Time Required: 2-4 hours // Difficulty: Beginner

Learning how to stain a deck will allow you to bring out the rich colors and textures of the wood’s surface. However, applying wood stain does more than enhance a deck’s appearance. Exterior stain helps waterproof a deck and provides vital protection from the elements to keep the lumber from warping. This guide will teach you how to prep your deck for staining and how to stain both the deck boards and railing.


  • Pressure Washer
  • Garden Hose
  • Scrub Brush
  • Angle Broom
  • Belt Sander
  • Sandpaper


  • Paint Thinner
  • Wood & Deck Stain

1 // Check the Weather & Choose the Stain

  • Try a simple test to see if your deck repels water or needs staining. Sprinkle water on the wood: if the wood absorbs it within 10-minutes, plan to stain as soon as possible. If the water pools on the wood surface, the need for exterior stain is less urgent. A stained wood deck should be maintained every one to three years. 
  • Learning how to stain a deck begins with scheduling. Unless the deck is entirely new, you’ll need to clean the surface and allow a day to dry before staining. Stain needs time to absorb into the wood but dries quickly, so avoid applying the stain in direct sunlight. Try to schedule your staining project on days forecasted for 50- to 90-degree temperatures with no rain. 
  • Match the stain to your deck’s type of wood. 
  • If your deck has been previously stained, note that oil-based stain can go over water-based stain, but water-based stain cannot go over oil-based stain. For best results, use oil-based stains over old oil-based stain and water-based stains over old water-based stain.
  • Try to find exterior wood stain formulated to repel water, preserve wood and protect against harmful UV rays.

2 // Prepare the Deck

  • Remove all furnishings from the deck. 
  • Inspect the decking wood, repairing imperfections and replacing missing nails as needed.
  • Sand any splintered areas with 80-grit paper using a belt or pole sander. 
  • Sweep away dust and debris, including between deck boards. 
  • If there are plants alongside the deck, moisten and cover them with a tarp or sheeting to keep chemicals or stain from getting on them.

3 // Wash the Wood

  • You’ll want to clean the deck boards to be free of dirt or mildew before finishing so the wood stain doesn’t trap any imperfections. 
  • Wash the wood with a deck cleaner and scrub the wood surface with a brush while wet. 
  • Allow the wet cleaner to soak into the wood for about 10-minutes or according to the manufacturer’s directions. 
  • Rinse thoroughly with a garden hose or pressure washer. 
  • Allow two days to dry before applying stain. 

4 // Stain Railings & Other Raised Features

  • Before applying the stain, use painter’s tape to protect areas like the house’s siding if needed. 
  • Sweep the deck one more time to remove any leaves, dust or debris that settled when the cleaner was drying. 
  • Stir stain thoroughly before applying and pour into a paint tray.
  • Apply the stain to a test patch of wood to confirm that you’re satisfied with its color and appearance.
  • Begin by staining the deck’s highest wood features, such as the railings, posts and balusters, and make your way down. 
  • Make long, even strokes with a paintbrush.

5 // Stain the Deck Boards

  • Stain the deck boards using a paint pad applicator, which is easier than brushing a large deck by hand and more accurate than using a pressurized sprayer. 
  • Apply one coat of stain in long, even strokes.
  • Use a paintbrush to stain between cracks and in problem areas.
  • Choose the place you want to exit, such as the deck stairs or your home’s back door, and apply the stain while moving in that direction. Usually one coat is enough.
  • Once you’re finished, clean the brushes and paint tray.
  • Allow the stain to dry for at least 24-hours. 

Staining a deck will protect your deck from fading, natural wear and water damage. Make staining easy and get professional results by prepping and cleaning your deck in advance. Once you have learned how to stain a deck, you can refresh its appearance every few years so that your deck stays long-lasting and beautiful. Ready to get the tools and materials you need? The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them. 

Project Guide provided by HomeDepot.com


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