When a deck is first stained, it looks luxurious and rich. That stain can help protect the wood underneath, but it’s still susceptible to weathering and aging. After many years of sun, rain, snow, wind, and worse, your deck isn’t looking quite as brilliant as it did in the beginning.
But if you’d like to breathe some new life into your deck, it’s not as easy as simply applying a fresh coat of stain. First, you’re going to have to remove that old stain and get down to the bare wood. If you’re ready to get started, then it’s time to learn how to remove stain from a wood deck.
We’re going to employ the help of some professionals to do the heavy lifting, a pressure washer and a deck stain stripper. Combined with a little time and effort, these simple tools are all we need to completely rejuvenate that old deck.
Difference Between Paint and Stain
Before you start removing the old stain from your deck, it’s important to be sure that it’s actually stain you need to remove. Stain and paint might seem similar, but they’re quite different materials often used in the same applications. Your deck could likely be covered in either, so how do you tell which you have?
Paint is meant to cover a surface and give it a new color. It adheres directly to whatever surface it’s applied to, creating a coating that sticks to it. Unlike stain, paint can be applied to just about any surface, including metal, wood, ceramic, plastic, etc.
Stain works a bit differently. Instead of drying on the surface you’re painting, stain gets absorbed into it. This allows the stain to enhance the natural grain of the wood, the only material it’s meant to be applied to.
The easiest way to tell whether you have stain or paint is to look for the grains in your wood. The stain will enhance the grains and make them more visible, while the paint will essentially cover over the texture of the wood.
Can You Stain Over the Old Finish?
I know what you’re thinking: can’t I just stain right over the old finish? That would save a lot of time.
While this is a great thought, it won’t turn out very well if you tried it. One of the benefits of stain is that it not only absorbs into the wood, it also seals the outside of the wood to protect it against the elements, particularly water. Water is the enemy of wood, so stain helps to form a barrier against it.
That same barrier that’s currently protecting your deck against weathering will also prevent it from absorbing a new layer of stain.
Granted, the old finish might be worn, flaked, chipped, or even seem like it has practically worn off in some areas. But if you were to stain over that old stain, at best you’d end up with a patchy, uneven finish that looks awful. At worst, none of the stains would absorb and you’d have one heck of a mess to clean up.
So, save yourself the headache and let’s do this right from the outset.
How to Remove Stain from a Wood Deck
Removing stain from a wood deck isn’t going to be as big of a deal as you might think. In fact, you should be able to complete the entire project in an afternoon. But you’ll need to give the deck a full 48 hours to dry completely before you attempt to re-stain it.
We’re going to use a simple two-stage process to remove the old stain from your deck. First, we will use a deck stripper to soak into the wood and chemically release the old stain. This will break the bond to the wood and lift the stain so that it can be removed.
To remove all that old stain once the stripper lifts it, we will use a pressure washer. This is going to save you a ton of energy and time. Alternatively, you could get on your hands and knees and scrub the entire deck with a brush to remove that old stain once lifted. But a pressure washer is much more convenient and time-efficient.
Supplies for Removing Solid Deck Stain
Now, before we get started, let’s take the time to assemble all of the tools and supplies we need to tackle this job. The list isn’t long, but each item is essential.
Stain StripperThere are tons of wood stain strippers on the market and many of them are highly effective. You’re looking for one that can penetrate deep into the wood to lift those thick, protective stains. You also want something that works pretty quickly and goes on evenly. Personally, I prefer the DEFY Exterior Wood Stain Stripper.
In my experience, it works quickly, does a great job of lifting stain from wood, and then rinses off easily.
Pressure washerWhen it comes to your pressure washer, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, and certainly not anything super-powered.
We’re going to want a pressure washer that can spray at pretty low pressures to avoid hurting the wood.
Paintbrush, roller, or sprayer
You have some options when it comes to applying the stain stripper. You could use a paintbrush, a roller, or even a sprayer like you’d use for yard chemicals. All of them will work, though they entail different amounts of work. I don’t envy anyone trying to apply the stripper to an entire deck by hand with a paintbrush! Personally, I’d opt for the sprayer because it can cover the most ground the fastest, but the choice is yours.
Tarps or plastic
The stain stripper has some harsh chemicals in it that are meant to lift the stain from wood. They could also damage other surfaces though, which is why you want to cover up anything you don’t want to be damaged. Tarps or plastic are perfect for covering up all the nearby surfaces you want to keep stripper-free. Cover things like plants, glass doors and windows, wood trim, the grass around the deck, etc.
1. Apply Stain Stripper
When removing the stain from your old deck, the stain stripper is the real star of the show. This chemical is going to do most of the heavy lifting for you, making it possible to simply spray off the old stripper once it has been lifted. Without the stripper, it would be a daunting task to remove the old finish from your deck.
Before you begin applying the stripper, make sure you cover anything you don’t want to get this harsh chemical on. It’s better to overdo it than to realize after the fact that something inadvertently got ruined because you didn’t take enough care with the prep work! Use plastic and tarps since the stripper won’t seep through them.
Also, make sure you read the instructions on your stripper. Each stripper is a bit different and will have specific instructions for best use. Follow these instructions if you want to achieve maximum effectiveness and save yourself some time and energy.
Start by diluting the stripper. Some strippers can be diluted as much as 4:1, so read the instructions on your stripper to find out how much water to mix it with.
Once your stripper is diluted, it’s ready to be applied. You can use a paintbrush, roller, or sprayer. I prefer the sprayer because you can cover the whole deck very rapidly. Using a brush or roller takes so long that the area you first hit will be finished working by the time you get halfway through the application!
After applying the stripper, it needs some time to work. Each stripper has specific timescales, so look at the bottle for reference. As a minimum, you’ll want to give the stripper at least 15 minutes to soak in and start working its magic. But don’t wait so long that the stripper starts to evaporate. Some formulas might even begin to harden and leave behind a mess of their own.
2. Pressure Wash
Once the stain is loose and lifted, it should be pretty easy to remove. As mentioned earlier, there are alternatives to a pressure washer. You could always scrub the entire deck with a hard-bristled brush to remove the loose stain. But this would be very time-consuming, take a lot of energy, and wouldn’t be nearly as effective at the end, which is why I recommend using a pressure washer.
Make sure to use very low pressures to avoid damaging the wood of your deck. For pine decks, you want to use between 400-600 PSI. For hardwood decks, you can get away with pressures up to 1200 PSI.
Attack the deck methodically. Start in one corner, spraying large, square areas and moving back and forth across the deck. With the sprayer, make big, sweeping motions from side to side to get good coverage and remove as much stain as possible with each stroke.
You’ll want to hold the tip of the spray wand about 10-12 inches from the surface of the wood. If you hold it closer, you run the risk of damaging the wood. Holding the tip farther than this will likely not remove enough stain.
Remember that when you’re spraying the stain off, it can still stain the items it gets on. This is why we covered everything with tarps and plastic before starting to apply the stripper. If you spray off all that stain onto the grass or concrete below your deck, it’s going to turn some interesting colors, so be aware of where your overspray is going.
Why Doesn’t My Deck Look Like New?
After going through all the work of stripping the old stain off of your deck, you were likely hoping to see a deck that looked exactly like it did when it was brand new. You were probably disappointed to see that the result didn’t turn out quite as you expected.
Instead of a deck that looks like it did when new, you got something much darker that shows its age a bit.
Don’t worry, though, this is to be expected. Those strippers we used to lift the old stain are full of harsh chemicals. When they react with the wood, the pH of the wood changes. The result is that wood changes colors.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution for this. All you have to do is apply a wood brightener. These do exactly what the name suggests; they brighten the wood.
Wood brighteners are easy to use. Just apply it like you did the stain stripper and give it some time to work. You can use a brush, roller, or sprayer. Most of the time these brighteners come in a concentrated form, so read the instructions to see how much you should dilute it.
After applying the brightener to the deck and letting it work, make sure to rinse it off thoroughly. Finally, your deck should look at how you had pictured.I’ve used quite a few of these wood brighteners and some gave mixed results. However, the DEFY wood brightener has consistently produced the look I was hoping for with minimal work.
Each gallon can be diluted with four gallons of water to treat up to 1,000 square feet of deck! For most people, a single gallon will be plenty to finish the job.
Though it might seem like an intimidating task at the onset, removing the stain from your wood deck isn’t as hard as you might initially imagine. The key lies in having the proper supplies and a good plan. Pressure wash the deck first and see how much stain comes off. Then, let the stain stripper work its magic, pressure wash it off again, and presto! Your deck should look as close to new as it has since it was first built.
If you know anyone else with an old deck that’s becoming an eyesore, please, feel free to share this article with them so they can find the solution to their deck problems as well. And if you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comments box below and I’ll do my best to respond as quickly as possible.