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Should You Stain a Deck Without Cleaning First?

Uncleaned Dirty Deck

Uncleaned Dirty Deck

The correct answer is – not if you want the deck stain to last as long as it should. The number one reason a deck stain fails prematurely is because

the wood surface was not prepped correctly. Even a high-quality deck stain will not be as effective or protect like it should if the wood deck was not been washed first using the right deck cleaners.

A good deck cleaner should be used to remove gray wood fibers, dirt, mold, mildew, and other pollutants that are deep down in the wood. In some instances, a deck stain stripping agent is required to remove an old failing deck stain. It’s vitally important to remove all remnants of an old deck stain so the new stain can penetrate the wood. More times than not, most deck stains will not adhere to each other. When a deck stain is applied over an old failing stain it will start flaking and peeling within a year or so making an even bigger mess.

After the deck cleaning or deck stain stripping process, a wood deck brightener is then needed. This “brightens” the wood while restoring back to the proper pH level. The reason for a deck brightener is that the cleaner or stripper used is caustic and leaves the wood at a high Ph level, looking very dark. Deck stains penetrate better and will last longer when they are applied to a more acid surface. Brightening of the wood brings out the natural beauty which is important when using clear or semi-transparent deck stains.

Restoring a deck properly can save the homeowner money by protecting their investment. Avoid putting deck stain or water repellent on a wood deck that has not been cleaned first with the proper deck cleaners. Hurrying a project like deck restoration will only end up costing more time and money than necessary. Follow the proper recommendations for cleaning and use only quality deck cleaners and deck stains to achieve professional results and longevity of your wood.

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23 responses to “Should You Stain a Deck Without Cleaning First?”

  1. Wade says:

    Would I need to clean my deck if the deck is under a year old and has never been stained?

  2. Tom says:

    I have been told that pressure washing a deck with a 50/50 solution of water and clorox is adequate. Is thisa true?

  3. Roy says:

    I used a bleach (Olympic) deck cleaner last summer on my new cedar deck. After staining the deck with Benjamin Moore Transparent stain there were sneaker marks stained on the wood. . I did not walk on the wet stain. This year I power washed the old stain to remove it and the sneaker marks did not come off without major scrubbing even after the stain was gone. Was this caused by the bleach on the new wood?

  4. Roy says:

    Thank you. I will use different shoes this time. I want to use an oil base because the acrylic Benjamin Moore I used last year just pealed off and was very difficult to apply. I live in New York and was afraid if I start with an oil stain NY may again outlaw it in a few years. I guess I will take my chances and use Armstrong Clark. Thank you for your help.

  5. Wendy says:

    We have a 22 yr old PT deck that my husband has just turned the boards over on, for the 2nd time. It's a LOT of work to do, but SO worth the outcome! After pressure washing it & renting a Square Edge Buffer Sander from Home Depot for 24hrs & completely sanding the surface with a 60 grit paper, we have swept it all off & blown it with a leaf blower a few times. We want to keep the new wood look it has now, but need to protect it. We don't want to alter the color in any way & we read your review for the Defy Extreme Clear Wood Stain & are thinking it would be our best choice. Do you agree?
    Also, the deck is shaded most of the day, & only receives full sun for about an hour each day. We live in Southeast Pennsylvania.

    • Wendy, you need a tint if you want UV protection for over a year. Of the clears, the Defy Extreme Clear is the best. Make sure to clean the deck after the sanding to remove dust and open the pores of the wood.

  6. Wendy says:

    Thank you so much for your quick response! By cleaning, do you mean with a cleaning solution, pressure washing or just hosing off?
    I was really hoping we didn't have to add a tint, but I do understand the reasoning for it. :( I'm just not crazy about the colors on the samples. The natural pine looks slightly orangey to me. I do wish their website had images somewhere of fully stained decks. It's really hard to choose with such small color samples..Sounds like I'm gonna need to order their 2 oz. sample colors to test.
    Out of curiosity, have you ever seen any decks that were stained with a semi transparent gray stain? I'm very intrigued by the Driftwood Gray sample color. It kind of looks closest to the clear color stain to me. Do you think that gray stains are attractive on deck surfaces? Incidentally our house color is light gray stucco.

    • Wendy, Driftwood Gray is gray. It is not clear or natural. We are not fans of grays but many customers of ours do like them. We applied grays to numerous projects.

  7. Chris, try a very light concentrate of a wood deck cleaner and a soft push broom.

  8. Sandra, you will probably know that answer by next Spring. Worse case is you will need to strip it off and redo.

  9. Linda says:

    I just put up a cedar ceiling (raw wood at this point) and want to stain it. I am reading that I need to use a brightener before staining but am struggling to figure out how to do this safely. Since it's likely that mist from the sprayer will fall down on me and that there might be drips that fall on me as I work, I'm hesitant to try this. The brighteners have a pH of 1 or 2 which is extremely caustic. Will the stain look bad or simply not last if I don't brighten first? There will be no direct sunlight on this cedar ceiling nor obviously any foot traffic. Or, do you have any tips or suggestions for safely using brightener on a surface above your head?

  10. You will need to remove a layer of oxidized wood cells and since it has been 2+ years, it will be easier to do this with a pressures washer while using a deck cleaner. Scrubbing alone can be done but will be difficult.

  11. Lynn says:

    I cleaned and stained my new deck 2 months ago, and it's apparent that I need to add another coat. Do I need to clean it again before applying more stain?

  12. Sam says:

    Is there a way to clean and prep new wood without using a hose and excessive water?

    I have a shed with rough finish western red cedar siding that is newly installed. There are deep eaves that prevent water from penetrating around the doors and windows, but no flashing or other caulking in those areas. I am concerned that using the traditional wood cleaner/brightener with a hose will create water issues. Any suggestions?
    Thank you.

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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.