Choosing the Right Deck Finishing Stain

Select a Deck Finishing Stain that will Best Protect Your Deck and Limit Your Maintenance

By Mark J. Donovan

To keep a new deck looking beautiful you need to give it a little TLC on a periodic basis. As part of providing your deck with periodic TLC, expect every couple of years to have to apply a new coat of deck finishing stain or sealer to it. A deck sealer is critical for protecting it from water and ultraviolet sunlight damage. It also helps to prevent or curb mold and mildew growth by preventing water from absorbing into the wood.

Your deck is a major investment, not to mention a huge part of your home’s outdoor appearance, so though you may rail at the thought of having to go out and refinish your deck every couple of years don’t put it off.

Doing so may end up costing you a fortune if the deck begins to rot and decay. Summarized below are a few tips on applying and choosing the right deck finishing stain or deck sealer.

Before applying a new coat of deck sealer or finishing stain on your deck make sure to first thoroughly clean it. Also, if necessary sand it. Cleaning your deck is essential for ensuring the new deck finishing stain or sealer adheres well to the deck. If it does not adhere well, not only will it not protect your deck, it will peel and become a major eyesore. And the only way to eliminate the peeling is to sand the deck. Trust me, sanding a deck is not a lot of fun!

To clean your deck, use a commercially available deck cleaning solution that has a mildewcide in it to help remove any mold and mildew growth on the deck. Alternatively you can use a laundry detergent or an oxygenated bleach type solution for scrubbing the deck. Also, use a stiff bristle pole brush to scrub the deck clean. Make sure to rinse the deck regularly with a garden hose to wash away the loosened dirt and grime. Also, make sure to where mask and gloves when working with commercial deck cleaners. Deck staining using a 4 inch brush.

Alternatively you can use a pressure washer to clean the deck, however be very careful not to damage the decking wood grain with it. Make sure to use a low pressure washer nozzle and keep the nozzle away from the decking boards by at least 12 inches. If the wood becomes damaged by the pressure washer the deck finishing stain will not adhere to the wood evenly. The wood will also have a fuzzy appearance.
After washing the deck inspect the decking boards for damage or rot. Replace damaged or rotting decking boards as required. Also, inspect for any loose nails.

Hammer them back down and apply an adjacent nail right next to the original nail to ensure a solid bond. Alternatively, replace the nail with a slightly larger one. Make sure that whatever type of nail or screw you use is non-corrosive, be it galvanized or stainless steel.

If you observe any peeling after washing the deck sand the deck after it is dry. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper, such as 60 or 80 grit, and then work your way down to a finer grit sandpaper for the final sand, e.g. 120 grit. If the sanding is minimal you can get away with using a pole sander. If however there is a significant amount of sanding required you may want to rent an orbital sander for a day.

After the deck has been spotlessly cleaned and prepped, and has thoroughly dried out, which may take a couple of sunny days, you can then think about applying the new coat of deck finishing stain or deck sealer.

Deck Installation Bid Sheet

Choosing the right deck finishing stain is critical for ensuring a quality deck refinishing project. I personally find semi-transparent deck stains to do the best job when it comes to refinishing decks. Besides protecting the wood surface, they also help to enhance the color and appearance of the wood. For example, you can find semi-transparent deck stains with Mahogany and Red Cedar color pigments that help to enhance the color of respective deck materials. Semi-transparent stains also go on easy and are less susceptible to peeling. Also, you can apply slight variants of stain colors when applying new coats of semi-transparent stains.

If you enjoy the current color of your deck then apply a transparent deck stain or deck sealer. Transparent stains or deck sealers let the natural wood color shine through while protecting it at the same time from the weather elements.

If you want to change the color of your deck surface then apply an opaque or solid deck stain. Solid deck stains not only cover the wood grain, but also help to hide any discolorations in the wood grain, thus achieving a consistent finished color.  If the deck was previously sealed with an opaque or solid stain then the same type and color of stain will need to be used, unless the deck is sanded down to bare wood.

If at all possible do not consider painting your deck. Almost guaranteed it will peel and chip over time. The reason for this is that paint does not absorb into the wood. Instead it sits on top. Over time moisture will get underneath it and it will begin to peel and chip. If this happens, plan on having to sand the entire deck. About the only advantage of using paint is you can change the deck color with every new coat.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize that there is water and oil based deck stain finishes. Water based deck finishing stains do a better job of protecting the wood, whereas oil based stain finishes better hold their color. Similarly higher pigment color stains do a better job of protecting the wood, however they mask the deck surface more.

So choose your deck finishing stain wisely and make sure to do all of your prep work prior to applying a new coat of deck stain. You and your deck will be happier for doing so!

For help on building a deck, see’s Deck Installation Bid Sheet. The Deck Installation Bid Sheet will teach your how to hire the right deck contractor, and help to ensure that your deck project is completed on time and budget.

Related Information

Additional Deck Building and Design Resources

Get Free Deck Building Price Quotes with No Obligation!

Fill out our 3-5 minute quick and easy form, and receive a free price quote on decks from one of our pre-screened and licensed deck contractors. This process is free and there is no obligation to continue once you receive your decks price estimate.