How to Stain a Deck With a Roller: Easy Step by Step Guide

It’s time to stain your deck. You’ve done your research and decided that using a roller is the way to go. But what kind of roller do you need? How do you apply the stain using a roller? And what about those edges and cracks that the roller can’t fit into?

I know. Staining can be a stressful process. The last thing you want to do is ruin that deck you’ve invested so much time and money on with a poor staining job.

Don’t worry. Staining a deck with a roller is one of the easier DIY jobs you can take on. In this guide, I will provide you with step-by-step instructions for how to stain a deck with a roller.

How to Stain a Deck With a Roller

How to Stain a Deck With a Roller

Why use a roller? It’s widely regarded as the best way of applying stain to a deck. Rollers do the best job of distributing stain evenly. And because it also happens to be the fastest way to stain your deck, choosing a roller to do the job is a no-brainer.

This job can be completed by following a simple application method. Let’s begin with the tools you’ll need for the job.

Even though you’ll be rolling your deck, you won’t just be using a roller to apply the stain. As with painting a room in your home, you’ll need a brush to hit those places a roller can’t reach, such as the edges of your deck and the cracks between the boards and railings.

You’ll also need a brush to help blend and balance the stain after it is applied with the roller. This is a process commonly referred to as “back brushing” by the pros. So, even though the roller will be doing the bulk of the work, it’s a team effort between roller and brush.

Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1 – Select Rollers and Stain

staining a deck with a rollerTake a step into the paint supply aisle of your local home improvement store and you’ll quickly find that you have plenty of options when it comes to paint rollers and brushes. It can be downright overwhelming. Rollers and brushes come in a variety of sizes, materials and thicknesses.

What’s the right roller for the job? For staining a deck, go with a standard 9 inch napped paint roller. A napped roller will apply the stain in much the same way as a lambswool pad, but in a much more efficient way.

Unless you plan on being on your hands and knees to apply the stain, you’ll also need to purchase a couple of extension poles. This will allow you to roll the deck from a standing position, speeding up the process and saving your knees and back.

Keep in mind, you’ll also need to buy that brush I mentioned. Make sure to purchase a brush that is designated for staining. In general, you want to use a synthetic brush for water-based stains and a natural brush for oil-based stains. A 4” brush should do the job.

As with many things in life, when deciding on what stain to buy for your project, you get what you pay for. Buying a stain is not the place to try and cut a few dollars from the project budget.

The quality of the stain affects several factors, including the stain’s finish and durability, as well as its resistance to water, mold, and mildew. With that in mind, skip the cheap stuff and go with high-quality brand name stains.

That said, you do have some options when it comes to the type of stain. Just as paints have oil-based and water-based options, so too do stains. While it used to be that oil-based was the only choice for exterior stains, that has since changed.

As more and more regulations push for an end to environmentally harmful oil-based paints and stains, many manufacturers are finding ways to produce water-based stains that are nearly as durable as oil-based stains. Water-based stains also have some advantages over oil-based stains.

They don’t produce fumes that are as harmful as oil-based stains, and they don’t require a special solvent for clean-up. Water-based stains also dry much more quickly than oil-based stains and are kinder to the environment.

That said, oil-based stains still win the durability battle. They do a better job of resisting water and will therefore last longer. And because they dry more slowly, it’s easier to get an even finish with oil based-stains. The quicker drying times of most water-based stains means you have less time to evenly distribute a stain on the deck.

Step 2 – Prepare Deck for Staining

Deck stain pad vs roller

No one enjoys cleaning and sanding. But, as anxious as you might be to get that stain on your deck, it’s essential that the surface is properly prepped before applying the stain.

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re planning on staining a brand new deck, don’t. Remember, new treated lumber must cure for six to nine months to be dry enough to properly accept stain.

If you’re staining an older deck, there are some things you need to do before applying the stain. Begin by checking for damage. Remove and replace any loose nails or screws. Also, check for damaged boards and replace them as needed.

If you do end up replacing damaged boards on your deck, you may need to sand the entire deck for the old boards to match the color of the replaced boards once you’ve completed the project. Otherwise, you’ll end up with mismatched colors.

staining deck with rollerIt’s important to make sure you have a clean surface to work on before beginning. Use a deck wood cleaner to prep the deck. While it’s not necessary, I highly recommend using a pressure washer to make the cleaning process easier and more effective.

While the wood is wet, check for parts of the deck where water is beading, which indicates that the wood is no longer porous in these locations. This effect is commonly referred to as mill glaze. You’ll want to lightly sand or scrub mill glaze to ensure that the wood evenly receives the stain during application.

Also, check for black spots while the wood is wet. These spots indicate the presence of mildew. Use a deck cleaner to eliminate any mildew stains.

Although this is by no means necessary, consider treating the wood with a wood deck brightener. Wood deck brightener is an acid-based treatment that lowers the pH level of the wood, causing the pores in the wood to open up, which brightens the wood, accentuating its natural grain.

While this does add an additional step and expense to the project, it can have a significant positive impact on the aesthetics of your staining job.

Finally, check your weather forecast. As most stains need 24 hours to cure, make sure there’s no rain in the forecast for at least the next day before you begin.

Step 3 – Apply Stain

Applying stain with a roller

Once you’ve completed the prep work, it’s time to begin applying the stain. First, take a few minutes to read the can. This may seem like an obvious step, but you’d be surprised how many people dive in with looking at the directions.

Don’t make assumptions, especially if you’re not experienced with staining. Doing something as simple as shaking the can, a requirement for paint, but a no-no for stain as it creates bubbles in the finish can have negative consequences.

Even if you have stained in the past, not all stains are the same. Drying times and application methods may vary from stain to stain. By familiarizing yourself with guidelines that the manufacturer gives you for their product, you can get the best results possible.

It’s time to start, but where is the best place to begin? Most pros follow two sets of rules. The first is work from the wall out. This means start at the house and work your way towards the deck stairs. This prevents you from literally painting, or rather staining, yourself into a corner.

The second rule is to work from top to bottom. This prevents you from ruining an area you’ve already finished with splatters from above. This means beginning with handrails, benches, and any accessories.

Next in line would be the deck, followed by stairs, and finally, any framing or latticework that runs around the base of the deck. This means you’ll begin with your brush.

Due to the shape of deck railings, you’ll need to use a brush to apply stain to this part of your deck. Use a thick-bristled brush to apply a thin coat of stain to the rails and spindles. The thing you want to watch out for here are runs. Be sure you get a thin coat that won’t run, which will create unsightly run marks once dry.

Try to avoid drips, but remember, you’re starting at the top of a reason. Those drips that fall on the decking aren’t the end of the world as they’ll be taken care of once you stain the decking.

After completing the railings, go back and apply a second thin coat while the stain is still wet. Next, apply stain to benches or any accessories such as planters.

Now, it’s time to move on to the main event: the decking. As you’ll be starting from the wall of the house, you’ll need to begin by “cutting in.” No, this doesn’t involve changing dance partners. It does involve your brush.

Cutting in is a term used for painting, or in this case staining, the edge between two surfaces such as a wall and ceiling or wall and floor. In this case, your applying stain to the edge of the deck that runs against the wall of the house. Apply a line of stain about 3-4” wide along this edge.

Now that you’ve finished cutting in, it’s time to get rolling. Begin by pouring stain into a paint tray, which is the best way to evenly load the roller. Load the roller up, then wipe off excess using the edge of the tray.

Pro Tip: Given that decking has space between each board, you’re likely to lose a significant amount of stain through the cracks. This can be aggravating given the cost of quality stains, but this doesn’t have to be lost stain. If the under part of your deck is accessible, cover the ground beneath your deck with plastic sheeting.

This sheeting will catch that excess stain that falls through the cracks. Once you’ve finished staining the deck, funnel the stain that has collected on the sheets back into a container for reuse.

Limit each application to a square-shaped area about three boards wide. You’ll know it’s time to reload the roller when you have to apply pressure to produce an even roll of stain. Before reloading and applying the next section, you’ll need to back brush.

What’s back brushing? When applying stain with a roller, some areas will receive a higher concentration of stain than others. This means you need to go back with a brush and smooth these areas out to even the color.

Pro Tip: Buying a brush that can be mounted to a pole and purchasing a second pole will make back brushing quicker and easier.

Make sure to back brush every time you roll out a new section. While back brushing, use your brush to get the cracks between each board.

After reloading the roller, start at an area a few inches away from the wet part. Roll out a new section and blend it with the wet section. This will eliminate any roll lines in the stain.

Time is of the essence here, especially if you’re using a water-based stain. While you by no means want to rush this process, you do not want the stain to dry before you reapply.

Each line should be wet when you’re blending, or you’ll end up with the dreaded lines. With this in mind, once you’ve started rolling the deck, you need to keep going until you’re done. This is no time for a lunch break. Once the stain is tacky, it’s game over.

Now that you’ve finished rolling the deck wait the directed time before applying the second coat. Once all coats have been added and you’ve completed the application process, it’s time to wait. I know you’re excited to put that freshly stained deck to good use. Restrain yourself!

Remember, stain needs time to properly cure before it’s subjected to the rigors of foot traffic and deck furniture. Make sure to allow at least 24 hours of curing time before opening the deck up for service. Again, make sure you refer to the directions for your specific stain as the curing time may be longer.


The roller and brush method is one of the best ways of staining your deck. It’s the most efficient and effective way to apply an even coat that will beautify and protect your deck for many years to come. Hopefully, this how-to guide has provided you with some useful information on how to stain a deck with a roller.


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