This post was updated on January 18, 2023
Why Use a Deck Brightener
We appreciate your input here at Deckstainhelp.com as we continue to be your go-to source for the latest in deck restoration news and trending topics through 2023. See below for an article about Step 2 of the deck stain process, using a brightener, and why it is a key component to the deck stain project. Feel free to leave a comment below.
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 a deck that is unprotected. The number one reason a deck stain fails is due to 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.
To properly clean and prep a deck it starts with a wood cleaner. 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. It is highly important to remove all of these pollutants in order for the new stain to 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 in turn, 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 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.
Wood deck brightener, also called deck neutralizer, is an acid-based product that simply neutralizes the caustic cleaners and helps lower the pH level making the wood more acidic. This opens up 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.
How To Brighten A Deck Video – DeckStainHelp.com
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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.
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?
You would have to recoat it.
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?
We would not cover it. Just give it a good pressure wash rinse to remove any dirt a couple of days before staining.
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. 🙁
Do not cover the deck. Just wash it with water to remove any mud. You cannot hurt wood with prep products.
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?
No, it will not.
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!!
You need a deck cleaner and then a wood brighener for prep.
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.
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.
Yes, switch. Strip and brighten with Restore A Deck Stripper/Brightener Kits. Stain with Restore A Deck Stains or TWP Stains.
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.
Clean and then brighten for final prep is correct and then stain.
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?
Best to brighen as soon as possible.
Advised to use a deck brightener with oxalic acid on my Trex deck. Which deck brightener would you recommend?
A brightener will not do anything to clean a Trex deck. You will need a deck cleaner like the Restore A Deck.
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?
Lighter areas around knots are normal and have to do with the density of the wood there. Not an issue.
Oh good. Thanks!
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!
If you spot sand then the stain will take lighter in those areas. Cleaning will help even it out a little. Brightener after.
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,
Use both the Cleaner and then the Brightener.
Thank you for your response.
Can the wash and brightner be applied through a pressure washer?
Would deck brightener damage the paint on the side of the house if it were to splatter?
No, it should not.
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!
Great, thank you for your quick reply!
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
What kind of safety gear is required to use deckwise brightener (and cleaner). Is it harmful if it touches the skin and eyes, inhaled?
Depends on the brand but just wear protective clothing, eyewear and gloves.
Thank you! It’s Deckwise Brightner (and also Cleaner)
Is it necessary to wear a VOC mask? Thanks in advance!
How long can I wait to apply the brightener after stripping?
Thank you in advance….
Right away while wood is wet.
How long can I wait to apply stain after stripping and applying the brightener?
1-2 weeks before prep will need to be redone.
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?
A brightener will not even out the difference between new and and old. There is not a way to do that. See here about new wood. https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
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.
Use a deck cleaner and then a wood brightener for prep on this one.
I have a raised deck with stained concrete patio below the deck. When I use the Defy Cleaner and Brighter on the deck must I cover the stained concrete to avoid damage to the stained concrete?
It should not harm the concrete. Make sure to rinse off any soap and dirt residue when done.
We connected 2 older decks with a new deck. Ive heard to not sand new deck but sand old decks. Do I need to sand before I use a cleaner?
You do not need to sand but you also cannot stain new wood right away: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
Is a brightener necessary if applying a simi-solid oil base stain?
Used the old bleach and tsp cleaning method and pressure washed twice now the areas have a white film over then….sanding is not an option bc the deck has weathered and is not flat….what can I do to remove this film??????
Post a picture.
I got a white film over my redwood siding after applying the new penetrating oil. I called the oil company people, but they hadn’t heard of that happening. So I took some denatured alcohol and rubbed the white off. Mineral spirits also seemed to work. By the way, The preparation for the siding was a bleach and tsp(as recommended by the redwood association) mixture, to clean and remove mold. Also I had applied Bore-care with mold control- after cleaning. It has been almost a year now and no white film has come back. Everything was allowed to dry, so I don’t think moisture was a factor.
I just stripped my deck using F-18 deck stripper. I’m planning to use the same stain – CWF Clear. Should I use a brightener prior to staining?
I built a new deck 6 months ago and am getting ready to apply a solid stain.
After I use the cleaner, do I need to use a brightner too? I’m not sure if a brightner is needed with a solid stain.
You do not have to.
I’m installing a new untreated redwood deck, live in colorado. What is best cleaner and brightener to use? Is oil based or water based semi transparent stain best?
See here for new wood tips: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
I have a deck that is close to ground level and doesn’t get much sun. The prior solid color stain had issues with peeling. It is now sanded but also had to replace some boards. Do I need to clean and/or brighten sanded parts, how long do I have to wait to stain new boards and do you have any recommendations for new stain, solid or not? Thank you.
Let is sit for a few months and then clean and brighten for prep. Try a penetrating stain so it does not peel: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/the-5-best-deck-stain-reviews-and-ratings/
We have Restore A Deck Cleaner and Semi transparent stain for our deck (which took 6 weeks to arrive); but no brightener. We cannot find any brighteners locally. Is there something else we can do to neutralize the cleaner or can we proceed to staining without it?
You should be okay if you rinse extremely well with water. It is not ideal but it should be fine.
Should I strip old penetrating stain if the new stain going over it is solid?
It will help the solid to adhere better if you do.
Got two questions: one concerning wood brightener and the other concerning cleaner. I’m cleaning a deck stained and will put solid stain over the top.
Would you recommend wood brightener in this situation? Since the stain is not penetrating, I didn’t know if this step is necessary.
There are some areas that are peeling that will be sanded down as well to note.
Second question is do both cleaners such as “30 Seconds (sodium hypochlorite)” and using an oxygenated powder such as OxiClean affect the pH of the wood in similar ways?
You do not have to use the brightener for this. Neither of these cleaners will work well nor would we use them for prep so hard to say which is better.
I’ll be cleaning -not stripping- my deck and putting the same stain over last years’ stain. Should I use a brightener or just clean the deck? Is it useless to use a brightener over old stain?
You will not need it for this scenario if you have a base coat.
I accidentally applied an acrylic water based stain over an oil based stain. Needless to say that didn’t work well. Will sanding the deck with an orbital sander down to the bare wood be enough prep to apply a new coat of the acrylic stain. (It is a solid stain)
Yes, sand to remove all.
I cleaned and brightened my deck with RAD products but weather prevented me from staining for about 10 days. During that time we got about three rain storms. Now the deck looks darker again and there are black steaks by the screws. What is my best step to pre the deck to stain now? I’m thinking of a light sanding or using brightener without cleaner. Picture included.
The black by the screws is your screws rusting. You can rebrighten the wood but it will come back once it rains again. The only way to fix would be to replace the screws.
I pressure washed and then used restore-a-deck cleaner followed by brighter to prep for re staining with an oil based stain this year and then the forecast changed. Looks like I’ll have a week of rain now before it dries out again. Do I need to rewash or reapply the brightener before I stain then?
As long as you stain within a couple of weeks of prep, you are okay.
I have a new tigerwood deck. I’ve seen quite a few posts, but I’ve yet to find one that gives step by step instructions on staining/protecting the new deck. I plan to use a hardwood stain, such as the AC hardwood stain. Please advise on the steps I need to take in preparation.
See this about new wood: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
Clean and brighten and then use the AC.
Just replaced about 1/3 of the deck boards and sanded the rest to get the gray off . Should I clean and brighten the deck or leave it to weather for another year before staining. The boards that weren’t replaced were replaced 2 to 3 years ago. Or can I clean , brighten and stain now?
I sanded my cedar deck and want to apply a semi transparent stain. What do I need to do to prep the deck for staining. Do I need to put something on to help the stain to adhere? Or can I wash off the loose saw dust and the stain. I have read that a brighter would help. Any preferences?
Clean and brighten after the sanding to open up the wood grain. https://www.deckstainhelp.com/restore-a-deck-cleaner-system-review/
How about if 1/3 of the wood has just been installed within the last month. This is a continued question from before about sanding the deck
Let the new wood weather for another 2 months and then do the clean and brighten to all wood. https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
How do you feel about just using a
Power washer without any soaps for
Cleaning a cedar deck? Would use of a deck brightened help bring back some of the lost brightness of the cedar?
Pressure washing alone will damage cedar wood if you are not careful. A brightener by itself is not sufficient for prep. You clean first and then brighten.
i cleaned my deck yesterday and today it’s raining like the devil. Will I still need to use a brightener when the rain stops? Or will the rain be sufficient to neutralize the cleaners?
Yes, you should brighten the wood.
I have Messmers UV plus natural on my Western red cedar deck in the Seattle area. It’s relatively new wood but over a year old. It’s had one coat of messmers on it and that’s all it’s ever had. That was about 9 months ago.
Last week, I used Messmers cleaner and that caused areas that appear to not have stain. The deck looks ratty now. Before washing it looked pretty good but messmers says we should wash the deck twice a year.
Last night, I did the water test on bare looking areas as well as the stained looking areas and the water never soaked in. So I think I should put a new coat of stain to protect from UV damage but I’m afraid the stain won’t penetrate.
A week after washing, would it be a good idea to use the Messmers brightener to see if that would allow the stain to penetrate? You said something about being more acidic would help the stain penetrate and that the brightener also opens pores.
Would a year of no UV protection be a serious problem or would it be best to just wait until next year to stain it instead?
The brightener will not make a difference. You can leave until next year, you will be okay.
Thanks for your quick reply! Would it be alright to spot stain the areas that have no stain color on them? And am I correct in believing that the water test means that the oil based stain won’t soak in?
Spot staining and it will look blotchy. Water test just means the wood is absorbent or not.
Can I use a deck brightened as a Cleaner?If I have to use both which do I use first?
A brightener is not a cleaner. Use the cleaner first and then a wood brightener.
Hello. If I have an IPE deck that I want to leave grey. Would I still use a brightener after cleaning?
Thank you for this site – it answers many questions I never knew I had…
Regarding the brightening step, can you suggest any frugal or diy options that won’t harm the plants, dogs or humans? Best,
No. Brighteners are inexpensive. Buy one at your local store or online.
How much raw oxalic acid should I use per gallon for a direct spray application and should I rinse it off after letting it dwell for 10 minutes or should I just leave it on the wood to dry?
Use a true wood brightener, not straight oxalic. Much better and is buffered for wood. Always rinse after using a brightener.
I used deck cleaner on half my deck, didn’t like the results as it appears “ashy”, guess it’s oxidation maybe? I’m assuming I should have applied brightener right after? Is it too late to do this? Can I wait a few days as time is extremely limited?
I didn’t knoApplied on one year old deck, did nothing but leave a white film on deck and fuzzies from me trying to scrub. Worked really good on two plastic chairs that were covered in mildew though. But on pressure treated deck did nothing. Now I have to sand half a deck. Thank Gid I only did half. I didn’t know I had to use brightener.
The fuzzies are not from not using the brightener but this happens when removing the oxidation from a year of graying. No way around it. You should finish the cleaning, buff off the fuzzies, and then brighten.
Should I worry about that remaining “oxidation”
I wouldn’t. It will not show when you stain.
Going for a Semi-Transparent, would that be an issue?
What is the best long lasting stain for a deck with heavy sun exposure
Try Armstrong Clark in a semi-solid color.
I think it’s very important to address how these products might affect plants in and around the deck. Would they kill them, cause I have a ton of money invested in plants under my deck.
That would vary by brand but in general, a wood brightener should not harm plants.
Hello, I’ve use a gallon of Behr Wood stripper and then applied Behr wood restorer and my solid cedar doors are still blotchy. I’ve also been sanding them to get them even. Any ideas? As for stain, I’m reading the reviews and would like any suggestions.
Does not look like it stripped off very well. Try sanding all wood to remove the rest of the coating and then brightener after to even it all out. Try a penetrating stain when done. Easier to maintain. TWP or Restore A Deck.
Should the deck be wet or dry prior to applying Restore-A-Deck brightener?
I have cleaned and used brightner on my IPE wood furniture, 1. What happens if I miss some spots with brightner and 2. What if it’s a week due to rain before I can apply oil/stain?
You can wait a week to stain but best not to miss any spots when brightening. it may show darker when stained in those areas.