How To Strip, Clean, Stain, and Seal An Old Wood Deck

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by Enoch Omololu

Updated

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In this article, I show how I stripped, cleaned, repaired, stained, and sealed our old deck from start to finish for cheap!

When we bought our house in the Spring of 2016, the stain on the deck was already flaking off and I knew I would have to refinish it at some point. Fast forward a year (2017), and there are now rotting boards on the deck floor and planters.

I was initially contemplating leaving the deck to weather as much as it would take to get the remaining stain off and save me the job of stripping if I chose to refinish it myself.

However, when I started to notice the rot and how fast it was spreading to other healthy boards, I decided to do something about it sooner than later.

Inclusive of the surfaces of the planters, our deck measured approximately 500 sq. ft.

A few quotes to get someone to come repair it showed that we would be needing anywhere from $1,400 to just over $2,000! On average, we were going to spend at least $1,500 – We definitely could not afford to put up this much towards refinishing the deck.

At this point, I started looking closely at how I could get the deck refinished without breaking the bank. Following some research online  – Google and YouTube, I took some vacation time off work and embarked on my latest DIY project.

flaking wood deck
flaking wood deck

Day 1 – Remove Rotten Wood, Strip, and Clean

The weather was cloudy but warm enough to be comfortable working outside.

Remove Damaged Wood

tools and materials for repairing damaged deck boards

I got to work and started removing and cutting out rotten boards from the planters and deck floor. For replacement, I had obtained western red cedar for the deck floors and pressure-treated (PT) lumber for the planters.

The idea behind this is I wanted to be able to stain the floor decks immediately while leaving the planter replacements to weather over the winter and spring for staining sometime next year. The cedar was twice as expensive as the PT wood.

deck repair

I made the cuts required to replace the rotten wood and put them aside – my plan was to install them following stripping and cleaning. You can see yours truly using the jigsaw like a pro below!

deck repair - using jigsaw
deck repair - using jigsaw

Stripping

For this task, I used the Behr Premium Wood Stain and Finish Stripper.

Before proceeding with stripping the deck, I wetted all surfaces with water including walls, doors, flowers, and other vegetation in the surrounding area using a garden hose in other to prevent them from getting burned or getting discoloured.

The stripper is a caustic chemical and you should wear appropriate safety gear for your feet, eyes, and nose as required.

use drop cloths to cover flowers and vegetation

The stripper has a thick viscous consistency and cannot be applied using a sprayer. I applied it using the combination of a nap roller, roller frame, and extension pole after pouring the stripper into a bucket.

I had to work fast as the surface must stay wet until you are done stripping.

tools for stripping and cleaning

After applying the stripping agent, the instructions on the container are that you let it sit for 5 – 45 minutes before brushing.

I was continuously misting with the garden hose and from about 25/30 minutes post-application started to brush off the stain, starting where the stripper was first applied.

Yay! The old stain was coming off!

My excitement appeared to have been premature. Although the stain was coming off on the brush, it required a lot of elbow grease (tough physical effort), and I knew right then  – it was going to be a long day!

Stripping took me at least 3 hours of brushing, misting, brushing, misting, and on and on. The vertical surfaces were the most difficult or maybe they just had less stripping agent on them… I had almost run out of stripping agent when I got to apply it on the planters.

After doing all the brushing I could do, I used the power wash at the lowest setting (the same setting I use when washing my car) to rinse off the deck.

From what I had read online, you can probably strip your deck using a power washer and ditch the expensive stripper, however, you risk doing serious damage to the wood – including etching, gouging, or just plain destroying the wood.

I wanted to avoid any of these possibilities, so I chose to go with low pressure (approx 500 psi).

Cleaning

For this task, I utilized the Behr Premium All-in-one Wood Cleaner.

The cleaner is required to neutralize the stripper and also get rid of mildew, algae,  and fungus. It brightens the wood and returns it to its natural colour.

Since the deck was already super-wet, I didn’t need to wet it again. I applied the cleaner using a pump sprayer after diluting it 1:1 with water as per instructions.

I let it sit for a while, and then again – brush, brush, brush until it foams. The entire deck was then rinsed off with the garden hose.

after cleaning the deck

It had been a long day, and after almost 12 hours of heavy labor, it was time to pack it in for Day 1.

timestamp for Day 1

Materials and Tools used on Day 1 include Jigsaw, impact driver and screwdriver, tape measure, nose mask, eye goggles, gloves, nail set, pump sprayer, power wash, garden hose and sprayer, stiff brush, cleaner and stripper, putty knife, plastic drop cloth, decking screws, bucket, broom, and new deck boards.

How To Stain and Restore an Old Deck

Day 2 – Sanding and Deck Board Replacement

It’s been two full days since I stripped and cleaned the deck. The weather had been hot and the deck was sufficiently dry for sanding.

As you may or may not imagine, I was still feeling pretty worn out from all the scrubbing I did on Day 1. I couldn’t afford to dwell on the pains and aches I was feeling, so I got to work.

Below is a picture of the deck two days after it was stripped and cleaned. There were still some areas where the stubborn stain remains in place. I noticed that these were areas that were usually protected from the elements – rain, sun, etc.

dry deck before sanding

Sanding

My plan was to sand all individual boards on the deck and planter. I really wanted the stain to soak into the wood after I applied stain and sanding was great at getting the wood pores to open up.

I needed to sand off all the stains I had failed to get off with the stripper and cleaner combo. Sanding was also required to get rid of any raised wood fibre and smoothen the deck so we could walk on it comfortably even when barefoot.

For this task, I had purchased a 5″ orbital sander and tens of sanding discs with different grit sizes – 40, 60, and 80.

I used a sanding grit of 40 for those areas that still had a heavy stain presence, and followed with a 60 grit to smoothen. The deck boards were generally sanded using 60 grit and for the planters, I started with a 60 grit and finished with an 80 grit sanding disc.

The sanding process took me several hours – almost 7 hours of my life. I could have rushed it, but I wanted the finished product to look professional, and thus, put in the time.

After sanding, I used the leaf blower to blow off the resulting wood dust. This is important as the stain will not adhere well if you have wood dust everywhere.

old deck following sanding

Board Replacement

After sanding and blowing off the wood dust, I then proceeded to replace the rotten wood I cut out on Day 1.

deck board repair and replacement
Note: See pressure-treated lumber on top of two planters and red western cedar on deck floorboards.

Materials and tools used on Day 2 include: orbital sander, sanding discs, deck screws, leaf blower, impact drill and screwdriver, hammer, and painter’s tape (I painted the red colour portion on the planters).

tools and material for sanding and repairing a deck

Phew! Day 2 was long – almost 11 hours of grueling work! I figured it was time to retire and rest for the long day ahead. The weather had been great so far and my plan was to stain and seal the next day (Day 3), starting at 6 a.m.

timestamp of work for Day 2

This is Part Two of the series: How to Strip, Clean, Repair, Stain and Seal an Old Deck.

Day 3 – Staining the Deck and Deck Bench

0600 hours: This was the big day! My plan was to stain approximately 500 sq. ft. of the deck as soon as I could. I started out in the wee hours of the morning so I could get a head start on the sun.

The previous stain on our deck appeared to have been a semi-transparent cedar or redwood natural tone colour – It was difficult to say exactly what colour it was.

In order to make the colour align with the other dark brown colour on the house, we decided to go with a darker semi-transparent stain this time around.

We used the Behr Premium semi-transparent waterproofing stain and sealer – Cappuccino colour. The stain was guaranteed for 6 years on decks (horizontal surfaces) and 8 years on fences and siding (vertical surfaces).

If it holds up well for more than 3 years, I would not complain – anything less, and Behr will be hearing from me.

Tools and materials used on Day 3: painter’s tape, stir stick, paint tray, paint can opener, paper towels, a bucket to mix paint, knee pads, and stain brushes – 3 sizes (2″, 4″, and 6″).

I chose to go with a brush as it enables the wood to soak in stain the most and prevents the excessive application of stain. However, note that it’s the most labour-intensive approach to staining. Other alternatives are using a roller, pad applicator, or sprayer.

I initially taped off the different areas that did not require stain using the painter’s tape and some old newspaper (for large areas). Thereafter, I mixed the cans of stain inside a 4-gallon Home Depot bucket.

This was important to ensure that the stain colour was consistent across the board. I started with 2 gallons and ended up using approximately 3.5 gallons for the entire deck.

I had to work really fast on my knees – thanks to those knee pads!

Because I had a fairly big deck to stain, I divided the area into two: Stained the first part and added a second coat, before moving over to the second area and doing the same thing.

1310 hours: 2 coats done on the deck! I needed to get into the house for a quick breakfast/lunch combo – I was ravenously hungry!

stained deck - cappuccino colour

The sun was now out everywhere, but the main work was done.

stained deck - cappuccino colour

I later returned to stain the deck bench.

staining a deck bench

Deck Restoration – DIY Cost-Benefit Analysis

Even though I like engaging in DIY and building or doing stuff, the principal idea behind refinishing this deck myself was to save money.

I already owned a number of the tools I used to accomplish this task (hammer, chisels, leaf blower, putty knife, hand brush, power washer, broom, tape measure, impact drill, and screwdriver).

A few more that I bought are for long-term use and had been on my to-buy list for a while – jigsaw, orbital sander, and pump sprayer.

MaterialCostToolCost
Stain$190.88Orbital Sander$69.99
Stain Brushes$16.98Jigsaw$56.99
Lumber/Wood$41.52Pump Sprayer$19.99
Bucket$3.97TOTAL$146.97
Behr Cleaner$26.94
Behr Stripper$59.94
Stiff Brush$9.57
Deck Screws$11.98
Disc Sanders$25
Roller Kit$8
Others$8
TOTAL**$402.78

Comparing quotes ranging from $1400 to $2050, our savings on this project was anywhere between $900 to around $1500.

Other Deck Refinishing Tips and Tricks

Deck Damage Repair

  • Always ensure you replace damaged/rotting deck boards. Your deck refinishing work isn’t complete if you leave rotten wood in place – the stain will quickly fail in those areas.
  • When replacing only portions of a deck board, add a cleat to the existing joist to reinforce and ensure the new board has adequate support.
  • Use a woodblock when tapping a new board into place. This will prevent damage to the board surface from your hammer.
  • Pre-drill screw holes in new boards to make fastening with screws faster and easier. Use 3″ or longer screws for common-sized deck boards.
  • Drive down any nails or screws that are now popping out. If screw/nails are loose or missing, replace them.
  • Only use screws that are corrosion resistant.
  • Deck repair time is also the best time to check your decking posts and correct any swaying, wobbliness, or replace rotting or splitting posts.
  • If you have debris between the boards, you can use a putty knife to remove them.

Stripping and Cleaning Your Deck

  • Use a plastic drop cloth to cover any flowers or vegetation you have in the area to prevent damage from the chemicals used in the stripping and cleaning process. Wet the surrounding areas as well.
  • New pressure-treated lumber will not take stain and should be left to weather for 6  months or more before it’s prepared and stained.
  • Be careful if using a power washer to remove the stripper or wash the deck. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for washing a deck or wood surface and use the appropriate tip/pounds per square inch (psi) – pressure. Do not exceed 600 psi for softwood and 1200 psi for hardwood. Keep the wand 12-18 inches from the deck and wash in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Stripping and cleaning of the boards are an important step to ensuring that the stain will last a long time. If stain remains after stripping and cleaning, proceed to sanding.

Sanding Your Deck

  • Proper sanding will make for smooth boards and open up the wood pores so they can soak up the stain. Use between 40 and 80 grit sanding paper. Avoid higher grits as they can start to close up the wood pores. 60 grit appears to be a sweet spot for deck floor sanding.
  • A large floor sander which is readily available for rent at home improvement stores will make your work faster. However, it may not be as effective as a smaller belt or sheet or orbital sander which can be applied to tackle individual deck boards.
  • When it comes down to stripping, cleaning, and sanding your deck, elbow grease (hard physical labour) is your best friend.

Staining Your Deck

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • When it comes to staining, less is more! Thin coats are ideal. Thick coats will peel or flake quickly.
  • If the stain is water-based, always keep a wet edge to avoid lap marks i.e. marks that show up after drying and indicate where you stopped and started painting at different times. Remember to back-brush often.
  • Avoid staining under direct sunlight or in extreme heat. It will dry before the wood is able to soak in the stain and lap marks will be plentiful.
  • Only stain deck boards that are completely dry and have 16% moisture content or less.
  • Stain only on a day when the weather forecast puts the possibility of rainfall at 0%.
  • Transparent stains are transparent. Semi-transparent stains allow the grain of the wood to show through. Solid stains are 100% opaque and are best for very old and weathered decks since they hide imperfections brilliantly.

The deck refinishing project took me over 35 hours to complete. My wife was unable to offer much assistance as we have two kids (1 and 3 years old). As you can imagine, you can’t leave those 2 boys alone for one minute – if you do, something gets destroyed. However, their encouragement (wife and kids) during the task was very helpful! 😉

Since completing this project, I’ve put my jigsaw and orbital sander to building two pallet planters that I intend to use in planting strawberries, kale, and sweet peppers next spring.

 How to strip and stain an old deck

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Author

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Enoch Omololu

Enoch Omololu is a personal finance expert and a veterinarian. He has a master’s degree in Finance and Investment Management from the University of Aberdeen Business School (Scotland) and has completed several courses and certificates in finance, including the Canadian Securities Course. He also has an MSc. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Manitoba and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan. Enoch has a passion for helping others win with their personal finances and has been writing about money matters for over a decade. He has been featured or quoted in The Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, Wealthsimple, Financial Post, Toronto Star, CTV News, Canadian Securities Exchange, Credit Canada, National Post, CIBC, and many other personal finance publications.

His top investment tools include Wealthsimple and Questrade. He earns cash back on purchases using KOHO, monitors his credit score for free using Borrowell, and earns interest on savings through EQ Bank.

5 thoughts on “How To Strip, Clean, Stain, and Seal An Old Wood Deck”

  1. Thanks, Steve.
    Yes, it was a lot of work! I definitely see the advantage of having a deck that needs less maintenance. When this deck finally needs replacing, a maintenance-free deck will be the goal.

  2. Having read this I thought it was really informative. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this article together.
    I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  3. I think you could’ve saved a lot of time and effort by just using either a drum sander or a wire brush grinder to remove the old finish, before sanding. It would’ve stripped everything faster/easier, and sanding after would’ve still given you the smooth refinish you’re going after.

    • @Big Bear: You are right about the floor drum sander…It would have saved me a lot of time. When next I decide to stain the deck, I would likely rent one from Home Depot if its available.

  4. Thank you. I really appreciated this article as I am about to tack a new deck.

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