From prepping boards to applying a finish, an expert breaks down the process.

By Caroline Biggs
July 14, 2020
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Ruth Peterkin / Getty Images

Refinishing your wood deck doesn't just make your backyard look better—doing so can extend the life of your deck, too. "The type and quality of stain can have a huge impact on the longevity of the deck," explains Vageesh Bakhshi, senior product marketing manager at Cabot. "As you go up the continuum of stain opacity, the coating tends to last longer."

So, how can you determine whether or not the deck is due for a new stain? "Some common signs that a deck is in need of repair are faded color, UV damaged gray boards, old coating that's chipping, warped, cupped, and splintered or rotted boards," Bakhshi says. "We recommend replacing badly damaged boards and doing cleaning and prep work on old boards before a fresh coat of stain is applied."

Looking for more tips on how to prep and re-stain your wooden deck like a pro? We asked Bakhshi to help walk us through each step of the project.

Prepare properly.

In addition to replacing any old, damaged boards, Bakhshi says scraping down your deck with a sander is crucial before applying a stain. "Doing the proper prep work ensures that the stain is able to penetrate and adhere to the deck," he explains. "Be sure the deck is free of all dirt, mildew stains, and loose wood fibers. Old, loose stain should be scraped off and the edges sanded smooth."

Test your wood.

Before you can apply a fresh stain, Bakhshi says you'll need to double-check that the previous finish has been fully removed. "Pour a small amount of water on the deck and see if it gets absorbed into the wood in roughly 10 minutes," he says. "If water beads on the surface that means there is another coating and you should either remove the coating prior to staining or wait to stain the deck."

Deep clean.

Once you've removed all of the old finish, Bakhshi recommends washing your deck with a high-quality cleaner or brightener to revive extremely weathered surfaces. "Scrubbing with a stiff bristle brush or power washing with a fan tip may also be needed to completely remove all dirt," he says. "Another round of sanding may be required to completely remove all loose wood fibers—just make sure the surface is completely dry before staining."

Apply the stain in sections.

As soon as the deck is completely dry, Bakhshi suggests applying a water-repellent protective finish or stain, to ensure your wood stays looking bright and clean for longer. "Using a good quality brush, apply the stain to small (one- to three-board) sections at a time; starting at one edge and following through to the end of the boards to avoid lap marks," he says. "Avoid applying stain in direct sunlight, when temperatures are extreme, or when rain is expected within 24 hours."

Maintenance matters.

After the fresh stain has set and dried, Bakhshi says it's important to properly care for it to prevent future damage. "Keep the deck clean by sweeping regularly to remove dirt, leaves, and other debris," he says. He also says not to let too much snow or water accumulate on your deck, as it increases the likelihood of the wood rotting.

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