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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.

As Questions Below If You Need Help

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186 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.

  10. Allain Hunsiker says:

    I have a deck that I stained two years ago with Messmers UV. Do I have to strip the finish or can I use the cleaner/brightener?

  11. Gary S. says:

    I have a large previously stained deck (cabot semitransparent cape cod grey) last stained several yrs ago. Am stripping the horizontal surfaces as stain is mostly thinned out and will likely apply another brand semitransparent. Rails are in better shape with a lot of the stain intact but needs to be redone. Can I apply a solid film forming stain over the existing semitransparent on the rails after cleaning or should all the stain be removed? The formula of the cabot changed since last appled (less VOC)–if I decide to do same brand and color stain, can I apply directly over existing rail stain? thanks

  12. TaraSunshine says:

    I have a 1 year old cedar deck. We let it age a bit last year before cleaning it and applying Wood Toned Deck Stain. We live in Northern Iowa and the deck faces East. This spring, the clear stain started coming off in what looked like feathers. Yes, different. So, I purchased Wood Stripper to get it all cleaned off. The direction state I should use a wood brightner. Can I go to the wood toned deck stain instead of using the wood brighter??

  13. Terry C. says:

    We have a deck that was previously stained. We have now applied stripper twice but the old stain is not totally removed. Is sanding an option that would remove the remaining stain?

  14. Wesley says:

    Hi,I have a solid stained deck that I am working to repair for a neighbor and restain. The solid stain is peeling terribly. I have cleaned and power washed,but still very flaky. What type of stripper do you prefer and generally how many square feet will it cover. Also,there are roughly 150 spindles in need of the the same work. Any tips on treating these.

  15. Diane says:

    I have a 16year old deck. The floor is Cedar the rails are pressure treated. 4 years ago I used sikkens(hated it) on it. I now want to apply TWP 1500 dark oak. The deck floor is free of the previous sikkens however the horizontal railings still appear to be holding on to some of the old stain. Do I need to strip them? I may consider using a solid white stain on just my railings. And I will definitly use solid stain on my railings if you tell me I have to strip them. I am not sure if strippung is necessary to apply a solid white stain. I am looking for the easiest solution, of course. Thank you.

  16. Jeff says:

    I just bought a new house with a 12×12 deck. Its graying, old and i am sure hasnt been maintained in quite some time. It looks like there may be parts that still have a little stain here and there showing. Should i strip or clean before i brighten, or both?

  17. Kim says:

    My deck was solid stained 5 years ago. It is very high traffic and now has many bare wood spots. Do I need to remove all previous stain before reapplying same brand solid stain? It has been cleaned and sanded lightly already. Also, how do you remove areas of tree sap that have oozed out of the wood on top of old stain.

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      No you do not need to remove all to reapply the same solid. Just remove what is loose or peeling and any dirt, etc. Sap does not come off very well. Try turpentine.

  18. Amy says:

    My deck is on the north side of my house and needs cleaning and re-stained. In the summer the majority of the deck is in full sun most of the day while parts of the deck receive no sun. It was stained with a semi-transparent Olympic stain 3 years ago. To prep the deck, one contractor says they only power wash with water and use no cleaners. They use semi-solid Cabot stain. Would this be adequate prep for the new stain? Should the deck be stripped? Would there be consequences if only water is used to prep the deck?

    • Contractor is wrong. Always best to use proper cleaner or stain strippers. By not prepping correctly, you can create issue with not penetrating or adhering. We would strip and brighten.

  19. Doug says:

    We have a 400 sq ft cedar deck and I'm tired of having to strip the old stain every two years, especially since I haven't found a stripper that works very well. Over the years I have tried a variety of semi-transparent stains and most didn't last much more than a year. I went with Behr premium weather proofing stain three years ago and it held up fairly well when applied as directed with two light coats. However, after stripping and sanding to bare wood then, it didn't seam to really penetrate the wood well and remained tacky for days. It had more of an opaque look and didn't bring out the natural grain well. I feel that re-coating with the same product will not adhere. I have now stripped with the Behr product and pressure washed half the deck. It has been a nightmare to get much of the old stain out, especially for a 70 year old body. So I guess I need to get a better stripper (preferably from a local store) and then a lot of sanding again. My question: Is there a good penetrating stain that I can just clean and re-coat every couple years without stripping?

  20. Bex says:

    My parents have a 20 year old house with a beautiful exposed deck which hasn't been treated. The paint has worn and the wood feels like it could give in. Is it too late to save?

  21. JOhn says:

    I have a deck with semi-transparent stain on it. I have sanded all of the horizontal surfaces to bare wood and am leaving the verticals intact as they still bead water. Do I need to use a cleaner or can I go straight to the brightener for the bare wood. Also will the cleaner and/or brightener harm the good stain that I am leaving in place? I am not switching brands or formulation at this time, either.

  22. frustrated says:

    I have a two tone semi transparent stain on my 5 yr old deck (cedar top rails / metal vertical rails/ pine floor).
    A chemical deck cleaner or stripper was used (I am not sure which) to clean and prepare the deck for re-staining.
    The deck has mold
    It did not work. the mold is still mostly there, and 90% of the stain is still there. Just blotches of stain are gone showing exposed wood resembling paint splatter. They can be seen as white bare wood spots on an otherwise slightly moldy deck.
    I tried to just sand to top rail but most of the stain did not come off, neither did all the mold. I tried to put a new layer of stain on the white bare spots but they still show through as well.
    How should I approach this deck now so the mold and uneven spots are gone? Strip? clean?

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      I think you need to sand this off as it sounds like the stripper did not work. Not all deck stain bands can be stripped so sanding is required.

  23. Bob says:

    I want to restain the floor of my deck because the stain is worn out in the traffic areas. It was stained with Cabot semi-solid stain 3 years ago. If I am using the same color of Cabot semi-solid stain do I need to strip the old stain or can I just clean and restain the deck?

    • If using the same product and color, you should be able to clean and recoat and the product should adhere. Issue is if you do not strip and you have a surface that has in some areas bare spots and some not, it may apply unevenly and dry blotchy looking.

  24. zona says:

    What can we use that won't kill our scrubs near the deck

  25. Pat says:

    We live in Michigan and have a large, older deck that had a redwood semi-transparent or solid stain and a couple of years ago, a lighter solid stain was put on after cleaning and powerwashing. In trying to remove the stain now to redo the deck, we have tried several different deck stain strippers, a wood stripper, and sanding (orbital, drum, and palm). We still have small areas with stain streaks or patches of stain, mainly around the house but also on boards that have more convexity or concavity. Will this interfere with an elastomeric coating adhering? Do we need to use a cleaner before we brighten? Thank you for your help.

    • Without knowing the coating you are using, it is hard to say. I would follow their directions for the prep and if they say all previous coatings need to be removed or not.

  26. Pete says:

    Stripping and brightening a 1 year old deck due to ugly color. If I strip and brighten, is it ok to stain a few weeks later or should staining be performed sooner?

    Thank you

  27. Kate says:

    I'm cleaning and restaininga deck for a friend. Using a power washer to clean the deck first. Do I need to remove all the previous stain before I apply the new stuff? We're using the same brand and colour as before,a light gray semi – transparent Behr Water proof stain/ sealer.

  28. Amber says:

    Hi there,
    We have a fence made of pressure treated wood that is 5 years old. It has never been stained or painted. We are looking at staining it this year. Is there any prep work that needs to be done to the fence prior to staining? Thanks

  29. anon says:

    I have oil based stain that needs stripping. its is spotty and moldy. My lateral rails are not wood but colored metal (black. I assume painted aluminum). Will deck stripper or deck brightener damage the metal finish? If so, how should I protect them?
    My guess to DIY re-staining goes as follows
    1 use pressure washer to clean deck with soapy water.
    2. apply deck stripper. as directed on label.
    3 remove oil stain with pressure washer
    4 apply deck brightener
    5 clear off deck brightener with pressure washer.
    6 wait to dry for 3 days or so
    7 re-stain.

    is this accurate? suggestions?

    • Typically the prepping products do not damage the metal spindles, but since there are so many different brands of spindles, it is best to do a test spot first.

      Your steps are correct.

  30. Jon says:

    Two questions.
    1. The acids in deck stripper made my hair brush limp and worthless after one application.
    Should I use a synthetic bristle brush or sponge to apply the deck stripper.? Which? I do not want to use a sprayer.
    2.The deck stripper makes my wood deck "furry". I dont know how to describe it, but after an application and scrub with stiff bristle brush, the fibers seem to come apart and create an undesirable furry look to the wood.(I cannot sand it all). What am I doing wrong?

  31. Janeen says:

    My deck has 5+ year old water-based solid stain on it (not sure of brand). I want to apply a darker color solid stain, which will probably be a different brand. Can I just clean it very good or does it need stripped and brightened?

  32. Christa says:

    Does all the old stain need to be stripped before applying a new stain? The stain stripper did not remove the stain, so do we need to sand away the old stain before applying the new stain?

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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.