Refinishing a Wood Deck with Paint or Stain

Using a belt sander to strip off old stain from a dock

Regular deck refinishing is an important service that gives your customers a deck that looks as good as new throughout years of use. More importantly, it saves the customer the need for costly replacements and deck repair in the long term. Customers now enjoy a greater variety of choices than ever, with a wide range of paints and stains available. With your professional expertise and skill, you can give each customer a professional finish with just the right balance of visual appeal and protection to meet each family's needs.

When to Refinish a Deck

Check the weather forecast before refinishing a wood deck. Any rain or cold snaps can ruin your efforts and force you to start over, so plan at least a 24-hour buffer between your work and any inclement weather. Excess wind or humidity can also present challenges, so aim for a day with a forecasted humidity less than 80 percent and low winds. You also want temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit but below 90 degrees. Time your work so the new finish has time to dry before nightfall but doesn’t have to dry in direct sunlight.

Before You Begin

You don't want to add replacing damaged landscaping or removing paint from siding to your to-do list, so always secure nearby areas just as you would if painting indoors. Tape up plastic sheets to the side of the house facing the deck, and lay down sheets over neighboring plants.

Stripping Off Old Paint and Stain

First, sweep or blow away any dirt and debris so you can start with a clean surface. Next, remove any existing stain or paint that can prevent the new finish from adhering properly. The most efficient way to do this is with an industrial sander or power washer. Consider using a specialized deck cleaner instead of plain, clean water. This is especially helpful when tackling decks with mildew and mold problems.

Depending on the state of the existing boards, you may want to discuss with the customer whether they want you to replace any rotting or otherwise damaged boards at this stage. This is also a good time to secure or replace any loose nails.

When you've stripped away the old finish, be sure to sweep or wash away any debris and dirt stirred up from stripping the deck. Allow the wood to dry out before continuing, if necessary.

Using a belt sander to strip off old stain from a deck

Choosing Between Paint and Stain

Your client may come to you with a preference for either paint or stain, but oftentimes, they can benefit from your professional guidance in choosing between the two. Regardless of which method your client selects, make sure you only use paints or stains that are designated for outdoor use on decks as indoor products cannot withstand the large shifts in moisture and temperature that are typical outdoors.

While there are aesthetic and practical trade-offs for either option, both provide protection from sun, weather and other environmental damage, so there is no bad choice for your customers.

Staining a Wood Deck

The primary appeal of stain is the natural wood grain look that it provides for the customer, and though the range of finish options is narrower than paint, there is still a wide selection of finishes available, from light to dark and from warm to cool wood tones. Light stains show off the natural wood grain, and darker stains can hide imperfections on aging decks. Darker stains can also hide the differences between old and new boards if you make any replacements. Stain is often less slick when wet, which is something to consider in rainy locations and as a safety consideration for families with young children.

Painting a Wood Deck

Paint offers your clients a wider array of color choices, and clients can choose anything from a natural brown to a brighter, bold color to make their deck a focal point in the space. Paint is also better for covering imperfections and may be a good option for filling in gaps when the customer doesn’t want to replace sections of wood that are slightly cracked or warped but otherwise undamaged. In general, paint is also longer-lasting and lower-maintenance, as it protects the underlying wood from damage better than stain.

The main trade-off for many customers is that paint covers up the natural wood look. Customers may also consider that it's more costly to switch from paint to stain than the reverse if they want to change in the future.

Switching From Stain to Paint

Because stain provides less UV protection than paint, which is particularly true for lighter shades, customers who choose stain may find that the wood starts to turn gray over the years. [4] A darker stain or a switch to paint can compensate for graying wood. Customers can take advantage of newer wood with light stains that show off the natural look before switching to paint as the deck ages to continue to keep it looking like new.

Prime the Deck

Before applying paint or stain, coat the deck in a water-repellent preservative to reduce the risk of mold and mildew. Next, coat the deck with an outdoor-grade, paintable primer.

Applying the Paint or Stain

While you can use rollers and brushes, a sprayer gives you the most labor-efficient coverage. Just make sure you've protected any nearby siding and landscaping and don't have too much wind before beginning. If wind is an issue, a roller is still a viable option for covering large areas. Remember to adjust the roller size to accommodate the texture of the wood. For example, rougher surfaces require thicker rollers.

Even if you use a sprayer, you still want to have a roller and brushes handy. A roller is great for addressing any flat areas where paint or stain is puddling, and brushes are invaluable for reaching small areas and tight spaces. Make sure you cover all visible surfaces, which can include the ends, undersides and gaps between individual boards. Apply two to three even coats, and allow each coat to dry before continuing.

Maintenance and Follow-Up

Periodic maintenance keeps the newly refinished deck looking great over time. Waiting too long between recoating a wood deck can weaken the UV protection on the wood, leading to cracking and fading. Moisture can also creep in, leading to unsightly mildew and rotting wood. For optimal results, customers should reapply stains every two to three years, depending on the deck's exposure to sunlight and adverse weather. Paint can often last longer than stains before needing another coat, depending on the product.

Keep track of when you last refinished a client's deck, and use these guidelines to estimate when your clients could use a fresh coat. A well-timed mailer can remind your clients that's it's time to refinish, guaranteeing that they continue to enjoy their like-new, finished deck for years to come.