How to Sand and Stain a Deck

How to Sand and Stain a Deck

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If you have an old wooden deck that has seen better days, you don’t have to rip it all down and build a new one. If the wood is still in relatively good condition, you can always sand it down and apply new stain to make it look like new, as well as to make it weather and UV resistant.

Sanding and staining a deck is not hard, but it does need to be done right. To help you do so, today, we’ll be talking about refinishing a wood deck.

How to Sand and Stain a Deck

Let’s jump right into the step-by-step process of making your wood deck look like it was built yesterday and not years ago.

Step 1: Gather Materials and Choose a Day

The first thing that you need to do when starting to sand and stain your deck is to gather the materials required for the job. First off, this means that you will need a sander, preferably an orbital sander, along with some fairly coarse sandpaper.

You will also need a paintbrush (or maybe a paint roller depending on how large the deck is), as well as the stain itself. If you want to make things quick and easy, a pump paint sprayer will work fine too. You will also need some other basic materials and equipment such as a paint tray, some rags for cleaning, and maybe some knee pads in case you have to spend a long time down on your knees.

Before you can get started, you also need to choose the right day to stain your deck. This means choosing a day that should be moderate in temperature (around 15 to 25 degrees Celsius is best) and fairly sunny.

You don’t want to stain your deck on a rainy or snowy day. Avoid windy days as well. You don’t want moisture ruining your refinished deck before the stain dries, and you don’t want debris being blown onto the stain while it is drying.

Step 2: Thoroughly Sand the Deck

The next step in this process is to sand the deck. To do this, pick a corner to start off with, and then work in straight lines, going board by board.

Use your orbital sander, along with some very coarse sandpaper in order to remove any existing stain, lacquer, varnish, or whatever else may be present on the wood. This may take a while depending on how thick that layer of old stain is.

Remember, you cannot stain your deck unless the old stain has been removed, or else the new stain may not adhere properly.

If you don’t want your deck to be too rough, and you want it to be smooth and sleek, after having used the coarse sandpaper to remove old stain, you can switch to some finer sandpaper to smooth things out before moving onto the next step.

Orbital Sander for Wood Deck

Step 3: Clean the Surface and Cracks

After having sanded the surface, you cannot simply apply the stain right away. You first need to clean the surface, and very thoroughly at that. You don’t want a bunch of grit and grime on the deck when you apply the stain, or else all of that stuff will be permanently embedded under the stain, the stain won’t hold right, and it won’t look nice either.

Therefore, use a broom to dry sweep the area. Follow that with good wet mopping. If possible, another good idea is to use a pressure washer to blast dirt to kingdom come.

Remember that you want to clean in between the cracks of the deck as well, something that a pressure washer comes in very handy for. After you have cleared your deck of any and all debris possible, let it dry. You do not want to apply the new stain to wet wood.

Step 4: Apply the New Stain

All that is left for you to do now is to apply the new stain of your choice. Above all, always read the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific stain to see what you need to do. That said, the process for most is going to be virtually the same.

Use your paintbrush, a paint roller, or a paint sprayer to apply the new layer of stain.

For the most part, a single layer should do fine, and it should take just a few hours to dry. If need be, once the first layer is dry, for some added protection, you may choose to add a second layer.

Do I Have to Sand My Deck Before Applying Stain?

You might be wondering if you actually have to sand your deck. Well, no, you may not have to. It will depend on the condition of your existing deck.

If your deck is so old that all or most of the previous coat of stain is worn off, then there is nothing to sand off. However, this is only recommended if there is really no stain left at all because you do not want to apply a coat of new stain directly over the old one.

Instead of sanding the deck, you may also choose to use a high powered pressure washer to literally blast the old layer of stain away. If you have a good pressure washer, this is easily done, and may actually be easier than sanding the deck.

The other option that you have at your disposal is to use a chemical paint remover. You can spray these onto the old layer, let it sit for a while, and then use a scraper or pressure washer to remove the loosened layer of stain. That said, chemical removers are poisonous and dangerous, so we wouldn’t recommend this when compared to the normal sanding method.

In either case, though, if you have the time, it is recommended to sand the deck regardless as that will make the stain adhere to and soak into the wood better.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Now, let’s quickly go over some tips and tricks to help make your life easier when sanding and staining your deck:

  • Don’t forget the railings. Sanding only the ground but not the railings is at the very least going to look very odd.
  • Make sure that the weather is fair when sanding and staining your deck.
  • Be sure to clean everything thoroughly before applying a new coat of stain. There is nothing worse than attempting to apply stain only to realize that there is a bunch of dirt and grit underneath.
  • It may be a good idea to wear some gloves, just so you don’t get the stain on your hands, and moreover, wearing old clothes is recommended as well.
  • When staining using a roller or paintbrush, be sure to do one board at a time, so that all boards look even when you are done. Don’t move erratically from one board to another, and then back again. You need to work in a slow and methodical manner for the best results.
  • The best time of day to stain your deck is in the mid-morning. This is when the temperature will start to be warm enough to stand being outside, as well as warm enough to allow for easy stain application, but you also don’t want the sun directly overhead. Also, don’t do this just before nightfall, because you do want some warmth and brightness to help the stain dry quickly.

Refinishing a Deck: FAQs

Finally, before you head out and start working on the project, let’s answer some of your most pressing questions in relation to sanding and staining a deck.

How Often Should You Refinish Your Deck?

This really depends on where you live and what the climate is like. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that decks should be refinished every two to three years.

Yet, this is not a set rule. If you live in a warm and sunny place, and you don’t use the deck much, that old layer of stain could last for four or five years. However, if you live in an area with harsh weather, and you use the deck often, you might have to refinish it every two years, or even every year.

What Type of Sander Is the Best for Sanding a Deck?

An orbital sander is your best bet here. They are small and handheld, easy to control and maneuver, and they have various speed settings too. Although they are small, they do work fast, so that is a bonus.

You may also use a large floor drum sander, but these may not be able to deal with unevenness in the deck. If you have three boards, with the one in the middle being lower than the two on the outside, the drum sander won’t be able to reach the one lower down. If you do have a very flat and even deck, then a drum floor sander can make quick work of it.

How Can You Sand Between Deck Boards?

If you really need to sand in between deck boards (although you should not have to), you will have to just use some sandpaper and do so manually. There is pretty much no quick and automated way to do so.

Should You Use Oil- or Water-Based Stain for Your Deck?

Deck stains need to penetrate wood, unlike paint which should sit on top of the wood. Therefore, to allow for full stain absorption into the wood, using water-based stain is recommended.


As you can see, sanding and staining a deck is not hard at all.

As long as you have the right tools and equipment, it’s something you should be able to do in just a few hours.