How to Stain a Deck: Preparation. Learn how to prepare your deck for stain or waterproofing sealer. Prep work is key to a lasting finish and professional looking job done right.

How to stain a deck - steps to prepare the deck for stain or waterproofing sealer

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Our back deck was in desperate need of staining. We had neglected it for other outside projects for a few too many seasons. Staining a deck is not difficult, but it does require the right prep work to get the job done correctly and looking nice. The railings and posts still had some stain, but the boards you walk on were completely stripped. Today, I am going to share the steps to prepare your deck for stain or waterproofing sealer.

Old deck before prep and stain

How to Stain a Deck: Preparation

The first thing to remember in any stain or paint job is prep work is key. It can sometimes take longer than the actual project, but it is worth it in the end results.

Check for Loose Screws and Rotted Boards

The first thing to do when prepping to stain your deck or patio is to remove everything from it. Check all the boards for loose screws and nails and secure any that need it. If your deck is only put together with nails you may need to add some screws in places where it lifts often. We had to do this on our front porch after several seasons of use.

Check all the wood for rotting and structural integrity. In our case, our steps leading down from the back deck were in terrible shape. We had to replace the entire thing including the risers. There were also a few boards leading to the steps that needed to be replaced. This is the area where the roof of the porch drops a lot of water when it rains leading these boards to wear out even faster. We are hoping to install a gutter along the edge of the porch roof to help this issue.

Deck stairs in need of repair

We opted for pressure treated wood for the tops of the steps and the posts for the new railing we were building. The pressure treated lumber costs more but will hold up to the elements much longer.

One of the things that always seems to happen to us, is when we start a project and have a plan in place, we always find something else that needs work. In this case, once we pulled the stairs off the porch we found the horizontal support beam that the stair risers attached to was completely rotted out. So, we had to replace that as well. It is always a good idea to add a little extra to your project budget for unexpected surprises like this.

Rotted support beam

Clean the Surface

Depending on the condition of your deck and what you plan to use to stain it with, you may need to use a stain stripper. There are many options available to choose from for deck stripper. This will remove any old stains that were previously on the deck.

Since we planned to stain our deck the same color as before, all ours needed was a good scrubbing. I started by sweeping off what I could with a broom.

I read a bunch of reviews and settled on Olympic Premium Deck Cleaner to wash off the deck. It cleans four times more dirt than water alone and doesn’t require any scrubbing. Also, when used properly it will not harm most plants or pets. This was important for me for many reasons, including the fact that our chickens and ducks are often hanging out under the porch. I didn’t want toxic chemicals running off the deck down below.

Olympic Premium Deck Cleaner

You add the cleaner undiluted to a garden sprayer and saturate all the surfaces for 5 – 10 minutes. Start with the railings and then work your way down.

Supplies needed to clean deck

Use garden sprayer to apply cleaner to deck surfaces

Then you simply spray it off with your garden hose. Really tough stains may require a little bit of scrubbing. You could also use a pressure washer for the final rinse.

Use garden hose or pressure washer to spray off the cleaner

Below you can see both sides of the deck before cleaning.

Deck before prep and stainAfter using the cleaner, the deck was not perfect, but it definitely made a big improvement. The deck floor even looked like some of the old stain was still there. The deck floor is over 12 years old, so overall, I think it looks to be in pretty good shape.

Deck after deck cleaner before staining

I have no idea what was spilled on our deck to leave this big stain you can see in the top picture below, but I wanted to see how well the cleaner would work on it without any scrubbing. It does look better but would probably require stripper or a lot of scrubbing to get this spot up. Since our stain color is fairly dark, I did not do any additional scrubbing to this spot.

Stain on deck before and after deck cleaner


Note: Be sure to read and follow the instructions on your particular deck stripper or cleaner. Each one will vary a little bit on how to apply it, how long to leave it on, and how to wash it off when you are done.


Depending on the stain you choose, you may be able to use it on damp wood. Other stains require that you use them on completely dry wood. Be sure to check the label on your stain before beginning to stain. Tomorrow I will be sharing about a tool that makes painting all the railings so much easier and faster.

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