This post was updated on January 30, 2023
Stain a Deck Without Cleaning First?
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 that the wood surface was not prepped correctly. Even a high-quality deck stain will not be as effective or protected as 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. The 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 a 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.
Best Deck Cleaner 2023 Video
Deck Stain Help & Questions
Stain Reviews & Comparisons
Products & Brands
- Cabot Deck Cleaner
- Olympic Maximum Stain and Sealant
- Benjamin Moore Deck Stain
- Rustoleum Deck Restore
- Armstrong Clark Wood Stain
- Behr Deck Stain Color Chart
- How to Fill Gaps In Wood Deck
- Deck Over Reviews
- Valspar Semi Transparent Stain
- Armstrong Clark Stain Reviews
- Cabot Australian Timber Oil Review
- Sherwin Williams Hawthorne Stain
As an article and comment contributor to the site, Scott has been around the pressure washing industry since attending college. In 1993 he started his first company called Oakland Pressure Wash specializing in exterior pressure washing and deck staining. That company evolved into OPW L.L.C. shortly thereafter concentrating more on exterior wood and deck restoration. Scott and his Deck Cleaning Michigan company have restored over 10,000 decks in the Metro Detroit area since the early years. He has become an authority in the deck restoration industry and has contributed to numerous wood restoration forums and informative sites.
All the products he suggests through this site are sold through online sites and in retail stores, allowing the consumer to choose their own means of purchase. Scott’s eCommerce sites do sell many top brands he endorses and if you appreciate any of the help he has offered then feel free to purchase from one of them.
My small (12X10) deck was stained 4yrs ago – semi-transparent on floor and tops of rails & stairs, and solid (in the same color) on all the spindles and wood below the top rails. I’m limited in what I can do and would like to avoid multiple cleaning applications. The deck itself is fairly old, and wood is blemished. I’d like to just use the same color in solid stain to cover the floor, where most of the previous stain has worn off with a lot of direct sunlight. I would use the same sold stain on stairs and tops of rails, so that now everything will be stained with the solid. All of the spindles and wood below top rails that were done in solid are 100% perfect and I am going to leave them as is, until next time the horizontal surfaces need refreshing. I recently had the floor pressure sprayed, although I don’t own one. Do I really need any further cleaning going over the old semi-transparent floor, stairs and top board railings since using same color, but in solid?
You should be okay to apply the solid stain now.
My fence is only 3+ months old. Do I still need to clean it prior to Staining?
Yes. Clea and then brighten.
I just had my fence power washed prior to staining it this week. Is it necessary that I should have used deck/fence cleaner before power washing it in order to stain?
It would have helped and made it easier and look better as well.
I used oil based Thompsons Water Seal on my new cedar covered porch after power washing snd letting dry. We did not walk on it for the 2 days recommended on can. But immediately and since then, there are black shoe marks all over. New black marks daily 3 months later. They cannot be cleaned. A reviewer of Cabot Timber Oil made the same complaint. Ive never used oil before now. I cant imagine this is an expectation of oil. What went wrong?
It is not related to the base type but the stain you used. You will need to remove all and start over with a better stain: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/the-5-best-deck-stain-reviews-and-ratings/
We have a year old eastern cedar deck that has weathered to a beautiful gray which we love and matches our house color. We want to use a clear sealant on the deck. Must we first clean and brighten deck which would remove the gray which we would rather not do, or can we seal over the gray deck?
Yes, you have to prep as you cannot seal over the gray oxidation to maintain it with a clear sealer.
My son pressure washed (no cleaner) my deck a couple of weeks ago. I notice there are some white areas. Is that remaining mold/mildew. Can we stain the deck over this?
Prep again with a deck cleaner and pressure washing. Brightener after. https://www.deckstainhelp.com/restore-a-deck-cleaner-system-review/
Does a new deck need to be power washed before it is cleaned?
No. Use the pressure washer while using the cleaner.
I will be staining brand new douglas fir for a chicken coop (vertical surfaces). Is a cleaning step really necessary for this application prior to staining?
See this for new wood tips: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
Hi. I have been following all of your suggestions as I have been prepping my deck for some repairs and oil based staining.
I pressure washed, brightened it a couple weeks ago. I was going to do more touch up but we’ve have a lot of rain. Its better now but still forecast partly cloudy upcoming week. I bought some defy stripper because there are light remnants of previous stain here and there. Mostly on the spindles and posts.
I bought western red cedar for the rail cap replacements. After I round them over, should I stain them in my garage before installing them?! I do not want the weathered gray nor do I want them water damaged before staining.
I will use the stripper, then brighten again afterwards before staining the rest. Is this correct?
No, you cannot pre-stain the new cedar. Needs to weather and be prepped: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
If you go ahead and stain without doing the weathering, those rails caps will need to be redone next Spring.
Yes you will need to brighten again when done stripping.
We moved into our house 3 years ago & our deck was already stained with opaque stain by Sherwin Williams Deckscapes (previous owner left cans in garage). Now it’s starting to peel off. Some parts of the wood is soft or covered in moss & mildew. Deck is 20 years old and we get snow & ice in winter. What do you recommend we do to help it last for years to come? Can we go over it with more of the same stain or do we have to remove it somehow?
If you want to remove fully you will need to power sand it all off. If you do this, you can then use a penetrating semi-transparent stain like one of these: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/the-5-best-deck-stain-reviews-and-ratings/
If you do not want to sand, then pressure clean to remove dirt, mildew and all loose stain. Cover the rest with a new solid stain coating: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/what-are-the-best-solid-color-deck-stains/
I’m putting a fence up now can I skip the cleaning and go straight to the staining?
It is pressure treated wood.
Smooth or rough sawn wood?
It is rough
You can stain right away then.
Another question! Fence is about 9 months old, am getting ready to stain it for the first time. Can’t seem to get this black areas cleaned off. What is this stuff anyway? Power washer with cleaner lightened but didn’t remove (not too experienced w power washer so only used the 25 nozzle). Pictures for reference.
Mildew. If the cleaner cannot get it off, try bleach. 1 part bleach to 4 parts water. Apply, let sit for 10 minutes, rinse well when done.
What is the longest period you can wait between washing and staining a deck? I had a new deck installed last December. The guy doing the staining washed the deck 9 days ago and I’m not sure when he’s going to stain it. Just want to make sure we don’t wait TOO long between washing and staining.
We always try to stain within 1-2 weeks of the prep. Weather sometimes does not cooperate though. Most we have gone without some kind of re-prep is about 3 weeks but that would vary based on if the wood has gotten dirty, etc.
We pressure washed our deck last weekend. Can we clean the deck with wood cleaner in the direct sun? Due lots of rain this week, we had to wait till this weekend to use the wood cleaner.
Use the wood cleaner now and then pressure wash off.
I have power washed my fence and am sanding with 60-grit. There is no mold or mildew but there are a few grey sections. Do I use a brightener next and then a finer sandpaper (120-grit) or sand with 120 and then a brightener before I apply the first coat of stain? Is there any difference in the order? Either way I have to give the fence a light rinse with the garden hose to remove the sawdust from the finer sanding. I was thinking to just use the brightener after the finer sanding job to rinse away the sawdust and apply the brightener at the same time.
Use a deck cleaner and pressure washing and then a brightener. Do not sand any finer than 80 grit.
I have all these delicate trees and flowers under and near my deck. How can I prep for staining with no chemicals? Dish soap? Or other? Pls advise
Dish soap would not work. You need an environmentally friendly deck cleaner.
I pressure washed my deck last fall. Do I need to do it again before staining?
We have a 10year old deck that was never stains. Do we need to pressure wash to remove the wear before staining? We do not care if the stains show through as we are staining a dark colour. Or do we need to pressure wash first for better penetration?
Yes you have to prep first before applying a stain. Use a deck cleaner and a wood brightener with pressure washing.
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?
If the wood is rough sawn cut, then prep is not needed:
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?
Yes you should lightly clean to remove the dirt.
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.
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?
pH of a brightener is not caustic but acidic. We never have any issues when using them above our heads.
Sandra, you will probably know that answer by next Spring. Worse case is you will need to strip it off and redo.
Chris, try a very light concentrate of a wood deck cleaner and a soft push broom.
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.
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.
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.
Roy, your state already made their restrictions to a lower VOC content. Armstrong complies with this rating.
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?
Roy, it is possible that the bleach had a reaction with the shoes. Were they light colored footprints or black footprints?
Roy, we have found that certain shoe soles will leave black marks on the wood. Typically this happens when using an oil based stain where some stain reside gets on the soles and starts to \”soften\” the sole, leaving marks.
I have been told that pressure washing a deck with a 50/50 solution of water and clorox is adequate. Is thisa true?
Tom, bleach is bad for wood in our opinion and others. We do not suggest it unless trying to remove mold or mildew spots.
Would I need to clean my deck if the deck is under a year old and has never been stained?
Yes you need to clean all wood (even new) prior to applying a stain.
Would a power washer be sufficient for a two year old deck that has never been stained?
You wil need a deck cleaner while pressure washing. Brighten the wood after.