Staining a new deck is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. After all, you’ve spent a serious chunk of change putting together all that lumber into an excellent, liveable outdoor space. But when is the best time to stain your new deck?
When it comes time for staining a new deck, there are a couple of factors to consider. The first is how long to wait before staining a new deck? The second factor is when during the year, can you stain your deck?
We’ll tackle those questions below, as well as other issues that might arise when you start planning your deck staining process.
Why Stain a New Deck?
Staining a new deck is critical to its longevity and protecting your investment. While you’ve most likely used treated lumber or cedar, which is guaranteed to stand up to the elements, no lumber lasts forever. However, you can make it last for a long time with regular staining.
Stain protects the surface of the wood through penetration. When you stain a deck, it is absorbed into the upper layers of the wood, providing a weatherproof barrier between moisture and UV rays and the interior of the wood.
If you don’t stain your new deck, it will weather into a gray, rustic look. While you may like that look, it just means your wood is becoming more damaged by the day. Using stain will change the color of your deck, but make it last much longer.
The best part about using stain is that it has tons of different color options. If you want your deck to match the color of your home exterior, then there is more than likely a stain for that.
Should I Stain or Seal My New Deck?
Stain and sealer are different. Sealer is transparent and puts a coating over the outer layer of your wood. It does not penetrate as a stain does. Stains act as sealers but also stain the wood, which makes them more effective at protecting your deck.
Sealer does not last as long as stain either, because it only stays on the surface of the wood. Therefore it deteriorates faster. This makes the reapplication of most sealers necessary after only 1 year.
On the other hand, applying a sealer is about the easiest deck maintenance task you could do. It goes on quickly and you can usually do it in the morning. Since it is transparent, it is hard to mess up in terms of looks.
Stains absorb into the wood and last at least 5 times as long as sealers, if not longer if applied correctly. Of course, staining is going to cost you more, but you pay for what you get. A sealer will preserve that original color of your deck for a year or two, but eventually, it will fade and you’ll still be having to reapply every year.
Finally, never apply a sealer over a stained deck. Both were formulated to work with raw wood, so mixing them will negate their ability to protect your wood.
When is the Best Time to Stain a New Deck?
Can you stain a new deck? Absolutely. You can stain a new deck immediately after installing your deck, but this is not the best time to do it and here’s why: the lumber is still too wet. The best time to stain a new deck is 3 to 12 months after installing it.
When you buy treated lumber at the store, you’ll notice that your hands get damp after loading it all into the back of your truck or trailer. Why?
Pressure-treated lumber is treated with liquid chemicals. They don’t dry out immediately because they’re immediately stacked for shipment after treatment and don’t see the light of day until you purchase it.
Too much moisture within the wood won’t allow the stain to properly penetrate the wood. Picture a cup of water filled half full. If you pour stain into that cup, it’ll fill the other half. On the other hand, if you leave that cup of water alone for a few months, it’ll evaporate much of the water and you’ll be able to fit more stain into the cup, which is your goal.
Apply the same principle to your pressure-treated wood. You need time and exposure to allow that wood to dry out. Ironically, the longer you leave your new wood unprotected, the better prepared it is to be stained and, thus, protected.
Let the deck dry out for up to twelve months before staining. Wait at least three months. It depends on your weather and the amount of sunlight your deck gets. If you live in a sunny, warmer area, then your deck will dry much faster than it would in, say, the rainy Pacific Northwest.
When is My New Deck Dry Enough to Stain?
It is possible to stain your deck too soon. Pressure-treated lumber comes with more initial moisture than cedar because the treating process involves lots of moisture.
Your deck is dry enough to stain when you can test a bit of stain on a piece of your decking and see if that stain beads at the top of the wood. If it does, then wait a few more weeks. If the stain penetrates your decking, then you can stain your cedar or pressure treated deck.
What is the Best Time to Stain My New Deck?
Spring or fall are the best times to stain your deck. You want to avoid the temperature extremes that summer and winter offer, even if you live in a moderate climate.
But temperature is not the only consideration. Direct UV light is also extremely harmful to wood over time. Applying stain in the middle of summer, when a deck would be exposed to maximum hours of direct sunlight, might cause your stain to not apply properly.
Most stains need a mild temperature and a period in which there is no moisture – rain – so that it can penetrate the wood properly. Remember also that fall might be a great time to stain, but falling leaves on wet stain could create issues.
When To Stain Cedar Decking
Staining or sealing a cedar deck has different rules than decks using pressure-treated lumber. Since cedar is all-natural and chemical-free, it comes without any enhanced protection. Therefore, you should stain or seal your cedar decking within 2 to 3 months of installing the deck.
Cedar is not exceptionally hard wood. In fact, it can be quite susceptible to dents and nicks of people using it and walking on it daily. Without a protective layer of chemicals to buffer those nicks and cuts, the cedar is more prone to getting banged up, at least early on, compared to pressure-treated wood.
The instant you put cedar on your deck, it begins to weather. In fact, it’s been weathering since it was cut into planks and sent to the retailer. When installed, cedar is already drier than pressure-treated wood. You won’t need to wait up to 12 months for sufficient drying to take place – 3 months is plenty long enough.
Now that you know that staining or sealing cedar immediately is the best course of action, you need to know what kind of stain or sealer to use.
Most people choose cedar because it looks awesome. Thus you want to maintain some semblance of the natural cedar look. An oil-based, semi-transparent stain is best because it maintains the natural look of the cedar while protecting it from moisture.
You’ll need to reapply the stain regularly, like any other lumber. But remember that just because cedar has rot-resistant characteristics, that doesn’t mean you can opt out of staining cedar lumber. All wood exposed wood on a deck should be either stained or sealed to prevent decay of any kind.
How Do You Prepare a New Deck for Staining?
Staining your deck protects your wood. But if you don’t prepare the wood before staining, you are compromising the ability of the stain to protect your wood. The key to proper preparation is opening the pores of the wood so it will accept the maximum amount of stain.
You may have heard the term “mill glaze” before. When lumber is cut and finished, it is shiny because the wood oils have come to the surface during the cutting process and then cooled off, effectively closing off the wood pores.
Cleaning the wood with a scrub brush will help remove mill glaze and ready the wood for staining by opening up the wood’s pores.
To prepare your new deck for staining, you first need to wash your deck off of all debris and other materials. Use a deck cleaner to help you with the process. You’ll need a decent long-handled scrub brush to assist.
You can use a sprayer with a hand pump or a pressure washer on low power to apply the cleaner, as well. If using a pressure washer, you’ll want to keep it at the lowest setting; otherwise, you’ll damage your wood.
After cleaning, you’ll need to use a wood brightener. Before using, make sure you’ve rinsed off the wood cleaner very thoroughly with water. Wood brightener will do just that – brighten your wood by removing any stains still left after the wood cleaner.
It is important to note this process is the same when putting a stain on new decks or a deck you’ve had for 20 years.
Other Considerations When Staining
A classic mistake for many deck owners is applying too much stain. More stain is most definitely not always better. Remember, even though you’ve stained, you still want your wood to breathe.
You’ll never achieve perfectly waterproof decking with water beading off unless you use wax or epoxy, and that’s fine. Applying too much stain can cause your wood to rot because bits of moisture will get into the wood and won’t get out. The fungus will occur and eat your wood from the inside out.
Never sand new wood. It will close the pores and cause the chemicals to get trapped in the wood, which will cause all sorts of problems when you go to use stain or sealer.
Old wood can be sanded, but it is better to use wood stripper products, a cleaner, brightener and then a stain. You’ll be amazed how new you can get your old deck to look just with a thorough cleaning and application of these products.
If you have a covered deck, don’t assume it is safe from the elements. The changing temperatures and humidity can play havoc with wood. The stain will restrict the aging of your covered deck lumber.
I hope you found this article helpful in understanding when you should stain your deck. Remember, you should always treat your new deck with a stain or sealer to protect the wood. Without protection, your decking can rot or, at a minimum, become an eyesore.
If you have any deck staining experiences or questions you’d like to share, please leave your feedback below. And again, thanks for reading this article and best of luck on your next deck staining project!
Eugene has been a DIY enthusiast for most of his life and loves being creative while inspiring creativity in others. He is passionately interested in home improvement, renovation and woodworking.