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How to Apply Deck Stain and Sealer for a Professional Finish 

 April 28, 2023

By  Dale Keese

If you're looking to create a beautiful outdoor deck that won't just look great but can stand up to the elements, then it's important to make sure you apply stain and sealer correctly. Deck stain and sealer help protect your deck from sun and water damage, making it look better and last longer, so it's worth spending some time learning how to do it properly. In this blog post, we'll take a look at exactly how to apply deck stain and sealer for a professional and long-lasting finish.

First, make sure the surface is clean and free of any dirt or dust before applying the deck stain and sealer. Start in the corners and work your way outwards with a brush or roller, applying even coats and allowing each coat to dry before reapplying.

So roll up those sleeves and get ready to give your deck a beautiful and hard-wearing makeover!

Preparing to Apply Deck Stain and Sealer

It is important to properly prepare before applying deck stain and sealer for the best professional finish. Doing a well-executed job means spending adequate time on proper preparation. Many suppliers recommend either power washing or sanding the deck first before staining, but it will depend on both the condition of your deck as well as its previous treatment. 

Power washing can remove contaminants from the deck's surface, such as dirt and debris, which can result in a better bond with the newly applied stain and sealer. Power washing takes much less time than sanding. However, power washing also has drawbacks: It can force water deep into joints in between boards and down into spaces between boards where medians are used, which over time can cause warping or cracking wood.

For this reason, some people prefer to opt to hand-sand their decks; however, sanding is a labor-intensive process that creates dust and requires an extra step of cleaning up the sawdust afterward.

The debate over which preparation strategy is better--power washing or sanding--has no clear answer; it really depends on your individual project needs and evaluation of factors like time constraints, budget, and desired professional finish. Both methods have benefits and drawbacks that need to be weighed when deciding how to prepare to apply deck stain and sealer.

Once you have decided on what type of preparatory method you want to use, the next step is to acquire the necessary materials and tools for the job ahead--primarily brushes, rollers, and rags for application of finish products.

With all those materials selected and on hand, you are ready for surface preparation; and once your deck surface is ready for staining, you'll be on your way towards achieving a professional finish. This will be discussed further in the next section. 

Surface Preparation & Materials

Before starting any staining project, it is important to ensure that the deck surface is ready. Pressure washing is a great way to remove dirt, pollutants, and other debris from the surface and prepare the structure for staining. Sanding may also be necessary in some cases to remove existing sealer and provide a smooth finish. It is important to note that composite decking requires special tools and techniques for sanding due to its manufactured composition.

When it comes to choosing materials for staining, there are a variety of options available depending on the desired outcome. Oil-based stains work well on dense hardwood decks and provide excellent protection from water damage as well as strong color retention. However, these stains are more difficult to apply and take longer to dry than water-based stains.

Water-based stains, on the other hand, are easier to apply but lack the depth of color offered by oil-based stains. They also don’t offer quite as much protection against water damage compared to their oil-based counterparts. No matter which type of stain you choose, make sure it is specifically designed for outdoor use so that it can withstand the elements.

The right preparation, materials, and tools can help you achieve a professional finish when applying deck stain and sealer. The next section of this article will discuss how to apply stain and sealer in an efficient manner resulting in a great long-lasting look.

How to Apply Stain and Sealer

Applying stain and sealer onto a deck can be a simple and effective process if done correctly. You must consider the type of material you are staining, the desired effect, and the tools you plan to use for the application. To achieve a professional finish on your deck, applying stain and sealer with the appropriate tools is critical.

Stain and sealers are available in a variety of forms, including water-based and oil-based. The type of material used will determine which product is best suited to your needs. For instance, oil-based products are typically better suited for cedar decks because of their tendency to darken over time.

Water-based products offer less color alteration, so they work well on heavily weathered surfaces while offering more protection. Ultimately, choose the product that best meets your needs and one that will not harm your deck's existing finish.

An important part of applying stain and sealer is selecting the right application tools: brushes, rollers, or applicators. Brushes require more time for application but are beneficial if you want to avoid drips or coverage inconsistencies.

Rollers allow for an even coat but do not provide detailing around corners. An applicator eliminates direction preference but can leave streaks or bubbles during application if you're not careful. Consider your project's length and complexity when deciding which tool is best for you.

Now that you understand how to choose the right product and application tool, it's time to apply your stain and sealer to achieve a professional finish. In the next section, learn the step-by-step process for properly applying stain and sealer with a brush, roller, or applicator.

Applying stain and sealer onto a deck requires taking into account the type of material, desired effect, and tools being used for the application. Oil-based products work better on cedar decks while water-based products work best on heavily weathered surfaces.


Brush, rollers or applicators can be used to apply stain and sealer depending on the length and complexity of the project. By understanding how to choose the right product and application tool, it is possible to achieve a professional finish.

Applying with a Brush, Roller or Applicator

When it comes to applying deck stain and sealer, there are several ways to do it. The three main methods are with a brush, roller, or applicator.

Applying with a brush is the most traditional technique and is often seen as the best way to ensure even coverage. Be sure to use a good quality brush that is specifically designed for application of deck stain and sealer. To achieve an even finish, dip the brush into the product then carefully apply the product in long strokes up and down the deck. Working in small sections will help prevent any overlap marks.

Using a roller has some advantages over using a brush. It can apply more product in one go which can reduce application time significantly. However, rolling applications may leave lap marks due to its fast pace. It is also important that rollers are of good quality, as poor-quality rollers may leave marks on your deck’s surface.

For those wanting fast results and an even finish, an applicator is often used as this method combines both brushing and rolling techniques. As well as reducing application time, applicators can help get into hard-to-reach areas with ease such as between balusters. Clean-up after application must be done with either mineral spirits or water for oil-based products; whereas soap and water is all that’s needed for water-based products.

Regardless of which method you choose, many agree that multiple coats of stain or sealer should be applied for best results. Therefore, how many coats you should apply should be considered in the overall process of staining or sealing your deck; this is discussed further in the following section.

How Many Coats Should You Apply

When it comes to applying deck stain and sealer, the number of coats you should apply is a matter of debate. Generally speaking, most amateur refinishers apply one or two coats of finish, while professional refinishers may go as high as five or six coats. One coat is usually enough if you're just refreshing the color of your deck, while two coats are usually necessary when you're sealing or protecting new wood or trying to fix worn areas on your deck.

The downside to multiple coats is that they can be expensive, time-consuming, and give little added value over one coat of good quality stain. Additionally, the more coats you apply, the higher the chance is that you’ll have an uneven finish due to flooding or excess build-up in some spots. On the other hand, multiple coats can provide better protection for your deck and a longer lasting shine.

Considering both advantages and disadvantages is key when deciding how many coats of sealer to apply. Ultimately, it depends on what you need from your stain job and what type of wood you're working with; however, the sweet spot for most decks lies between one and three coats.

Now that we’ve discussed how many coats should be applied, let’s explore how to properly clean up and maintain your deck for a professional finish.

How to Properly Clean Up and Maintain Your Deck

Cleaning and properly maintaining your deck is essential in order to preserve the quality of your deck. Cleaning not only removes dirt and debris but also any stains and sealers that may have begun to wear off. Additionally, regular maintenance can help protect your deck from further damage due to weather or general wear and tear.

Maintaining a clean deck does not require much time or effort, but it is important to set aside some time every season or year to give it a thorough cleaning. A pressure washer is a great way to clean your deck's surface quickly and easily if you have one on hand.

If using a pressure washer, be sure to adjust the nozzle to a low setting; otherwise, you may end up breaking down the wood fibers of your deck boards. If you do not have access to a pressure washer, use an approved wood cleaner and brush to scrub away dirt, grime, and mildew that has accumulated over time.

Whether your deck is newly installed or old, applying any preferred sealer will help ensure the lasting beauty of your deck and make it easier to clean over time. However, many people debate whether sealers are truly necessary or worth the additional cost.

On one side of the argument, proponents suggest that sealers provide an extra layer of protection against moisture and ultraviolet (UV) radiation that would otherwise damage the wood over time. On the other side of the argument, opponents suggest that allowing the wood to age gracefully without sealer preserves its natural beauty and patina. Ultimately, the decision lies with you - use whichever method works best for you!

To finish off, be sure to wipe away any excess cleaning solution or residue left on your deck after cleaning with a damp rag or cloth. With these tips in mind, keep your wooden decks looking just as amazing as they did when first installed by regularly cleaning and maintaining them!

Now that you have learned how to properly clean and maintain your deck, let's move on to discussing what type of sealer is best for preserving its beauty.

What Type of Sealer is Best for Your Deck

When deciding on the best type of sealer to use for your deck, it is important to consider both the desired appearance and varying levels of protection for different materials. For example, a transparent stain will offer the most natural look but without UV protection, wood may gray quickly.

Conversely, oil-based stains provide more pigment to alter the look of a surface but may be more difficult to apply and remove when necessary. Below, we will discuss some of the most popular types of sealers and the benefits associated with each.

Oil-Based Sealer

An oil-based sealer is typically thicker in consistency than other types, which can make it ideal for helping to protect older wood surfaces from moisture and wear and tear. This sealer penetrates deep into the surface, creating a protective barrier that can help repel water and prevent damage. Plus, since many oil-based sealers are tinted, they can easily add color, depth, and even richness to your deck's appearance.

  • Advantages: Provides long-lasting protection; Enhances brightness and color; Easy to repair if chipping or peeling occurs; Can be applied in cooler temperatures; Creates less splatter than water-based formulas.
  • Disadvantages: Typically has a strong odor; Clean-up takes longer due to mineral spirits being used; Oil-based formulas can crack or peel over time; Can take longer than water-based alternatives to dry.

Water-Based Sealer

Water-based sealers are generally easier to work with thanks to their thin consistency, which helps reduce oversaturating the material. In addition, they contain fewer VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) overall than oil-based solutions, making them better for indoor air quality. Water-based sealers must be reapplied more often than oil-based options as they do not penetrate into the wood as deeply.

  • Advantages: Generally contains fewer VOCs than solvent-based solutions; Easy clean up with just soap and warm water; Faster drying time than oil-based solutions; When applied properly does not have an unpleasant odor; Professional grade products can give excellent durability when maintained correctly.
  • Disadvantages: Does not provide as much protection from moisture damage as an oil-based formula; May need more frequent reapplication for lasting protection; If over applied can become brittle and flake off; a small amount of dust may collect on the surface due to the solution drying out quickly.

Ultimately which type of sealant is best for your deck depends on your individual needs and preferences as well as what kind of material you're working with (e.g., pressure-treated or polyurethane). Both oil-based and water-based formulas offer advantages depending on what you are looking to achieve aesthetically or functionally so be sure to think through your options carefully before making a final decision!

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I apply deck stain and sealer?

The frequency with which you should apply deck stain and sealer will depend on the type of wood your deck is made from and its exposure to the outdoors. Generally speaking, decks that are exposed to harsh weather conditions and/or are subjected to heavy foot traffic may need to be sealed and stained every 1-2 years.

For decks that receive moderate exposure and low-level traffic, bi-annual maintenance should suffice. Finally, for decks that are rarely exposed to the elements or other sources of wear and tear, applying deck sealant and stain just once every three years should be enough.

What preparation steps should be taken before applying deck stain and sealer?

Before applying deck stain and sealer, there are several important preparation steps that should be taken to ensure a successful finish. First, any boards that have loose or chipped paint should be sanded down to remove the old material and create a smooth surface for the new stain and sealer.

Be sure to also use a pressure washer to clean the deck of dirt and debris. The pressure washer helps open up the surface grain too which will allow the stain and sealer to penetrate deeper into the wood. After washing, you should let the deck dry completely before you apply any treatments. Finally, it’s important to make sure that you pre-treat the wood with a wood brightener to restore its pH balance and help remove tannin stains before staining it.

By taking all of these steps before applying deck stain and sealer, your finished project is sure to look professional and last for years in your outdoor space.

What type of deck stain and sealer should I use?

The type of deck stain and sealer you should use depends on the material your deck is made of. If your deck is made of pressure treated wood, then you should be using a semi-transparent oil based stain. This type of stain is easy to apply and offers long lasting protection against the elements. It will also enhance the look and color of your pressure-treated wood while providing a high level of resistance to ultraviolet light.

If your deck is made of cedar or redwood then you should choose a solid color oil-based stain. This type of stain provides excellent weather protection and has good holding power which means it lasts longer than other types of stains. Solid color stains also add rich color and depth to the wood that can't be achieved with transparent or semi-transparent stains.

No matter what type of deck stain and sealer you choose, make sure it contains a UV inhibitor to protect it from fading in sunlight. This will help keep your deck looking its best for years to come.

About the author

Hey, I'm Dale Keese.. thanks for reading.. hopefully this article can save you some time and trouble with your sealing job. I'm also in the process of making some video walk-throughs for youtube so check back soon! thanks

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