Clean or Strip the Deck Stain?

Deck Stain Stripping vs. Deck Cleaning

Knowing the difference between deck stain stripping and deck cleaning can be vital to your deck maintenance or restoration project. It’s important first to understand why cleaning a wood surface is necessary.

Besides the obvious of overall appearance and curb appeal, a wood deck should be cleaned and sealed every couple of years to prevent structural damage. Water and moisture wreak havoc on wood inviting mold and mildew which can lead to wood rot. The sun’s U.V. rays also damage wood fibers and turn them an unsightly gray. In colder climates freeze/thaw occurrences can warp, crack, and split boards ruining a deck in no time.

By cleaning the wood and protecting it with a quality wood stain, you are locking out moisture, blocking sun rays, and protecting the deck from the environment. This ensures a better overall appearance and a longer lasting wood structure.
Now that we have determined why cleaning a wood deck is necessary let’s uncover the differences between deck stain stripping and deck cleaning. Before applying any sealer to the wood it has to be cleaned properly. You need to use a deck cleaner to remove all the unwanted soils such as dirt, mold, mildew, and graying. This will guarantee a clean surface for the new deck stain.

The deck cleaner is mixed up as needed and normally applied with a pump sprayer. It should be allowed to dwell on the surface for several minutes to break up the unwanted soils. This is then followed up with a stiff brush scrubbing or light to moderate pressure washing to remove the contaminants. The deck is then rinsed and a deck brightener is applied to restore the pH of the wood and brighten the wood grain.

Failing Deck Stain

Failing Deck Stain

When an old failing wood stain or sealer is present a deck cleaner is usually not aggressive enough to remove it. In this case using a deck stripper instead of a deck cleaner will not only remove unwanted soils but also unwanted stain or sealer remnants. Deck strippers are a more aggressive caustic than a deck cleaner. They emulsify and soften most deck stains so they can be washed away with all the other contaminants. The deck stripping process is the same as deck cleaning with the applying, dwelling, and pressure washing. The only difference is the product used and like mentioned, that is determined by what is existing on the deck prior to cleaning. A deck brighter should also be applied following deck stripping.

Basically the difference between deck stain stripping and deck cleaning is whether or not there is an old deck stain present or you are just removing dirt, grime, graying, etc. Determine what is on the surface of your deck and use either the deck stain stripping or deck cleaning process, followed by deck brightening to prep the wood prior to staining.

As Questions Below If You Need Help

67 Responses to “Clean or Strip the Deck Stain?”

  1. Ray P says:

    I have kept my deck in good shape by cleaning it and staining it at least 5 times in 12 yrs, most recently 2.5 yrs ago. Now it needs stained again. The wood is good, no cracks, or damaged wood planks. So my question is should I strip it this yr before staining? If I should use a stripper what would be my next step or would I go straight to staining it?

    • Ray P, If you have a buildup of stain then it may be best to strip it now and brighten when done. This would allow the stain to penetrate better. This really depends though on the brand you have been using and or if switching brands.

  2. marvista_maggie says:

    Oh goodness, I hope you can answer my question. I'm in So. California about a mile from Venice Beach. My carpenter recently built a beautiful redwood fence, two small decks, & a gate for me. Unfortunately he put Thompson's Water Seal on everything. ("WHAT?" you say…I know!) I want it done properly now. It's only been a few months & water still beads up on all the surfaces. The decks are gray. The fence just looks really dirty and the gate, which was done last is still pretty blonde. Everything seems to point to using a stripper & then a cleaner to restore the pH. Some paint store guys have advised me to wait a year & then not have to strip it. I don't think that's wise,though, because surely there will be spots that still have the sealer on them and that will make a mess. So…stripper, cleaner (w/ a power washer set on low), and then stain, right? I want a "natural redwood look". TWP semi-transparent something and which brand for cleaning products? Can my professional painter can do it or should I hire professional deck people? (PS. I hope I'm not posting this twice. I had some trouble registering.) Thank you so much for any advise you can give me. My head has been spinning w/this question for weeks!

    • marvista_maggie, Strip and Brighten is what you would want. I would hire a deck person unless the painter has extensive experience. Most do not. TWP 1500 is really your only decent option for the LA area. The California Redwood is a nice color.

  3. Chris_Ark says:

    Hello, I have a deck that has was stained about 3 years ago. It needs stained once again. I have thoroughly power washed the entire deck and removed all the grey, mold etc. Do you think I still need to use a stripper? I can't really say the old stain is not visible any longer but I can't say it is either. Thanks!

  4. Dan says:

    I have used Sikkens DEK on my cedar deck an am sick about the quality. Within less than two years the horizontal surfaces were peeling. I thought maybe it was an application error. I sanded the wood bare and re-applied. Same results. So now I have this deck with peeling/bare areas and other areas on the verticals that are in decent condition. What would your recommendation be for prep for a new product? Also what product would you recommed? I am in Nebraska we have below zero degree winters and over 100 degree summers-The Good Life!? Thanks!

  5. Ann says:

    do we use a pressure washer to clean/remove and rinse cleaner from the deck? is this too harsh or good that it is powerful?

  6. Lauren says:

    We just had our deck power washed, but it didn't get up all of the old stain. Is it safe to apply a deck stripped over the bare wood together to the sections with stain still showing? Is a deck cleaner then required after stripping even if you are going to stain again? Thanks!

  7. Bill says:

    Hi I just sanded my entire 5 year old cedar deck using 20 grit paper. I have 2 questions:
    If I sanded the deck do I need to use a brightener on it or can I just go directly to staining it with TWP 1500?
    Next question is right after I finished sanding we had about 3-4 days of rain, how much rain would have penetrated the wood and how long do I need to wait before I stain? Thanks for your help.

  8. baba says:

    i have an ipe deck which i restain every year. after i use the deck cleaner, is it a must that i use the brightener??

  9. sam says:

    I recently (2-months ago), applied a semi-transparent stain on my cedar deck. The deck color made the boards differrent shades, not happy with the results. I want to re-do the deck and leave it natural. Do I strip away the stain and then brighten it. What would would you recommend to seal it (water proof), product. We have cold weather and snow in the winter months.

    • Sam, you would need to strip and brighten the wood. Clear colors do not give UV protection for very long so it will gray on you. If you are okay with that then look at the Defy Extreme Clear.

  10. Erin says:

    I applied Thompson's WaterSeal about 2 years ago and am considering using a TWP product this time around. Do I need to use a deck stripper before applying the TWP product or do you think I can just use a deck cleaner?

  11. jode says:

    I have a 2year old cedar deck (twp stain) that is starting to peel very bad. Should I strip my deck or just clean it?? I will restain it with twp again. thanks

  12. Adam says:

    I have a 4 year old fir fence that is stained with Olympic semi-transparent. The stain is failing in some spots. I am restaining with TWP 1500 and I have the cleaner and brightener sold by TWP. Do I need to strip the fence? and will a powerwasher be adequate?

  13. Janie says:

    Does a solid stain hold up better than a semi-transparent on an older cedar deck? Assuming so, how much better? 4 years rather than 2? I live in Oregon so subject to mold and mildew. Our contractor is stripping and then sanding the deck.

    Have you heard of a product called Timber Pro? I do not see any reviews for their stains on your website.

    • Janie, while a solid stain will give better Uv resistance they lie on top of the wood and peel. They do not last longer and the upkeep is more difficult. Not sure on the Timber Pro.

  14. April says:

    We purchased a used playscape for our children. Repared a few broken, rotted boards. It is made of mostly cedar and has never been stained that I can tell. We purchased a cleaner, sprayed and power washed due to dirt, grime and mildew. Some boards look excellent while others look extremely spotty now. What do I do? When this is finished I am using TWP 100 redwood.

  15. Jane says:

    I have a 10 year old cedar deck that was lightly powerwashed last year. The stain came off but the wood was still grey when my husband used Thomson's water seal on it. This year I plan to refinish the deck. Can I just sand the deck or will I need to strip, brighten, then sand? I did try this on one spot but it brought up rough fibers and when I sanded the deck colour was still a bit darker than just sanding the untreated wood. It was also easier going sanding the untreated wood but I'm worried there may still be the Thompson's water seal on the untreated sanded area. Any suggestions?

  16. Brian Neiman says:

    New 2nd. owner, deck cira 1959. Originally stained w/ FPL-046 formula which was a solvent based semi transparent stain made at home by mixing several now deemed toxic components. Last couple years spot treated w/ god knows what
    product. Question is do I sand this completely so I know where I stand or strip it & hope for the best?
    Wood is cedar & 99% sound.
    Contractor wants to wash… I want it to last..
    Anyone good to recommend in Metro-Chicago?
    I'm driving into Wisconsin to buy TWP-100

  17. AJK says:

    I am not sure whether my deck was stained with an oil based or water based stain. I need to stain it now. What should I do to prepare the deck for a new coat of stain.

  18. BKC says:

    Hello, I just finished a redwood deck a few weeks ago in Eastern Wasington and lightly sanded after letting sit for 5 or 6 days before puting on Cabott's Australian Timber Oil… We have had some rain recently and I've noticed that their are some areas of the deck where the water has beaded up and left water rings… Any advice as to what to do about these area's. I know now after reading the site that I should not have sanded the wood after we finaished and probably should have used something other than Cabbotts.. Thank you in advanvce for any advice..

  19. fran says:

    Where do I find " IMAGES UPLOAD"?

  20. cleveland says:

    My deck was last stained in 2007 using Pittsburgh Paint's Ultra Advanced Semi-Transparent Acrylic Oil Stain. Most of the walking and horizontal surfaces of my deck look like the "failing deck stain" picture that goes with this article. The vertical surfaces don't have wear spots. We used 2 deck cleaners and power washed the deck but didn't know that stripping it to prep for restaining might have been the better option. Now we have limited time and money, and a deck that needs staining before winter. I have 3 questions I hope you can answer. 1) Could we stain it now with the same brand and plan to strip, use a brightener, and restain it in a year or 2? 2) Would the best option be to strip it, power wash it again, use a brightener, and then stain it? 3) What is an "acrylic oil" stain?

    • Cleveland,

      1. I would not do that as it will be much harder to remove next year.
      2. Strip, sand as needed, brighten, than stain.
      3. Acrylic oil is a water based stain. It is not a true oil and that is why it peeled.

  21. Brad says:

    Thanks for a great article. I just bought a house and it has a ton of decking the whole length of the house. It looks like the previous owner power washed it for appearance before selling. Now the wood has turned gray and has spots of green mold. It's now cold weather here in Maryland and I don't think we will be able to string enough dry warm days together to stain so much wood. Should I just use a good cleaner and pressure wash the wood to get me through the winter? Or should I just leave it alone until warm air arrives in spring. I'd hate to see it all get ruined.. I can't imagine the cost to replace it all. Thanks for any insight!

  22. Mazen says:

    I need to prep my deck for staining. Do I need to clean it if I intend to sand it. If yes, do I clean it before or after sanding it?

  23. scot says:

    I have a fence that was stained about 9mos ago, but I think I waited too long after the new cedar wood fence was installed to stain (or so I've been told) bc the stain didn't take or absorb into the wood like I had hoped. Looks kind of blotchy and faded in certain areas. I paid about $500 to get this done and would prefer not to invest that much again if I don't have to. Just curious how to go about restoring the appearance and making sure it is properly sealed. I bought some Thompson Water Seal with the tint in it (from what I've read here I get the impression that's NOT a good product). My question is should I clean the fence first with a cleaner, not stripper, and then apply this tint (or some other recommended tint) to help cover up and brighten up the color and appearance of the fence? Or do I have to go through the tedious process of stripping then staining it? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Not very savvy on this.
    Thanks!

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      Scot, do not use the Thompson over the current stain. 2 options:

      1. Do a light cleaning and apply one coat of the stain that was applied last year. This should even out the look.
      2. Strip off last years coating and apply a new stain correctly.

      • Scot says:

        Thanks! One last question: you say a light cleaning. Does that contain 1 part bleach and 1 part water in a pump sprayer? Or possibly just a garden hose vigorous rinse? I'm not looking to remove the existing stain, just hit the lighter spots and help it look richer overall…Mine looks faded some compared to neighbors.. :-/ … Thx again!

  24. Sharon says:

    We are renting a house in the NY metro area from some friends. They bought the house in 2006 and haven't done any maintenance on the deck since then. They'd like us to attempt to restore/clean before going to a pro. The wood looks to be in good condition other than having turned gray and a little green here and there. It looks like there isn't a stain on the deck, but I'm not sure how to tell. Should we clean and brighten or is there a way to test if it is sealed other than the "water test?" Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

  25. Jeremy says:

    Great Cedar deck, just washed it with biodegradable cleaner. Deck is in pretty good shape, minimal dark spots, gets lots of sun. Do I need brightener before staining–and can I forgo the stripping process if deck appears in fair shape?

  26. Gen says:

    I am refinishing my large deck, which contains a lot of vertical panels with trellis for privacy. I am unsure about trying to strip the trellis because I doubt I will be able to do it thoroughly. Would I be better off trying my best to strip the trellis along with the rest of the deck, of just cleaning that part before staining everything? My husband is very hesitant to try to strip the deck at all.

  27. Bob says:

    I'm in the process of stripping off the Behr semi-transparent stain and going with a lighter Defy Extreme stain. For the deck I am using the Defy Stripper and Brightener. The rails I sanded down – no stripper. Since the boards look light new, do I need to use a brightener on these as well?

  28. jim says:

    I stained my deck w wolman f/p natural. after a few yrs the stain is mostly gone/faded on horizontal surfaces. In the past when re-staining with oil based the deck comes out so dark. anyway to get it to have the lighter color such as when its first stained?

  29. Amy says:

    I am in the process of restaining my deck. The old stain is not peeling off. However, I thought that I had to strip the deck first (not sure if that was necessary now). I only stripped a small part of the deck, but it's taking forever. Even in the area that I stripped it, it's spotty with some stain left on some areas. Should I continue doing this to the entire deck and possibly risk having the end result be very spotty? Or should I just try to stain over everything I've done? I'm concerned that the area where I partially stripped will look different than the area I didn't when it is fully stained?

  30. Doug Johnson says:

    Deck has Behr's Premium Transparent Weatherproofing Wood Finish 500 Natural about 2-3 years old and is badly in need of replacing. Tried pressure washing, but does not take all of old finish off. Next step would be to use a stripper and some sanding. Question is on the sanding – Rather large deck with railings. If sanding is necessary is it suggested to use a large power sander on main deck and smaller hand sander on railings or is the larger commercial sander to aggressive for actual deck.

  31. SteveB says:

    I have a cedar deck that had water-based Cabot stain that did not last on the top of the boards. I have sanded the tops of the boards and have removed all the old staind. I am going to use Restore-A-Deck cleaner before applying TWP stain.
    What about the stain that is still between the boards – It is actually in decent condition – do I need to worry about it? Do I need to strip or sand between the boards?

  32. jduffy says:

    I am in the process of prepping a deck in northern CT. Will propably use TWP 1500. 4 years ago used Cabot Australian Timber Oil. There is no peeling or flaking on surface. After sanding, do I use a stripper or cleaner? There is some of the old cabot stain still on the surface. I will apply brightener after.

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