Monday, December 5, 2022
HomeDecoratingGuide: How to Refinish a Wood Deck

Guide: How to Refinish a Wood Deck

A professionally refinished wood deck not only looks fantastic and extends the life of the wood, but it may also increase your home’s resale value and appeal to potential buyers. The complete refinishing process for a wood deck may involve several individual steps, including:

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

Not every refinishing project will require each step. For instance, deck surfaces may not always require sanding, and some decks are merely sealed and not stained. In the majority of instances, however, the stain itself serves as the sealant; it contains pigment to balance out the wood’s color and gives further protection against sun damage.

In any event, a professional-looking deck refinishing job can be completed in two weekends and will transform a dull, worn-out old wood deck into a lively, stunning entertainment area fit for a barbeque party.

Before You Begin

Your wood deck restoration project should begin with a thorough inspection to identify any loose surface boards or structural component issues, such as decaying or severely split wood. If you must replace a damaged or rotten deck board or another component, do so before commencing the overall refurbishing process.

The precise method for cleaning a deck will depend on its current finish and refurbishing objectives.

If you have a varnished or painted wood deck and would like to stain it, you must first remove the paint or varnish with a chemical remover. The wood will then be cleaned and sanded prior to receiving a new stain finish. However, if you are simply painting, the method is quite straightforward: clean, sand, and repaint.

If your deck has a clear sealer or a transparent or semi-transparent wood stain, you can clean the surface with a wood deck cleaner instead of a paint stripper. It is recommended that you use an oxygen-based wood cleaner formulated to eliminate mildew stains and sun-induced greying while also removing grime and deposits.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Power washer
  • Garden hose and sprayer (optional)
  • Random orbital sander
  • Shop vacuum
  • Paint pad applicator
  • Paintbrushes


  • Deck cleaner and brightener
  • 60-to 80-grit sandpaper
  • 80- to 100-grit sandpaper
  • Wood stain
  • Clean rags


  1. Power Wash the Deck
    Deep cleaning the wood is a crucial stage in refinishing, but caution is required. Power washing can be a very effective technique to thoroughly clean a deck, but if not performed properly, it can quickly harm the wood. Using an excessive amount of water-jet pressure, holding the spray nozzle too near, or employing the incorrect sprayer tip can etch the wood and potentially destroy some deck boards.

When cleaning wood with a pressure washer, always use the lowest pressure that still offers an effective clean. For softwoods, such as cedar or pine, the pressure should be between 500 and 600 pounds per square inch (psi); for tougher timbers, the pressure should not exceed 1200 to 1500 psi. If you don’t want to use a pressure washer, you may just water down a deck with a garden hose and a vigorous spray nozzle, and then scrub the wood with deck cleaner/brightener according to the manufacturer’s directions.

  1. Sand the Deck
    It is advisable to sand a deck prior to refinishing if the boards are rough and/or severely sun-damaged. If the main deck surface is in relatively good shape, you may only need to sand the railings and any damaged or discolored spots. It is essential to have smooth railings to prevent splinters. It is easy to sand a deck with a random orbital sander, but the optimum grit of sandpaper is necessary for good results. A sanding block that is too fine may clog the wood’s pores with particles, preventing the stain from penetrating. Using a sandpaper that is too coarse can cause harm to the wood, particularly with softer woods like cedar.

Use sandpaper with 60 or 80 grain on the main deck boards and 80 or 100 grit on the handrails. After sanding, all surfaces must be completely vacuumed. Do not re-wash the deck, as this can elevate the wood grain and roughen the recently sanded surfaces. If it rains in the interim, simply allow the deck to dry completely before refinishing; no additional sanding is required.

  1. Select a wood stain.
    Once upon a time, it was usual practice to first stain wood and then apply a transparent surface sealer on top. Nowadays, most products are one-step applications, such as penetrating stains that both color and protect the wood. There are also basic clear sealants that penetrate the wood and seal it without altering its color. However, they offer less UV protection than pigmented deck stains. There are semi-transparent stains that allow the wood grain to show through the stain, as well as opaque stains that color the wood like a coat of paint, concealing the wood grain. Additionally, there are water-based and oil-based variants. Most experts agree that water-based exterior stains are not as durable as oil-based solutions and do not penetrate wood fibers as deeply.

Most individuals achieve the best results using an external semi-transparent oil-based penetrating stain. It may be necessary to visit a professional paint store rather than a big-box home improvement store to get this product, but the extra work and money will be well worth it.

Also, keep in mind that the applied color of the stain may differ from the samples or brochure. Verify how the stain will appear on your wood species before purchasing a significant quantity. Before purchasing a gallon of stain, you should acquire a tiny sample and apply it to your deck for testing.

  1. Choose the Right Brush
    Typically, paint pad applicators are optimal for staining and sealing the main deck surface, while paintbrushes are necessary for detail work. It is preferable to use a natural-bristle brush with oil-based cleaners and a synthetic-bristle brush with water-based stains. You will certainly require brushes of various sizes.
  2. Apply the stain.
    Staining the deck is the culmination of all your hard work. Ensure the deck is thoroughly dry for around two days prior to staining, especially if using an oil-based stain. Any moisture in the pores of the wood will prevent the stain from being properly absorbed. Beginning with the railings, proceed to the deck boards. Use a range of brush sizes to apply stain to minor areas, such as handrails, balusters, and trim boards, and complete all brushwork prior to staining the decking surfaces. The best way to stain decking planks is with a flat paint pad. This allows quick coverage of a large area, facilitates the maintenance of a wet edge, and results in a smooth, even stain application. Apply the stain liberally using the applicator, allow it to soak in for a brief period of time (as directed by the manufacturer), and then remove any excess with a rag. Do not allow stain pools to dry on the surface.


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