Do’s and Don’ts of Deck Staining

Staining your wood deck will be more successful if you pay attention to these do’s and don’ts of deck staining.

Deck Stain Application Do’s

  • DO wait until temperatures are between 50° and 90° degree Fahrenheit, 10° – 35° degrees Celsius to stain. Cold temperatures slow drying times. In fact, you may end up with a sticky finish that never cures. The only way you can correct the problem if this happens is to remove the stain and start over. If weather is too hot weather, stain may not penetrate the wood completely; color and protective properties will suffer. Both extremes can cause unattractive lap marks to form.
  • DO apply a sample. Just as it’s a good idea to test a sample of paint before doing the whole wall, you should test out a sample of your stain before covering the entire deck. The best way to do this is to apply the stain to a scrap of wood left over from building the deck. If none is available, purchase a small piece of the same type of lumber, or simply test the stain in a small, hidden area.
  • DO saturate all end grains. The end of the board, where the wood has been cut, will absorb much more stain that other areas. Make sure to saturate this area completely, because these areas are especially vulnerable to splitting and other damage. If you don’t want the end color to be darker, make a special stain mix that is 50% pigmented stain 50% stain base (base should be from the same manufacturer).
  • DO apply liberal coats. Coats that are too thin will sit on top of the wood instead of penetrating effectively.
  • DO work with the grain. This encourages more even color and better penetration.
  • DO maintain a wet edge. This will help you avoid lap marks and ensure more even color.

Deck Stain Application Don’ts

  • DON’T apply stain to wet, dewy, or frosty surfaces. Even stains supposedly designed to be applied to damp or wet surfaces perform better if the deck is allowed to dry for 24-48 hours before application.
  • DON’T apply in damp weather or if stormy weather is threatening.
  • DON’T leave pools or puddles of stain. They’ll appear darker than the surrounding area. Back brush or wipe the stain off with a rag, instead.
  • DON’T apply in direct sunlight or when the surface is hot to the touch. Wait till the deck is in the shade. A hot surface can dry before the stain has a chance to fully penetrate, creating an easily damaged surface. Lap marks may also become apparent because it will be harder to maintain a wet edge. Also a hot surface can cause harmful compounds called VOCs to off-gas faster than normal, causing headaches, lightheadedness, and dizziness. I’ve actually seen a visible VOC fog appear when working with oil-based products. Scary!

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  1. Richard Baldwin

    I have a large wooden deck. It never has been sealed or stained. March 17, 2022, it will get up to 66 degrees here in Syracuse. When will be a good time to use a clear coat? Meaning how dry does the wood need to be?

    • Up to 10% moisture, if measured by a moisture meter, is fine. Even a little higher is OK (15%) if you use an acrylic sealer. For oil based sealers the dryer the better. Benjamin Moore Arbor Coat is nice and available as a clear, also available as a transparent stain for a little color.

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