How Often Should You Stain Your Deck?

Professionals say most decks require staining every two to three years.

April 16, 2015By Angie Hicks@Angie_Hicks

Dear Angie: I’ve found deck staining, especially a cedar deck, is a real issue with stains not lasting more than one year at a time on horizontal surfaces in almost full sun. When I looked into what to use at the “big-box” hardware stores and paint stores, they all seem to think they have the right answer.

But, after 8 years of trying to deal with this, I am almost ready to give up. What do you recommend? Is there a certain type of stain, not necessarily a brand, that I should look for? What causes it to wear off so quickly? Could I be doing something wrong when I apply it? And how long should good stain last? – John G., Indianapolis

Dear John: Whether they’re oil-based or water-based, stains will not last long on horizontal surfaces, due to weather elements like sunlight, snow, ice and rain. Wear is most commonly caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays deteriorating the stain surface. So, if your deck sits in nearly full sun, the horizontal surface is going to fade more quickly than one in constant shade or a surface that is vertical.

Most pros recommend you restain a horizontal surface every two to three years. That said, properly preparing, cleaning and drying the surface before applying a stain will yield the best results for the stain to last at least that long.

You want to make sure there are no traces of sealant present on the deck. A high-volume pressure washer is best to clean and prepare the surface. However, a pressure washer can easily scar the deck surface, so unless you’re experienced working with one, that job is best left to a power washing professional.

As far as the type of stain to use, a semi-transparent stain will sink deeper into the wood. Solid color stains are more like paint and will likely peel within a year. If you use a solid color stain and it starts to peel, there are really only two ways to fix it: strip it and reseal it, or keep touching it up.

For a more natural stained look, a good, heavy oil-based stain has the most longevity on a horizontal surface compared to a water-based product.

I recommend you consult with a reliable deck staining professional, who can come to your home and evaluate your deck firsthand. He or she can present the best options for getting the best looking and longest lasting finish possible.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a provider of reviews you can trust on contractors, doctors, dentists and other service professionals. More than 2 million consumers across the U.S. use Angie’s List to help make tough hiring decisions easier.