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Why Use a Wood Deck Brightener

Deck Brightener On Bottom

Deck Brightener On Bottom

Wood deck maintenance is important to the life span of any deck. Proper cleaning and staining are necessary on a regular basis to protect the deck from the harsh environment. Prior staining the surface needs a good cleaning. A clean surface will ensure proper adhesion and stain penetration. Cleaning a wood surface prior to staining will also enhance the beauty of the wood and give you a better end result.

There are several necessary steps in the wood cleaning process to prepare the surface for a new coat of stain. The first step is to clean the wood with a quality wood cleaner to remove all the dirt, grime, mold, mildew, graying, and mill glaze. The aid of a deck cleaner will help breakup and remove these contaminants that may prevent the new stain from performing.

Most all quality deck cleaners contain caustic soaps that make cleaning a deck both easier and more effective. The downside to a caustic cleaner is that is raises the pH level of the wood and makes it appear very dark in color. Let’s explore some reasons why this is not ideal if not dealt with and how using a deck brightener can restore the wood.

  1. Deck stains adhere and penetrate wood better that is more acidic. So when the wood is left with a high pH balance the stain will not penetrate or perform as well as it should. This jeopardizes the longevity of the stain causing more frequent maintenance and costing you more money.
  2. The increased pH level also darkens the wood which can affect the overall appearance of the deck even after it is stained.

The way this phenomenon is reversed is to simply apply a neutralizing acid to the wood after cleaning it. This mild acid formula known as deck brightener or deck neutralizer cancels the condition of the caustic soaps and restores the wood’s pH balance to a more neutral or acidic state. This also “brightens” the wood and enhances the wood grain. Once the wood brightener has done its job it can be rinsed off and your prep work is complete.

This two step cleaning and deck brightening process is the same one used by professional deck cleaners and can give you similar results. It enhances the beauty of your wood deck and ensures you get maximum protection and lasting results from your deck stain.

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98 responses to “Why Use a Wood Deck Brightener”

  1. newvictorian says:

    We have a wrap around cedar porch that we are refinishing. We sanded most of it down to bare wood, however, the places under the railing that the sander could not reach we chemically stripped. We have noticed a stain from where the stripper has been on the wood especially in places previously sanded. We are vaccuming the wood and then we will be applying the Restore A deck brightener. Will this remove the stain befor putting on the TWP 1500 stain? Do we have to use a deck cleaner as well?

    • newvictorain, if the wood darkened from the stripper than the brightener will restore the pH and lighten the color. No need for a cleaner but I would brighten the whole porch and rinse well with a pressure washer.

  2. Bert says:

    I just used a stripper and brightener on my ipe deck, the surface is "fuzzy" very light and I don't see the grain like I would like. Did I use to strong a mixture or not balance with the brightener? What would you suggest. I want to put the Armst.Clark product on it. Thanks

  3. pat says:

    We used a poor quality deck stripper on the wood benches and planters around the deck. It is obvious that we need to apply a neutralizer and brightener. BUT, we are going to finish the job with a different stripper that will have to be applied over the areas that we have already attempted to strip. Will the brightener prevent the newer and better quality stripper to be effective where the old one wasn't?

  4. tony says:

    after applying stripper, do I need to let it dry after rinsing before I use the brightener?

  5. tony says:

    I used arbor coat. Can I use any brand of stripper and brightener before I stain deck? Should I use Benjamin moore (arbor coat) products instead?

  6. tony says:

    This may be a stupid question, but I need to ask just the same. If it were to rain today, may I use stripper and brightener the next day?

  7. Betty says:

    do I need to use a cleaner and brighter after sanding the old stain off my deck?

  8. Scott says:

    How long can I wait after cleaning before application of the brightener? Would a few days matter? (I'm physically limited and need to do the job over a couple of days)

  9. Jacqueline Garno says:

    Ipe" deck; using ZEP in power wash; is a brightener needed before sealing since ZEP is acid?

    Cannot use brightener immediately after power washing so may have to wait one week. Will brightener still achieve
    intended ph? What would happen if seal with Penofin without using a brightener?

  10. richard says:

    i have a 20 year old cedar deck in the pacific northwest. i have always used oil based semi solid or semi transparent stains and re-stain every 2-3 years. This year, I pressure washed the whole deck about a week ago and am now lightly sanding before re-staining. All the boards are of the same age and general appearance. Do i need to use a brightener since I just used plain water for the pressure washing and didn't use a cleaner/soap/stripper in the process? Willing to do it but just not clear how brightening would benefit in this situation. Thanks!

  11. lori says:

    I live in Minnesota. My new cedar deck was built in May. I would like to stain it now. I have been given conflicting advice.

    1. Lightly sand and then apply Sikkens semi transparent. OR 2. clean and brighten and then apply Sikkens (no sanding needed). What is the best way to finish the deck? I would like a modest amount of color and be able to see the wood grain.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Hi, I live in Minnesota and used a cleaner and brightener combination product to clean a covered porch, followed by sanding to remove the remaining stain spots and even it out. It looks pretty good… e.g. light in color, pretty much back to the original wood tone. Do I need to use a brightener now, separately, or since I used a combo product initially is that sufficient? I'm inclined not to, and to go ahead with staining, but don't want it to turn out poorly.

  13. Terrance says:

    I will be putting a new coat of Armstrong semitransparent stain on my swimspa cabinet. The original stain (armstrong too) was put on 2 yrs ago. It is in heat of florida sun. I will clean it 1st, but is it necessary to use a brightener if already has older coat of stain on it?

  14. crunched for time says:

    I have pressure washed and sanded all old stain away. I'm planning on applying a translucent redwood stain to the ceder deck that is about 10 years old. I did not use any cleaner but did sand down to the bare wood. I was not planning on using a brightener as the wood is already very bright. There are a few areas that are a little darker but I feel that is just part of the wood grain. We are expecting rain in 4 days. I was planning on touch up sanding tomorrow and then thoroughly blowing off the dust and starting the staining. Should I be applying a brightener first and if so, how long before staining would I have to wait after rinsing off the brightener? If I have to wait a couple days, I wouldn't have the wood protected before the rain.
    Please help.

  15. Georgette Nordloh says:

    We have a new deck of pressure treated pine installed in September 2014. Now we are ready to stain. I have two conflicting ideas on the prep before staining. Your website discussing new deck prep says we should use a cleaner and follow with a brightener. Mr. Clark from Armstrong-Clark told me we only need to scrub the deck using Dawn dish soap and add some Clorox to kill any mildew or mold spores. Obviously, his method is less costly and time-consuming. What do you think?

  16. Rich says:

    We have a new deck of pressure treated pine built in August of 2014. I'd like to stain this weekend but would like to make sure i have all bases covered. Being that the wood is only 1 year old…am I ok to stain with having only used a high quality deck cleaner and power washer OR must I use a brightener AND sand for optimal results? I'll be using Cabot's semi transparent cordovan brown oil.

  17. Rob says:

    I have a covered deck that I built and stained last year with AC Semi Amber. I used the RAD cleaner/brightener prior to staining last year and it looked fantastic. After the long winter, the exposed steps are quite dirty looking (almost black in places) while the covered deck surface still looks good but is also slightly dirty. Should I use the RAD cleaner/brightener combo on the exposed areas as well as the deck surface prior to applying a maintenance coat of stain? Could I simply use the brightener on its own for the covered area that is not very dirty? Thanks in advance for your help.

  18. Glenn says:

    How long should the brightener be left on before rinsing it off? Thanks

  19. Monty says:

    How soon after applying the wood brightener do you apply the stain?

  20. Dennis says:

    I have an African mahogany deck that I think was originally sealed with Sherwin Williams Deckscapes OIL. I was planning on using Storm Stain deck stripper. Should I use a brightener as well? My second question is how to properly strip the wood around the BBQ island as it is a vertical surface.

  21. Senior 1 says:

    I washed my cedar deck with oxyclean, powerwashed it, and then sanded it. Does it need a brightner? (certainly is no longer dark)

  22. Jess says:

    We have cleaned our deck twice with the Gemini Restore a Deck and scrub brushing. How soon after does the brightener need to go on? We still have some algae spots on it even after the second washing, so we were going to clean again. Is it okay to come back later (hours later) with the brightener? Or does that need to go on right away?

    Also any suggestions about getting algae spots off? The deck has never been cleaned by us or previous owners and is in a partial sun with many trees around it in Northern Michigan. (13 years)
    Thanks, Jess

    • Best to do it right away but always after you are full done with the cleaning. If the algae is imbedded in the wood grain, you may need to bleach it out. Do this before applying the brightener.

  23. Kris says:

    I used RAD to strip the deck. The wood has darkened as expected. However, due to unforeseen issues I cannot get to the brightening process right away. Can I wait a few days? Or better yet, could I use RAD stripper again after a day or so, then use the brightener after the second round of stripping, and achieve the same results?

  24. Kelly K says:

    Hi I have a 10 year old cedar deck, I pressure washed the od flaking stain off and then sanded it as the pressure washing made many slivers!. No chemicals or cleaner. Do I still need to apply a brightener before I stain?

  25. Amie says:

    I read that if the Safe Strip product is used, it isn't necessary to follow up with a brightener. Thoughts?

  26. Brenda says:

    If I run out of daylight while using the deck stripper and I don't get a chance to finish scrubbing all of the areas that have it on, what should I do the next day, since it will dry a lot over night? I applied it to a larger area than I should have because I thought pressure washer would do the trick, but it isn't doing the trick and I am having to scrub (including a lot of spindles). Will I need to start with new coat of stripper tomorrow, even in the areas I have already done so that I can apply the brightener? Or will wetting the already stripped areas be enough before applying the brightener? Thanks!

  27. Larry says:

    I stained my deck two years ago using TWP 1500 and the deck looks pretty good. Can I just lightly power wash and restain using the same TWP 1500 color stain? Or if I decide to use a Pure Oxygen Bleach to clean the deck and lightly power wash, do I need to apply a deck brightener to restore the PH balance?

    Thanks for your help.

  28. Jason Lewandowski says:

    Hi, I have a 6 month old cedar deck. I hit it with the 2 step Gemini Restore a Deck kit with the intention of staining 2 days later. Rain has now hit the forecast, and I'm thinking its going to rain before I can stain (TWP 1500). Do I need to re-brighten after the rain before I stain?

  29. Betsy says:

    If I oil stained my new cedar deck and it came out far darker than I intended, is there any way to lighten it? It is so dark it has a purple-ish tone to it, not at all what I was told it would be.

  30. Cordell Karlstad says:

    I have used pressure washer to clean redwood decks, then used a deck cleaner and pressure washed the deck. Now we have rain coming for possibly 2 weeks. I am going to use a brightener and then TWP stain which I have used before. Do I put on brightener now then when drys out and rain quits put on stain. Or wait with brightener until after rains. Live Bodega Bay in northern Calif.

  31. terri says:

    I have pressure washed my deck and now ready for brightener. I'm in quite a "pickle" though so here's my question. The top of our deck has no more stain on it as when I scrubbed all of the black stuff off, the stain (what was left) came with it and in some other areas (railings and pergola), after pressure washing, the stain still looks good. . If I use the brighter, do I have to stain the areas that still look good. Then I can try and get the top of the deck stained to match (that is my hope anyway). We used TWP natural tone so it's a lighter color.

  32. Cory says:

    I stripped my deck and the wood looked pretty good with uniform color. After I applied a brightener, the deck is now blotchy/patchy with lots of varying color. Did I do something wrong and how do I fix it?

  33. David says:

    New Ipe deck installed. Do I need to power wash to clean it, then wait a few days to brighten it, or just apply Armstrong Clark with out those first 2 steps. Stayed on other way….list the proper steps for newly installed Ipe decking to be stained?

  34. Mintz says:

    I used Wolmans Deck Cleaner and Brightner on my deck. However, in some places it didn't remove all the gray wood and now some of the dry boards have patches of gray. Will brightener fix that?

  35. fayefroese says:

    Do you need to put brightener on to a cedar deck that I'm just just reapplying finish to? I was told at the store to just put conditioner on and sand and it should be ready. Would brightener help in this case?

  36. JayB says:

    I just used a cleaner on my deck and had to scrub some of the areas, leaving some of the fibers (like hair) standing up. Should I now sand lightly with 80grit and then apply the brightener. Or the brightener before the sanding?

  37. Tom says:

    The local Home Depot only has a Thompson 3-1 Wood Cleaner. It claims to remove stains, tannin, mill glaze in along with brightening the wood. Can this be used for the brightening part of the process? The deck is 8 months old, never stained, power washed clean 1 week ago, cedar in upstate ny. Thanks for all of your help!

  38. Lisa says:

    Hi, I just finished using a stain stripper to take the stain off of my redwood deck. It sort of worked…not a very good brand so I ended up sanding the rest of it away. Do I still use a brightener? Also, if I use the brightener, is it okay that I don't stain for another 3 weeks? I am sort of stuck and don't know what to do. I have only today and tomorrow to do anything and after that, I won't have a chance to stain until the first week of August. Will it ruin the redwood just sitting there untouched with the sun beating down on it for another 3 weeks?

  39. Travis says:

    I just used deck cleaner and bright er but now realize that some spots could use some more cleaning. Is it okay to clean and brighten a second time? I also wet the deck before applying cleaner. Would if be better to apply to the deck dry? Thank you.

  40. Steve says:

    I finished my deck cleaning on this small porch combo. All good PT yellow pine. Pressure washed, it had a lot of greying, brightener, then sand. That was a week ago, and I can't get a window of clear weather. How long before I have to go back to step 1 again?

    • Try to stain within 2 weeks.

    • Steve says:

      Well, I went back to step 1 AARGH. At any rate, it turned out fine. I used the water-based Sherwin Williams stain because they were the only ones that had the colors we wanted. We did a semi-transparent grey on the deck, and a combo of merlot on the pedestals, white on handrails and top posts.

      Why do the other stain companies offer no real choice of colors except traditional deck colors?

  41. Toni Perez says:

    I have a three month old PT deck in upstate NY. I applied Olympic cleaner and looks bright. Do I still need to brighten the wood before staining?

  42. Kevin says:

    Hello there. I have a Mahogany porch that is covered. It gets about 3-4 hours of sun a day. I am the 2nd owner of the house. I have been there for 5 years and have only ever cleaned the porch. No clue when the home owner did anything to it. So I decided to go with the Penofin products. Stripper, Cleaner and Brightener and Hardwood Stain Natural color. The mahogany still had some old stain on it. So I decided to sand it with a 80 grit. It looked awesome. Penofin informed me to add the brightener to the wood after sanding to open the pores up. So after doing the brightener the wood looks like crap. It has a lot of grayish and black spots where the mahogany meets. I have pictures if you would like to see them. Do you know what this is or what may be causing this? Any info or help would be great.

  43. Kathleen says:

    Does the wash/brightener method apply to decks that have been stained previously? I used a cleaner that stripped a lot of the first coat of stain off, and would like to know if I need to use brightener on that before applying new coat of stain.

  44. Diane says:

    Hi, I saw a product( brightner and cleaner 2 in 1) is it good or better using a cleaning product and brightning product after ?

  45. Diane says:

    My deck was made with green pressure treated lumber and I decided to stained it right away. The wood came glossy / blotchy. After some research, I realized that I had to wait 1 year before using it. After researching I stripped the stains from the deck and it took off about 85% of the colour. To this date the wood looks like grey-ish. My question is, if I want to stain it next year, would I have to put some brightener and cleaner this year or should I wait next year for brightener and cleaner? And do i need to sand ? Thanks

  46. diana says:

    We are just in the process of finishing the stripping our cedar siding using an oxygen cleaner. Due to circumstances beyond our control we cannot neutralize the wood with an oxalic acid brightener and restain until the spring. Will this be a problem for the ultimate outcome of our project??

  47. Mary Myers says:

    Will Olympic Deck Brightener and Wash do both cleaning and brightening simultaneously?

    • A true deck cleaner and wood brightener must be separate. A cleaner is a base cleaner while a brightener is acidic. They cancel each other out to a neutral pH balance. The Olympic that you are asking about is not a true brightener. It is basically bleach based with some soap added. Not very good for wood nor as effective.

  48. Christine says:

    Installed s brand new cedar deck. Do you recommend to use cleaner + brightener before staining a new deck? Worried the cleaner will rough up our nice new deck :( Staining with Cabot Aussie Timber Oil. Could we only use the brightener or just soap/water? Please help :)

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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.