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Pro Tips for Applying Solid Deck Stain (Plus Prep Guide)

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A deck I stained with Super Deck solid stain (Sherwin Williams). The color is Espresso.

A deck I stained with Super Deck solid stain (Sherwin Williams). The color is Espresso.

Why Staining Is Important

Unless your deck is made from composite materials, the wood should be cleaned and re-stained every three to five years to prolong its life. Over time, deck stain gradually starts to chip off from foot traffic, sun exposure, and puddled water.

Staying on top of deck staining maintenance helps protect the wood from rot and insect damage. The longer you neglect the peeling stain, the longer it will take to remove the old finish and re-stain the deck.

Can You Paint a Deck?

I don't recommend painting your deck. When the paint starts to break down, it's going to peel more than stain and involve more prep work. Staining a deck doesn't involve priming, but painting usually does.

Paint also forms a thick layer on top of the surface instead of soaking into the wood like stain does. The extra thickness of paint almost completely covers the natural wood texture too. Although solid deck stain forms a layer on top too, the consistency is usually very thin in comparison, which helps it soak into the wood and preserve the natural texture of the wood.

Solid Stain vs. Semi-Transparent Finish

With good preparation and application, solid stain usually lasts longer than transparent finishes because the extra pigment makes it more resilient to UV exposure. You can expect to get an additional one to two years, on average, using a solid finish on your deck instead of a transparent one.

Solid stain typically lasts longer than transparent and semi-transparent stain, but it's important to note that the stain masks natural wood texture more, but not as much as paint.

Note: You should only use solid stain on your deck if you plan to re-stain it with the same finish again because going from solid to semi-transparent, or transparent, would require you to strip off the original stain and start over.

A deck I stained with Sherwin Williams Super Deck. The color is Brick.

A deck I stained with Sherwin Williams Super Deck. The color is Brick.

How to Prep a Deck Surface for Staining

Regardless of the stain you're using, the surface of the deck floor and spindles must be prepared correctly to maximize stain adhesion and prevent premature peeling. Solid stain covers over old stain fine as long as the flaking stain underneath is either removed or smoothed out before the new stain is applied.

Removing Old Deck Stain

A badly peeling deck will take longer to power wash and sand smooth. Pressure washing goes a long way to clean and remove loose chips so you spend less time on your knees sanding. Another option is to use chemicals to strip the old stain off, but for a deck with only a few spots of peeling stain, smoothing out those areas with a sander is fine.

  • Use a good power washer. Those electric power washers don't wash as good as a gas one. Gas-powered washers cost more, but they're more powerful with higher pressure capabilities than electric models. I own a Simpson power washer that I bought from a local home improvement store. I use this washer for all of my power washing.
  • Use the right sander. A good sander will sand off loose stain easily. I personally use the Wagner Paint Eater to remove peeling stain and paint for my exterior projects, including decks. The sander uses a very coarse sanding disc that works well for preparing deck floors. I can usually get at least one whole deck sanding out of each disc.
One of my deck staining projects. The color is called Brick.

One of my deck staining projects. The color is called Brick.

How to Apply Solid Deck Stain

Pay attention to the forecast before you begin staining your deck. Don't stain your deck in humid conditions, or if rain is expected within the next couple days. The longer it's dry after and during staining, the better.

If possible, don't stain your deck in full sun. Doing so causes the coating to dry faster before it's had a chance to soak into the wood. Fast drying can also result in an uneven finish with lap marks showing. You should also allow the wood to dry for a few days after power washing, especially if the wood is bare or badly weathered.

  • Mix all of the sold stain together in one bucket. Also referred to as "boxing", mixing all of the gallon cans of stain together avoids problems with touch-ups and color inconsistencies. Sometimes the tint in one container is slightly off from another. Make sure you buy enough stain for the job too. You don't want to run out of stain half way across the deck floor.
  • Stain the spindles first. To save time, I highly recommend using an airless sprayer to spray the deck spindles instead of doing this by hand. A sprayer makes it easier to do the floor too, but it's a huge time saver for spindles. You can spray the stain on and brush it into the wood as you go.
  • Apply two coats. The exception is if you're applying the same color and the wood is in good condition. New decks and weathered ones definitely need two coats to get the true color and finish. Most of the products I've used recommend two applications.
  • Use a deck brush and extension pole. Nothing hurts my back more than staining a floor all day on my knees. Make the job easier by using a good quality deck staining brush attached to an extension pole so you don't have to bend down.
  • Keep a wet edge when staining. Apply your stain in one direction from one side of the boards to the other. Never start in the middle of a board. Maintaining a wet edge prevents flash marks on the floor boards. When I stain, I work in small sections, staining no more than four to five boards at a time.

What's the Best Deck Stain?

The stain that works the best for me is the waterborne SuperDeck stain from Sherwin Williams. This product replaced DeckScapes; I used it for several years with good results too. I have also used Cabot stain in the past without problems. I like working with waterborne stain for the ease of cleanup and mildew resistance.

The waterborne stain from Sherwin Williams is best re-coated every three to five years to keep the deck in good condition. I have this product on my own deck too. The stain starts lifting in the foot traffic areas first and where water collects. The finish is dull but smooth after a two-coat application.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Matt G.