How to Stain and Seal a Deck
Staining and sealing your deck will protect it from the elements, preventing your wood from warping, swelling, and splitting.
Staining not only makes a deck more beautiful but will make it last longer and wear better.
Doing a good job of staining and sealing a redwood deck is worth the time it takes. Be sure to use the right deck stain and sealer, and have some patience.
When Is the Best Time to Stain and Seal a New Deck?
There are two schools of thought on the best way to stain a new deck. The first is for the wood to sit untreated for 3-12 months. Letting the wood acclimate allows its oils to settle and dry. Then you can sand and seal the wood for the best stain absorption.
The second option, and the method this tutorial uses, is for the wood to dry at least a week after being installed. We chose this method due to our climate. Winters are harsh – cold, snowy, and long. Because of this, we felt it was best to protect the wood before winter hit.
Do your research, then decide which method is best for you. Regardless of your timing, the steps will be almost identical.
Step One: Clean Your Deck
Begin by sweeping your deck floor. If there is a lot of dirt build-up, wash it. Although, if you saturate the wood by washing it, you’ll need to wait several days/weeks (depending on humidity and temperatures) for the wood to dry.
Step Two: Choosing Sandpaper
Use 150- or 180-grit sandpaper, which is in between medium and fine sandpaper (120- and 220-grit are more common for wood projects.) It does a nice job of smoothing and opening up the wood’s “pores” so it can absorb stain.
Step Three: Wear Knee Pads
While optional, we recommend you wear knee pads. You will spend a lot of time on your hands and knees.
While these foam kneepads do the trick at first, they become crunched down and provide little padding after just a few minutes.
I recommend spending the $6 more and getting kneepads with a hard shell. These are available at your local hardware store.
Step Four: Remove Any Rocks and Sticks
Use a screwdriver or another long, slim object to remove any pebbles or sticks that have fallen between the cracks of your deck floor. You want the wood surface to be clean and clear for maximum stain absorption.
Step Five: Sanding Your Deck
Don your kneepads and work gloves (also optional but recommended), grab your sander, and begin sanding the deck floor. Always sand with the grain.
Don’t forget to sand the side finish pieces.
If you’re using a palm sander, don’t press it too hard. Let the sander do the work. It’s your job to control its positioning and replace the sandpaper as needed; it’s the sander’s job to do the heavy lifting.
You may use a little more pressure on splintery parts or down in the cracks, but don’t sand away too much. Your goal is to open up the wood pores and remove major splinter potential.
Sand along the center of your wood boards and the gaps, with half your sander on one board and the other half on the other. Doing this ensures a more even deck floor.
Work in sections about 5’-6’ wide, always sanding with the grain. You can see here that it’s easy to tell where you’ve sanded and where you haven’t yet. The sanded wood is much lighter than the wood that has been exposed to the elements, even if just for a week or two.
Continue sanding until the entire deck is done, including the deck floor, the side trim, the railings (if applicable), and any other trim pieces. Anywhere that will be stained needs to be sanded.
Step Six: Clean the Surface
Use a leaf blower (or your broom if you don’t have a blower) to remove the sawdust from your deck floor. You’re now ready to stain, as long as rain isn’t in your forecast for at least 48 hours.
Step Seven: Choosing the Right Deck Stain
The best wood deck stain I have found, and that is recommended by my local paint experts, is Sikkens Proluxe matte stain. It’s a single-step process that involves staining and sealing in one coat.
It absorbs into the wood, and there are several stain tints you can choose. Natural (used in this example) is the lightest one with the least discoloration of the real wood. Although, as you’ll soon see, it still colors the wood but with a saturated, vibrant effect.
Step Seven: Applying Deck Stain
Apply the stain with a 4” brush. Natural fibers are ideal, but the polyester bristles worked well with this stain. And they were much less expensive. They will not last as long as a quality, natural-bristle paintbrush, though. So decide if that’s an investment you’d like to make for your deck.
Stain the length of one board at a time to avoid overlap. Since this product is a one-coat application, you don’t want your brush to overlap the same point three or four times. The wood will have a hard time absorbing that much stain, and you will be unhappy with the end result.
Stain any trim pieces or railings in the same way – one coat and doing one board or piece at a time.
Don’t stain yourself into a corner. In this example, we started at the outer edge so we could finish the staining process at the deck steps toward the house.
Step Eight: Staining in the Cracks
Apply some stain onto the tip of your brush, and press it into the cracks between boards to stain those. Remember, stain isn’t just for looks – it’s a wood protector, and the sides of the boards need to be protected just like the top.
You can see in this no-filter photo the difference between the original, unstained redwood and the redwood after this natural Sikkens stain application. It’s much richer and darker.
Use the tip of the bristles along the gap between your redwood boards and the side trim piece. Apply stain everywhere there is exposed wood that you can reach your bristles into.
Allow the wet stain to dry for at least 48 hours.
It is recommended that you stay off the freshly stained deck for at least 48 hours and that you keep any furniture off the deck for at least 72 hours.
The stain will appear darker when it is wet; it will lighten a little as it dries.
I was a little disappointed at this point because, even though we chose the lightest stain and the boards were saturated, they were more yellow than I wanted. I loved the grey-pink color of our unstained redwood.
This is what the stain looked like directly after application. It’s a little more orange than I had hoped.
But, good news if you find yourself feeling the same way – this unfiltered photo shows what the stain turned into after drying for 48+ hours. It’s not as brash, much subtler, and yet still vibrant and healthy-looking. My favorite aspect is the matte finish – nothing shiny about this wood floor, which is a huge plus in my book.
To Sum Up
So, that is how to stain and seal your redwood (or any wood) deck. We hope you find this tutorial helpful as you move forward in finishing up a beautiful piece of your property – a wood deck.
How to Stain a Deck
- Choose the type of stain you want. Either Transparent, semi-transparent, or a solid color stain.
- Choose your color. I recommend you go with something that matches your home’s exterior.
- Clean the existing deck. A pressure washer is best for this, especially if the deck has been sitting for a while. This removes any gunk and film on the surface to open up the pores.
- Apply deck stain in layers, letting each one dry accordingly. You can use a sprayer or do it by hand with a roller and brush.
- Let dry before using.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What temperature is too cold to stain a deck?
Anything less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold to stain a deck.
Can you stain a deck in the winter?
It’s not recommended, but I guess it depends on where you live. If it’s too cold or wet, the stain will never dry properly.
Do I need to sand my deck before staining?
Yes, if you want it to look its best. Sanding opens the pores and gives something for the stain to adhere to.