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Understanding how to maintain a deck properly can be a confusing task--at least initially. And unfortunately, there is no " one-size-fits-all" approach to protecting and preserving your deck. So how do you know how often to stain it? In this post, we will answer this for you and provide you with a list of signs that you can look for to determine whether or not your deck could use a fresh coat of stain.
The typical frequency of restaining a deck is about every 2 to 3 years, though it may depend on the climate you live in. If decks aren't restained frequently enough, the wood will begin to wear down faster than it would had it been maintained.
Continue reading to learn how to protect your deck with frequent restaining. We'll also discuss the best time of year to apply the stain, how long the stain should last, and whether or not you should seal after staining.
How to Know When Your Deck Is to Due for a Re-Stain
At some point, your deck will typically begin to show signs that it needs attention. Prolonged exposure to the elements and normal wear and tear can cause a deck's surface to degrade over time, which is why staining is essential. Let's look at the most common ways to tell if your deck is due for a re-stain.
Rotted Wood Surface
It's always a good idea to check the boards on your deck for signs of mildew or mold. Even deck surfaces that have been chemically treated can begin to rot over time. Pay special attention to the deck posts that go into the ground--particularly if your deck is two stories high. If you notice any signs of mold on any of the boards, depending on the mold's amount and location, the boards may need replacing, and the deck is definitely due for a re-stain.
Splitting and cracked deck boards are one of the biggest tell-tale signs that your deck is due for a coat of stain. And they can actually be the sign of what could become a larger issue if you leave them unattended (especially if the deck is used often). These boards will actually need to be replaced before applying any stain to the deck, as they will not be sturdy enough to provide safe support.
You should also check the boards to see if there are any signs of bowing. This is when the boards begin to bend upward slightly in their middle section or on their ends. If you notice any signs of warping or bowing on any of the posts as well, your deck may need a new coat of stain to protect it.
Wood Is Dry and Looks Worn
Simply taking a good look at the wood's appearance on your deck can give you a good idea of whether or not a stain is needed. If the wood looks worn, dry, faded, and is no longer the color that it used to be, the previously applied stain may have worn off. Things such as weather, everyday foot traffic, and even commercial or chemical cleaners can cause the wood to degrade over time. Sometimes a complete deck restoration or refinishing may be needed to bring it back to its original beauty.
Deck Frame & Ledgers are Bad
Joists, posts, and beams on your deck should look solid and sturdy. If you notice that they are starting to look bad or seem unstable in any way, not only may your deck be due for another coat of stain, but you may need to do some restoration work as well. If the framing on your deck is bad, replacing it will need to be addressed before applying a new coat of stain.
Wood fibers will start to expand over time as they are exposed to water, snow, and other elements. This can cause them to rise and separate from one another, also known as "splintering." It's also a clear sign that the deck's boards are damaged and that the previous coat of stain (which enabled a water-resistance) has worn off. Splintered deck boards should be addressed as soon as possible as it can lead to them rotting and even collapsing under pressure. The boards will need to be replaced before a stain is applied.
Loose Screws and Boards
A common issue with decks is the raising of nails or floorboards. As your deck ages, you may notice nails beginning to pop out of the floorboards or the floorboards themselves beginning to raise. This can usually be fixed by simply hammering the nails back down or replacing the floorboards. However, it's definitely a sign that your deck can use a new coat of stain to protect it from the elements.
Loose or raised screws can pose a significant safety hazard when the deck is being used, especially when it's walked on with bare feet. Applying a coat of stain to your deck after repairing the floorboards can help it stand up better to the elements and increase its lifespan.
Components that Flex or Wobble
Since decks are exposed to several elements and temperature changes daily, the joints that hold them together can often experience failure and become worn down faster than they would if they were located on the interior of the home. If you notice that the stairs to the deck are starting to wobble or that the railings have become a bit unstable or seem loose, it may be time to both repair and re-stain your deck to stabilize it and protect the wood.
Floorboards Feel Spongy Under Your Feet
When walking on your deck, if these floorboards begin to feel soft or spongy at all, as opposed to hard and solid, this means that the wood is no longer repelling water and moisture. The purpose of deck stains is to protect it from water damage-- so this means that the stain has worn off the surface of the wood. Moisture issues will only worsen over time, and planks that have been compromised will need to be replaced as soon as possible to avoid safety hazards.
Fittings or Fixtures Have Rusted
Another easy way to determine if your deck needs to be re-stained is to look at the fittings and fixtures beneath it. If your deck has two levels, start with the bottom level and look for any fixtures that have broken or rusted. If you see any nails or bolts that appear loose or are no longer black/silver in color, then your deck is definitely due for some maintenance.
Rusty hardware is bound to happen over time. However, it can often coincide with the deck's wood surface needing a bit of upkeep. Keeping an eye on the integrity of the fixtures on your deck is a good way to ensure that it is safe to use.
What is the best time of year to stain a deck?
The best time of the year to stain your deck is typically in the fall or spring season. Staining your deck during the winter can turn out disastrously, as the temperature and moisture levels (not to mention any expected precipitation) can cause the stain to freeze on top of the wood's surface instead of being absorbed by it. And staining your deck during the summer months can be tricky depending on how much direct sunlight your deck receives. Direct sunlight can cause the deck's new coat of stain to dry too quickly, and ultimately it will lose many of its qualities (i.e., water-resistance, color, etc.).
Do you need to remove the old stain before restaining a deck?
Ideally, yes, it is generally considered a better idea to strip the old stain off of your deck before applying a new coat of stain. If your deck's current stain is peeling and looks worn, stripping it completely will help the new stain application adhere better to the wood's surface. Not only that, but if you are using a different stain on the deck, and it happens to be a lighter color than the previous, the finished look will not turn out correctly, as the old stain may still show through the new one.
Removing the previous stain is typically done with a power washer that lifts the stain from the wood surface without requiring a lot of physical exertion--you simply spray the deck down using pressurized water. However, you can also manually clean the deck, using a stiff brush and stain remover to get rid of the old stain before the new application (note that this will take more time).
Should you seal a deck after staining?
You typically do not need to seal a deck after staining it. The reason is that most stains contain a protective sealant of their own. If you are applying a stain every two to four years, sealing the deck can prevent the stain from penetrating the wood's surface the next time you apply it. Sealers typically have a transparent or clear finish that penetrates the wood, forming a clear film on top of it.
Their purpose is to bring out the natural beauty in the wood, protect it from elements, and add a bit of shine to it. Deck stains are meant to apply water-resistant qualities to the deck as well as add specific tones or pigment to them. So to say, if you stain a deck to make it water-resistant, there is no need to seal it as well.
How long does deck stain last?
It depends on the type and the brand of stain that you use on the deck and the number of coats that you apply (two coats is ideal). Semi-transparent deck stains are known to last about three years before they require a new coat. Solid deck stains are known to last for up to 10 years, given the deck is located in an area that doesn't have extreme temperatures. If your deck receives a considerable amount of sunlight or daily foot traffic, you may need to re-stain it to ensure that it stays protected.
Wrapping Things Up
We hope that this post has helped you to learn a bit more about the signs to look for when deciding if your deck needs to be re-stained. If you're still unsure, you may want to reach out to a contractor to have them assess the current state of your deck for you.
Be sure to check out our other posts before you go: