How-To Stain a Wood Deck

For the past few years, we knew something major had to happen with our exterior wood deck, but with SO much work (most of it do-it-yourself projects) to do in other areas of the yard, it kept being put on the back-burner.  Well… Baby didn’t want to be put in the corner no more (I know, that was cheesy), so this year was the year for a makeover.  And boy does she look smokin’…

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

I think (well, actually I know) one of the hesitations of the deck was the process.  Well, so I thought.  Honestly, it was so much easier and more manageable than I ever thought possible.  One of the major reasons for that was the use of a hand sprayer. WOW, was spraying easier than hand rolling and/or brushing.  We did that last year with the exterior fence and boy did it take ALL SUMMER LONG.

With a sprayer, the stain is applied (slightly) thicker and the coverage is much more even.  But best of all, it takes way less time and is much less labor intensive.

Before we get to any more of the process or the after pictures, here is what the deck looked like before.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

How could a deck get so bad?  I dunno!  Living in this house for only 3 years, I have no clue as to when the last time the deck was done.  Also come to find out, the deck was previously painted, not stained.  Paint on the outside (especially if it’s not the right paint) does not last nearly as long as stain.  Also if you take a look, the spindles were white and after looking closely, they were only primed.  What I suspect happened, is that when the deck was painted last, someone got lazy, and only went as far as painting the deck surface and the handrail around.  Geesh.

Learning from that, for this before and after deck makeover project, we decided to use Cabot Solid Stain.  Because we were applying it over a painted surface and didn’t want to sand down to the raw wood, a solid stain seemed like the best choice.  Cabot is known for their quality wood products, so there was no doubt that they’d definitely get the job done (after being a disaster for so long)!

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

Supplies for staining a deck:

  • Stain (I used a solid stain, but also available are wood tone finishes, semi-transparent finishes, and semi-solid finishes)
  • Tools to clean / prep the deck surface (I used a power washer, as well as a bristle brush to get dirt off, as well as flaking wood chips)
  • Sprayer (this is a great one that I would recommend <=affiliate link)
  • Plastic wrap (for protecting areas you don’t want stained)

1. To start off it’s a must to give the deck a good cleaning.  Whether previously coated or bare wood, cleaning the wood deck surface is the MOST IMPORTANT step of the staining process.  A few weeks ago, I borrowed our neighbors power washer and went to town on it.  It was amazing how much dirt and mildew washed away with a quick sweep of the hose. Plus all the chipped and peeling paint was stripped right off.  Because of the power washers strength, it really made a nice clean surface for staining.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

A brush like this with firm bristles is great for removing excess dirt and peeling wood chips.  This was used right before the staining process started.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

2. The house and areas we didn’t want touched were covered with clear plastic wrap.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

3. With the wood deck clean and completely dry, we started staining using a hand sprayer.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

JUST LIKE with spray painting, the key to hand spraying is to:

  • Shake Shake Shake the stain before applying
  • Spray about 7-10″ away for the surface
  • Move back and forth in a steady, rapid motion in the same direction as the wood grain
  • Don’t concentrate the nozzle in any one place at any given time
  • Start spraying in a conspicuous spot (in case is spatters at the start), then continue in a consistent sweep
  • Wear a mask – the fumes aren’t great to breathe in

Most importantly (which has nothing to do with hand spraying, but with staining in general), read the directions.  Apply only the recommended number of coats and be sure not to overapply.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

I will be honest, we had someone help us with the deck (due to lack of time) and he used a more powerful hand sprayer.  Even though it’s smaller, the one I mentioned above would still work great for a deck or fence.  Same rules applies.

And then it was done.

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover


How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

I can not wait to get this deck filled with my Summer Essentials – a spot to  eat, a spot to grill, and of course a spot to relax!

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

The details on the stain…

I wanted a darker color for the deck so it would stand out against the neutral taupe / beige siding.  As I mentioned before, I decided on a solid stain because I wanted to skip the process of stripping the deck.  I chose Burnt Hickory for the color.  It’s perfect.  I was worried that it would be too dark, but it’s just the right depth of color that I was looking for.

O, you just wait to see what’s coming…  It’s going to be a party deck before you know it!

How to Stain a Wood Deck - Before and After Wood Deck Makeover

Huge difference, right?!

And about 24-48 hours, the deck was ready to use and being transformed as we speak.  Many more deck details to come.  Overall, the process of staining the deck wasn’t at all as difficult as I had envisioned.  Yes it was time consuming.  Yes, it was laborious.  But all well worth it to get this finished look!

Have you ever stained a deck or fence before?  If so, how was your experience?  And how was the result?

Disclosure: Cabot has provided me product for my project.  No one told me what to create, what to buy, how to use the product, or what to write.  All opinions are 100% mine! I truly believe Cabot has a great selection of wood staining products.

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I love how your deck looks!!!

Staining our deck is something we’ve been contemplating this year…we will see if it happens :) But I love reading about all your tricks and tips!


Thanks Ashley. Once it’s done, you’ll be happy you did it. Ours really needed something and I’m loving the result!

The afters are gorgeous!!! I definitely have to stain my deck this year and feel it’s such a daunting task. Can you give me more details on the hand sprayer, please? Can you rent these? Where do you find them? Thanks!!

Hi Wendy! Thank you for your kind thoughts. A professional hand sprayer can probably be rented from your local Lowes or a local rental place (we have a few in our area). Depending on how much painting you have planned, you may want to consider investing in a hand sprayer. They start out at around $50 and go up from there. Good Luck!

I’m assuming you can stain over black paint, but I would talk to a professional about it before you start! You may need a primer or an initial product before staining.
Good Luck!

Hi I was wondering what color u used! its very nice, also do u mix the stain with anything to use a sprayer ? thanks! pinned u !

The information on the color is towards the end of the post. It’s Burnt Hickory. As far as the stain in the sprayer, you simply poor it in and spray on your surface.
Good Luck!


Cleaning the deck before starting the actual staining process is very important and using a good power washer is a big help, too. Nice job there!

Jenna, now that your deck color is holding up after one year. We live in the Pacific Northwest and had the same situation with our deck when we purchased the house. They only stained part of it, with an ugly color. I used paint stain on our deck for the same reasons. Only problem, It peeled right off. I tried it several different summers, taking it off, sanding, repainting, always with the same results. Have you had any of these issues? I am taking the finish off the deck one more time and hoping for a winning solution. Thanks!

Hi Mindy,

The snow just melted, no joke, and I noticed that some areas did peel, which is frustrating and it might be the nature of the wood. I didn’t sand too much prior to applying the new color, so that might have been part of the issue. Also, I should have shoveled off the snow during the winter, but didn’t, which could have been another contributing factor. Unfortunately I don’t want to share too much advice, since I am still evaluating the result. Just being honest…


How was staining the outside of the railings? We are struggling with that challenge. Our deck is roughly the same size but on the 2nd floor of our house.

Since the deck is only 4′ above the ground, I stood on the ground level to access the outside of the railings. In your case that wouldn’t be possible. You might have to brush them by hand. Not a fun job, but it might be your only option. Good Luck! Jenna

Hi, I almost fell off my chair, your deck looks EXACTLY like my son’s and the wear and color are identical! I sent it to my son. Can you advise how many cans of stain you required? Approximately how much per can does it cost? (Their medical costs have strained their budget). Just trying to get an idea of the cost of the project. Thanks so much!

Hi Linda,

I think it took about 4 cans and the cost per can was approximately $40. I think it really depends on how the wood absorbs the paint too, so be sure to read the labels on the back of the can before starting so you have enough! Good Luck!


Jenna, love the colors and thank you for the simple yet so useful advice! What’s the color for the rail/spindles – not the deck flooring itself- pls?
thanks again, very inspirational!

We are about to refinish our deck and have been debating paint bc we didn’t want it to be brown. But I never thought to use grey stain! We might try this, thank you! Our existing stain is still pretty brown, even after power washing. I’m just wondering if this will cover it up!