The Junk Parlor

A Beginner’s Experience in Refinishing a Deck

I decided to refinish the deck for my summer project. As a beginner, I’m sharing my experience in refinishing a deck with you!

I enjoy spending time on the deck with family and friends, as well as by myself. It is a wonderful, relaxing space to drink my coffee in the morning and perhaps read. It is also a great place to entertain or have dinner with the family. Unfortunately, a natural wood deck requires maintenance to keep it looking fresh and good. One of the many joys of home ownership!

We have a relatively newer home, built in 2015, and the previous owners did a fantastic job maintaining the deck; the wood is in great shape. However, last summer, I noticed that the finish on the deck was fading and could use a little TLC. I had very little experience in home maintenance, so what I did was likely not the best practice.

shot of deck during the home inspection. a "before" photo
This photo was taken during our home inspection. We moved in July 2022.
shot of deck before we refreshed the stain after living here one year.
This photo was before our first attempt at resealing the deck. Summer 2023.

First Attempt at Deck Maintenance

Fortunately, the previous homeowners left the stain that had been used for the deck, so I was able to use it. It was a dark brown semi-transparent stain, which provided both color and protection from the elements. The only thing I did to prepare the surface was to clean it using our power washer. From previous experience, I knew that it was important to use the appropriate tip on the power washer to avoid damaging the wood. I likely used the tip that most would not recommend, but I kept the washer far enough away from the wood to prevent damage.

After preparing the surface, I applied one coat of the semi-transparent stain. I really liked the result, and I thought it looked great! The issue, though, is that Iowa experiences all four seasons. We see temperatures that exceed 100 degrees during the summer and winters that bring -40 degree wind chills too! This winter, we had 20+ inches of snow on the ground for an extended period of time. I mention all this to emphasize that the deck has to endure a lot of different types of extreme weather.

All of my Behr deck supplies

Deciding to Refinish the Deck

This spring, as I enjoyed my deck on cool mornings, drinking my coffee and reading, I noticed that the stain I had applied last spring was already fading, and I didn’t really like the look. I did a little internet research and learned that you should expect to restain your deck every 2-3 years. Since the deck was already fading, I decided to go ahead and refinish my deck again. This time, I was determined to “follow the rules” of refinishing a deck in the hopes of not having to refinish it every spring.

Stripping the Existing Stain

As I researched how to refinish a deck, I found that best practice would be to first strip the deck. So, that’s what I decided to do. First things first, I had to decide what type of stripper to use. I really didn’t do any research on which stripper would be best, so I literally grabbed the first one I saw, which was Behr Premium Wood Stain and Finish Stripper purchased from Home Depot. My deck is slightly under 200 square feet and has wood railing all around it, so I needed to purchase two containers of it. Each container said it would cover 50-150 sq ft.

Before beginning, I purchased the appropriate equipment: gloves, a respirator (mask), and a deck brush. I also made sure to wear safety glasses, jeans, and a long sleeve shirt. The last thing I had to do was remove the black metal spindles from the railings (which was the easiest part of the job), so my son helped me with that.

Now, I thought I was prepared, so I began the process of applying the stripper by myself, which was a mistake. First, I dampened the deck with our garden hose, then I poured the stripper into a plastic paint tray (another mistake, I should have used this one instead). With the stripper in the paint tray, I attempted to apply it using the cheapest 3-inch brush I could find. It would have been a good idea to have more than one person do this, as the stripper kept drying. The directions said that I should mist the surface with water to keep it moist if it begins to dry. This was difficult for me to do alone. Also, the plastic paint tray I was using, which was really just an insert, broke almost immediately. So, I ended up pouring the stripper directly onto the deck and then began spreading it by hand using the 3-inch brush, all while trying to pause and mist it with water from time to time because it was drying so quickly.

When it was all said and done, I was able to get a coat of stripper over the entire deck, including the railings, the deck floor, and the exterior edges around the deck. When I began this process at 9 am, the deck was in full shade. By the time I was done applying the stripper, which was about 11 am, the deck was almost in full sun, which was an issue as well because the stripper was drying so fast. Once I had the deck completely coated in stripper, I misted the deck with the garden hose to keep it damp and I let it sit for about 20 minutes with the stripper on it. The directions said to let it sit between 5-45 minutes before the finish would begin to lift, but I knew the finish was already lifting because as I walked on the deck spreading and scrubbing the stripper, it was extremely slippery, and I could see the stain coming up.

After 20 minutes, I used a stiff bristle deck brush (with handle)  to scrub the deck surface, railing, etc. I could tell the stain was coming up nicely as it started to clump while I was scrubbing the deck. Scrubbing the deck was somewhat labor-intensive, and I would have greatly benefited from another set of hands helping me. Note, if you are going to DIY this, have a family member or friend help! Once I was done scrubbing, I used my garden hose to begin rinsing the deck. The garden hose was not working well, so I fired up the power washer. This time, I used the appropriate tip and rinsed the deck thoroughly. I could tell the majority of the stain had come off, but I was not 100% satisfied with how it looked.

Knowing that there was no way I was going through the process of stripping the deck again by myself, I decided to go back to the power washer.  As I did the summer before, I used a more aggressive tip, one most professionals would advise against, to see what it would do. Note – even though I am a DIY novice, I do have some experience with a power washer and I was confident that I would not damage the wood using this tip. The power washer actually did a great job taking almost all of the stain off of the deck. So after what seemed like an eternity of applying stripper, scrubbing, rinsing, and power washing, I had removed the majority of the stain from all wood surfaces of the deck.

By this time, it was close to 1:00 pm and I needed a rest and something to eat. While taking my break, the deck dried quite a bit, and I could see a few spots that needed to be stripped, but overall, I was pleased.

Cleaning the Deck

Time for the next step! Being impatient as I am, I decided to go ahead and clean the deck with Behr Premium All-In-One wood cleaner (I decided to stay brand loyal throughout the entirety of this project). As I mentioned, I was impatient. It would have been better if I had waited until the next morning, or at least until later in the evening when the deck was not in direct sunlight, but I forged ahead… by myself. I can’t stress enough how much easier this would have been if I had someone helping me, so if you are thinking of doing this project, draft a partner to help you!

First, I rewetted the deck, then I sprayed the deck with the Behr Premium All-In-One wood cleaner using a one-gallon pump sprayer. I again struggled with the deck drying out because it was in full sun and it was breezy. With that being said, I was able to get the All-In-One wood cleaner over all of the deck surfaces. This was important as the stripper had to be completely neutralized. I again used the deck brush to scrub all of the deck surfaces (again this was labor-intensive). After I scrubbed all of the surfaces, I used the power washer with the least aggressive tip to rinse the deck. It took a long time to get the deck completely rinsed, and honestly, with as much water as I had used, I was concerned that our basement might leak. I checked, and it didn’t. As a matter of fact, there was not even any water going into our sump pump, so I was relieved.

I was able to get the deck stripped and cleaned all in one day. This included purchasing all of the supplies and products, clearing off the deck, and taking off the spindles. Keep in mind this is a relatively small deck at 195 square feet, but it would have been so much easier if I had asked for help and had another person assisting.

My DeWalt sander

Preparing the Surface for Stain

After stripping and cleaning the deck, I knew I would need to let it dry thoroughly before staining. I allowed the deck to dry for 36 hours. However, during the drying process, I found myself dreading the idea of going through this process again next summer. So, I wondered what I could do to best prepare the surface before applying the stain. After some quick internet research, I determined that sanding the surface prior to staining would be beneficial. Luckily, it was an overcast and cool day, so after 36 hours of drying, I decided to sand the deck.

My wife mentioned she had sandpaper in the garage, and I mistakenly took this as her suggesting I use both the sandpaper and her handheld orbital sander for the job. I primarily used 120 grit sandpaper, but some spots were so rough that I needed to use 60 grit. It didn’t take me more than 2-3 hours to sand the entire deck surface. However, the handheld orbital sander wasn’t the right tool, and it stopped working when I was about 80% done, so I had to finish the remaining 20% by hand.  My wife wasn’t very pleased that I broke her sander! (Turns out it was just overheated!)

Though I have little experience doing this kind of work, my wife has done quite a bit of refinishing furniture, so I had paid attention to her methods. I knew she typically wiped down her projects after sanding before applying stain. I didn’t want to wipe down the entire deck by hand, so I asked her if she thought our leaf blower would suffice to remove the sawdust from the deck (which there really wasn’t that much of). She asked if it was powerful, which it is, so she thought it would be good enough. I used the leaf blower, and it did a good job blowing all the sawdust off the deck.

At this point, I was very happy with myself. The deck was completely down to natural wood, and the deck floor and railings were smooth and ready to be stained. The only thing I wasn’t happy about was how my knees and back felt!

Hubby sanding by hand
Hubby applying the first coat of stain.

Applying the Stain

One thing I didn’t discuss was the stain I chose for our deck. I wasn’t keen on the look of the semi-transparent stain, so I opted for a solid stain similar in color to the previous one. As I wanted to stick with the same brand throughout the project, I bought Behr Premium Solid Stain Waterproofing and Stain from Home Depot, opting for a color called “tugboat” (brown). I only bought one gallon, thinking it might be enough (it wasn’t), hoping to save myself $50.

I waited another 36 hours before applying the stain. I began around 9:00 am, thinking I had plenty of time before the sun became an issue. I WAS WRONG. I had barely finished half of the railing before my wife noticed I was struggling with the sun. Despite having other tasks, she kindly came outside to help. We even got our 15-year-old son involved, and the three of us managed to stay ahead of the sun and apply the first coat of stain. Eventually, we had to ask our 17-year-old daughter for help as we were running out of stain, and completing the whole deck seemed impossible without another gallon from Home Depot.

I could immediately see that I liked how it looked and how easy it was to apply. It went on smoothly with a brush, and we also used a 3-inch roller (link for handle) for most of the deck.

Side by side comparison of stained vs unstained board

Applying the Second Coat

The stain instructions indicated that the second coat could be applied after it had set for 1-2 hours. Originally, I planned to apply the second coat that same evening. However, we decided to call it quits for the day as we felt we had done enough. We revised our plan and opted to apply the second coat of stain the next morning.

For the second coat, my wife assisted me right from the beginning. While I worked on the interior of the railings, she tackled the exterior portions of the deck. Once I finished the interior railings, I began working on the deck floor. One thing I didn’t mention about the first coat was that we “cut in” between each floorboard by hand using a 2-inch brush to ensure the sides of each board were coated well. Though it took a bit more time, we believed it would provide better protection and a nicer look. So, for the second coat, I did three floorboards at a time. I started by cutting in, then used the 3-inch roller to paint the boards. I repeated this process until I completed the entire deck floor. Meanwhile, my wife continued working on the exterior portions of the deck. She had to take a brief break for an appointment but returned and finished up just before I completed my part of the deck. Having two people made the staining/painting process much smoother. Yes, the second coat was easier to apply, but it went much faster thanks to my wife’s help. Also, starting before 8:00 am prevented us from battling the sun.

The first time we attempted resealing the deck in 2023
The dirty and stained spindles that we removed to start this process


One thing I did differently this time was remove the spindles from the deck. Last summer, when we stained the deck, I did not remove the spindles. Instead, we tried to stain between them, which became problematic the second time around. The issue arose because there was quite a bit of stain on the spindles. Since I didn’t want to put the spindles back on with all the stain, my son and I spent a significant amount of time cleaning them by hand using a Magic Eraser. This task was fairly labor-intensive and took a considerable amount of time. Therefore, another suggestion I have for this type of project is to make sure you remove the spindles if you are able to.

Hubby reattaching the spindles
View of the finished deck
finished stairs

The Finished Product

There are many things I will do differently next time I tackle restaining the deck, but we are happy with how it looks at the moment. We know that the true test is how the deck will withstand the harsh Iowa weather.

If you notice that your deck needs some TLC but you are not confident in your ability to do the work yourself because of lack of experience or something else, I want to let you know that you are more than capable! It does not take a great amount of skill to refinish your deck, but it does take time and effort. So be sure to do your research and gather the appropriate materials and tools for the job, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, have one or two helpers other than yourself.

I hope my story of a beginner tackling a common home project has given you the confidence you need to tackle this, or some other project around your home!

finished deck

Tips for Success

  1. Gather Materials in Advance: Make a list of what you’ll need and buy everything beforehand. Don’t forget enough stripper, cleaner, and stain to finish the job without last-minute trips to the store.
  2. Allocate Sufficient Time: Plan for 3-4 days, considering weather conditions. If you’re working on weekends, it might spread across 2-3 weekends depending on the size of the job.
  3. Consider Weather Conditions: Check the weather forecast. Make sure the surface is dry when applying stain, and consider temperature conditions for the best results.
  4. Sun Exposure Matters: Does your deck get full sun? Note when it gets sunlight as it affects when to strip, clean, and stain your deck effectively.
  5. Get Assistance: Refinishing even a small deck is hard work. Enlist help; larger jobs may need more hands on deck.

My Materials List

Quickie Stiff Bristle Deck Brush – $6.97

Quickie Hardwood Handle/Pole – $9.97

Behr Premium Deck Wood Stain and Stripper – $20.97/gal x2

Behr Premium All-In-One Wood and Deck Cleaner – $11.63/gal

Behr Premium Solid Base Stain and Sealer – $49.99/Gal x 2

Reusable Rubber Gloves – $2.97/pair

3-inch Roller Covers – $4.97/pair

3-inch Roller Frame – $3.68

One-Gallon Pump Sprayer – $11.97

Basic 3” Polyester Flat Utility Brush for Stripper – $4.98

2” Flat Brush for Stain – $13.84

Paint Tray for Stain – $5.97

N95 Respirator Mask (when applying stain) – $1.88

Dewalt 5-speed Corded Orbital Sander (not necessary) – $84.00

Variety Pack of Orbital Sander Sandpaper (if using orbital sander) – $5.47

Generac 3000 psi Powerwasher (not necessary) – $414.26

Protective Eyewear – $1.22

Husqvarna Leaf Blower – $199

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

– Brooke’s Hubby

This post may contain affiliate links for the products I use and recommend. I am not paid to promote these products. If you purchase using my affiliate links, I could make a small commission at no charge to you.

Pin It & Share It

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi, I’m Brooke. Welcome to The Junk Parlor.

Get my 5 Favorite Cleaning Supplies for Your Junk.

* indicates required

My Favorite Cleaning Supplies

* indicates required