain into it, and rub it onto the wood. You will be surprised at how fast you can stain a surface just by giving it a quick wipe down. 

Note: You can stain more than just wood. In fact, staining fiberglass works great for home improvement projects like window frames.

Applying Stain With A Paint Brush

For flat surfaces, you may want to use a paintbrush to apply a coat of stain.

You must use a paintbrush or rag for gel stains because they are generally too thick to put into a paint sprayer.

Applying Stain Using A Paint Sprayer

For large surface areas, you might want to try using a paint sprayer.

Paint sprayers can help you lay down stain in a smooth, even coat and save you tons of time in the process.

Just keep in mind if this is your first time using one that they do take some practice to get it right.

Note: The idea is to apply the stain with the direction of the grain. 

Also, be sure to wipe off any excess stain because you'll end up sanding it off anyway.

Even if you're going for a more solid stain look, it's important to wipe up the extra to get the evenest coat possible.

Step 5 - Let The Stain Dry And Lightly Sand For The Best Results

After you have applied the stain, you might want to pass over it with lighter-grit sandpaper (180+ grit) for the smoothest look. 

Of course, after you have lightly sanded the stained finish, you'll probably want to wipe it off again with the microfiber cloth, and call it a day.

Other Things To Note Before You Start Staining Your Deck

Now that you've gotten the lay of the land when it comes to choosing the right stain for your deck, it's important to note a few other things before you dive into your DIY project.

Safety First

When working with stains - especially if you're using a paint sprayer - it's important to remember to take proper health safety precautions.

Stains have a lot of toxic components to them which is why we always recommend using a paint respirator of some kind to protect your lungs.

We also recommend using safety goggles and gloves to keep the components from reaching your eyes and penetrating your skin.

Ask For Help!

If you're new to the DIY game and you've never taken on a project like this, make sure you consult an expert about your particular project before you dive in.

Often times you can find a knowledgeable person at your local hardware store or big box home improvement store who will be able to answer any specific questions about your project.

Taking the time to do this can not only save you some headaches but potentially prevent you from making costly mistakes.

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, furniture...you name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, furniture...you name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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