A wood deck can last decades with the right maintenance. This deck needed a bit of restoration, but you can bring the shine back with the right tools! Learn everything you need to know from checking the structure to tips for staining a deck.
It’s the summer of big remodeling projects! In fact, we had not 1 but 3 deck restoration projects this year, and started working on a fourth. They range in condition from well maintained to severely neglected. Whew that is a LOT of decks to refinish!
Why did I have so many deck projects? For the last 3 weeks, in addition to our own home projects, we had been helping to renovate my childhood home to get it ready for sale – so many emotions with that! If you want to see our other deck projects, check out how we added a waterproof ceiling under the deck, and creating storage space under a deck.
However, even with very different conditions of the decks, the process of deck restoration remained the same, so today I wanted to share how to restore an old deck or restain a new one.
5 Things to Check Before You Start
Always give your project a thorough inspection to check the full state of the deck so you don’t have surprises later. Always do repairs first.
- Structural Integrity. Check underneath and around the entire structure for any movement in the framing, joists, footers, as well as warping, gaps, or severe cracks.
- Rot. Walk around with something like a flathead screwdriver and poke any areas that are darkened, white (fungus), or splintered. Check the footers especially because sometimes rot can happen from the inside out (hidden).
- Tighten Loose Screws and Hardware. If necessary, apply them at a new angle to grab new wood.
- Pest Damage. Look for signs of pest damage including borer bee holes, termite damage, and nests.
- Moisture and Drainage. One of the quickest ways to ruin a deck is not have the proper slope or drainage underneath. If you have significant rotting problems or debris collecting water under a deck, that needs to be repaired.
How To Prep Deck Surface
Step 1 – Clean the deck and remove any peeling or chipping stain. If using the same brand of stain and color as before, complete removal of the previous stain is not necessary.
To clean the deck, you can use a pressure washer that isn’t too high. We used 2800 PSI on this deck without issue. A high amount of PSI can dig out the wood grain and cause pitting in the boards, so be careful. We pressured washed the deck, and then scrubbed off any peeling solid stain with a deck scrub brush.
Step 2- Sand. While sanding is optional in many cases, a light sanding will help the stain penetrate and bond better to the wood surface. If all of the stain must be removed, I recommend renting an orbital deck sander with multiple heads. A floor sander is less optimal but doable. You can usually rent them from a large home improvement store. It will cut time by several hours or even days but there are a few pitfalls.
- Be careful around screw or nail heads. If you have nails above the surface of the boards, remove and replace or hand sand around.
- Floor sanders are specifically designed to sand completely flat surfaces. Deck boards are generally more uneven, so you will still have to sand some areas, and possibly round off edges with a palm sander (still worth it on a large deck in my opinion).
- Ideally, deck boards should have a convex or rounded surface so water runs to the edges and over.
- Upright sanders probably won’t be able to get under railings.
Step 3 – Remove mildew and Grayed wood, if necessary. Finally, the entire deck was cleaned with deck brightener to remove all mildew and gray wood for a fresh surface to stain. We didn’t have to do this on a well maintained deck, because the wood surface was in good condition.
Step 5 – Staining. I always apply stain with a sprayer and then back brush. A roller or brush will take forever! If nothing else, a sprayer eliminates you going back into the can for more stain. It’s worth it!
For weathered wood with lots of cracks and splinters, I recommend a product like Behr Deckover to fill those cracks and resurface the deck. I generally recommend at least a semi-transparent stain on a deck because transparent stains only look good for a few years and have the lowest protective properties.
On our own raised deck where a ladder will be required, we are using the Wagner Control Pro 130 sprayer, which has a 25 foot hose and holds up to 1.5 gallons of stain in the tank. What I love most about this particular sprayer is that the tank can be left safely on the ground as we work up high. No lugging paint up a ladder!
Expert Tips for Staining a Deck
- For large projects like decks, I HIGHLY recommend using a quality paint sprayer. It cuts maybe 50-80% out of the work time. Cover nearby bushes and windows with plastic to make cleanup easier, but they aren’t that messy once you get the hang of it. I just brush near them.
- Stain top to bottom with railings first, followed by the floors and then skirting.
- Even with a sprayer I recommend brushing the stain in. This helps catch any drips and, for transparent or semi-transparent stain, will help the stain penetrate the wood.
- I usually do at least two coats of stain, 3 for clear or light transparent stain. Check the product labels for how long to wait between coats.
Frequently asked questions:
Different paint sprayers can be a better choice depending on the project at hand. You can check out my complete list of the best paint sprayers for you here.
Floor sanders are specifically designed to sand completely flat surfaces. Deck boards generally have a slightly curved surface, so you would end up with an uneven result.
It depends on the type of stain you’re using. If you have a semi-transparent stain, you will probably need to refinish your deck every two to three years. If using a solid color wood stain, your deck should be good for about ten years (unless you have large dogs like I do). If your wood is beginning to look patchy, discolored, or showing signs of deteriorations, it’s time for a fresh coat. Another sign it needs to be re-stained is if the wood fails to repel water.
Although I won’t say that it is required, I would recommend at least a light sanding to ensure the best bond with the stain and to avoid patches or splinters.
Because it looked so good, we were inspired to create a small garden space around the deck and summers are going to be great out here!
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How To Restore an Old Deck
- Deck Brush
- Painting accessories
- Stain Brushes
- Paint Sprayer
- Safety Equipment
- Deck Brightener For grayed, mildew, or mold decks
- Stain Color
- Inspect and repair, as needed, the structural integrity of the deck. Replace any boards that are showing signs of rot, pest damage, or loss of support. Inspect the entire structure from all angles.
- Clean the deck and remove any peeling or chipping stain. You can use a pressure washer with up to 2000 PSI pressure, but be careful not to gouge the wood.
- Remove mildew and Grayed wood, if necessary. For decks that have grayed severely or been neglected, a deck brightener will remove the top layer of gray wood and kill mildew.
- Sanding. While sanding is optional in some cases, a light sanding will always help the stain penetrate and bond better to the wood surface. If all of the stain must be removed, I recommend renting an orbital deck sander with multiple heads. Sweep and vacuum up dust.
- Apply stain. I always apply stain with a sprayer and then back brush to work the stain into the grain. A sprayer cuts time by 50-80%.