Thinking about staining your deck? I’m sharing tips and lessons learned from staining our wooden deck. It’s quite a bit of work, but it’s so so worth it (plus, I have a tool to tell you about that will save you a ton of time).
A huge thanks to Wagner for sponsoring this post. All content and opinions are 100% my own. See my disclosure policy for details.
This is our second summer in this house and we are spending a lot more time on the deck this year compared to last. Part of that is Chloe being older and wanting to run around outside, but another reason is that I’ve put some effort into setting up a relaxing deck that makes it a more enjoyable place to spend time.
Earlier this spring, I gave our deck a makeover with some new patio furniture that created a beautiful, comfortable seating area. We LOVE hanging out in this cozy spot after work in the evenings, and I relish the quiet weekend mornings I often get out here soaking in the fresh air while the rest of my family is still sleeping.
As with many home projects, one project always seems to lead to the next. Once we added beautiful new furniture and started spending a lot more time on the deck, I started to notice how dirty the deck itself was.
It definitely wasn’t terrible, but I knew the deck boards could use some attention. Here’s what it looked like before–you can see how some boards are a lot darker and dirtier than others.
And here’s what it looks like after:
I hadn’t planned to tackle staining our deck this year, mainly because it sounded like a ton of work. But the more time I spent on the deck the more convinced I became that it would be worth the effort. I know stain is so good for protecting the wood and I want to take care of this piece of our home so it lasts us a long time.
And that, my friends, is how I wound up staining our huge 25 x 18-foot deck + railings + pergola a few weekends ago. I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of work. But man, was it ever worth it!
Today I’m sharing everything I learned from my first deck staining job, exactly how I got the job done (relatively) quickly and the tool that saved the day.
How To Stain A Deck
I didn’t find a lot of really detailed tutorials when I was figuring things out so I hope this blog post will provide some helpful guidance to you as you plan your deck staining project.
Please keep in mind that I am not an expert, but this is everything I did to clean and stain our deck.
Cleaning & Power Washing Your Deck
Before you begin staining your deck, you must first clean it. This is a very important step that you want to take the time to do right. Your stain will soak into clean wood better and last longer.
- Pressure Washer
- Garden Hose
- Garden Pump Sprayer
- Deck Broom
- Deck Cleaner (I used a homemade mixture of 2 gallons warm water, 2 cups powdered OxiClean, and 1/4 cup liquid dish soap)
- Tools Necessary For Any Repairs
Inspect & Repair
Before cleaning, take some time to clear all of the furniture off of your deck. Inspect it for any loose or broken boards and repair them if needed. Also take a few minutes to sand any rough areas.
Our deck is newer so I didn’t need to repair anything, but I did go around and tighten a lot of screws that were sticking up a bit. If you need to replace any nails or screws, make sure you use exterior grade hardware that won’t rust.
Use a broom (or a leaf blower works great for this) to sweep any leaves and debris off of your deck floor. Also, take a few minutes to cover any plants around your deck with plastic so they don’t get sprayed with your deck cleaner.
Sand & Strip
I didn’t need to do this step because our deck didn’t have any peeling stain. As far as I can tell, our deck wasn’t stained at all (I’m guessing it might have had a clear sealant of some kind).
If you are staining an older deck with existing stain, you will need to sand any peeling stain because if you stain over top of the old, peeling stain the new layer will end up peeling right off. Also, if you want an even color of your new stain, you may want to consider stripping the old stain first. You could also go with a darker stain or a solid stain this time to try to mask the old stain underneath.
Now for the fun part–power washing! Trust me, this is such a satisfying task. It was somewhat time-consuming but the before and afters are amazing.
Hook your garden hose up to the pressure washer and turn on the power. Start in one corner and work your way across all of the boards, ending in the opposite corner. And don’t forget to do all of the railings, steps, etc.
For the first pass, I focused on spraying away any dirt that had built up and getting the boards wet.
There are a few things to remember when you are using a power washer so you don’t damage the wood:
- Use the lowest pressure setting possible
- Use your power washer’s fan tip, usually a 40- to 60-degree tip
- Hold the end of the power washer’s wand 12 inches away from the wood
- Clean the boards with a sweeping motion, trying to maintain an even distance away from the boards the whole time
- Spray the water in the same direction as the wood grain
Apply Deck Cleaner
Once the boards are wet, pour your deck cleaner into a garden pump sprayer and generously spray it on the wood. Work in small sections of your deck for this step.
Follow your deck cleaner’s instructions on how long to wait before you rinse off the cleaner. I gave my homemade Oxiclean mixture 15 minutes to bubble up and loosen the grime and mildew.
Scrub & Power Wash
I had planned to simply power wash everything clean after the cleaner was done working, but I found that scrubbing the boards with a broom made a big difference.
I didn’t do a ton of scrubbing in most spots, simply ran the broom forward and back over the board (after the cleaner had sat for 15 minutes) and then the power washer was very effective and washing the area.
Here’s a great look at how much of a difference power washing made! Look at that before and after!
Once everything is clean, take a break and allow the wood to dry fully. Everything I read recommended waiting at least 24 hours if not more.
Staining Your Deck
When it comes to staining, you have a few decisions to make. First, you need to choose a quality stain. There are a lot of options out there and after doing some research, I decided to use Olympic Maximum stain in the Dark Oak color. It is a water-based, semi-transparent stain.
Your next decision is choosing how you’re going to apply the stain. You can use a simple paintbrush (although that sounds time-consuming, even for a small deck). You can also use a paint roller like you might use to paint interior walls. There are also special applicators designed for staining decks (Wagner has a nice one).
Another option is to use a paint sprayer (yes, you really can spray stain!). Our deck is large and I could not imagine brushing stain on all of the railing spindles and pergola. I knew a paint sprayer was the way to go and I am so thankful I went this direction. The sprayer saved me an insane amount of time!
- Wagner Flexio 3000 sprayer
- Semi-transparent deck stain (this is what I used)
- Extension cord
- Safety glasses
- Dust mask
- Plastic drop cloths and possibly brown builder’s paper
- Painter’s tape
I used the Wagner Flexio 3000 sprayer to stain our deck. This was my first time using this particular sprayer and it worked like a charm. It’s a hand-held sprayer that can be used indoors and outdoors, all you need to do is fill it up with stain/paint and plug it into a standard outlet.
The Flexio 3000 comes with two different nozzles. The iSpray nozzle is designed for walls and siding while the detail finish nozzle is best for smaller projects and thinner materials like stain.
I chatted with Wagner’s customer service team and they recommended I used the detail finish nozzle for my semi-transparent stain.
Protect The Surrounding Area
Before staining, we spent some time taping up plastic to protect the siding. It’s also important to cover any plants nearby.
You generally need to spend a little more time on the prep work when using a paint sprayer because you need to protect the surrounding area from overspray. But that extra prep work of covering the siding is well worth it for the time savings of using a sprayer.
Spray The Pergola
We started with the pergola, then the railing, then the floorboards.
Once I unpacked the Flexio 3000, I was staining in no time. It really is very easy to learn how to use! The instructions include a straightforward chart that tells you what settings to use depending on the type of stain or paint you are spraying. I set my material flow at medium and the air power at 2.
David sprayed the pergola for me since he’s taller and has longer arms. I owe him big time for helping me with this part!
Things started off really slow with the pergola. The sprayer did its job of applying the stain quickly and evenly, but there was a lot of time involved in climbing up and down the ladder so we could reach everything and cover the boards from all angles.
While spraying the pergola, we tried to keep the floorboards underneath covered with a plastic drop cloth. This caught all of the small specks of stain that fell down from up above.
One thing I’d do differently is cover the floor with brown builder’s paper instead of plastic drop cloths. The plastic got so sticky by the end that it was nearly impossible to walk across and move the ladder around on because it bunched up and stuck to everything. I think if we’d taken the time to tape down heavier sheets of paper, that would have worked better.
Stain The Railings
Once the pergola was finished, I moved onto the railings and things really sped up!
We spent an entire morning staining the pergola because of moving and climbing the ladder so many times. I started on the railing at 8:00 a.m. the next morning and had the entire railing, floorboards, and steps finished before 10:00 (yes, 10:00 a.m.)! So if we didn’t have the pergola, we could have stained our huge 25 x 18-foot deck in under 2 hours.
I am still in awe at how fast the railing went. This was my reasoning for wanting to use a sprayer on this project and that was such a good move!
When spraying the railing from the outside in toward the floorboards, I tried to move a sheet of plastic around with me to catch most of the overspray. It wasn’t perfect but it did help keep those little dots from ending up all over the floor.
As I was spraying the railing, I started thinking about how awful it would be to brush all of those spindles by hand. That would have taken forever! I was curious and decided to time myself spraying versus brushing.
It took me 1 minute to apply stain to one spindle using a brush. Compare that to the 10 seconds the sprayer took. That means I stained our deck 6 TIMES FASTER thanks to the Flexio 3000! That’s insane!
Okay, so literally as I was typing that last paragraph I started to wonder how many spindles the railing has. So I just went out in the dark just now to count and there are ONE HUNDRED!
If you do the math, that means I would have spent a good 1 hour and 40 minutes or more hand brushing those spindles compared to the 16 minutes it took with the sprayer. And keep in mind that’s just for the vertical spindles only, so when you start adding in the rest of the railing, the floorboards, the steps, the apron around the outside edge….that time savings really adds up!
Spray The Floorboards
I wasn’t sure how the floorboards would go with a sprayer but they went surprisingly fast. I worked in small sections with a 50 percent overlap on each pass to make sure I got full coverage and an even coat all the way across.
I was able to spray right up alongside the house thanks to the plastic we’d taped up earlier. I checked that the plastic was taped down well along the bottom edge and then the edges were easy.
Sprayers seemed intimidating before I’d ever used one, but they really are easier to use than you might think. I watched this video from Wagner before I started and that’s all I needed to learn how to use it. If you’ve never used a sprayer before, test it out on a sheet of cardboard first so you get the feel for it.
To use the Flexio 3000, you simply pour your deck stain into the plastic cup and screw it onto the spray gun. Once you set a few dials (Wagner provides a great chart on what settings to use for what), then you are ready to go.
To spray, simply pull the trigger. I tried to stay a consistent distance (about 8 inches) away from the wood so the stain coverage would be nice and even. Rather than flexing your wrist, you want to try to keep the stroke at an even speed and consistent distance from the wood.
It only took one coat of stain to make our deck look amazing. Now it looks better than ever and I love knowing the wood is protected.
And now I’ll leave you with all of the pretty after photos. I wish I could have you over to see it in person!
If you’re thinking about staining your deck, I hope this blog post was helpful! I highly recommend using a sprayer because it sped things up tremendously and saved my sanity big time. It also applies a thin, even coat of stain which means you use less stain and get a flawless finish.
Now I keep thinking of all kinds of project ideas I can use the Flexio 3000 on next! You can visit Wagnerspraytech.com to learn all about the Flexio 3000!
And if you’re looking for more tips to save time painting, check out how I painted our living room quickly using another one of Wagner’s time-saving products.
Have a great day!