How to Clean and Stain a Deck

Ever since we moved into our condo almost 3 years ago (whoa!), I’ve been wanting to re-stain our deck. And when I say deck, I really mean small patio. The space is pretty tiny, yet we somehow manage to live it up out here when the weather is nice. Here’s a post showing what it looked like last summer. City patio space with small couch and chairsBut the deck itself has always been lacking. While the wood boards were in good shape, it was in desperate need of some new stain and the wood was just soaking up rain. So this year, I made it my mission to finally get our deck in shape for the summer months!A dry deck beforeI had good intentions to get this done in April, but you really need the temps to consistently be above 50 degrees and dry in order to do the entire cleaning/staining process. April’s weather was garbage, so this project got pushed off until mid-May. Which actually worked out beautifully, because I gave all of my patio furniture to my sister (it works perfectly for her city space) and I had a few weeks of it being bare while I waited for our new furniture to arrive. The only thing still on our deck was our grill, which was pretty easy to roll around and off the area when working.

Our Deck – BeforeBefore photos of a deck before staining

When I look at our deck without any furniture on it, it’s really embarrassing how bad it looks. The wood is soooo dry and it’s just begging for a little moisture. A dirty and dry deck before stainingAnd let’s talk about the worst part…the huge stain left from our outdoor rug. I think moisture and dirt got trapped under there and seeped into the wood. Plus, the other parts got more sunbleached.Outdoor rugs an leave marks on your wood. Be sure to powerwash to get the dirt offIt left me with a huge rectangular dirty spot on our deck. Not cute.

How to Stain a Deck – The SuppliesRocksolid deck and patio cleaner

Clearly, my deck needed some TLC and the good news is you don’t need a ton of DIY supplies to stain a deck. Here’s what I picked up to get this job done.

  • Deck & Patio Cleaner
  • Bucket
  • Sanding Block
  • Push Broom
  • Power Washer
  • 1 gallon of Stain
  • Paint Brush (specific for staining a deck!)
  • Paint Tray

How to Stain a Deck – The Steps

How to clean and stain a deck

Check the Forecast

First, you must take a look at the forecast. You’ll want the temps to be between 50-80 degrees and you don’t want any rain. I planned to clean my deck on day 1, let it dry on day 2, and then stain on day 3 (to then have it dry out for at least 2 days before any rain). So that’s about 5 days in a row of a dry forecast (which is unheard of for Chicago’s spring). I ended up cleaning my deck one week and staining it the next. Just make sure it’s really dry when you start staining and you have 24-48 hours of dry time with no rain!

Sand Down Rough SpotsUse a coarse sanding block to get rid of any splinters on your deck

First, take a coarse sanding block and check your deck for any rough spots where wood is poking out. You don’t have to sand your entire deck by any means, just look for any glaring issues and deal with them now.

Cleaning the Deck

Clean a deck with solution and a bucket of waterNext, it was time to scrub the hell of our deck. I found this cleaner from Lowe’s and figured it would work well on our patio. I just followed the directions on the back of the bottle, mixed it with water, and got ready to scrub, scrub, scrub. Use a push broom to scrub your deck and get it clean before stainingMy technique was to dunk the broom in the soapy water and then go to town scrubbing. This was a nice little arm workout, but it certainly wasn’t difficult. Hose down a deck with waterAfter cleaning the entire patio, I rinsed it with clean water to get all of the dirt off and watched it dry. Deck drying after being cleanedI made sure to really scrub the “rug area” well since it was way dirtier than the rest of the deck. But when it dried I could still see the outline of the rug. Ugh. The worst.

Even though I knew my deck was clean, it needed to be cleaner before applying any stain and the last thing I wanted was the outline of that dang outdoor rug showing through. So I added another step to my staining process…

Power Wash your Deck

I have always loved power washing. It’s really the most satisfying feeling to see grime and dirt wash away with a hose. Plus, it’s so incredibly easy to do. However, we don’t own a power washer.

So I headed to the hardware store to rent one. But once I got there, I realized I should just buy one. The thought of paying a bunch of money to rent for the day and then having to lug it back to the store sounded miserable. Plus, I texted Bridget while at the store and she said she would absolutely use the crap out of it on the outside of her home. That sold me. I ended up buying one for about $130 and didn’t look back.Clean deck after powerwashingI don’t have any pics of me power washing, because I was a bit nervous about getting my camera or phone wet. But it’s pretty self-explanatory and oh-so-satisfying

Staining Time!

I let my deck dry out for a day and then woke up early to get this bad boy stained. Sherwin Williams super deck in semi-transparent harbor mistI went with a semi-transparent stain from Sherwin Williams in the color “Harbor Mist”. Well..kinda…Gray stain in the color harbor mist from sherwin williamsThe morning I got started, I painted a tiny section of our deck to make sure I liked the color. I was going for a dark gray color, but it ended up looking a little too silver for me. I headed back to Sherwin Williams where they added a bit more black to the mix to create my own unique color combo. That did the trick!Use a deck paint brush when you stain a deckWhile there, I also grabbed this paintbrush that is specific for staining decks. I’d highly recommend buying one of these because it made the application so easy.Work your way from one side to the other when you stain a deck

I then went to town, working my way from one side of the deck to the other. Because our deck is so small, it only took me about an hour to cover the entire thing with the first coat. One coat of stain on the deck in the color harbor mist

After it dried, I knew I would definitely need another coat because there were some spots with uneven coverage (picture above). So the next day I did one more coat to finish this baby off.

Our Deck – After

A coat of stain in the color harbor mistI’m obsessed with the color. It’s the perfect dark gray, but it still shows a hint of the wood grain. I’m really happy I went with a semi-transparent stain as opposed to a solid one. It looks more like wood than painted wood to me…if that makes any sense?

Our deck after cleaning and staining it a gray colorIt’s 100000x times better. I didn’t realize how bad our deck was before until I did something about it. Now I keep peeking out the window staring at it. It’s beautiful.

Let’s do a little before and after pic of our little patio space…Our deck before stainingOur deck after staining it a dark gray color

What Now?

Now that our deck is complete, it’s time for some furniture and flowers! The furniture I ordered should be coming this weekend or next (I’m sooooo excited!) and then I’ll work to get this space looking good for the summer ahead. I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated as I make progress on our city patio. But for now, I’m happy to get that big DIY project crossed off my to-do list.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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