What is a Deck Brightener and Why Use One  4.9/5 (35)

This post was updated on May 13, 2024

Hi, I am Scott Paul, a leading exterior restoration contractor and business owner with over 30 years of experience in exterior deck brightening and prep. My reviews and help tips are based on my history as a wood and deck restoration contractor and actual hands-on testing, all designed to present you with the top product choices. See here for more info about me.

I remain committed to being your number-one reference for deck restoration professional tips. Today, I’ll explore the second step of the deck staining process: using a deck brightener. We’ll also see why it is a key component of the deck stain project.

Feel free to leave me a comment or ask a question below.

Why Use a Deck Brightener?

Woodcare and maintenance are the keys to having a long-lasting deck. Every year or two, a deck should be cleaned and stained to protect the wood from the harsh elements. UV rays and unwanted moisture can wreak havoc on an unprotected deck. The number one reason a deck stain fails is the lack of proper wood preparation. Any exterior wood surface needs to be cleaned and prepped correctly in order for the stain to perform as expected. Failure to do so can lead to premature stain failure, jeopardizing the wood’s integrity.

Step 1: Clean the Deck

You start with a wood cleaner to properly clean and prep a deck. A sodium percarbonate-based oxygenated cleaner is recommended. This type of wood cleaner has been proven to work the best in removing dirt, mold, mildew, wood graying, and, in some cases, an old failing sealer. Removing all of these pollutants is important so the new stain can penetrate properly.

Most oxygenated cleaners have surfactants that help boost the overall effectiveness of the detergent. These caustic detergents do a great job of loosening pollutants, but they also raise the pH level of the wood. Why does this matter? The deck stain will penetrate better in acidic conditions, and when the wood pores are opened up, it is ready to receive a coat of new stain. A lower pH also darkens the wood, not allowing the true beauty of the wood to show. A simple fix to this is to use a deck brightener.

Step 2: Apply the Deck Brightener

Wood deck brightener, also called deck neutralizer, is an acid-based product that neutralizes caustic cleaners and helps lower the pH level, making the wood more acidic. This opens the wood pores and brightens the wood, bringing out the grain’s natural beauty. A simple application of deck brightener after cleaning is all that is needed to brighten and neutralize the cleaners and will complete the proper prep work needed for an outstanding stain finish that will last.

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.

Bonus Step: Rinse the Deck Brightener

One issue I have noticed recently is not rinsing the wood brightener well when done. Failure to rinse the wood well after using a wood brightener will leave the wood in a low pH balance and a highly acidic state. This will, in turn, create possible deck application issues with the overall appearance and the spottiness of the deck stain.

I did some test boards that showed the results of not rinsing the wood brightener well using the Restore A Deck Wood Stain in Dark Walnut; Both test boards were applied with the wood damp to the touch after the prep.

-On the left, you will see the RAD Stain after rinsing the Wood Brightener for 20-30 Minutes.

-On the right, you will see the RAD Stain applied to the wood without rinsing the Wood Brightener.

Why Rinse A Wood Brightener

As you can see, there is a clear chemical reaction that shows poor adhesion and appearance.

To summarize, it is very important that when you are done applying a wood brightener, you rinse the wood well with water to achieve maximum results and appearance. We suggest rinsing with water from your hose or pressure washer for a minimum of 15-30 minutes, regardless of what brand of deck stain you are using.

Have deck brightening questions? Ask me below!

Please Rate This. You may also post comments or ask questions below.

author avatar
Scott Paul ~ Restoring Wood & Decks Since 1993 Owner
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.

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Tom
Tom
2 months ago

I used Restore a Deck semi transparent stain a little over 2 years ago and need to reapply as have worn areas on stairs and top rails. I have an unopened 2.5 gallon container. Do I need to follow the complete process of stripping, cleaner and whitener again?

Michael
Michael
4 months ago

My redwood porch post is 2 months old and one side has a darker shade due to sun exposure. Should I still clean and brighten before applying finish? Or should I just apply the finish since it’s only 2 months old?

Phil
Phil
6 months ago

Thank you for your time! Our deck was built June 2023. It is now Nov. 2, 2023. Pressure treated pine wood. Seems to me the uncovered area is ready. But covered and inside look not as weathered. We live in Middle Tennessee. I was hoping to seal and stain the uncovered before winter. Question we need a deck cleaner and brightener right? And I am leaning towards Ready Seal Light Oak Semi transparent, or Cabot new cedar semi transparent. We are hoping to seal and stain uncovered before a family event on Dec 1. 2023. Main question, should we seal and stain ONLY uncovered / exposed deck now before winter? And wait until spring to seal stain the interior? Your thoughts are appreciated! This is slightly overwhelming thank you so much for your time.

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Tripp
Tripp
8 months ago

I was told by the rep at the Sealer Store that a brightener is not necessary to use on cumaru, just use RAD cleaner and go straight to staining, for my new (but weathered 4+ months) cumaru deck. What do you say?

Mark
Mark
10 months ago

I cleaned my deck today, but didn’t have brightener on hand to apply while still wet from cleaning. If I order some brightener and apply 3-4 days after cleaning, will it still work to balance the ph and help stain soak in? Just curious if the gap in time between cleaning and brightening make the latter ineffective?

D. Newhook
D. Newhook
11 months ago

Is a brightener necessary after cleaning previously stained pt wood? Last stained 2 years ago with Armstrong Clarke semi-transparent grey. (Will use for next finish) Great product. Do not think I brightened. Thank you!

Candy macy
Candy macy
11 months ago

I stained my deck last summer and just recently cleaned it off with some Dawn soap in water. The boards still look very dull. What can I do to fix this?

Jill
Jill
1 year ago

I cleaned & brightened my deck on Friday, then the chance of rain came and now it looks like it will rain for the next 10 days! Do I cover the freshly cleaned deck with a tarp for 10+ days, (the dogs bring mud all over it) or just live on it and re do the cleaning and brightening when weather gets better? Can you clean & brighten TOO soon?

Jill
Jill
1 year ago

Thank you, but just to be sure I understand, DO NOT clean or brighten again, just power wash? I was afraid it might hurt the wood to use chemicals again so soon. 🙁

Nathan
Nathan
1 year ago

I have a deck with composite decking for the surface and redwood for the railing. I have a cleaner that’s designed for composite decking and natural wood decking. My question is if I use a brightener on the redwood will it have a negative affect on the composite decking?

Rob
Rob
2 years ago

Have defy deck stain on my deck. It needs a maintenance coat. Will just a washing with dawn dish detergent be enough or should I use a wood cleaner and brightner. Thanks!!

Chris
Chris
2 years ago

Do you mind if I add this article to the FAQ section of my website? I have a deck and fence staining company out of Georgia. Will post a link to this article and credit you of course.

Dawn
Dawn
2 years ago

This is my first deck. I was told by my contractor to use Behr penetrating oil. I’ve cleaned and treated it every other year. After only 6 years some of the wood is twisting or splitting. An associate at the lumber store said that the newer pressure treated lumber is not as good as the old green stuff, and that what I’m seeing is to be expected. Really?
I don’t see any comments about this oil. Should I switch to another product? Im not lazy, but I’m not young any more, and on my own. So looking for low maintenance.
If anyone has a suggestion I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Michael
Michael
2 years ago

Hi,

My wife and I moved into a new house. The previous homeowners used Cabot solid stain and appeared to have put a fresh coat in the last few months prior to the sale. Everything seemed fine until the last snow of the Spring melted off and we found that the solid stain was coming up in strips.

I wasn’t planning on having to redo the entire deck but I felt I had little choice at that point. I decided that despite the fact that the deck is older, I didn’t want to have to deal with the solid stain anymore, so I started sanding with an orbital. I didn’t realize how long it would take doing it by myself. What felt like a project that would take a month has turned into a two and a half month sanding job due to the larger than normal amount of rainfall our area has had this Summer.

I’m nearly done but much of what i already sanded has turned grey due to sun exposure and there is some dark mold/mildew. Do I have to turn around and re-sand the deck again to expose fresh wood or will using the Defy cleaner and then brightener be fine? I’m using the Defy semi-transparent stain once the prep work is fully done.

Thank you for any help you can give me.

John Iglar
John Iglar
2 years ago

Hi,

I have a cedar fence that I’m stripping in stages over several days with – is it ok to use your brightener product prior to staining but after all the stripping is done?

Thanks

John Iglar
John Iglar
2 years ago

Thank you

Connie
Connie
2 years ago

Advised to use a deck brightener with oxalic acid on my Trex deck. Which deck brightener would you recommend?

Deborah
Deborah
2 years ago

Hello, I had new cedar decks put in about a year ago and am just now having them stained. My contractor used a cleaner with a pressure washer then a brightener. After a couple days if drying he applied the stain. Bow there are light areas around the knots in the wood where it looks like the stain didn’t penatrate. What should I do?

Deborah
Deborah
2 years ago

Oh good. Thanks!

Roger
Roger
2 years ago

Our front porch railing was built last September, 2020 of new pressure-treated pine lumber. On July 1, 2021 we used the Restore-A-Deck Cleaner and Brightener, which highlighted some unsightly printing. So we sanded that out lightly with 60-grit sandpaper. Can we just rinse off the area thoroughly, then proceed with staining (TWP 101 Cedartone) after two dry days? Some comments seem to indicate this, while others seem to suggest that the Brightener should be used again over the whole project, to improve stain penetration. (Am I right in assuming I wouldn’t need to use the Cleaner again after my spot-sanding?) Thank you so much!

Greg Tharp
Greg Tharp
2 years ago

We are about to stain our brand new barn that was completed early October 2020. The exterior siding is rough cut pine board and batten.
It has started to gray slightly. We are using Armstrong Clark semi transparent Natural Oak stain. We are going to lightly pressure wash it. Should we use restore a deck wash or maybe brightner to properly prep the rough cut pine prior to applying the stain?
Thank You for your Assistance,
Greg

Greg Tharp
Greg Tharp
2 years ago

Thank you for your response.
Can the wash and brightner be applied through a pressure washer?

Bryan
Bryan
2 years ago

Would deck brightener damage the paint on the side of the house if it were to splatter?

Ashok
Ashok
2 years ago

Hello – We plan to sand the deck before staining it. I will be cleaning the deck a week prior to sanding and staining.

1) Should I use a chemical cleaner? If so, should I use the brightener right away?
2) When I sand next week, should I use a brightener right after? How long do I need to wait after brightener before I can stain?

Thank you for your help!

Ashok
Ashok
2 years ago

Great, thank you for your quick reply!

Susan Eaton
Susan Eaton
2 years ago

My husband rebuilt our deck last August. We used pressure treated pine boards. Now we want to finish the project. We will use Defy exterior deck products.My questions are as follows: 1. Can the wood cleaner and brightener be applied on the same day? Does the wood need to dry after the cleaner before the brightener? 2. Do you recommend pressure washer or broom /brush for cleaning ? 3.is it better to use stain pad or paint brush for applying the stain? 4. How many coats will it need as it is less than a year since built? Thank you your help. Your site has been very helpful Sue

Octavia W
Octavia W
2 years ago

What kind of safety gear is required to use deckwise brightener (and cleaner). Is it harmful if it touches the skin and eyes, inhaled?

Octavia W
Octavia W
2 years ago

Thank you! It’s Deckwise Brightner (and also Cleaner)

Octavia W
Octavia W
2 years ago

Is it necessary to wear a VOC mask? Thanks in advance!

Randy Giltz
Randy Giltz
2 years ago

Hello,

How long can I wait to apply the brightener after stripping?

Thank you in advance….

Randy Giltz
Randy Giltz
2 years ago

How long can I wait to apply stain after stripping and applying the brightener?

Chris
Chris
2 years ago

Im repairing a pressure treated deck on a house i recently bought. Two or three boards need replacing and a few were already replaced recently but those that are solid are quite weathered. I plan to apply a semi-transparent stain in the end. Would a brightener help even out the color between the new and old wood before staining? How long should i wait to stain after replacing the boards?

Jule
Jule
3 years ago

I have an older pressure-treated deck. Last summer, I did the following:
-applied a chemical deck stripper to remove a solid stain
-sanded entire deck to remove patches/residue of stain that remained after using stripper
-replaced several rotted boards with new boards (also pressure-treated)
-allowed the newly installed boards to “weather”, at the advice of a lumber-store employee

It is now spring, the following year. The deck has weathered rain, snow, sun, foot traffic, etc. What needs to be done before I apply new stain (preferably semi-transparent) to the bare wood? Use deck cleaner? Brightener? Both? Sand again? (If you suggest sanding again, I might have to jump off a cliff;)

An image of the deck in its current condition is attached.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

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