Staining an Old Deck

    Deck staining prep/courtesy Cabot StainsNothing gives new life to an old deck like a fresh coat of stain. And staining an old deck actually packs a double whammy. The process not only revives your deck’s appearance, but also protects the wood, so it stays looking great for years to come.

    Benefits of staining an old deck

    Staining an old deck refreshes its surface and brightens the look of your house. By preserving the wood and increasing its longevity, deck staining also protects your investment. Overall, the process adds value to your home.

    Deck stain/courtesy Cabot Stains

    When NOT to stain

    An older deck may no longer be structurally sound. If the wood surface is badly broken down and rotting, it’s probably time to completely replace your deck.

    DIY or hire a pro?

    Just about any DIYer can tackle this project, but it requires both muscle and patience. Before staining an old deck, you’ll need to scrub it thoroughly. The stain application itself is time-consuming. Waiting a day after cleaning to apply stain is preferable; you want the wood to be completely dry. That makes it a full weekend project.

    Staining a very large or elaborate deck (I’ve seen decks over 1000 square feet!) can be quite cumbersome.

    So when deciding whether to do it yourself or a local painter, consider all these factors.

    Deck stain/courtesy Cabot Stains

    Choose the right stain

    • Go for a premium quality. That way you won’t have to do the job again and again. Cheaper stains will get you by for a while, but you’ll have to redo your work in a year or two. A true oil-based stain penetrates deeply and becomes one with the wood. You end up getting excellent, long-lasting water repellency, together with a rich color.  Some of the highest-quality stains will protect your deck for over 10 years.

    • Choose the right stain opacity. Stains range from transparent (which adds just a hint of color) to solid (which is more like painting the surface of the wood). Transparents or semi-transparents are ideal for newer decks to showcase the beauty of their wood, but if you’re staining an old deck, a solider opacity will cover up wear and tear.  

    Protect the surroundings

    Before you start, protect nearby plantings, grass, etc. by sprinkling with water. Then cover with plastic masking film secured with painting tape, to keep off the cleaning solution and stain.

    If your deck is attached to the house, mask your siding with painter’s tape. That way you won’t end up with, for example, brown stain on white siding.

    Opaque stain/courtesy Cabot Stains

    Don’t skip the most important step

    It’s essential to scour the deck before you stain, using a high quality cleaner. You’ll need a strong brush to scrub the surface, sandpaper to remove existing stain, and a good garden hose to rinse it.  

    Thorough cleaning gets rid of any dirt, old chipped stain, dead wood cells, or mold and mildew. Otherwise, the stain may not adhere properly and the wood may eventually break down.

    Applying the stain: try this tool

    A stain pad will simplify staining your old deck. This tool resembles a piece of foam with bristles at the end, which pushes the stain into the wood and then evens it out with the bristles.

    Mount the pad on a pole to avoid having to get down on your knees to brush stain into the wood.

    The advantage of a stain pad vs a roller? You won’t need to back-brush to spread the stain evenly.

    Stain pads usually cost about $5-10. Well worth it!

    Deck stain/courtesy Cabot Stains

    Pro tips for a smooth appearance

    • Prevent stain from setting too fast. Apply when the sun is not beating down. On a hot day, begin early in the morning. Then take a break and resume the work later in the afternoon when the weather is cooler. For smooth even stain, always work end-to-end, maintaining a wet edge. 
    • Allow sufficient drying time. Wait 24-48 hours after staining before you use your deck, depending on the outdoor humidity. Touch the coating to make sure it’s no longer tacky before you walk on the surface or replace your patio furniture. 

    Thanks to Vageesh Bakhshi, Product and Brand Manager for Valspar and Cabot Stains, for his expert comments.

    Staining an old deck for a new look/courtesy Cabot Stains

    Laura Firszt writes for

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