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Staining a Previously Stained Deck: What to Know

Nothing adds warmth and character to an outdoor living space like a beautifully-stained deck. The trick is keeping it looking that way. Several factors such as climate, exposure, application, quality of materials, and usage can impact the longevity of your exterior stain job by five to 15 years! If your deck requires updates and you're considering staining a previously stained deck, this blog outlines the steps needed before you begin. A deck is a significant investment and maintenance can help increase your satisfaction with the finished product for years to come.


First, assess your deck’s condition to determine if any repairs are needed prior to staining.

  • Staining rotten wood or splintered boards will not repair them
  • Nail heads that have popped up must be hammered down
  • Deck boards that are starting to warp, twist or cup – raising an edge that folks might trip over – need to be fixed
    • Four-inch screws have more bite and can sometimes hold an edge down when nails will not, or you can simply replace the board

It’s also time to decide if you want to re-stain the deck using the same color or opt for one that is lighter or darker than your existing stain. Regardless of which color you choose, you will need to adequately prepare the surface of the deck to receive the new stain and ensure proper adhesion. Depending on the size of your deck, you can choose between scrubbing the deck surface by hand or using a power washer:

Power Wash

While you are using a power washer, the key is to ‘rinse.’ Most power washers have an optional detergent feed built-in. Fill the container with a deck cleaning agent according to the manufacturer’s instructions, to dissolve and lift all traces of dirt and mildew from the surface of the wood. Let the chemicals work and use the power washer to rinse the chemicals away. A second treatment may be necessary – especially if it has been several years since last staining. Simply blasting the debris off with a pressure washer can lift the grain of the wood and leave a rough surface that then requires you to sand the entire deck to get it smooth again.

Manually Clean

Mix a solution of deck cleaner and water according to instructions and apply using a stiff brush. Work in manageable sections and rinse each area with clean water once it has been completed.

Regardless of which method you choose, you will need to allow the wood to dry before applying the new coat of stain. For water-based stain, one or two days of drying time is sufficient, but if you are applying an oil-based stain, allow for three full days of dry weather.

Choose Your Stain

Now it’s time to choose your stain! Exterior wood stain is available in either a semi-transparent or solid finish, and which type you use will depend on what is already on your deck. A semi-transparent stain is opaque, adding color but allowing the natural beauty of the wood grain to shine through. A solid stain ‘covers’ the wood, showing texture but hiding wood grain and prior colors. When staining on top of the existing stain, choose the right type based on the current finish. If your existing deck stain is:

  • Light: Apply a similar or darker color of stain with no additional preparation required.
  • Dark: This will be hard to ‘cover’ with a lighter semi-transparent color, as the old/dark color will come through. If you want to lighten up the color of a dark deck, consider a lighter solid stain.
  • Semi-transparent: Cover the existing stain with semi-transparent or solid stain.
  • Solid: Apply another solid finish stain; semi-transparent stain is engineered to bind with the surface of the wood and won't bind well to a solid surface.

Stain Application

Begin the process by applying a small amount of stain in a hidden area to test for adhesion. If the deck has a protective finish on it, the stain won't adhere, and the finish will need to be removed. Application tips include:

  • Use a roller, paint pad, or brush, and apply the stain in long, smooth strokes.
  • Work in sections and expand outward always keeping a ‘wet edge’ where sections you are working overlap each other. If one section dries and is then overlapped, you are effectively applying a second coat to that overlapped area, and this will lead to blotchy finish
  • If the stain pools during application, you are applying too much at once; cut back.
  • Allow the first coat to dry thoroughly before adding the second one.
  • A clear sealing product, overtop of your stained and thoroughly dried deck, will extend the life of the work you have invested.

Your local Mr. Handyman provides expert services for all your interior and exterior projects including deck staining. Call Mr. Handyman today at (877) 256-3376 to schedule an appointment! To find out the benefits of giving your house a fresh coat of paint, as well, check out tips from a fellow Neighborly company, Five Star Painting.