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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.

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140 responses to “Clean or Strip the Deck Stain?”

  1. Dan says:

    Color me confused. The thread recommends stripping vs simply cleaning if you are switching brands but I'm not clear as to the basis of the advise. Is it simply a problem of color match? With brands undergoing periodic reformulation, especially in response to regulation, the semi-transparent stain I used years ago isn't same as the one sold today. So if the recommendation to strip vs clean goes beyond color matching, when can a new stain be applied to a cleaned but previously stained deck? Do I compare oil types (linseed vs synthetic), avoid oil on acrylic, acrylic on oil, etc?

    • Always strip if switching brands and types of stain. Meaning if your old stain went from oil based to water based then stripping is best. When in doubt, removing the old stain is your best option.

  2. Stuart says:

    I sealed an ipe deck about 3 weeks ago and they are not happy with the sealer as it left water marks. They want it re sealed with a different product. What is the best way to do this.

  3. paul says:

    I used semi transparent stain on my deck two years ago. To prepare it for re staining, do I need to use a stripper or just a cleaner, followed by brightener? Some articles say the stripper is only required if the previous finish was opaque or greater. Also curious if you use a stripper, do you also have use the cleaner?

  4. Matt w says:

    I have a deck I stained last year and it's very caked on on some sides and some are not including the spindles but it's not coming off very well I haven't applied a stripper tho

    • Depends ont the stain you are removing if this will strip off or not. Deck stain strippers will not remove filming stains that act like solid color or paint. So you know the brand?

  5. Rachel says:

    I have a one year old garapa and Ipe deck that was sealed after construction with Messmers UV- which showed a lot of fading and unevenness come this spring. I have just cleaned and brightened but still a lot of uneven areas and areas that are not as clean and clear as others (I.e. Those under pots or table that did not have as much exposure). The plan this year is to switch to Defy and wondered before a new sealing is done, would it be best to try to strip since it seems the clean/brighten was not enough? Is it safe to do this so soon after and what stripper do you recommend?? Thank you SO MUCH for your time and consideration!

  6. Mike Hancock says:

    I rebuilt my deck last year and stained it with a clear stain from Flood. The deck is in the sun most of the time and is starting to grey. Will I have to strip the old stain before I apply a new darker stain like Olympic Maximum, or will a good cleaner and brightener be enough

  7. mil says:

    hi, i have on my new deck chlorine marks , any good suggestion how can make them disappeared ?

  8. Robin Cecora says:

    Hi. I have a very large old deck (25 years old) that has been stained over the years and then painted rather dark. We're so sick of the dark color and would love to strip it to be able to paint it a lighter color. Will the old wood hold up under the stripper or would the chemicals erode the wood further? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • The stain strippers will not remove a deck paint. They are designed to remove transparent and semi-transparent colors. Strippers do not harm wood or erode the cells.

  9. Bill Haull says:

    I have a 1200 sq. ft. deck multi level, I need to strip and restain it but the railings and banisters are painted white.
    Do think the striping will harm the painted surfaces.

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*This is first and foremost a help site from our experience as wood restoration contractors. All stain and prepping manufacturer directions were followed with our reviews and ratings. We offer no guarantee of similar results. Take inconsideration that wood and deck stain results may differ due to prepping procedures, different wood types, exposure to UV radiation, natural weathering, etc.