When Is the Best Time to Stain a Deck?

Deck staining is an important part of maintenance practice even as you protect your wooden structures from environmental elements

The problem is that most people do not know when is the best time to stain a deck!

Considering that you have spent significant amount of time and resources in constructing the structure, it is only prudent to do your best to deliver an excellent stain finish.

Further, there are a couple of factors that affect deck staining. For instance, the waiting duration needed before applying the finish and the best time to do it.

So, as you would expect, trial and error may not guarantee success. So, let’s get more insight into deck staining by engaging the topic: when is the best time to stain a deck?

Spring and fall are excellent times for deck staining. So, please avoid the extreme temperature levels that winter and summer offer, even when you stay in a moderate climate.

In addition, direct ultraviolet rays are also harmful to the deck over time. Thus, applying the stain during summer may compromise adhesion.

Also, although fall is suitable for staining a deck, leaves falling on the wet stain can create problems.

The waiting duration before deck staining also depends on the deck’s state. For example, the best time to stain a new structure is three to 12 months after installation.

Hence, consider this guide for all your deck staining concerns. You will also get professional tips on how to deliver a durable finish.

Is It Better to Stain a Deck In the Morning or Evening?

You are better off applying a deck stain during morning or evening hours. Also, a time of the day when the project has shade is appropriate.

But generally, morning application is a safer choice as it helps avoid dew contact.

Please note that staining a deck in the direct sun causes the finish to dry too quickly. Direct sunlight increases the deck board’s surface temperature.

Thus, the stain will not have enough time to soak into the surface, resulting in premature stain failure.

How Long Should Deck Dry Before Staining?

Image of Wood Deck In Deck Sealing Vs StainingYou should give the deck two days to dry before staining. But this applies if you pressure wash the surface.

Ideally, cleaning the deck is a vital step in the deck staining process. 

Otherwise, the stain will seal the dirt and grime in the wood, encouraging mold and mildew to eat away at the lumber. 

And you’ll end up with a weak deck and a dingy-looking project.

So, since thoroughly cleaning the wood is inevitable, give it sufficient time to dry for the best outcome.

Moreover, deck staining needs a few processes. They include applying a deck cleaner and pressure washing. Then, apply the stain and allow it to dry.

The entire exercise needs about three to five days. So, please allocate enough time for the project to avoid skipping steps or applying the stain too quickly.

In addition, wait for the deck to dry after a rainstorm before staining. Rain leaves the lumber wet and compromises stain adherence.

Finally, always give the project at least one to two days after rain. But the duration also depends on how much rain gets into the deck.

For example, cooler temperatures and a humid climate need two days, whereas hot and dry areas take one.

What Happens If It Rains After Staining Deck?

Rain on a newly stained deck ruins it. If rain falls within 48 hours of stain application, the water soaks into the wood and tries to displace the finish.

As a result, it leads to a flaky, blotchy appearance rather than a smooth, uniform coat. In addition, the finish will peel and flake off if it rains immediately after staining the deck. 

Therefore, it is worth holding off applying the stain until you confirm the weather will be dry for a few days.

More specifically, ensure that rain is not forecast for 48 hours. Fortunately, all hope is not lost! We have situations when you can remedy the situation.

Once you’re within the recommended time frame for a second stain coat, apply the stain on an inconspicuous area. Then, observe if it fixes the damage.

You can also use a pressure washer and wood cleaner to remove the spots without harming the finish.

Besides, hosing down the deck and cleaning it removes dirt brought by the rain. Hence, you can apply a second and third coat and expect an excellent result.

How to Prepare Deck for Staining 

Preparing a deck for staining is the first step to guarantee a durable outcome. It ensures that the new stain appears bold while holding up for years.

This process includes making necessary repairs, sweeping the deck to remove loose debris, and cleaning the surface with a deck cleaner.

Also, it is prudent to thoroughly rinse the deck and give it at least 48 hours to dry. Below is a detailed guide on the exercise.

  • Clear the Deck’s Surface

Remove all deck accessories and furniture from the structure. Relocate chairs, grills, planters, flower vases, and tables to the nearby yard or garage. 

Tool sheds, basements, or carports are also perfect places to stash the deck’s furnishings temporarily. Simply put, ensure that the deck’s floor is free from obstructions before starting.

Further, keep the surface clear for about two days after cleaning. Store the furniture somewhere indoors if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

  • Sweep the Deck

Sweep the surface to remove loose debris like dirt and leaves.

Start at the deck’s center and work outward, brushing the dirt over the edges. In addition, remove as much dust, rocks, and debris as possible.

You can also dislodge remaining gunk between boards and inside hard-to-reach areas with a putty knife.

  • Replace Rotten, Damaged, or Loose Deck Boards

A deck that sees many seasons needs a few repairs before staining.

Pry up old and rickety boards. Then, cut new ones, and attach them with the same fastener type.

Pick up a lumber type with a similar texture, color, and grain pattern for the replacement boards.

This way, your deck will have a uniform appearance.

Alternatively, hire a professional contractor to fix your deck if it needs more extensive repairs.

NB: Remove loose nails and fix deck screws instead. The slightly larger screws will fit better in the expanded holes.

  • Sand Down Rough Spots

Use an appropriate sanding accessory to smooth bumpy surface areas.

You can get a sanding block wrapped in medium-grit paper, around 80 to 100 grit, and an orbital sander.

Work the sanding accessory over splintered and worn segments in wide and gentle circles. This way, you blend the board’s edges with the surrounding surface.

Pay attention to uneven edges around lines where two boards meet, nail holes, and corners.

However, please avoid sanding the deck too much. Otherwise, you may leave shallow depressions, leading to rainwater pools on the surface.

  • Cover Surrounding Areas With a Plastic Sheet or Tarp

Shielding shrubs, flowers, and other vegetation will protect them from the deck cleaner’s chemicals.

Fortunately, working with a plant-friendly or organic deck wood cleaner eliminates the above hassle.

So, you’ll only need to gently mist them with a hose after washing the deck.

Also, trim shrubs and tree limbs overhanging the deck’s edges. You will enhance airflow and help the lumber dry quickly.

  • Apply the Deck Cleaner

Spread a generous cleaner amount to the surface for sufficient coverage. In addition, aim to apply the product evenly for better results.

Pour the formula into a large bucket or load it into a garden sprayer. Then, slather it manually with a push broom or long-handled roller.

Wear safety glasses and gloves to protect your eyes and skin from harsh chemicals.

Some cleaners work best on a damp surface, whereas others are suitable for dry decks. Therefore, read through the manufacturer’s recommendations for optimal operation.

NB: Apply additional cleaner to problem areas when necessary. However, please avoid using too much lest you leave pools and puddles.

  • Let the Cleaner Sit

Give the cleaner ten to 15 minutes to soak into the surface. Also, read the product label for more specific time guidelines.

Besides, this duration enables the product to break down oil, grime, dirt, rust, and other accumulating substances.

Scrub the deck when still damp to make the best use of time and guarantee efficiency.

  • Scrub the Surface with a Stiff-Bristled Paintbrush and Push Broom

Move the brush or broom along the deck boards lengthwise from end to end. This way, you work the formula deep into the lumber grain.

Focus on heavily soiled patches, moss, and other areas needing extra scrubbing.

Moreover, please stay away from scouring pads and wire brushes. They embed metal fibers in the wood and ugly scratches.

  • Rinse the Surface

Spray off the deck once the formula sets for the recommended duration. You’ll flush away the remaining deck cleaner traces.

Moreover, sweep the water stream back and forth across the structure to cover all areas.

Luckily, you can also attach a spray nozzle for excellent precision. Then, continue rinsing until you eliminate all the bubbles.

It is advisable to use a garden hose for this project. A pressure washer causes small cracks and wear.

  • Let the Deck Dry Before Stain Application

The recommended drying duration is two days for long-lasting results. Meanwhile, limit foot traffic on the deck and keep it dry.

Pour some water into a small spot to determine whether the wood is dry enough for staining.

If the water drops soak in the wood within 30 seconds, you are good to go. Otherwise, let the deck continue drying.

Finally, schedule the project for a few days with clear conditions for a perfect outcome.

  • Sand the Lumber with 120-Grit Paper

Rub the accessory against the surface, following the grain’s direction. Then, wipe off the debris with a clean towel.

This sandpaper helps remove wood imperfections from dirt and dust. Next, dampen the towel before wiping the sanding dust to facilitate faster drying before staining.

It is also advisable to fill wood dents and holes. And ensure the wood filler matches or compliments the deck’s color.

  • Switch to 220-Grit Paper

Get 220-grit sandpaper to deliver a uniform surface. In addition, rub the entire deck before wiping it.

Further, sand along the wood grain’s direction guarantees a flawless finish.

  • Apply Wood Conditioner

Use a high-quality paintbrush to apply a generous amount of wood conditioner to the deck. 

You can also get a satisfactory result with a sponge. Only work the formula in even strokes and cover the surface with an even, thin layer. 

  • Wipe the Excess Wood Conditioner

Give the deck ten to 15 minutes to absorb the formula and wipe off the excess. Also, work in small strokes, following the wood grain.

Always read the product label for accurate waiting times. This way, you are sure of the best results.

  • Allow the Wood Conditioner to Dry

Usually, the formula needs about 30 minutes to dry. In addition, stain the surface within two hours after applying the wood conditioner.

How to Stain a Deck

Correctly staining your deck keeps it attractive, safe, and well-maintained. Further, stain the workpiece by cleaning it, preparing the surface, and applying the finish.

In addition to preparing and cleaning the wood, it is advisable to choose the best Stain.

First, get a product complementing or matching the deck’s color. Then, test it on an invisible deck area to confirm it’s what you want.

Moreover, get a water-repellent formula to deliver superior waterproofing and ultraviolet protection.

Experts also recommend a semi-transparent finish if you intend to preserve the lumber’s original hue and grain pattern.

Next, follow the staining procedure below.

Apply the Stain

  • Sand the Lumber with 220-Grit Paper

Use the sandpaper once the conditioner dries and sand in the grain’s direction. Then, remove the sanding dust with a clean rag.

Please avoid using papers of lesser grit than 220. They leave ugly scratches and marks on the surface.

  • Stain the Surface

You can use a paintbrush or a rag to work the formula to the deck. But first, stir the stain thoroughly using a plastic or wooden stirring utensil.

Dip the accessory into the stain and spread it on the surface. Also, work across the workpiece in sections for complete coverage.

Wear safety gloves to protect your skin from harsh stain chemicals.

  • Use Thin, Uniform Layers

Apply the stain in long strokes. But do not insist on applying too much stain as you’ll later wipe it.

Only focus on eliminating major splatters or streaks. Then, use long and slow strokes to even out the stain’s color.

  • Wipe the Excess Formula

Let the stain sit for five to 15 minutes before wiping it. Besides, the duration depends on your desired shade.

The longer the formula sits on the surface, the darker it gets.

Use a clean towel to wipe the excess liquid. But rub the lumber lightly and follow the wood grain.

Nevertheless, be thorough.

In addition, do not let the finish sit longer than 15 minutes. You can always have additional coats for a darker color, but it is challenging to remove a dark stain.

Lastly, pay attention to splotchy and darker regions. Wipe them to facilitate a uniform color.

  • Allow the Stain to dry Before Adding More Layers

Give the finish about four hours. Then, add other coats if desired.

Apply another stain layer for a darker finish and let it soak in for five to 15 minutes. Then, wipe the excess formula for a uniform hue.

Repeat the above process as often as possible until you deliver a good color. But ensure that each layer dries thoroughly before adding another.

Finish the Deck with a Sealant

  • Choose a Suitable Finishing Coat

Although sealing the wood is not mandatory, experts recommend the practice if you want your deck to last longer.

Besides, protective finishes such as polyurethane work perfectly and are readily available online and in hardware stores.

Remember to stir the formula gently with a plastic or wooden stick.

In addition, use slow and gentle motions and avoid shaking the can. Otherwise, you’ll introduce bubbles in the solution.

  • Apply the Sealant

Use a quality natural bristle paintbrush to seal the deck. Dip the accessory in the formula and brush it on the surface. 

Also, follow the lumber’s grain direction for a more consistent finish. Continue applying the finish until you cover the entire deck with a thin, uniform layer.

Further, feel free to test the topcoat on a scrap wood piece before sealing the project.

  • Let the Topcoat Dry Before Sanding

Wait about three to four hours for the finish to dry before sanding. Moreover, you can complete your project here if you get a desirable surface after this duration.

However, you may want to add more coats. So, use 220-grit paper for sanding the top layer gently.

Additional layers guarantee superior protection and shine to the deck. But this aspect depends on the sealant type.

  • Apply the Second Sealant Coat

Brush the sealant to the sanded finish, going in the grain direction. In addition, apply uniform and thin layers for a professional result.

Let the coat dry for four hours before deciding to add another layer.

Generally, most people prefer to have two sealant coats. Therefore, only add more if your manufacturer recommends more than two layers.

Lastly, wait 48 hours for the final coat to dry before using the deck.

Here’s How to Stain a Deck:

Choosing a Deck Stain and Wood Conditioner

  • Compatibility

Always choose compatible stains and conditioners, meaning they should have the same base. 

For instance, get an oil-based sealant and conditioner when working with an oil-based stain.

This aspect ensures that product layers work together to deliver a smooth finish.

  • Suitable Color

Pick out an oil-based conditioner and stain that enhances the deck’s color.

Oil-based formulas are the most popular as they are easy to handle. In addition, the finish penetrates deep into the lumber, delivering a rich, lovely color.

  • User Friendliness

Purchase water-based formula for an eco-friendly option. Besides, these products are easy to clean up and mold and mildew resistant.

Although water-based stains do not deliver a rich hue as their counterparts, they maintain the lumber’s color for longer.

Remember to apply a wood conditioner when working with a water-based stain. The formula raises the wood grain, leading to a bumpy finish.

  • Consider Gel Stains

Opt for gel formulas for colors resting on the wood’s surface. In addition, these stains do not soak into the wood, accentuating its markings and beauty.

Gel stains are also perfect for wood types that quickly become splotchy, like Pine, Cherry, Maple, and Birch.

You can use the product on vertical surfaces like cabinets and doors, as it does not splatter or run.

However, please be careful when staining crevices as the formula gathers on these spots and is difficult to remove.

  • Test the Stain

Test the formula on a scrap lumber piece to observe how it appears.

Get a small wood piece similar to the surface being stained. Then, dab the stain on the surface using a rag.

Evaluate how light or dark the finish becomes and how it affects your wood variety. Lastly, lighter lumber, like pine, is easier to stain than darker woods, like oak.

How Can I Make My Deck Stain Last Longer?

First, the deck stain needs regular reapplication to maintain its natural beauty and value.

Besides, correctly staining the deck guarantees longevity similar to synthetic decking alternatives.

Ensuring that the stain does not peel is essential. The occurrence destroys its value and leaves the deck looking ugly.

Before we discuss how to enhance the deck stain’s life, it is prudent to check out various scenarios that compromise its longevity.

  • Staining a Wet Deck

Generally, exterior stain finishes peel because of high lumber moisture levels, either before or after staining.

Wet wood soaks in less stain, causing the finish to break down and peel prematurely. Furthermore, the stain is too thick to adhere to the deck or hold itself together.

As a result, please allow the deck to dry completely after construction and cleaning. Decking is often kiln-dried to 19 percent at the mill, an ideal moisture level for stain absorption.

Also, sometimes decking may get rained on during storage or transportation. Thus, wait three to 12 months before applying a stain.

Even better, wait till spring after the deck dries and climatizes to the surrounding.

Finally, the deck needs one to two days to dry after cleaning. This way, it will absorb most stain and deliver a professional finish.

  • Over-application of Deck Stain

Applying excess stain also causes moisture issues, leading to a peeling finish. Besides, overcoating is a common cause of deck stain failure.

These moisture issues occur because too much stain trap moisture in the wood. As a result, the finish loosens.

  • In-Sufficient Under Deck Ventilation

This aspect may not be a primary issue for higher decks. But structures lower than 0.6 meters need air movement.

Poor ventilation for lower decks increases stain peeling as the underside does not dry well.

Like stain over-application, blocking the deck from releasing excess moisture causes peeling. Ideally, lumber needs to breathe, both underneath and at the top.

Moreover, insufficient ventilation creates a humid environment under the decking. This moisture soaks into the structure and tries to escape through the top boards.

But the excessive moisture level exceeds the stain’s water-releasing capacity. Therefore, the finish loosens and begins peeling.

  • Poor Stain Adhesion

The stain finish eventually peels off if it does not adhere tightly to the deck.

Further, stain users experience increased stain peeling risk as manufacturers try to comply with environmental guidelines.

Stain companies are changing their formulas and switching from solvent-based to water-based formulas.

Therefore, trial and error in reducing the product’s environmental impact risk producing poor-quality stains.

This next section will discuss various strategies for a durable stain finish.

  • Allow the Deck to Weather Before Staining

The sun dries out the wood, increasing its absorption capacity. However, it also breaks down the lumber’s fibers, opening the pores to receive the stain.

Each wood cell resembles a small sealed cistern holding moisture for leaves. Further, it is hard for the stain to soak in with closed pores.

So, the sun pokes straws into every box, allowing the wood to drink up the formula.

  • Completely Strip Off the Previous Stain Coat

Stains from different brands may not be compatible. Therefore, remove the old finish whenever you change stain types.

Also, the exercise allows the new stain to soak in and adhere to the wood’s cellular structure. Otherwise, you will end up with a surface-level finish, which peels and chips easily.

  • Avoid Staining Your Deck in Hot Sunlight

Direct sunlight and heat evaporate the formula too quickly, hindering sufficient absorption.

Worse still, the finish merely sits on the lumber. Thus, staining the surface in the cool of the day or under a shade is advisable.

And as a result, the formula has sufficient time to penetrate the lumber.

Further, the longer the stain can soak in, the more you can guarantee a deeper and lasting finish.

  •  Sand the Deck With the Recommended Grit Level 

Very fine-grit sandpaper closes the lumber pores, preventing the formula from penetrating the surface.

Moreover, sanding is perfect for removing an old stain finish, opening, and smoothing the surface. 

But the over-sanding prevents stain adhesion. So, start with a lower grit, say 36, to remove the bulk of the finish, then move to 60 and finish off with 80-grit.

Anything above 80-grit closes the wood’s cellular composition, compromising stain adhesion.

As a result, the finish eventually peels.

  • Clean and Brighten the Deck Before Staining

In addition to making the deck look better, brighteners open the wood pores and facilitate better stain penetration.

Furthermore, power washing is not enough to open up the wood pores; it only cleans them.

Deck brighteners also neutralize strippers and cleaners. Otherwise, the high PH from these formulas prevents adequate stain adhesion.

  • Remove Excess Stain During Application

Excess finish traps moisture which causes peeling. Also, applying more stain than the lumber can absorb leads to filming.

This occurrence suffocates the lumber, resulting in stain peeling.

Interior furniture pieces may look perfect with glossy stain layers. But decks outside need to adapt to their environment and breathe.

Unfortunately, the stain film prevents the deck from adapting and breathing. Thus, the deck pushes the stain up and peels.

  • Stain Your Surface Natural Bristle Brush

Brushes are the most recommended for staining a deck. Their bristles move back and forth, massaging the formula into the wood pores.

In addition, they push the stain into small cracks and crevasses in the lumber.

Although rolling and spraying the stain is faster than brushing, the stain may remain on the surface.

Hence, you experience less adhesion. However, you can do a buddy combination. One person rolls or sprays the formula, with the other back brushing it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When Should I Stain My Deck?

A wood test can best confirm whether your deck needs a staining project.

Pour a small water amount on the surface and observe whether the water beads up. If it does, the lumber does not need a new stain.

On the other hand, the deck needs a high-quality stain if the wood absorbs the water immediately.

Also, check how the deck appears. Is it faint or unattractive? It is time to coat the deck if it looks faded and no longer appealing. But this aspect is pretty subjective.

Therefore, it is up to you to decide whether the deck will benefit from an expert finish.

  • When Should I Restain My Deck?

It’s likely a prime season to restrain the deck if you notice cracks, splinters, and loose boards, needing replacing.

So, replace the unsightly wood pieces with strong new ones. Then, hire an expert painter to apply a cohesive finish.

This way, you’ll guarantee an even, seamless finish.

Over time, building accessories like screws and bolts rust and loosen. This scenario compromises the deck’s structural integrity.

Thus, replace rusted bolts and screws pronto.

  • When Should You Not Stain a Deck? 

Choose the most appropriate time to stain the wood to guarantee a successful project. Otherwise, working in unfavorable weather conditions leads to more bad than good.

Most deck owners falsely believe early spring is a suitable season to stain a deck.

Sadly, it is not an ideal time because of frequent rain and humid air. In addition, the moisture-saturated air will compromise stain absorption.

On the other hand, summer is not ideal for deck staining. It is too hot, causing the stain to evaporate quickly.

As a result, you will not deliver a durable stain coating. And the wood remains unprotected from the elements.

  • What Temperature Is Not Ideal For Deck Staining?

Generally, avoid cold days when staining your deck.

Please wait for a day above 50 degrees Fahrenheit when staining the wood during spring or fall.

Moreover, ensure freezing temperatures are not in the night’s forecast. Otherwise, levels below 32 digress Fahrenheit hinder the curing process.

Similarly, experts discourage painting your deck at temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Otherwise, the stain dries up too quickly, potentially causing uneven penetration and lap marks.

Therefore, work on a cooler day or stain the wood in the morning. It is okay if the temperatures rise after application.

  • Why Should I Stain My New Deck?

First, staining a new deck is vital to its durability and a perfect way to protect your investment.

Further, pressure-treated lumber or Cedar withstands unfavorable conditions. But no wood structure lasts forever. So, you are safe with regular staining.

A stain finish protects the wood’s surface through penetration. 

Moreover, it soaks deep into the lumber, providing a weatherproof barrier between UV rays and water and the wood’s interior.

  • When Do I Stain Cedar Decking

Staining Cedar has different guidelines than pressure-treated wood. Besides, Cedar comes without enhanced protection as it is chemical-free and all-natural.

Also, staining the lumber is advisable within two to three months of deck installation.

Cedarwood is not hardwood. Thus, regular use and heavy traffic make it vulnerable to nicks and dents.

In addition, it wears out faster without a protective layer to buffer these cuts and nicks.

Most woodworkers purchase Cedar because it looks fantastic. Hence, you’d want to maintain its natural look by staining.

Fortunately, we have oil-based, semi-transparent finishes that preserve the wood’s natural attributes while protecting it from water damage.


Most woodworkers are not careful to observe seasons before staining. Yet, these timings significantly affect the final finish and its durability.

For instance, summer and winter are not ideal for deck stain application. These periods have high humidity levels that compromise formula absorption.

In addition, temperatures during summer are pretty high, causing the formula to evaporate too quickly.

Considering the above, it is prudent to answer the query:

When Is the Best Time to Stain a Deck?

You want to stain your deck when the surface and air range between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, fall and late spring are perfect for the venture.

Also, please avoid applying the formula when there is a rain forecast in one or two days. Otherwise, your hard work may be washed away.

So, pick a warm day without rain on the way to guarantee successful stain application and drying.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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