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Why Deck Stain Stripping can be Easier Than Deck Cleaning

The difference between deck cleaning and deck stain stripping is simple. With deck cleaning you are simply washing the wood to remove any dirt, grime, mildew, and graying. With deck stripping the same contaminants are removed but you are also removing any old remnants of deck stain. In many cases deck stain stripping is better because you are removing old deck stain in addition to other contaminants like dirt and graying.

Another difference between the two techniques is the chemical used. With deck cleaning, a wood cleaner is used which helps loosen dirt and gray wood fibers prior to washing with a scrub brush or pressure washer. With deck stain stripping, a stripping agent is used which softens most transparent and semi-transparent deck stains so they are washed away along with dirt, graying, grime, etc. This makes the case that deck stripping is better because it goes a step further. In some instances there may be old stain remnants that are not visible on the surface but could still keep the new stain from penetrating the wood pores properly. Removal of all contaminants including old faded stains is the key to a longer lasting finish.

It is widely agreed upon that deck stain stripping is better and easier than deck cleaning because the deck stripping chemicals do a better job of cleaning altogether. Although wood cleaning products do a nice job with moderate dirt and graying, deck strippers are more concentrated and do a better job of loosening all contaminants prior to washing. If you are not sure which to use or not sure if there is an old stain on your deck, it is best to use a deck stain stripper just to be safe. Deck cleaners will work on most contaminants but will not remove most failing deck stains like a deck stripper will.

In both instances a wood deck brightener should be used following a deck clean or stripping product. The cleaning and stripping products are caustic and will raise the pH level of the wood and make it appear very dark. Once the wood is cleaned, applying a wood brightener will make the wood more acidic which results in better stain penetration and it will lighten the wood back up increasing its natural beauty.

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58 responses to “Why Deck Stain Stripping can be Easier Than Deck Cleaning”

  1. Petra Goodman says:

    We built our IPE deck last year and used Penofin. I was not happy with the stain, since every time it got wet it left stains behind. I would like to use IPE Oil this year. Do I need to strip the deck before, or is a cleaner good enough? Thanks a lot

  2. bob says:

    I used wolman clear oil based stain last year on a new pt syp deck. The stuff is useless and i plan to strip and use TWP. Is the Wolman difficult to get rid of and what would be the best stripper to use? My fear is that, because it is clear, i wont know if it is all gone.

    • Bob, sorry but we personally have never stripped that product so unsure to the difficulty of removal. One way to test for readiness of the new stain is to do a water test. After the deck is stripped and has dried for a few days. Drop some water on the deck. Just a few drops will work. If they absorb right away then your stain will be able to absorb as well into the wood.

  3. Rene Schmidt says:

    Can I use the Cabot Deck Correct directly over the top of a solid color stain and if not will the stripper work to strip off the solid color stain?

    • We doubt it will work if you apply it over a solid stain. Deck stain strippers will not remove a solid stain effectively. They are designed to remove transparent and semi-transparent stains.

  4. John says:

    Just used a recommended expensive Cabot deck stain stripper. Deck is PT and 8 years old and gegts direct sun on the main floor in central NH. I first sanded the entire deck to get at dried up, flaking and rough area of the wood. Took out some stain also. Applied the Cabot stain stripper and I would rate it at 50-60% at doing the job. Lots of area the stain is still there. I had use a hand scraper, the water hose was not enough. The entire deck is open air but the portion that is covered by an over hang, the stain hardly budged there. I paid $65 for the cabot stripper and brighter. Please recommend the best 2 products that can finish the job. The original stain was water based. Help!


  5. Chris says:

    I'm getting ready to strip a 15 year PT deck (roughly 800 square feet) that gets mostly direct sun on the majority of the deck with another section covered by a 28×8 overhang from the cathedral ceiling portion of the house. The stain that had been previously applied was a Benjamin Moore Semi-Transparent Alkalyd Stain "Tahoe Brown" – a dark brown stain. Over the years, the stain on the section of the deck covered by the overhang has begun flaking and won't take on any new stain since it hasn't been exposed to the elements as the other portion of the deck. In addition, stain almost appears solid because of the multiple applications over the years and limited exposure to the elements. I want to continue to keep the deck stained a similar dark brown color but am concerned that all the existing won't come out completely due to the multiple applications over the years without stripping.

    Since I'm switching stain brands, I will have to strip the railings, spindles, and lattice panels skirting the deck as well. So, based on my long-winded explanation, I have the following questions:

    1) What would be the best stripper to remove the Benjamin Moore Alkalyd Semi Transparent stain ( I was considering Restore A Deck)? Can it be removed effectively given the multiple applications over the years?
    2) What would be the best order to tackle the project? Railings first, deck first, lattice skirting first?
    3) When restaining are the better stains for 'older' decks as opposed to newer decks?

    Thanks for your advice, this is a great resource!

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      1. The RAD stripper would work best but you will need to strip multiple times to get the multiple applications off. You may even need to sand some.
      2. Floors first then railings and lattice.
      3. Yes, look at Armstrong Clark in a semi solid color for this:

      • Chris says:

        Thanks for your quick reply.
        So just clarify then, even though multiple coats of semi-transparent were applied, it should still come out even though it may take a little more effort than normal. Also, I see that you recommended the AC Clark semi-solid over others… I had been looking at TWP since it received the highest rated, but was curious as to why this would be a better choice… I'm assuming it may a better for older decks.
        When applying the sem-solid stain, would you recommend going with 'wet on wet' or just a single coat?
        Thank again for your input!

        • Depends on how dry out you deck is. It may need two coats wet on wet but hard to say. The AC in a semi-solid will give slightly better UV protection. As for the stripping, the results of stripping can vary drastically based on the stain brand of the semi-transparent and the amount of coats. Basically they thicker or filming stain will be much harder to remove and in some cases you will need to get the sander out to remove all of it. Weathering makes a difference as well. Areas that are shaded will be harder to remove over the areas that are weathered and in full sun.

  6. clay Volz says:

    If I had a solid color stain, I think it's Behr, will the RAD stripper work or should I just rent a sander?

  7. Ted says:

    My cabin is rough-sawn cedar and needed a new coat of stain. First stain we used was too dark, so used Superdeck Stripper to remove it. The paint store said we shouldn't need to apply the brightener because the stripper took the wood much lighter than the rest of the house, yet the lightest stain we could find (Superdeck natural) takes the wood too dark again. Would the brightener prevent this ?

  8. REMOND says:


  9. Ruth Fisher says:

    We just had a 150 foot cedar fence build. We did not know we should have waited 5 weeks before staining it so we cleaned it and started staining it with a redwood stain a week after it was built. We got 1/3 of it done and after living with it a week, I really don't like the color. It is much more orange than I wanted. I really don't want to have to pay to have the wood replaced. Can you please advise what would be the best way to go with this.

  10. Michael McDaniel says:

    I have tried deck stripping products with little success. Is there a super strong product that will remove old two layers?

  11. Lynda says:

    Hi, We had our deck installed in 2006. Used Penofin Marine Oil per recommendations. Deck was soon blotchy and weathered. My dates are likely off, but In 2008, we stripped it and reapplied it. In 2009, deck looked mildewy and dirty again. Our Lumber Retailer removed the product because they couldn't figure out why the deck looked so bad, and applied Sikkens (Cetol) CRD.
    It looked great initially, but last year we sanded it off, and stripped it off chemically because the deck looked so bad. We used One Time Wood because they enticed us saying it will last 6-7 years before reapplication is needed. The result was blotchy and some of the product became crystallized because the One Time couldn't absorb into the wood. One Time rep says product was left behind. I'd like to use the One Time again. Anyone have suggestions out there ?

  12. Susan says:

    We have an 8 year old pressure treated deck that has been stained twice with Sikkens Cetol SRD Translucent Wood Finish. The deck faces northeast and is located on an exposed mountain in central Vermont. The Cetol has held up fairly well since it was re-stained two years ago, but there are some bare areas, and some dirt and mold.

    We just cleaned the deck with oxygen bleach and were planning to re-stain with the same Cetol product. We are no longer able to purchase the Cetol product in Vermont and are looking for a suitable alternative. Since most of the stain is intact, could we use a clear product? Or should we go with another translucent stain? What would you recommend? Also, after reading much on this website, it appears we may have to strip the old stain before applying new. Would this be your recommendation?

  13. David says:

    We just purchased our home last fall. The back deck looks quite aged–its grayed, peeling, fading, had algea growth, etc. But its structurally sound, no rotted boards, no mold, definitely salvageable!! We have cleaned it with detergent and scrub brush, then power washed it so far. We decided to do some research before going to the store to buy paint/stain. I'm so glad we found this sight!! We were looking at some of the deck restore products, like Olympic's Rescue It was recommended to us by a guy at Lowe's. Given the reviews and the unhappy customers we found on YouTube videos…I dont think thats a good option. But we dont know exactly whats on the deck now–the horizontal and vertical surfaces are two different colors so it might even be two totally different products. Not sure if its paint or solid stain, water based or oil based. Do we try to do deck stripper? Do we paint it? Pressure washing removed some of the worst of the peeling, but there are some places that have paint/stain still well intact. Can we do solid stain over the top of paint—no, right?

  14. Mark in Maine says:

    I'm installing some new deck boards to an existing deck. I will be stripping/cleaning the remaining deck prior to staining.

    I know I need to let the new deck boards weather prior to staining. I live in Maine. Instead of staining all but the new boards now, my thought was to strip/clean the deck now and then stain the entire deck in the spring. I will be using the TWP 1500 stain.

    Is this ok to separate the stripping/cleaning to do now and then stain in the spring or would you recommend doing it all at the same time in the spring?


  15. Jerry says:

    Hi, is it ok to apply deck stripper to newly constructed deck stairs? The deck was stained 2 years ago and now needs to be removed since it was not applied correctly. I was hoping I could just use the deck stripper on both the deck and the new stairs instead of using a stripper on the deck and then a cleaner on the stairs. Thanks!

  16. Susan says:

    I live in San Antonio and our deck was built from oak and yellow pine. I don't have any history on how the deck has been maintained. The deck faces east and only gets shade in the afternoon. I know I will need to strip and brighten the wood. Would like a recommendation on a 1500 that will minimize the appearance of the two different woods.

  17. George Cowan says:

    My deck was painted with Olympic Rescue It (not by me). I wish to remove it and start over. Any suggestions on what product (stripper) to use?

    • Hello George, the Olympic Rescue-It cannot be stripped. It is an extremely think paint type product that a deck stripper will not work effectively enough to strip. Removing by sanding and scrapping can be done but is very time consuming. It might be easier (not less expensive) to just replace the decking.

  18. George Cowan says:

    I need to remove Olympic Rescue It from my deck. Any Suggestionss

  19. James says:

    I made the mistake of listening to the advice of our local cedar supply store, who recommended applying Penofin Ultra Clear Penetrating Oil Finish to our new cedar deck. The deck, facing southwest in Colorado, turned black, gray, and a combination of the two, within two years. The only natural brown color remaining is on the vertical slats of the bench I installed. So I think I made a mistake a few days ago by mixing a small amount of TSP and bleach with water, brushing it on, and then power washing it off. The black colors are gone, but I fear I may have harmed the wood with the bleach. What would you recommend? RAD or DEFY stripper, and then brightener, and then waiting a few days before applying TWP or Armstrong?

    • Penofin turns black on most people. RAD stripper and pressure washing. RAD brightener when finished. Wait a few days before suing the stain. TWP rarely darkens in color, fades lightly instead.

      • James says:

        Thank you for your feedback. I thought you might be interested in Penofin's response to my problem (and many others' problem):

        Hello James,
        After looking at the photos and examining them we feel it is a combination of tannin bleed and maybe a slight residual oil on the surface of the wood. Photos definitely give us a bigger picture of what's going on with the wood but sometimes it can be difficult to see everything too.

        The Penofin products are more like a preservative, not a sealer or top coat product. Penofin is supposed to live inside the wood not on the surface. If the oil is not wiped off the wood or too much oil was applied than what was recommended, the wood fibers cannot absorb or retain the additional coats, leaving the oil on the surface of the wood and creating a build-up. When this build-up exists, because it is a thin layer of oil on the surface of the wood, it can be easily scratched even with a fingernail and over time this would end up cracking, chipping and peeling just like paint does. The Penofin is only a one coat application if too much oil is applied the oil that remains on the surface it can also get “baked” on the wood causing the wood to darken and even turn it to a black color. One gallon of the Penofin will cover 200/300 square feet.

        Woods such as Cedar, Fir, and Redwood have high extractive content. Water is one of the most powerful solvents in the universe and during wet weather water penetrates into the wood and dissolves the extractives into solution. It then pushes the extractives up and out to the surface of the wood. Once they reach the surface and interact with oxygen they remain as a grey to reddish-brown, to dark brown stain after the solvent (water) has evaporated. Many people mistake extractive stains for Mold or Mildew but 9 times out of 10 this is not the case. Extractive bleeding can occur under painted surfaces and even through stucco, causing unsightly discoloration. Extractive bleeding is not a manufacturing defect nor is it a finish defect.

        My suggestion would be to use both the Penofin Pro Tech Cleaner and then use the Pro Tech Brightener. The Cleaner will remove any dirt, grime, and residual stain on the surface of the wood. You start with wetting wood with hose and nozzle, mix ½ to 1 cup of the Cleaner to 1 gallon of warm/hot water, this covers roughly 300 square feet, apply to wet wood with a brush or garden pump up sprayer, allow to sit for 15 minutes keeping surface misted with water. After 15 minutes, you want to scrub the surface of the wood with bristle brush or broom and rinse thoroughly with water. You can use the brightener right after the cleaner. The Brightener will get rid of any tannins, restore, and will also open up the pours for an even application of the Penofin oil. The application is similar to the cleaner. Mix 1 cup of brightener into 1 gallon of hot water, wet surface, apply solution, let it sit for 20 minutes then rinse thoroughly with water.

        And then my response:


        Thank you for the explanation. I guess I don't understand how, in one of the driest climates in the country, with a deck facing southwest, how tannin bleed could be occurring. The cedar that I purchased was from a reputable store that specializes in cedar wood, and I recall specifically asking them about the moisture content of their wood and receiving a good answer. This was not wood purchased at Home Depot, the stain was not applied in wet conditions, and we have hardly any rain here.

        As far as too much stain being applied, by my calculations, I used approximately 2.5 gallons for just shy of 600', which would line up almost perfectly with the manufacture's coverage instructions. I don't believe too much stain was applied.

        • You should ask them why other oil based penetrating stains/preservatives do not have the darkening issue that Penofin has. If their explanation were correct, than all penetrating oil based stains would darken in color.

  20. Charlie says:

    We have a cedar deck in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010 we applied Benjamin Moore Arborcoat Natural Transparent Stain, followed by Arborcoat

    The clear coat is flaking off. What stripper would you recommend for complete removal? Would I need a brighter? What products should I apply in restraining?

    • Arborcoat will not strip off easily or at all. You will have to sand it off. Restain with a penetrating stain once you remove the Arborcoat. Try Armstrong Clark.

  21. Dennis Olsen says:

    I'm not sure if the product I need to remove is a paint or stain . does it matter ?

  22. mike says:

    It's interesting I've been stripping the same deck every 2-3 yrs for 20 yrs. Sometimes I get a furring of the wood and other times not. This last time I used the BMoore stripper mixed 50/50 with water and ended up with furring. The time before I used Behr stripper and there was no furring. Does the longer dwell time of the stripper cause more furring? I will use a Makita Painter Pal sander with a 3M synthetic to buff off the fuzzies. Is there a better way to get rid of the furring? Do you have any suggestions?
    It has been my practice to wet the wood again after any sanding or buffing to open up the wood grain. Do you follow a similar practice?

    • The longer dwell, the condition of the stain being removed, the strength of the stripper, the sooner you neutralize with the brightener, etc will all have an affect on if it can create furring. We buff our floors with a sanding pad and floor buffer if needed. Simple and easy.

  23. Mike says:


    I have a large elevated pressure treated pine deck system ( lots of levels benches, planters, hot tub etc….). The deck is about 25 years old and is relatively good condition with less than a handful of boards that should be replaced. A deck was added on about 10 years ago so it presents a different color. The deck has only had sikkens oil based semi transparent cetol applied to it over the years. We like the look of the sikkens but maintenance is more than what we tend to keep up with. We have heard in the past from contractors and dealers that the only thing that can go over sikkens is Sikkens. Is there a safe low / non toxic stripper ( we are concerned about pets and foliage) that could be applied to effectively strip the sikkens? A contracting friend likes TWC and has recommended it to us on a clean bare surface. The vertical surfaces need to be done this time around. They have never been redone as far as I know so the job is much bigger this time around. Can we safely and effectively strip or should we just clean and repeat with the Sikkens? Thanks.

    • Depends on which Sikkens you used as to if strippable or not. The SRD version for decks can be stripped, but it will be difficult if you have multiple layers. It is correct that you will need to remove the Sikkens if you want to switch to TWP.

  24. Hal says:

    i have a pressure treated deck that i installed last august. i let it sit and age. i used wolman deck cleaner on it today, but i still have some stains from a mat we left down on it. also, there is some discoloration or fading where we had a deck box on the deck and other mats layed down. should i use stain stripper in effort to correct that issue before i stain with twp 1500 ?

    the deck is covered

  25. Karen C Coble says:

    I think there is paint on my wood deck. What would I use to remove paint from treated deck? We pressure washer it with 50/50 Clorox and water. It is about 20 years old.

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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.