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Staining a deck? Tips that can help you out are included here, as well as help choosing the right stain. 

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Getting that deck ready for spring sometimes means a fresh new coat of stain. But there are so many variables that you might not know where to start. What products work the best? What factors play into choosing the best stain?

What are some mistakes that can turn your leisurely weekend of staining a wood deck into a homeowner’s nightmare? Fortunately, we have the answers to get you ready for the task.

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Green World Lumber Premium Exotic Wood Decking from BuildDirect.

How to choose the right stain

Start by seriously considering what you want in the end result. If you have gorgeous wood, you don’t want to cover it up. That means a transparent stain is a good bet. There are also semi-transparent and semi-solid stains, which can still allow the wood to show through but add a bit of color as well. Solid stains are good for covering up serious faults with the wood, so if your deck has been around for decades and is starting to show its age, solid stains might be the answer.

When choosing a color, pay attention to the rest of your home. What color pulls the exterior together? What color is used on the trim, the shutters, or the doors? This can help you decide what color you want in your stain. For instance, a deck that sidles up to a home with plenty of blue might look great with a reddish stain for contrast.

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Pavilion Wood Decking Exotic “Garapa” from BuildDirect.

Not sure about colors? Get a few color chips and tape them down to your deck. Look at them in various lighting throughout the next few days. Which ones looks best to you?

How to Stain a Wood Deck

Start by making certain the deck is as clean as possible. You can use a pressure washer to make quick work of this, but you will also need to do some scrubbing by hand, as you want to avoid any areas that might make the stain uneven. A good cleaner is essential to combat mold and mildew.

Browse for deck cleaning solutions.

1. Test the previous layer of stain

If you had a previous solid stain, use the duct tape test to determine whether you must remove the old stain before continuing. Simply make a light ‘x’ in the stain with a sharp blade (taking care not to cut into the wood). Apply duct tape firmly to the area and then rip it off. Does the stain flake away? If yes, you will have to invest in a stain remover and get rid of all that old stain before continuing.

2. Sanding

Is there any area that feels rough or splintery? It’s time for some sanding! You can do this on small areas by hand, but electric sanders are a good bet for a larger deck that has seen its share of wear. You want to have it as smooth as possible in order to get a nice, even stain.

3. Applying stain

Once the deck is completely clean and smooth, it’s time to apply the stain. Using a natural bristle brush, start at the end of a board. Work methodically but quickly, keeping the leading edge wet to avoid lap marks. Start at an end of the deck that is used least often; this will allow you to perfect your technique on the first few boards without any glaring mistakes in the areas most people will notice.

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Stain one or two boards at a time, working your way slowly across the deck. After working with a few boards, you should be able to easily judge how much stain you need on your brush in order to keep the look even throughout. At the end, even though the stain might look entirely set and dry, don’t walk on it! Give it at least 24 hours to be certain, longer if you can.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Knowing when to stain is just as important as choosing the stain. You want to stain on a day when there isn’t high humidity that will leave the stain wet for a long while, which isn’t what you want. On the other hand, a day of very high temperatures can mean the stain dries very quickly, and that can lead to uneven penetration and a splotchy look.

As a general rule of thumb, only stain when there is no rain in the forecast, and the temperature is expected to stay steady between 50 and 80 degrees. If you happen to have good shade that moves across the deck during the day, plan your work so that the stain is put down in the shade. This will help avoid fast drying.

Always read the label and the instructions

Finally, remember that less is not necessarily more. Though it might be tempting to add more than one coat with the idea that it will help protect the deck, applying too much actually just creates unsightly buildup. Always apply stain as directed on the packaging.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.