How to Stain a Deck for Long-Lasting Results

A proper deck stain can work wonders on an old deck, or preserve a new one for years to come. Whether you’ve just installed a new deck or it’s time to give your old deck new life,  learn how to successfully choose and apply a stain in this step-by-step guide.

Step # 1: Find the Right Stain for Your Deck

Choosing the right products to restore and stain your wood deck will determine the quality of the end result and benefit you for years to come. Make sure you understand the right type of stain for your deck – based on the aesthetic you want to achieve, the types of materials you are working with, and the surrounding environment.

Deck Stain Options

You will need to choose from a range of opacities—from translucent stains that showcase the natural beauty of the wood to solid stains that provide a UV-resistant, paint-like layer of color. The more opaque your stain is, the longer you can expect the color to last without additional cleaning and re-coating. However, a solid color stain is a water-based product that doesn’t penetrate the surface of the wood as thoroughly and comes with the risk of peeling and flaking over time.

Comparison of Benjamin Moore Woodluxe exterior stain finishes

Stains are available in two types of formulas – water-based and oil-based. Water-based stains are easier to apply because they dry more quickly and are easy to clean up with just soap and water. Oil-based finishes penetrate the wood more effectively for long-term results, but require clean-up using solvents. However, water-based stains in the Benjamin Moore Woodluxe collection feature an advanced penetrating formula that protects the wood and resists peeling unlike waterborne stains of the past!

A wood’s natural color affects the finished look, and its surface texture impacts stain absorption, so you’ll never know if a stain color is the perfect fit until you see it on your deck. Choose an inconspicuous place on your deck or spare piece of lumber to test your stain samples before committing to a product. Benjamin Moore Woodluxe offers homeowners an impressive range of high-quality stain options for every type of aesthetic.

Factors that Impact Stain Performance

Deck Materials

Hardwoods and softwoods respond differently to stains, so it’s important to identify the materials you will be working with. Popular hardwoods include ipe and mahogany. Pine, cedar, and pressure-treated woods are common softwood decking.

Hardwoods are denser materials, appreciated for their durability and natural beauty. To showcase the natural wood grain, many homeowners will choose transparent oil stains for their hardwood decks. Keep in mind that stains with more transparency require more upkeep and regular cleaning than a solid stain. During the staining process, it will also be important not to over-apply the oil and to allow for longer drying times, as hardwoods take more time to absorb stains than softwoods.

Softwoods are more porous than hardwoods, which means they absorb moisture more easily. You may need to wait a longer time before staining your softwood deck so that it has enough time to dry out from any recent rain or rinsing. A softwood deck is also more prone to rotting from moisture, making it important to choose a high-quality stain that will help prevent mold and mildew.


Choosing the right wood stain for your deck will depend greatly on the current condition of your deck and the amount of restorative work you want to do.

Translucent and semi-transparent stains reveal the natural beauty of the wood and work best for new decks or decks that have been restored to look like new. A solid stain camouflages remaining blemishes on an old deck, giving it a fresh look without as much preparation. Keep in mind, though, that any deck stain will adhere better and last longer when the boards are thoroughly cleaned and prepped.


Your deck’s surrounding environment has a significant impact on the stain and staining process that will work best. For example, if your home is situated in wetlands or surrounded by forest, the high moisture levels can cause mold and mildew and require that the deck be cleaned more frequently, particularly when you use oil stains.

Decks less than four feet off the ground have to contend with high moisture levels and work best with a transparent or semi-transparent stain. If a solid stain is applied to low-to-the-ground decking, the moisture will become trapped underneath the wood and the sun will pull the moisture out along with the stain – causing it to peel.

Step # 2: Pick an Optimal Time to Start Your Project

Moisture and high or low temperatures are enemies of a successful deck stain project. Ideally, you should start the actual staining process after at least a couple of dry days. You will also need around 48 hours of dry weather after your stain is finished to make sure it dries properly.

Even high humidity can affect the drying process, and high/low temperatures can meddle with your stain’s effectiveness. It’s best to do this project during a dry, temperate season (50°- 95° Fahrenheit). And when you’ve settled on the right day or week to stain the deck, try to avoid applying the stain in direct sunlight so that the deck dries evenly.

Keep in mind that your deck stain project will also involve cleaning, repairing, and prepping the boards. These steps need to be factored into your schedule, with at least 48 hours of no rain between cleaning and staining the boards so they have enough time to dry.

Installing a deck with new lumber?

New boards often contain high moisture levels and could require a few weeks to dry out before starting this project. Check with your lumber supplier or use a moisture meter to make sure the moisture content of the boards is below 17% before you start staining.

Step # 3: Clean the Deck Thoroughly

Cleaning your deck is a crucial stage for two reasons. First of all, the stain won’t apply properly to your wood if there is a build-up of dirt, grease, leftover mill glaze, or a previous stain that is peeling or flaking.

Secondly, cleaning the entire deck helps reveal any bigger problems such as mold, loose panels, loose nails, or trapped debris. Before you start cleaning, remove all objects from your deck, and cover power outlets or anything else you don’t want to damage with drop cloths and painter’s tape.

Depending on the severity of mold or dirt build-up on the deck surface, you can use deck cleaner or a homemade solution with diluted vinegar and/or dish soap. Minor cleaning can be accomplished with a sponge and garden hose, while a pressure washer may be necessary for removing hardened grime. Just be careful to not set the water pressure too high, or you can damage the wood.

If you are starting with an old pressure-treated deck that has a peeling stain already, we recommend applying Benjamin Moore Woodluxe Remove and using 180-220 grit sandpaper to help take off the old stain and to allow the new coat to sink in. Rinse off your deck with a hose or a low-pressure setting on your pressure washer after applying stain remover.

Step # 4: Repair any Damages

If you are staining an older deck, it will be much easier to see damaged sections once it has been thoroughly cleaned. Repairs you will need to make before staining the deck include fixing loose boards or treating mold and mildew stains. Staining a deck isn’t just about giving it a new look – it’s also about preserving your deck for long-term use.

Step # 5: Prep the Boards

Preparing the surface of the deck through sanding and/or treating the boards with restorative products is especially important to achieve the end result you envision. This step applies to both new and old decks.

New deck boards need “mill glaze” removed that prevents proper stain penetration and adhesion. Use a wood cleaner product like Benjamin Moore Woodluxe Brightener and Neutralizer to remove this barrier, then rinse off the deck and sand the boards with 80-grit sandpaper.

Weathered wood will need more significant preparation, particularly if you intend to use a transparent stain that will reveal the wood underneath. Use Benjamin Moore Woodluxe Wood Restorer on severely weathered decks to remove old stains and help the wood regain its natural color. Use 80-grit sandpaper to remove loose and damaged wood fibers, and to smooth out the wood for a new coat.

Be sure to sink nails before sanding so that you don’t strip the galvanizing off the top of the nail, creating rust bleed. All this preparation can be tedious, but it’s essential to achieve a quality result!

Benjamin Moore deck stain prep products

Step # 6: Apply the Stain

Once your deck is dry and ready for a coat of stain, start with the railings — working from the top to the bottom — so that drips don’t interfere with finished deck boards. The deck boards will need to be stained from the far end of the deck toward the exit. To achieve an even coat, work with the grain and stain two or three boards at a time.

Applying the stain with a paintbrush is the best way to uniformly work oil-based stains into the deck, but if you use a paint roller, be sure to go back over crevices and other hard-to-reach places with a handheld brush. This is easiest to do with a partner to avoid splotches.

How many times you will need to coat your deck depends on the thickness and uniformity of your layers. Check the product instructions on your specific stain product to ensure you wait the recommended amount of time between coats. For water-based stains, this will likely only be a few hours, while oil-based stains can require 1-2 days between layers.

Step # 7: Let the Stain Dry

Give your finished deck at least 48 hours with no foot traffic – longer if you are working in high-humidity conditions or oil staining a dense, hardwood deck.

Now is a good time to plan ahead for long-term deck maintenance based on the stain you chose and the weather conditions your deck will be exposed to. If you picked a transparent stain, expect to recoat your deck every 1-3 years. Semi-transparent and semi-solid stains should last a couple of years longer, and a solid stain will give you 5-6 years before needing restaining unless a weather condition like constant sun exposure wears out the stain more quickly.

Whichever type of stain achieves your vision for your deck, Benjamin Moore’s quality ensures you’ll get the longest-lasting, best-looking result possible.

Find Quality Deck Stain Products at Ring’s End

Staining your deck requires a lot of work. With proper planning and quality products, you can make sure all that effort achieves the finished look you envision. Benjamin Moore Woodluxe applied to a properly prepared deck is optimal for beautiful and long-lasting results.

If you’d like expert advice as you plan your deck stain project, talk to our Ring’s End reps using our online chat or by texting (203) PRO-HELP.

Find the perfect deck stain in our Woodluxe Product Guide