How to Stain a Deck and Railing

Staining a deck and railing can enhance their appearance and protect them from the elements. Below is the step-by-step guide to help you through the process.


We have a very large deck on the front and side of our house. In 2011, we purchased our lake house. In 2013, we renovated and added an addition. Our deck is original to the house and we opted to flip the boards over to get several more years of use out of them; click HERE to see how we flipped the board. Next, we updated our deck railing; click HERE to learn how we added hog wire railing.

We opted to stain our deck for several reasons:

Because we had flipped the wood, we wanted to give this aged wood extra protection from the elements. In addition, maintaining wood is costly and time-consuming. And finally, we really like the finished look stain provides.

The Benefits of Staining Your Deck:

  1. Protection from the Elements: Staining creates a protective barrier against sun damage, moisture, mildew, and rot, thus extending the life of your deck.
  2. Enhanced Aesthetic Appeal: Stains come in various colors and finishes, allowing you to customize the look of your deck. Whether you prefer a natural wood look or a more dramatic color, staining can enhance the appearance of your outdoor space.
  3. Preservation of Wood: Staining helps maintain the natural beauty of wood by highlighting its grain and texture while preventing fading, graying, and other signs of aging.
  4. Prevention of Mold and Mildew: Certain types of stains contain additives that inhibit the growth of mold and mildew, keeping your deck clean and safe.
  5. Ease of Maintenance: Stained decks are generally easier to clean and maintain than untreated wood. Stains can be reapplied as needed without the need for extensive preparation or sanding.
  6. Increased Resale Value: A well-maintained, stained deck can add value to your home and enhance its curb appeal, making it more attractive to potential buyers.
  7. Cost-Effectiveness: While staining requires an upfront investment, it is generally more cost-effective than replacing or repairing a deteriorating deck in the long run.

Overall, staining your deck is a practical and aesthetic choice that can improve its durability, appearance, and longevity.

Below is a picture of after we flipped the deck boards and updated our deck railing but before we stained our deck.

Materials Needed:

  1. Pressure washer
  2. Deck stain (oil-based or water-based, depending on your preference)
  3. Paintbrushes, paint sprayer, rollers, paint pads, and/or bucket and paint grid
  4. Drop cloths or plastic sheeting
  5. Painter’s tape
  6. Sandpaper or deck cleaner
  7. Deck cleaner
  8. Deck stain stripper (if necessary)
  9. Safety gear (gloves, goggles, mask)


Prepare the Area:

Clear the deck of all furniture, plants, and other items. Sweep or blow the deck surface to remove any debris, leaves, or dirt.

Cover nearby plants, landscaping, and any other surfaces you don’t want to get stain on with drop cloths or plastic sheeting. As you can see below, we covered our hydrangeas with tarps.

Use painter’s tape to protect any areas adjacent to the deck, such as siding or trim.

Remember Safety Precautions

Remember to follow all safety precautions listed on the cleaning and stain product labels. Also, wear appropriate safety gear throughout the cleaning and staining process.

Clean the Surface:

If your deck has existing stain or sealant, you may need to use a deck stain stripper to remove it. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific product you’re using.

If your deck is dirty or moldy, clean it with a deck cleaner, a stiff brush or a pressure washer.

We used deck cleaner, and a pole brush to clean the deck. We wet the deck, applied the cleaner, scrubbed, and rinsed thoroughly with a hose.

Another option is pressure washing your deck using our disk attachment. The bottom line is that you want it to be as clean as possible. (The picture below is when we pressure washed our deck after flipping the board.

pressure washing deck boards

We also pressure washed under the deck to ensure the joists, underside of the deck boards, and cracks were as clean as possible. Notice the before and after in the picture below.

Allow it to dry completely. We waited a full week and checked the weather to be sure it would not be raining prior to or while we were staining our deck.

Sand the Surface (if needed):

If the wood surface is rough or has any splinters, sand it lightly with sandpaper to smooth it out. This step is essential for ensuring a smooth finish.

Selecting the Stain Color:

We used Behr Premium waterproofing stain and sealer. We typically use Behr or Sherwin Williams’ paint and stain products.

Selecting the color was challenging with such small squares. The picture below shows three color options next to our house color. Our house color is Fawn Brindle (Sherwin Williams).

Candidly, we chose one color (the top sample pictured above) . . . and then changed our mind after spending a day using this initial color. However, I am glad we ultimately changed colors (the bottom sample pictured above, which is pewter). I purchased samples of the two other colors, painted two scraps of wood, and eyed these samples next to our house color, door color, etc. It was worth the time to get this color right. (I wish I had done this initially.)

The deck post in the picture below shows the initial color and the stained board leaning against the post shows the final color, pewter. Remember, this is the real reel. In other words, we share our mistakes and lessons learned.

Stain vs. Paint: Paint sits on top of the surface/wood whereas stain actually penetrates into the wood.

Because we stained some areas previously with the first color (that initial color seeped into the wood), we were a little concerned about changing the stain color. However, it has been a few years since we stained and we have not had any issues with the stain. We are pleased with how it has endured.

Because of our experience of struggling to select the right color, we suggest applying the stain to either a small inconspicuous area or staining a scrap piece of deck board to make sure you like the color and appearance of the stain.

Apply the Stain:

Start by applying the stain to the railing using a paintbrush or paint sprayer. Work from the top down, applying the stain evenly along the grain of the wood. We used rollers and paintbrushes.

Railing first…

We stained the rail and then stained the deck. I stained the inside of the rail while Neal, on a ladder, stained the outside of the railing.

When staining our deck railing, we actually removed the hog wire, stained each section, and then reinstalled the hog wire. We found this was much quicker than trying to paint around the hog wire.

Deck Floor next …

After staining the railing, we stained the deck floor.

Using a paintbrush, we edge the deck floor.

We used a bucket, a roller on a pole, and a metal bucket grid to roll the deck floor.

Use a roller or paint pad to apply the stain to the deck surface. Work in small sections, keeping a wet edge to avoid lap marks.

Apply a thin, even coat of stain, being careful not to overapply, which can lead to drips and puddles.

Work your way across the entire deck, making sure to cover all surfaces evenly.

Allow to Dry:

Let the first coat of stain dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually takes several hours, depending on the weather and the type of stain used.

Apply Additional Coats (if needed):

If you desire a darker color or deeper protection, apply additional coats of stain following the same process as before. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one.

Clean Up:

  • Clean your tools with soap and water if you used a water-based stain, or mineral spirits if you used an oil-based stain.
  • Remove the drop cloths and painter’s tape once the stain is dry.

Enjoy your Newly Stained Deck:

Once the stain is completely dry, usually after 24-48 hours, you can replace the furniture and enjoy your revitalized deck!

The final result!

Let us know if you have questions or what you think about how we stained our deck and railing by commenting below.

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