It's time to give this highly-trafficked outdoor entertaining space the DIY makeover it deserves.
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painting wooden deck
Credit: Christopher Bernard / Getty Images

Anyone who is fortunate enough to have a deck can tell you that it becomes one of the most (if not the most) popular areas of the house once the warmer months roll around. (Relaxed barbecues? Happy hours al fresco? Afternoons spent with a good book? Your deck has seen it all.)

Since you spend so much time on your deck, it should be dressed to impress—just like the rest of your entertaining space. And, what better way to do so than with a fresh coat of paint? Whether you're replacing a peeled, outdated layer or giving a brand-new structure a dash of design drama, a punch of color is an effective way to transform your outdoor space.

Make no mistake: Painting a wood deck is a big undertaking—however, it's completely possible to do it on your own, so long as you have a few experts guiding you (we'll help with that!) and know when it's time to call a professional for help.

Painting vs. Staining

Before you begin this project, it's important to determine whether or not it's best to stain or paint your wood deck. While some professional painters state that a few coats of exterior paint will get the job done, others firmly believe a stain is the safer choice. "You can do a lot of harm to a deck if you use an exterior paint," says Nick Slavik, proprietor of the Nick Slavik Painting & Restoration Co. "High-quality exterior house paints do not penetrate bare wood or create a waterproof shell, and tend to peel readily on decks."

Solid-Color Acrylic Stain

If you're looking for a more durable alternative to traditional exterior paint, Slavik recommends solid-color acrylic stain, which has more coverage than a sealer or transparent stain. "Solid-color acrylics penetrate, allow the wood to breath, and have less of a tendency to peel," he says.

Acrylic-Based Paint

Or, if you're really set on incorporating a fresh pop of color, Andre Kazimierski, the CEO of Improovy Painters Plano, recommends an acrylic-based paint. "[It's] recommended by most experts because of its sleek look and weatherproof capabilities," he says. "Just make sure you wait a week in between coats, since acrylic paint takes much longer to dry than other paints."

How to Decide

The good news is painting and staining generally require the same steps and materials—though, we always recommend consulting your exact formula's directions—so you can still follow our how-to steps below. All you need to do is decide between paint or a solid-color stain.

"My recommendation would depend on what the deck owner is looking for," Kazimierski says. "Both exterior paint and acrylic stain will provide protection against the elements, but paint will cover up some of the natural wood grain, while staining enhances [the species]. It depends on what look you're going for—but both are good options."

What You'll Need

Once you've decided between stain or paint, it's time to pick up the rest of your materials. While the exact tools you use will depend on the size and scope of your deck, here are a few essentials to get you started:

  • Power washer
  • Deck brightener or cleaning chemical (oxalic acid or sodium hypochlorite brightener)
  • Sander and sand paper
  • Drop cloth
  • Angled paint brush
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray
  • Ladder
pressure washing deck
Credit: filmstudio / Getty Images

How to Prepare Your Deck

Though prepping your deck might seem tedious, it's an important step to ensure your paint glides on easily and stays there.

Check the Weather

Before you get started, take a look at your forecast. Extreme temperatures (hot or cold) and excess moisture can negatively affect dry time and penetration, so you'll want to pencil in your painting session for a dry, mild day. Keep in mind that both paints and stains can take a few days to fully dry, so avoid times of the year with drastic fluctuations in temperature, rain fall, and humidity.

Prepare the Surrounding Area

Once you've marked your calendar, it's time to remove your furniture and prepare your backyard. "When using chemicals, it's recommended you water down the surrounding grass to avoid chemical burns on your plants or lawn," says George Crew, founder of Chicago Paint Crew.

Clean Your Deck

Next, it's time to give your deck the thorough clean it needs—there's likely to be a lot of pollen and dirt. "Soak the deck with a garden hose, apply a cleaning chemical (either oxalic acid or sodium hypochlorite brightener), scrub the wood surface if needed, [and] then use a pressure washer to remove dirt and chemicals," Slavik says. Keep in mind that paints don't adhere well to wet surfaces, so make sure your deck has had enough time to fully dry

Repair and Sand Your Deck

Before you move onto application, give your deck a once-over and repair any wear and tear. Pound in loose nails, remove (and replace) rotted planks, and sand the floor to promote proper stain or paint absorption. Getting your deck into tip-top shape will ensure that the final product truly shines.

How to Paint a Wood Deck

While you should always follow your specific paint can's directions, most DIYers start the porch painting process with a thin coat of primer to create a smooth, professional finish. (If you're using a stain, which is designed to show off your grain, you can usually skip the primer—especially if you're utilizing a solid-color acrylic formula.) Then, follow these steps.

  1. First, tackle smaller areas like your railings and spindles. Dip an angled paint brush into your solution and move your applicator in the same direction as the grain.
  2. Next, pour your paint into a tray, dip your roller in, and roll the flatter areas of your deck. "If you are rolling out the deck floor, use an extension pole to evenly apply stain [or paint] on each floor board," Sharp says. "This will save your back from hours of bent-over work."
  3. Then, check to see if you need a second coat. According to Slavik, transparent and semi-transparent stains typically get one coat, while solid-color acrylics and paints often get two. Check your stain or paint's manufacturer for information on number of coats and re-coat timing. You might need to wait a week before you apply the second layer.
  4. Once you've applied all your necessary coats, let everything dry. Wait a few days before you walk on your deck or replace furniture.

Pro Tip: While there's no denying that painting a deck can require time and muscle, it's important to stick with it. "Keep a wet edge [and] don't start and stop part-way through boards," Slavik adds. "It leads to lap marks and an uneven finish."

Tips to Remember

Though wooden furniture might be available in a breadth of different species, most decks are typically made with one of two types: Cedar and pressured-treated wood. Fortunately, the process of painting or staining your deck does not vary by species. Instead, it comes down to the aesthetic you want to achieve.

Consider the Opacity of Stains

"You have semi-transparent and semi-opaque options, which will stain the wood and show all the wood graining," says Geoff Sharp, president of Sharper Impressions Painting. "It will appear like natural wood with a tint of the color you like. If you want a more 'painted' look, you can go with solid stain. This will look like a paint and be a solid color."

Swatch Carefully

Whether you select a solid-body acrylic stain or durable paint, it's important to visualize what the final product will actually look like before you commit. (As Sharp puts it, a swatch can look very different from the final result.) "Purchasing a small [sample] can and trying it on your deck will let you see the actual paint before you make your final decision," he says. "Give yourself time to see the color in different lights of day and ask friends and family what they think."

When to Call a Professional

Though painting and staining your wooden deck is a fairly easy process, it's not for the faint of heart. That's exactly why Slavik recommends hiring a professional if your deck is large, raised high off the ground, or has a previously failed coating. And, if you can't find the time to paint your deck properly, it's time to hand off this project to the professionals. "It takes time to do it right," he says. "For a professional company like ours to restore a deck it could take 20-plus hours of labor—and we have all of the training and the good tools." Sharp adds that an expert can offer a turnkey experience, from prepping your deck to helping you pick out the right solid-color stain or paint for your desired style.

So, how do you find the right expert for the job? He recommends tapping into your network. "The best way to find a pro is through a referral from your family, friend, or co-workers," Sharp says, noting that a reputable deck painting professional should also never ask for a deposit. Whether you do it yourself or enlist a professional, one thing's for sure: You're just a few coats away from giving your deck the refresh it deserves.

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