Prep Your Deck: The Ultimate Pre-Stain Deck Preparation Guide
Prep Your Deck: The Ultimate Pre-Stain Deck Preparation Guide
You Are Here:
Prep Your Deck: The Ultimate Pre-Stain Deck Preparation Guide

Prep Your Deck: The Ultimate Pre-Stain Deck Preparation Guide

Hello dear readers! If you’re here, it’s likely you have a wooden patio that you cherish and want to rejuvenate. Ensuring your deck looks its best and retains its beauty for years hinges largely on the preparation process. Whether you’re considering painting, staining, or restaining, this guide is tailored for you.

If you’re a DIY enthusiast keen on giving your deck the best treatment possible, you’re in the right place. And, if at any step, you feel overwhelmed, remember, we’re just a call away, ready to ensure your deck gets the professional touch it deserves. Let’s embark on this journey together!


This guide is meticulously crafted for those who take immense pride in their patios. We’ll dive deep into the essential steps of preparation, emphasizing the importance of each stage. If you’re leaning towards painting, you’ll only need to follow up to a specific step, which we’ll highlight. But remember, every step counts towards ensuring longevity. If you truly want your deck’s paint or stain to withstand the test of time and not peel off prematurely, we highly recommend going all in.

  • Note:This guide doesn’t delve into deck repairs. It’s centered on preparing an existing deck for its best possible finish.

A Brief Overview for Our Readers

As you navigate the subsequent sections, anticipate a structured summary of each pivotal step in the patio preparation process. This outline will grant you a foundational understanding, priming you for the more in-depth guidance that ensues. Equip yourself with patience and precision, and together, we’ll achieve deck excellence.

Step 1. Evaluating Your Deck's Current Condition

The Essence of Evaluation:
Before embarking on your deck’s beautification journey, a thorough evaluation is imperative. This pivotal stage not only dictates the subsequent processes but ensures that you’re primed and prepared for each phase.

Why Evaluation Matters:

  1. Determining Prior Finishes: Ascertain if your deck harbors remnants of older paints or stains. Signs like peeling, fading, or uniform appearance are red flags.
  2. Water Interaction Insights: Does water bead up or soak into the wood? This interaction divulges crucial information about possible sealants.

Tip: The water droplet test is your go-to here. A simple sprinkle of water, if it forms beads, indicates a sealant’s presence.

  1. Unearthing Discoloration & Damage: Beyond old finishes, seek areas marred by mildew, UV damage, or algae. These could interfere with the application and longevity of new products.
  2. Assessing Structural Integrity: While this guide pivots more towards aesthetics, it’s prudent to ensure there are no compromised boards or stability issues. Address structural concerns before any aesthetic touch-ups.

Planning Ahead:
One of the most seasoned advice we can impart is to go through the entire guide first. Familiarize yourself with each step, noting down the materials and tools mentioned. A consolidated shopping list ensures you are fully equipped, preventing disruptive, last-minute store runs.

Materials for Evaluation:
Magnifying Glass: Ideal for scrutinizing tiny cracks or signs of decay. • Soft Cloth: Handy for dusting off debris for clearer inspection. • Water Bottle: Essential for the water droplet test. • Notepad & Pen: Keep these close to jot down observations and materials you’ll need for the entire process.

A meticulous deck evaluation is more than a cursory glance; it’s the cornerstone of your entire restoration project. It’s not just about aesthetics but ensuring structural soundness and longevity. Approach this with diligence, arming yourself with insights from the full guide, and every subsequent step becomes a walk in the park. Your deck deserves this commitment, and the results will undoubtedly echo this precision.

Step 2: Pressure Washing Your Patio for an Ideal Surface

Equipment Required:

  • Pressure Washer (specifically designed for wood cleaning)
  • Protective eye goggles
  • Non-slip rubber boots
  • Long waterproof gloves
  • Ear protection (especially if your washer is notably loud)


  1. Safety Precautions: Equip yourself with protective goggles, gloves, boots, and ear protection before starting up the pressure washer. Safety always comes first.
  2. Initial Setup: Connect your pressure washer to a reliable water source. If it runs on gas, ensure it’s appropriately fueled. If electric, connect it to a grounded outlet.
  3. Determine Optimal Pressure Setting: It’s recommended to start with a low-pressure setting, ideally around 600 psi for wooden patios. However, the best way to determine the ideal pressure and distance is by testing on an inconspicuous area, such as a side of the deck that’s rarely seen. This helps you find the balance between effective cleaning and ensuring the wood isn’t damaged.
  4. Spray Technique: Holding the washer wand at roughly a 45-degree angle, aim downward at the wood. Start from a deck corner, moving in methodical, slightly overlapping strokes. Maintain a consistent 12-18 inches distance from the wood. Adjust this distance based on your inconspicuous area testing.
  5. Avoiding Damage: Using too much pressure or holding the nozzle too close to the wood can strip away the wood fibers, leaving unsightly grooves and making the wood more vulnerable to external elements. It can also remove any previous protective stain or finish prematurely.
  6. Consistent Cleaning: Ensure your strokes are even, with slight overlaps. This approach guarantees an evenly cleaned surface without noticeable “clean lines.”
  7. Rinse Thoroughly: After cleaning the entire patio, switch to the ‘rinse’ setting on your washer and carefully rinse the deck, removing any remaining dirt or residue.
  8. Post-Cleaning: If your deck has been treated before and is undergoing a routine semi-annual or annual restaining, allow the wood to dry completely. Depending on the climate and weather, which might take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, depending on your region’s climate and current weather conditions.

Note: Always remember, each deck is distinct. The recommended 600 psi is a general guideline, but it’s always wise to start at the lowest pressure, adjusting as needed based on your testing in the hidden deck area.

Step 3: Stripping Your Patio for a Fresh Start (Only if Required)

Required Products:

  • Primary Wood Stripper: Behr Premium Wood Stain & Finish Stripper
  • Alternate Wood Stripper: “OLYMPIC” Exterior Stain Stripper
  • Heavy-Duty Option: Solvable 3.78 L Heavy-Duty Stripper
  • Deck Brush: If unavailable in Rona, head to Home Depot and opt for the Heavy Duty Deck Scrub Brush with Handle.


  • Portable Multi-Use Tank Sprayer
  • Garden hose with a nozzle sprayer
  • Waterproof boots


  1. Safety First: Before starting, ensure you’re wearing appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) as recommended by the product manufacturer. Each product may have different PPE requirements, so always consult the label.
  2. Deck Preparation: If you have just pressure washed your deck, you can skip to the next step. However, if for any reason you haven’t pressure washed, ensure your deck is clean and free from loose dirt, debris, or leaves. Though we, as professionals, emphasize that pressure washing is a vital preliminary step, if you missed it, proper deck preparation is essential for the even application of the stripper.
  3. Choosing the Right Stripper: Depending on the current condition of your deck and the type of coating previously applied, select an appropriate wood stripper. While Behr is a reliable choice for general applications, the “OLYMPIC” and the heavy-duty Solvable Stripper can address more resistant stains or paints.
  4. Application: Pour your chosen stripper into the Portable Multi-Use Tank Sprayer and apply generously on the deck. Ensure to adhere to the product’s label instructions, as some products may require specific application techniques or dwell times.
  5. Let the Stripper Work Its Magic: Once applied, allow the stripper to sit as per the recommended time on the label, typically between 15 to 30 minutes. A visible indication that it’s working is when the previous paint or stain starts to bubble or lift.
  6. Scrubbing Time: With the stripper having done its job of loosening the old coating, use the Heavy Duty Deck Scrub Brush with Handle to scrub your deck. Implement circular motions and consistent pressure to ensure the previous coating is entirely removed.
  7. Rinsing: Following your scrubbing session, rinse the deck comprehensively using a garden hose with a nozzle sprayer. It’s of utmost importance that all stripper residues are removed, as any lingering chemicals can negatively impact subsequent treatments. If using the Portable Multi-Use Tank Sprayer for multiple products, rinse it out completely to avoid any cross-contamination between chemicals. If you own a leaf blower, use it to blow off the water, ensuring a more efficient drying process.

Important Note: Remember that stripping is only relevant for decks that were previously painted or stained. If you’re handling a new or untreated deck, you can bypass this step. Always be aware that product availability may differ by region, so it’s wise to check your local Rona for a wood stripper selection initially. If what you’re looking for isn’t in stock, explore other hardware outlets or online vendors.


Step 4: Deck Cleaning - The Essential Path to Rejuvenation

Required Products:
Choose a product based on the deck’s current state and your intended finish:

  1. Cabot Ready-to-Use Wood Cleaner: Removes dirt & mildew stains – 3.78-L. Obtainable at Rona and Lowe’s. It’s best used when you plan to use a separate wood brightener later. Complement it with:
    • Cabot Wood Brightener: Ready to Use 3.78 l for maximum effectiveness.
  1. Sico Wood Cleaner Brightener and Conditioner: If you prefer a 2-in-1 solution. Available in an exterior variant. However, remember that its effectiveness might not be on par with separate cleaner and brightener applications.
  2. Alternative Combined Solution: Thompson’s WaterSeal 3-in-1 Wood Cleaner – 3.78 L. A convenient solution akin to the Sico product in terms of function.


  • Portable Multi-Use Tank Sprayer: Make sure it’s completely rinsed if it was used in previous steps.
  • Deck Brush: If you can’t locate one in Rona, visit Home Depot for the Heavy Duty Deck Scrub Brush with Handle. Keep it clean and free from residues of past chemicals, as well as debris, algae, or dirt. This not only ensures effective application but also prolongs the brush’s lifespan.
  • Alternative Application Method: If you want to save on the sprayer, utilize the brush and a 5-gallon bucket. Though this method might not yield the same precision as a sprayer and can be more time-consuming, it’s a decent workout! Pour your cleaner or brightener into the bucket, dip the brush, and scrub away.
  • Garden hose with a nozzle sprayer.
  • Waterproof boots.


  1. Safety Precautions: Always refer to the product label for any specific safety guidelines. Equip yourself with the appropriate PPE as recommended by the product manufacturer. Each product may have different PPE requirements, so always make safety your first priority.
  2. Deck Condition Assessment: Depending on the age, condition, and previous treatments your deck has received, choose a cleaning product that best suits its current state. If your deck has aged with visible dark spots, a brightener might be beneficial.
  3. Application: Pour your selected cleaning product into the Portable Multi-Use Tank Sprayer and spray uniformly over the deck. If using Cabot Wood Cleaner, and you plan on brightening afterward, ensure a thorough cleaning before proceeding to the brightening stage. For combined solutions like Sico or Thompson’s WaterSeal, the application might vary slightly, so always refer to the product’s label instructions.
  4. Allow it to Penetrate: Let the cleaner sit on the wood for the period as advised on its label, usually between 10 to 20 minutes. You might notice the cleaner lifting the dirt, mildew, or grayed wood fibers during this phase.
  5. Scrub If Needed: For stubborn dirt or stains, use a scrub brush to gently agitate the surface ensuring an even cleaning. Focus especially on areas with high foot traffic or visible stains.

Rinsing: Once satisfied with the cleaning, thoroughly rinse off the deck using a garden hose with a nozzle sprayer. This step ensures all cleaning residues are completely washed off. A clean deck means better adhesion for stains or paints in the subsequent stages. Professional Insight: Though combined solutions like Sico or Thompson’s WaterSeal offer the convenience of cleaning and brightening in one go, the separate application of a cleaner followed by a brightener usually yields more pronounced and lasting results. Always weigh the pros and cons based on your deck’s condition, desired outcome, and the time you’re willing to invest.

Step 5: Deck Brightening - Unveiling Nature’s Artistry

The Essence of Brightening:
Brightening isn’t a superficial step; it’s your deck’s gateway to grandeur, especially if you’re eyeing a transparent or semi-transparent finish. The deck’s innate wood patterns and grains deserve to be showcased. Brighteners, such as Cabot Wood Brightener, are specifically formulated to remedy discoloration arising from tannin bleed, commonly seen in cedar and redwood. While some cleaners address rust and other marks, it’s the dedicated brightener that offers an impeccable base for staining.

If solid stains or deck painting are on your agenda, this step might seem unnecessary. However, for those who want their decks to echo the pure beauty of wood, skipping this would be an oversight.

Required Products:

  • Cabot Wood Brightener Ready to Use 3.78 l: Our prime pick. While it’s ready to use, always review the label to ascertain if a product is a concentrate or pre-diluted.


  • Portable Multi-Use Tank Sprayer: Properly rinsed to prevent any chemical interactions.
  • Deck Brush: Ensure it’s free from prior chemicals and trapped residues.
  • Garden hose with a robust nozzle sprayer.
  • Protective footwear and other PPE.
  • Plastic sheets to shield plants.

Warning: Cabot Wood Brightener contains Oxalic Acid. Follow ALL manufacturer’s safety guidelines diligently. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Do not breathe in the spray mist.
  • Avoid any contact with eyes, skin, and clothing.
  • Utilize protective equipment during the application. This encompasses acid-resistant rubber gloves, goggles, boots, dust masks, and suitable attire.
  • Ensure thorough washing post-handling.


  1. Safety First: Every product may have its unique safety requisites. Ensure you’re equipped with the appropriate PPE as recommended.
  2. Preparation: Prior to full-blown application, test a small, hidden section of the deck to understand the product’s effect. If the results are satisfactory, proceed. Shield your plants with water and plastic sheeting, ensuring you rinse them afterward.
  3. Application Approach: If using the Cabot Wood Brightener Ready to Use, pour it directly into your sprayer. Administer generously to your deck, using either the brush or the sprayer. Evade applying on surfaces that feel overly hot to prevent hasty drying or uneven effects.
  4. Vertical Sections: For vertical parts, always start from the bottom, progressing upwards. This ensures uniformity. A post-application rinse is pivotal.
  5. Dwell Time: Let the brightener settle for about 15-20 minutes. Stubborn stains might necessitate a brush intervention.
  6. Rinsing Protocol: If the product starts to dry, a gentle misting with water can prevent it. Following the waiting period, a comprehensive rinse, either with a garden hose or a power washer, is paramount. Use the latter cautiously.
  7. Reapplication: If your deck bore the brunt of a combined cleaner and brightener, focusing solely on brightening in a repeat application could enhance results. Especially if deep stains or discoloration persist, a second round might be beneficial.

Insight: A dedicated brightener is the unsung hero of deck aesthetics. Beyond mere stain removal, it primes the deck for an even, deep, and lasting stain absorption. Regardless of the finish you envisage, this step can elevate the outcome from ordinary to extraordinary. Always select based on your deck’s needs and your envisioned outcome.

Step 6: Deck Sanding - Crafting the Perfect Canvas

The Importance of Sanding:
In the comprehensive journey of deck rejuvenation, sanding isn’t just a pitstop; it’s a destination. Sanding isn’t about stripping away the past, but rather shaping a promising future. It’s about crafting that ideal canvas, ensuring your deck’s surface is even and free from minor imperfections, splinters, and residual coatings. This evenness is crucial for stains and sealers, as they bond best to smooth surfaces.

A cardinal rule to always abide by: Only sand a fully dry deck. Wet or moist wood expands, altering the deck’s texture. If sanded in this state, it could result in an uneven surface once it dries. Remember, after our thorough cleaning, the wood needs its sweet time to revert to its natural, dry state. Patience, though testing, will pay off.

Decoding Grit Selection:
The right sandpaper grit can make all the difference. Your wood’s condition serves as your guide:

  • Decent Condition: Kick off with 80 grit.
  • Poor Condition: Begin with 60 grit. Address the major flaws, and then transition to finer grits to achieve the sought-after velvety finish.

For those with an eye for the minutest details, seeking an extra smooth finish, move sequentially through finer grits such as 100, 120, or even 150. However, every rose has its thorn. A super smooth surface, while delightful to touch, may not absorb stains as deeply. So, if you’re opting for a penetrating oil or semi-transparent stain, an ultra-smooth deck might not deliver the profound, rich color that your heart desires. Conversely, for solid color stains or paints, this level of smoothness is a boon. As a rule of thumb, if you’re veering towards transparent or semi-transparent stains and desire longer intervals between restaining, cap your sanding at 80 grit.

Equipment & Product Lineup:

  • Sander: RYOBI 18V ONE+ Lithium-Ion Cordless 5-inch Random Orbit Sander – your trusted companion in this endeavor.
  • Sandpaper: Diablo 5-Inch SandNet, starting with 80 grit. Its design ensures peak sanding efficiency and minimal clog-ups.

Safety First:
Before you start the sanding process, remember to always prioritize your health. Sanding, by its very nature, releases fine particles of wood into the air. These can be harmful if inhaled. To safeguard against this:

  • At a minimum, equip yourself with an N95 mask. This mask filters out at least 95% of airborne particles.
  • Ideally, opt for a P100 mask or respirator. It offers a higher level of filtration and ensures almost complete protection against airborne particles.

By taking these precautions, not only will you achieve a perfectly sanded deck, but you’ll do so without compromising your health.

Steps to Perfection:

  1. Gear Up: Ready your RYOBI sander and attach the 80 grit (or 60 grit for rougher surfaces) Diablo SandNet disc.
  2. Sanding Mastery: Begin the sanding process. Ensure a consistent pressure and always move in harmony with the wood grain to sidestep any scratches. The RYOBI sander’s random orbit motion will be a boon here.
  3. Graduate to Finer Grits: If you began with 60 grit, once the pronounced defects are addressed, shift to 80 grit. For those chasing the zenith of smoothness, progress sequentially to finer grits, but always keep your desired finish in mind.
  4. The Final Brush Off: Sawdust is the inevitable aftermath of sanding. To rid your deck of it, an air blower is your best bet. Ensure every corner is pristine before embarking on the staining or sealing voyage.

Parting Words:
Sanding might seem monotonous, but it’s a transformative process. It’s akin to sculpting, where every stroke, every grain of sandpaper, brings your deck closer to perfection. Your deck, like any masterpiece, deserves a pristine canvas. And sanding is that critical step which preps it for the vibrant strokes of stain or the protective embrace of a sealer.

Step 7: Final Rinse and Inspection: Setting the Stage for Perfection

We’re now approaching the final lap of our patio preparation journey. It’s been an extensive process, hasn’t it? All those steps, each meticulously followed, bring us to this critical phase before the final application of stain, paint, or sealer. But remember, the preparation is the cornerstone of any painting or staining project. By giving it the attention it deserves, we’re setting the stage for a stunning and long-lasting finish.

Why a Final Rinse?
After all the intensive cleaning, stripping, brightening, and sanding, there might still be fine particles, residues, or sawdust left on the deck. A final rinse ensures that all these remnants are washed away, providing a clean, unblemished surface. This is essential because any particles or residues can interfere with the adhesion of the paint or stain, potentially compromising the end result.

The Inspection:
Once the deck has been rinsed, a thorough inspection is in order. We at Vivid Lux Painting delve into the details, looking for any missed spots, lingering residues, or areas that might need a touch-up. This rigorous inspection ensures that the deck is in the best possible condition before the staining process begins.

Understanding the Effort:
Many often wonder about the costs associated with professional deck staining. But as you’ve seen firsthand, the preparation process is both labor-intensive and crucial. At Vivid Lux Painting, we pride ourselves on our dedication to this process. When you choose our services for a complete restoration and staining of your deck, know that we’re committed to these detailed steps, ensuring you get the premium result your patio deserves.

Before We Move Forward:
Ensure the deck is completely dry post-rinse. Any residual moisture can interfere with the adhesion of the stain or paint. The condition of the wood, the level of humidity, and other factors can affect the drying time. But worry not! The specifics on conditions, drying times, and other nuances related to staining will be thoroughly covered in our dedicated guide for staining.

In wrapping up, the journey of preparing your deck might seem long and intricate, but it’s a testament to the lengths we go to ensure perfection. Whether you choose to undertake this journey yourself or entrust us with the task, always remember – the foundation of a lasting, beautiful patio lies in meticulous preparation.

Why Some Decks Peel or Chip Within a Year

Have you ever come across a deck that was freshly stained or painted, only to see it peel or chip just a year later? It’s a sight that raises eyebrows and questions. One might wonder, “Didn’t they just redo this last summer?”

If you know someone who’s experienced this with their deck or if they had it done professionally, ask them a simple question: “Did you, or the professionals you hired, meticulously follow all the steps we’ve outlined before staining?”

More often than not, the root cause of premature peeling and chipping can be traced back to preparation, or rather, the lack thereof. Every step in the prep process, from pressure washing to the final rinse and inspection, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the longevity and durability of the deck’s finish.

Skipping even a single step, be it not waiting for the deck to dry properly or failing to remove all residues, can compromise the bond between the wood and the stain or paint. Once that bond is weakened, peeling, chipping, and other issues can quickly follow, marring the deck’s appearance and leading to costly rework.

So, the next time you see a deck that’s deteriorating prematurely, remember the immense importance of thorough and meticulous preparation. A job done right from the start not only looks beautiful but stands the test of time. Don’t let skipped steps become the Achilles’ heel of your deck’s finish.