Deck Staining, Deck Painting,
Deck Cleaning - Advice

Deck staining is the most demanding part of exterior house painting upkeep. Knowing how to stain a deck or how to paint a deck can give you a leg up. Decks not only take a beating from foot traffic, but have a greater exposure to the elements than most other stained or painted surfaces.

Rain, snow, hale, and harmful ultra violet rays from the sun take their toll on deck stains and paints. Weathered wood decking becomes susceptible to cracks and checks.

Several different species of wood are commonly used for decking. These include Redwood, Western Red Cedar, Pressure Treated Southern Yellow Pine, and exotic hardwoods such as Ipe, Teak, and Cumaru to name a few.

Deck Cleaning

Cleaning a deck is an essential 1st step for a deck staining project. There are several circumstances that can create a barrier, preventing a new coat of stain from properly penetrating into the pores of the wood. Good cleaning preparation requires using the correct cleaning products.

Deck Cleaner – For removing dirt, decayed leaves, grease, mildew, and other foreign matter
Deck Stripper – For softening and rinsing away existing coats of stain
Deck Brightener – For removing sun damaged wood fiber and eliminating rust stains and tannin stains

Because a deck is a horizontal surface, moisture can easily collect, turning contaminants, such as dirt particles, into a stubborn film on a deck surface. Leaves from trees can decay, causing unsightly stains. Leaves also are quite good at working their way into the spaces between the decking boards. Excessive moisture can promote mildew growth. There are several deck cleaners on the market, specifically designed for this cleaning application.

Existing stain coatings can hinder the ability of a new coat of deck stain to perform as it should. This is especially true for oil base stains. The previous coat remains hardened within the pores of the wood, not allowing the new stain coat to penetrate. The fresh coat of stain will remain on the surface where it will not dry properly and leave a sticky, glossy appearance. Deck stripper is formulated to soften the existing stain, so that it can be rinsed away. Wood strippers contain chemicals like Potassium Hydroxide or Sodium Hydroxide. These chemicals have a high pH and need to be neutralized.

Wood stained decks have a tendency to turn gray over time. This happens when the outward layers of wood fibers become sun damaged. The sunburned wood fibers need to be removed before the decking stain is applied. Tannins, which are inherent to redwood and cedar, leach out from the decking leaving reddish brown stains. Rust stains can also seep out from the fasteners. A deck brightener is essentially an oxalic acid solution that etches the surface of the decking, removing the old wood fiber, as well as tannin stains and rust stains. Because a wood brightener is an acidic solution, it will also neutralize the pH after deck stripper has been used.

Give your deck a thorough inspection and assess what cleaning steps are necessary.

Deck Sealer

  • Clear – Natural: allows all the wood grain to show                      
  • Toners – Redwood, Cedar, Etc: allows all the wood grain to show through

Deck Stain

  • Semi–transparent: allows some wood grain to show through
  • Semi-solid: allows a small amount of wood grain to show through
  • Solid: has an opaque appearance similar to paint and will not allow wood grain to show through

Deck Paint

  • Satin: a typical look of paint in a satin sheen
  • Semi-gloss: a typical look of paint in a semi-gloss sheen

You should also consider whether you want to use an oil base or water base stain or sealer. Oil base stains and sealers penetrate and harden in the pores of the wood. Water base products dry as a surface film.

Deck Staining

Once the cleaning process is complete, deck staining is a straightforward task. It can be accomplished using a paint brush and a staining pad. A pump sprayer can also be used to apply oil base stains or sealers. Some paint masking may be necessary when using a pump sprayer.

If there is a deck railing, it is a good place to start the staining. Railings are the most time consuming component of staining a deck because of all the corners and different angles. It is a good idea to cover the decking directly beneath the railing, to protect it from excessive stain drips and splatters. Stain the top rail, end to end without interruption to  avoid lap marks. Continue with the pickets, posts, and bottom rail, starting in one corner and working your way toward the opposite corner,  staining one section at a time.

When staining a deck, it is important to maintain a wet edge in order to avoid lap marks. This is most easily achieved by starting at one end of the deck, staining 3 or 4 decking boards at a time, and working all the way to the other end of the deck before starting the next 3 or 4 boards. Also avoid working in the direct sun, if possible. Make sure to have an exit strategy so as to avoid walking on the fresh stain.

Deck Painting

Painting a deck is a fairly simple task. Once the cleaning has been completed, you should inspect the condition of the existing paint. Usually some amount of painting prep is necessary. If the existing paint is in good condition, a light scuff sanding would ensure good paint adhesion. If the existing paint is blistered and peeling, more extensive prep is in order. Scraping, sanding, and possibly paint stripping would be required to create a firm surface for the new coats of paint.

Deck painting can be carried out using a brush and a roller, or an airless sprayer. Keep in mind that spray painting usually requires some amount of paint masking.

Start with the deck railing. Paint the top rail end to end to avoid lap marks. Carry on by painting the pickets, posts, and bottom rail, starting in one corner and working your way toward the opposite corner, painting one section at a time. Always try to maintain a wet edge when applying paint. Start at one end of the deck, painting 5 or 6 decking boards, and work toward the opposite end of the deck. Once the first few boards are completed, repeat the process. It is best to avoid working in the direct sun if possible, because the heat from the sunlight speeds up the drying time making it more difficult to spread the paint. Finally, plan a strategy to exit the deck without having to walk across the wet paint.

Final Thoughts

Once the deck staining or deck painting is completed, dispose of all hazardous materials responsibly. Please follow all necessary safety precautions because safety always comes 1st.

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Professional Painting, Inc. is a full service painting company serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988.