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Deck Stripping – Removing an Old Deck Stain

Stripping an Old Deck Stain

Failing Deck Stain

When it comes to restoring an older wood deck, it’s extremely important to prep the wood correctly. Not doing so can lead to premature failure of the new deck stain. No matter the brand or cost of a deck stain, it will not last as long as it should if it isn’t applied to a perfectly cleaned and prepped surface.

One of the biggest mistakes DIY homeowners make in cleaning and preparing a wood deck for stain, is not removing all remnants of old deck stain. Any failed deck stain that is left on the wood will block the new stain from penetrating the surface properly. The new deck stain will sit on top of the wood instead of diving into it. Deck stains do not adhere to each other well so this causes the newer deck stain to begin flaking and peeling off the deck normally in a year or less. Even if you can’t see any old deck stain but you know there was some on the wood at one time, it’s vitally important to remove it. Splash some water on the wood and see if it absorbs into the wood or if it beads up and sits on top. Beading up would indicate there is some type of old failed stain on the wood that needs to be removed.

To remove old deck stain from the wood you have to use a deck stripper. A quality deck stripper will break up and soften any old stain allowing it to be washed away. Most deck strippers will not remove solid stain or paints, if this is the case you may have to sand the old stain to get back down to bare wood again.

Once the deck has been washed with a deck stripper and the old deck stain is gone, it is necessary to brighten the wood using a wood brightener. The deck stripper will darken the wood and raise the pH level. To brighten the wood back to a natural state, and lower the pH to a more acidic level, will restore the appearance and give the new deck stain the best chance of lasting as long as possible.

A properly cleaned and brightened deck should be allowed to dry for several days before a quality deck stain is applied. Taking these measures and using a deck stripper and deck brightener before staining will give you much better and longer lasting results.

Deck Stain Stripping: Deck Stain Stripper Reviews

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154 responses to “Deck Stripping – Removing an Old Deck Stain”

  1. Pat says:

    I used the Sherwin Williams brand (Deckscapes) stripper to strip off the remaining semi-transparent stain I used that failed. I followed up with a power washer to attempt to remove all stain. Unfortunately there are a few pesky areas that won't come up, even after multiple attempts. There are also areas I'm unable to reach with the power washer (behind spindles, back of railing, etc.) that the stain hasn't been removed. What are your recommendations? Should I use a small detailing sander to remove the reaming stain? Thanks!

    • Depends. How much in % came off and what stain brand are you using for reapplication.

      • Pat says:

        I would estimate 90 -95% of the stain was removed with the stripper and power washer. I followed up with a brightener and plan to sand the entire deck prior to staining. I just want to ensure the last bit of stain will come off with a sanding. I plan to re-stain with the TWP 100 in a dark brown color similar to what I used before.

        • Karen says:

          I have the same problem—I have used DEFY Stain Stripper to try and remove the existing stain from my deck. About 80% of the stain has been removed after multiple applications. I would like to use the same stain that was used before (it lasted pretty long, just finally defeated by wear and Seattle weather). Do I have to get the rest of the old stain off, since I'm using the same stain again?

  2. Ralph says:

    Bought a house a with a new cedar deck(9 months old). Previous owner had put sealer on the knots in the wood…not the entire deck. He said he didn't have time to seal the deck before the winter rain started. So ..he decided to brush sealer on the knots only.
    Now….I want to remove the sealer,mold and mildew..and finish the deck properly. Which deck stripper do you recommend??

  3. Matt says:

    Taking over after someones else's failed attempt. They apparently put on Flood CWF oil based semi transparent over the top of the exact same stuff after only pressure washing once. Did not remove the old stain (same brand, type) now it is barely present on some spots and has a thick tacky glossy buildup on the railing, balusters, and near the edges of flooring. I usually have only done a first application after i have built the deck, so this is new ground for me. Where do i start?

  4. Michael says:

    How can I get Penofin stain semi transparent off a bench I just put on the bench a few days ago and got water spots so I sanded it and want to get the rest of the stain off with a Stripper? What can I use? Please help !!!!

  5. Jen says:

    We will be sanding off chipping and peeling solid color stain from our deck. Do we still have to clean and brighten it also, does the sanding prep it for stain?

  6. Gabriela says:

    Our wood deck has restore with a stucco texture. We are in desperate need of doing it again. Do I need to sand it first or do I have a way of putting another smooth texture restore over it?

  7. Gina says:

    We have 10+ years, grooved decking. My husband in his wisdom has been staining it year after year with fence panel stain. It doesn't flake but is patchy. I'd like to Restore it to its natural colour as I don't like the current reddish brown colour. From the comments and feedback given, stain remover might help, but sanding seems to be the way to go – correct me if I'm wrong! It's the grooves I'm concerned about, any advice or tips on how best to get rid of the build up stain. The decking has never been sanded! I'd like to avoid replacing it, as the wood is sound.

    • There is nothing that will remove this fully from striping due to the buildup. You will have to sand and that be very hard due to the grooves. Replacing may be your only option to full removal.

  8. Marhsa says:

    Wanting to remove old solid color stain and put on semi transpareint stain to match house, old stain has been on about 4 year , plan to strip then sand ? Any sugestions would be helpful including whats the best kind of sander? Its about a 30'x20' deck thank you

    • Strip with the REstore A Deck Stripper. Sand with a drum sander for the floors and orbital and belt sanders for the railings. Brighten all wood when done and heavy rinse with water.

  9. John says:

    I have a Defy semi-transparent stain on my deck now. If I use a stripper, will it remove all of the stain right down to the bare wood? Or will there be some remnant of the stain remaining? I will be using the same stain again.

  10. Lucy K says:

    We have a cedar deck that we finished with linseed oil and varithane. It went moldy.
    We sanded that off and replaced with a semi transparent stain that is peeling off. I am in the middle of stripping that off with a wood stain and finish stripper from Behr. Any suggestions how to treat the cedar once i have it stripped?

  11. Steve says:

    Have a major problem …… I own a pressure treated deck …. Approximately 10 years old …. and I applied Thompson's WaterSeal (Waterproof PLUS clear Wood Protector) on my greying deck. I cleaned the deck first with a deck cleaner …. don't want to hear about what I should or shouldn't have done …. I need to remove the cleaner from deck as the WaterSealer has darkened the original light grey tone of the deck so much so my wife hates it …. really hates it!
    What's the best way possible to remove the Thompson's sealer to somehow get the old look back?
    I'm at fault for presuming the "clear" version of the sealer would not affect the outcome of the colour …. just need some serious professional advice as to how to regain the old look of the deck …. have to agree with my wife, I don't like the look …. please advise me on what to do next (deck stripper, sanding, etc?)

    Thanks ….. Please hurray, my wife is pissed :)

    • You cannot remove the Thompsons without removing the old weather graying look as well. the only way to get it off is to strip it and that will remove the graying.

  12. pat says:

    I put a semi transparent wood stain on my deck in an area about 3x6ft…I do not like the color…what can I do to put a different color on the deck?

  13. Craig says:

    Do I need to strip off all of the old stain? I am using Behr Premium Deck Over over the same product. Some of the areas more exposed to sun have peeled. I was going to just sand those areas smooth but thought is might be easier to use a stripper only on the peeled areas. Will this work or do I have to strip the entire deck?

  14. miztaryn says:

    This is a great article for a first timer – thank you! I do have a question or two, though, if you don't mind. I just bought the house a year ago and the deck was already in bad shape. After various projects I'm finally getting ready to do something about it, except I don't even know where to begin. I'm under the impression that I need to clean and strip the wood properly before staining, except I can't tell what type of coloring was used. Solid stain? Paint? Is there a definitive way to tell? Or do I treat them both the same? Will a pressure washer take this off or do I have to sand the entire deck? (That might take a month!)

    I also found a recipe from for a deck cleaner using bleach and powdered laundry detergent. And of course, a good scrub brush. Is this recommended, or should I use a more commercial product and chemically strip my deck? There's so many options! And last, but not least, my deck will be exposed to intense california heat in the summer and snow in the winter. Is there a particular brand of stain that holds up well to that? My impression from your article is that I should use a solid stain. And should I top it with a water sealant? Sorry for all of the questions, I'm so new to this and nervous about messing up my beautiful home. Thank you! -Taryn

  15. Greg says:

    I just used a stripper product (Jomax) and it did a good job of removing most of the old stain and clear products that were applied and had failed by the previous owners. However, there are a few spots, primarily in rougher areas and in knots, where there is a small amount of clear (?) protectant still there, mostly in little specks.. Most boards are nearly 100% clear, but there are grey specks here and there. I am going to stain with TWP100 in a honey color. I have not used a pressure washer, only high pressure garden hose as was suggested by the stripper product as ok. I also have not used a brightener as the wood color looks good to me… Is one necessary? What will it look like if I stain over a few spots that are slight grey specked? Thanks!

  16. Christine says:

    My deck was power washed by a professional recently with a deck stripper and then a brightener was used. Most of the deck floor and top railings and steps are still gray and and there is still black algea spots on the posts. Also, it looks like all the previous semi-transparent stain that I used was not completely removed on numerous spots.My understanding is that all the gray has to be removed before any staining can be
    done. Why didn't the gray come off? I don't want him to finish
    it until all the gray is removed. Can it be removed completely?

    • Hard to say for sure. Sometimes when stripping all when not come off. We shoot for 90-100% removal when we strip.

    • Bill says:


      Amongst other things (electric, plumbing, finish carpentry,…) I do many decks each year (new, repair, rebuild, tear out and replace with stone patios).

      So, like many things in life, it depends. Generally speaking for wood decks that have aged (perhaps too long) in the sun (turned gray- that is the UV breaking down the wood fibers), there is no amount of stripping, brightening, and power washing that will remove all the gray, all the the old stain, and perhaps the algae.

      Having said that, what was the agreement you had with your contractor/handyman?
      Did he/she guarantee all gray, etc. would be removed?
      Did you see how the stripper was applied? Was it scrubbed in with stiff bristle brushes?
      Usually a rinse after this step is sufficient unless the deck is in extremely poor condition.
      Similarly when the brightener was applied – brushed and gently rinsed?

      Your deck may be a candidate for sanding (commercial 12×18 and hand sanders) – it may still not get all the gray but it will provide a better prep fro the next staining.

      On an older deck you may not be able to go with the same color and start thinking about the next darker colors.

      Your deck may be a candidate for new deck boards and/or rail caps.

  17. Christine says:

    My deck was power washed by a professional recently with a deck stripper and then a brightener was used. Most of the deck floor and top railings and steps are still gray and and there is still black algea spots on the posts. Also, it looks like all the previous semi-transparent stain that I used was not completely removed on numerous spots.My understanding is that all the gray has to be removed before any staining can be

  18. Adam O says:

    Used a stain stripper (Jasco) to remove stubborn stain, then pressure washed and brightened. The areas that I used the Jasco stripper have left a light residue and has caused areas of the deck to look blotchy. I intend to apply TWP 100, but want to remove the residue to give the stain the best chance to adhere. What should be used to remove the residue? Jasco recommends odorless mineral spirits, but I'm fearful that that will cause me more problems. Thoughts?

  19. Shirley T. says:

    Sanded my deck that had a build up of semi transparent stain that was very dark and now want to go to a light driftwood color but you can still see the old ceder color between the boards . What can I do to remove this?

  20. steve says:

    I have a tiger wood deck with maybe three coats on Messmers natural transparent finish for hard wood decks on it. I just striped the deck using restore a deck stripper and the tiger wood turned black like it burned it. I thought that the stripper may be pulling all three layers to the surface. So i i pressure wash the stripper off and re treated a small area. It only turned blacker. I made sure to follow the directions and made a 5 gallon pail of stripper. Will using the brightener turn the tigerwood back to it natural "brownish red color. Can send pictures if needed.

    • You have to brighten after using the stripper! The Stripper darkens the wood and raises the pH balance while the brightener neutralizes the stripper and lower the pH balance,lightening the wood. This should have been done right away.

  21. B Sliger says:

    The contractor claims that he applied according to the instructions on the can the Penofin Verde product to my cedar deck, which was constructed last summer and was clean, dry and had never been sealed or stained previously. My deck is now a tacky as well as unsightly mess. The Verde has beaded in many places, continues to stink a full four days since application, and has ugly grayish-white patches around the cedar knots. I think it was both the quality of this product and the careless application of it that made for this disaster. Perhaps Penofin Verde should not be applied outdoors. The weather was perfect, temp wise and no rain through all this time. So the variables for harm lay with the product and perhaps the contractor did not adequately wipe it down. He claims he did, however. Terrible stuff. I give it one star at best.

  22. Pam says:

    How do you strip railings and spindles

  23. Kim says:

    Help!!! I have a large deck and I pressure washed 2 year old stain that was peeling everywhere. (Whoever applied it must have done it on a hot day). Anyway, I purchased Rez stripper to remove the stubborn areas. It did not work at all. I tried various times to see if it was just a matter of damp wood etc. The stain is a very dark brown. I want to restore with a clear coat finish to showcase the wood. Question – Can I just rent a large orbital sander to remove the rest? Will it remove this stubborn wood stain?

  24. Angelica Lopez says:

    Hey I have a deck work that was accidently stained with a solid traditional cedar stain. Luckily, I only did the railings of the deck. The client wanted to change a semi-transparent cedar tone for the whole deck. I was wondering if there is any possible way to take off the solid stain off from there? And the deck is originally a semi-transparent stain. What should I do about this?

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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.