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How to clean, stain and seal a deck

8th Mar '24 • By Rohit Mankame

Has your deck lost its glory? Here’s how to test your deck to determine whether you need to apply a cleaner, deck-stainer or sealer. In this guide, we'll walk you through the steps to revive your deck and restore it to its former glory.

Article Summary

  • Testing the Wood
  • Inspecting and Repairing
  • Deck Cleaning
  • Selecting a Wood Stain
  • Using and Applying Stain or Sealer
  • FAQs


Testing the Wood

Before you start, it's better to check with your local painter and test the wood to see if it needs sealing. Test the wood by sprinkling water over it, if it absorbs the water then your deck likely needs resealing.

Not only does a finely polished wood deck look fantastic while prolonging life of the wood, it will also help increase the value of your property and make it more attractive to future buyers. The full method of refinishing a wood deck will include many individual steps including:

  • Inspection and repair
  • Cleaning
  • Power washing
  • Sanding
  • Staining/sealing

A professional-looking refinishing job can be completed in a weekend or two and can transform a drab, rundown old wood deck into a lively lovely entertainment area ready for your next bbq!

Inspecting and Repairing 

A thorough inspection will be one of the initial steps in your wood decking refinishing project, checking for any loose surface boards or issues with structural parts, like splitting or badly broken wood. If a broken or rotted deck board or other parts need to be repaired, do the necessary repairs before beginning the overall refinishing process.

Deck Cleaning

The exact approach to cleaning a deck would depend on its current finish and on what your refinishing requirements are. 

When you have a painted or varnished wood deck and want a polished finish, use a chemical stripper to chip the paint or varnish off the deck surface first. Cleaning and sanding will follow, before adding a fresh stain coating. However, when you're just painting, the process is fairly simple: clean and sand, then repaint.

Deck cleaners uproot dirt, nail stains, green growth and mould. If your deck isn't new, utilse a cleaner before applying any deck sealers. Improperly cleaned decks often lead to deck stains and imperfect sealing, therefore this is an important step.

To clean your deck, you’ll need a garden sprayer, paint roller or a stiff-bristled broom.

Let the cleaner drench into the wood. Dousing time is generally close to 10 minutes, however check with your specific product instructions.

Finally, rinse the deck thoroughly with a garden hose or pressure washer. Wash equipment with soapy water. Rinse plastic sheeting with water and remove. Allow the deck to dry for at least two days before applying a sealer.


Selecting a Wood Stain

In your deck refinishing project one of the most essential parts is choosing the stain. Although once it was popular to stain wood first, then add some form of transparent surface sealer over it, today's products usually act as one-step applications — penetrating stains that both dye the wood and soak it in to protect it. Otherwise, there are also clear sealers available that just penetrate and seal the wood without changing the colour.

Many people achieve the best results with a high-quality, semi-transparent surface stain that is oil-based. You will need to go past the big box home improvement centre to head to a reputable paint shop to find this commodity but the effort and cost would be worth it.

Remember that the final stain colour, once applied, can vary from the samples or brochures. It's a smart idea to buy a small sample and test it on your deck before you buy it by the litre.

Using and Applying Stain or Sealer

While applying a sealer or stain, make sure to thoroughly read the product instructions. Drying times can vary taking into account air temperature and humidity. Before you begin, check for required repairs in the timber, for example, split barricades or popped nails.

Here are our key tips to complete your project

  • Clear off any debris with a high-pressure hose and clean thoroughly between slats.
  • Ensure the deck is completely dry before applying a sealer or stain.
  • Blend the sealer or stain before use.
  • Don't shake the sealer, as air pockets will form in the final result.
  • Two thin coats are better than one thick coat that doesn't properly dry.
  • Utilise a paintbrush to apply the sealer or stain in corners and other hard to reach areas, for example, steps, railings, end grain and breaks.
  • Allow the deck to dry completely.

If you need further assistance, get in touch with local deck painting experts today.

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What types of deck cleaners or chemical strippers are right for my deck?

Choose a deck cleaner or chemical stripper based on your deck's current finish. For painted or varnished wood, opt for a chemical stripper to remove the existing coating. If you desire a polished wood deck, use a deck cleaner. The key is to match the product to your specific refinishing needs. Visit your local hardware store for recommendations and ensure the product is suitable for your deck's material. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for application and safety.

How does the temperature affect the outcome when applying a sealer or stain?

Yes, it's crucial to consider environmental conditions when applying sealers or stains. Drying times can vary based on air temperature and humidity. Check the product instructions for recommended conditions. Ideally, apply sealers or stains on a dry day with moderate temperatures. Avoid extreme heat or direct sunlight, as it can affect the application and drying process. Additionally, make sure the deck is completely dry before applying any sealer or stain.

What signs of damage or wear indicate your deck needs more than just cleaning and staining?

Look for signs of more significant damage during the inspection phase. Common indicators include loose boards, structural issues, split barricades, or popped nails. If you notice extensive wood rot, decay, or severe damage, it may require more than routine cleaning and staining. In such cases, consider consulting a professional for a comprehensive assessment. Address any necessary repairs before proceeding with the refinishing process to ensure the longevity of your deck.

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