Helpful Tips For Cleaning and Sealing A Wood Deck

It’s a beautiful August morning in Ohio and I’m enjoying a cup of coffee in my backyard.  This past Spring I spent some time cleaning and sealing my wood deck and the results were beautiful!

Now let me tell you that this is not usually the case.  In fact, I have re-stained my deck about 5 times; completely stripped and sanded it twice.  I have to admit that this is one of my least favorite home maintenance projects.  However, this year I figured out a few tips that made it much easier.

Tips for staining and sealing a pressure treated wood deck.

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Before I begin, if you have a newly built pressure treated deck, you will want to wait a while before staining it. Most stain manufacturers recommend waiting anywhere from 3-12 months before staining a new deck. This is because new pressure treated lumber has a high moisture content and will need to dry out before stain is applied. We waited a year to stain our deck and this worked out well for us.


The basic process is to sweep/vacuum, clean, brighten, and stain.  The key to a nice finish is taking your time prepping the deck surface. If you are looking for a video on the process, This Old House has on here.

Pressure treated wood deck being cleaned

The first time I cleaned my deck I used a garden hose with a cleaner, followed by a brightener.  This worked well. However, I didn’t care for the deck stain color we chose and the water based stain wasn’t wearing well. 

Since I wanted to switch from a water based stain to an oil based stain, all of the old finish needed to be removed.  This was going to be a big job and the stripper I purchased wasn’t working well. So I decided to use a power washer to move things along.

This was a big mistake!  While it did take off the stain easier, it also raised the grain on the wood.  I ended up sanding my whole deck.  While it did give me a nice smooth finish, it was A LOT of work.

If at all possible, you want to avoid using a power washer and stick to using a simple garden hose and garden sprayer. Also, make sure the tip on your garden sprayer is working properly, with a smooth and even application of the cleaning product.  If your cleaner/brightener is spitting out, it will leave a spotty finish that may show up after your final stain.


If your horizontal decking is flat, without a lot of cupping and there aren’t nails sticking up above the surface, you may want to consider renting an Orbital Deck and Floor Sander from a big box store.  The rental with accessories was around $100.  This saved a lot of time and prevented a couple days of  knee and back pain.  I still sanded my deck rail with a palm sander and some tight spaces by hand, but this was much easier than doing the whole deck by hand.  Sanding makes the stain soak into the wood and gives the overall finish a smoother/nicer look.

If you choose to sand, be sure to wear a dust mask. When your done, you will need to vacuum the decking with a shop vac. Otherwise, your stain will wash away with the saw dust during the first rain storm rain storm. You’ll want to hose it down afterwards.

Pressure treated wood deck
Pressure treated wood deck


I know in some states, you cannot use an oil-based stain. If that’s your situation, you will have to go with a water-base stain. It has been a few years since I have used a water base stain and the products may have improved.

The reason I chose to use an oil based stain is because they apply nicely, soaking into the wood, resulting in a beautiful finish.  My experience with water-based stain is that it goes on like paint and sits on top of the wood.  I just prefer the look and application of an oil based stain.


Take your time when picking out the stain color.  You will have to live with the color for a long time.  Most companies will let you buy a sample of their stain colors so you can test them on a sample board.  I usually do this in an inconspicuous spot.  My number one rule is that if I’m not 100% sure that I love the color, I keep looking.  I order several samples and test them all.

Let them fully dry in the sun, since the color will change as the stain dries.  After using many different brands of stain, my favorite is TWP.  I always order the 5 gallon bucket for free shipping.  This will coat my 18′ X 20′ deck twice.  After testing many samples, my favorite color is 1503 Dark Oak.  I put on a single coat the first year and then re-coat the horizontal boards the following Spring.  The more coats, the darker your final color will be.


In the past, I have been too afraid to use a sprayer.  This year, I masked off my house, the deck flooring and used a sturdy piece of cardboard to mask the opposite side of railing.  I sprayed all of the railings and vertical surfaces in about 4 hours.  I used a spray on/wipe off method.  This eliminated drips and made the stain very even.  The finish turned out great.

Then the next day I sprayed the horizontal decking and my husband used a deck pad to move the stain into the wood evenly.  We did all of the horizontal deck boards and the staircase in about 1 1/2 hours.  The sprayer took care of the gap between the boards and applied the stain evenly.  I’ve had my sprayer (Wagner Control Spray Max) for a while and used it on these bookcases, too.

Pressure treated wood deck with dark oak stain color.


I wanted to add a quick update to this post. This past fall the weather was rapidly changing and we needed to get a fresh coat of stain on our deck before the temperatures dropped and the leaves began to fall.

The deck wasn’t very dirty and was still in decent shape, but we wanted to add another coat of stain for protection and coverage.

With the rapidly changing season, I knew I needed to get this deck cleaned fast and let it dry out. I began by sweeping the deck down. Then, I grabbed a bucket, hot water, scrub brush and a little bit of dish liquid. I worked in small sections and scrubbed the rail with a soft bristle scrub brush and the soapy water. Then I rinsed it off thoroughly with a garden hose. I repeated this process on the horizontal deck boards with a nylon bristle broom and rinsed. I was able to clean the deck in about an hour this way.

We let our deck dry out for a week or so. When the weather showed a dry spell for three days, we started to stain. This time my whole family (5 people) pitched in. We used large, inexpensive brushes to do the rail and vertical surfaces. Then we used this paint pad with a paint pole to do the decking boards. The pad has one edge that is designed for pressing into the gap between the decking boards. Keep in mind that the paint pad is wide and will need an 18 inch paint pan. I didn’t mind this, since it covered more surface and the job went quicker. We finished the whole deck in 6 hours with this method.

I love the color of the dark oak stain with a second coat. It’s a rich beautiful color and I’m even happier with the coverage of the stain the second time around.


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Tips for sealing and staining a wood deck.
How to clean and seal a wood deck.

This may not be the easiest home maintenance chore, but if you keep up with cleaning and sealing your wood deck it will remain beautiful for many years to come.  I hope these tips make you project a little easier!



  1. This is so awesome! I’ve been wanting to re-stain our deck to bring the color back up, but I was worried about trying to figure out the right stain, so I will definitely be looking at the TWP. Deck maintenance sucks, but it’s always worth it when it turns out as beautiful as yours did! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is awesome and super informative! I recently purchased a house with a deck and I’ve been a little nervous about all of the maintenance and staining that we would need to do, but this totally calms my nerves. I love the way that the new stain came out on your deck and I might try to do something similar if the weather continues to hold up! Thanks for sharing your journey!

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