How to Restain a Deck Without Stripping

Is your backyard deck beginning to gray and wear? Is it soaking up water like a sponge, and you’re worried it’ll rot? If you’re wondering how to restain a deck without stripping or sanding the old stain off, we can help.

To avoid stripping or sanding the old stain off your deck, thoroughly clean and rinse it, and then let the wood dry for 24 to 48 hours. Apply the same (or darker) stain color or tint from the same manufacturer. Otherwise, you’ll need to strip or sand the old stain out.

In this article, we’ll identify the differences between stripping and cleaning a deck. We’ll explain how to remove the old stain, prepare the deck for restaining, and the steps to applying a new stain. When you’re finished reading this article, you should better understand how to prepare your deck for restaining, and how to apply the new stain.

How to Restain a Deck Without Stripping

Deck Stain Stripping vs. Deck Cleaning

Deck stain protects the wood from moisture and UV damage, helping to prevent rot, mold, and mildew. If your deck sucks up moisture like a sponge, or has begun to fade, flake, or is looking dingy, it’s time to restain it – normally every 2 to 5 years. Before applying a new stain over old, you need to clean or strip the decking.

Stripping the stain off a deck can be done using a caustic compound that is applied to the planks. The aggressive cocktail is left for a period to chemically loosen or emulsify the stains’ bond with the wood. It is then wiped or washed away. A neutralizer or brightener should be applied after chemically stripping the wood to restore the pH of the wood.

It is recommended to clean any surface you plan to paint, stain, or seal, and a deck is no different. For decks with mold or mildew, a mildewcide cleaner should be used. Wood that has weathered and grayed will benefit from a restorative cleaner or brightener. An all-purpose deck cleaner with a mild detergent in it to remove dirt, grease, and grime will work for most decks.

The process of cleaning or stripping a deck is similar. The cleaner or solvent is applied, let sit for a recommended period, and then washed off. Cleaning is less invasive to the wood and takes less time. Stripping takes longer, and many compounds are toxic and caustic.

Do You Have to Remove Old Stain Before Restaining

Deck stains resist moisture and protect the wood from UV, rot, and mildew. They are either oil-based or water-based and come in transparent, semi-transparent, semi-solid, and solid or opaque. Transparent stains show the wood grain, color, and texture while the solid stains mask the grain and color, but not the texture. Transparent stains will gray unless they are tinted to provide UV protection, so pick a tinted one that most closely matches the desired wood tone.

Stains penetrate and bond to the wood fibers. The fibers will only bond to so much stain, so if the water beads when dropped on the boards, the grain won’t absorb new stain and needs to be stripped. Some stains are more amenable to stripping, and some don’t strip well and require sanding to remove. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations if you know whose product is on the deck.

Removing the old stain before reapplying a new coat isn’t always necessary. If you are applying the same color and brand to the wood, you shouldn’t have to strip the old stain. Using a quality deck cleaner should be all you have to do before reapplying the same stain. However, ensure that the manufacturer hasn’t changed the formula since the last use, which could be a problem. The same holds if going to a darker or opaque stain from the same manufacturer.

If you decide to change the stain brand, you will need to strip the old and use a brightener to restore the pH before applying the new stain, even if it’s the same color. You’ll also need to do the same if you are switching to a darker or opaque stain of a different manufacturer.

The most difficult process is removing a darker or opaque stain to apply a lighter or semi-transparent stain. You will need to power sanding to remove the stain, and then clean and brighten the wood before applying the new stain.

Note: A light sanding using 60 to 80 grit may be necessary after cleaning or stripping if the surface grain lifts or feels furry.

The table below is a quick restaining reference based on the deck condition.

Restaining A Deck
Deck Condition Same Color and Manufacturer Same Color Different Manufacturer Darker Color or Opaque

(Same Manufacturer)

Darker Color or Opaque

(Different Manufacturer)

Even wear Use cleaner on decking and recoat Strip the planking and stain Use a cleaner and apply new stain Strip, brighten, and apply new stain
Uneven wear Strip boards, brighten, and apply stain Strip deck, brighten, and stain Apply a cleaner to deck and then stain Apply a stripper to deck, brightener, and then stain
Absorbs water and graying Use cleaner, brighten decking, and restain Strip and brighten planking, and stain Use a cleaner and stain Use a stripper, brightener, and then stain
Peeling and flaking in traffic areas Strip peeling areas, cleaner whole deck, stain Strip the boards and apply stain Remove peeling stain, use cleaner, and stain Strip, brighten, stain
Embedded dirt Use cleaner. If still dirty, strip and apply stain Strip the deck and stain Use a cleaner and apply stain Use a stripper, brightener, and apply stain
Faded or sun bleached, and absorbs water Use cleaner, brighten boards, and apply stain Strip boards, brighten, and apply stain Use a cleaner and apply stain Strip old off, brighten, and apply new stain

How to Prepare a Deck for Restaining

Before applying a cleaner, stripper, or restaining a deck, there are several steps to take. Some are important for the task at hand, and some are for domestic harmony and safety. Preparing a deck for staining is different from spring cleaning, although there are some similarities.

  • Remove all furniture, BBQ, toys, rugs, planters, and other items from the surface to be restained.
  • Soak the ground around bordering plants to minimize damage due to run-off, and cover with plastic to protect from contamination. Uncover immediately after finishing.
  • Cover glass and metal with plastic to protect from splash and spray.
  • If you store items under the deck, remove or cover them too.
  • Sweep the deck clear of leaves and dirt.
  • Reset any loose screws or nails.
  • Replace any damaged or rotting planks.
  • Clean and remove stains, so they don’t become permanent – soap or detergent and water, a degreaser if required, stiff-bristle floor brush, rinse, and repeat if necessary.

If Applying the Same Stain Color and Manufacturer:

  • There are different deck cleaners available, and many recipes for making your own.
  • All-purpose deck cleaners containing mild detergent will remove most dirt, grease, and grime.
  • For decks with mold or mildew, use a mildewcide cleaner.
  • On decks that have weathered and grayed, use a restorative cleaner or brightener.
  • Follow the directions on the container for application and clean-up.
  • Wear protective clothing and devices as needed.
  • Use a hose and applicator attachment, power washer, or bucket and bristle brush to apply the cleaner.
  • Apply and scrub in one direction and work from one end or side of the deck to the other. Remember, you aren’t trying to remove all of the existing stain.
  • Rinse off and squeegee away any pools or puddles, or wipe with a towel.
  • Let dry for 24 to 48 hours for best results – wet wood won’t absorb the stain as well as dry wood.

If Changing Stain Color or Manufacturer:

  • Read directions and safety precautions, wear protective clothes and devices as required.
  • Apply deck stripper using a plastic bucket or watering can (NOT metal).
  • Work backward from one end or side to the other.
  • Use a stiff-bristled synthetic brush to spread the stripper.
  • Let sit as per manufacturer’s directions (often 10 to 15 minutes), but don’t let it dry.
  • Scrub the deck with the stiff-bristled synthetic brush to remove stubborn bonds – be careful not to slip.
  • Rinse the surface thoroughly to remove all of the stripper. Soak the contaminated ground and surround plant life to dilute the wash-off.
  • Apply a Brightener to restore the wood color and pH balance, following the directions on the container. Rinse the deck well to remove chemicals or risk the stain not holding.
  • Remove the protective plastic from plants, and rinse then off again.
  • Let the deck dry 48 to 72 hours before staining

Staining a Previously Stained Deck: Step by Step

Once the deck has been cleaned or stripped and brightened, and the wood has dried, it’s time to stain – and time is the key.

Take the time to read reviews about different stains and spend the money on a premium product to get top-notch results. Read the instructions and check the temperature range and drying times. Check the forecast, will there be time for one or two applications to dry before a heavy dew or rainfall. Is there enough time to complete one coat before something or someone requires your time? Finally, take your time – a hurried job frequently means more spills, splashes, and missed spots – more time.

Here’s how to stain your deck:

  • Tape plastic or paper over surfaces that you don’t want stained.
  • Select a quality natural bristle stain brush. The stain needs to get into the wood pores to create a good bond, and a good brush works better than a roller or sprayer. The brush can have a standard handle, or attach to a pole to be easier on your knees and back.
  • Always test the stain on the deck where it won’t be seen. You don’t want to be halfway done and decide you don’t like it.
  • Stain along the full length of several boards at a time and avoid drips or splats. Staining all boards from one end to the other creates stain overlaps that are darker and more likely to peel.
  • Work the stain into joints between planks and the exposed end grains too.
  • Brush or wipe off any excess that doesn’t absorb.
  • Clean up your painting tools, crack a cold one, and take the time to appreciate your hard work before it’s covered with ‘stuff’ again.
  • Take the time for the stain to dry fully before returning furniture, grills, planters, and other clutter.


Restaining a deck not only improves its look but can add years of enjoyment to its use. Using the same kind of stain from the same manufacturer saves having to strip or sand the old stain off the boards. Hopefully, you better understand how to prepare and stain your deck, so it looks like new. If you enjoyed the article and found it helpful, share it with others. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

Leave a Comment