Staining & Sealing The Deck (Finally!)

With our power washing done we could finally stain and seal our deck, which we completed and re-furnished on Tuesday (literally hours before our first showing!).

But let’s rewind to where we left off yesterday. We mentioned that after finishing it in late August we were told to give the pressure treated wood 2-3 months to dry out before sealing any of the moisture from the treatment in (apparently sealing or staining PT wood too soon can lead to terrible results). So by the time staining was advised, it was too cold out to apply the stain. But even after spring rolled around and we power washed, it still wasn’t quite ready.

What was standing in our way? Some lingering grime that the pressure washer didn’t remove in this corner. Sherry didn’t think it was that noticeable, but I was determined to get things cleaner before staining (I feared that we’d seal them in and potentially darken those spots even more if we didn’t get them off first). Yes, you can call me Nerdy McWorrypants.

Since we hadn’t used a cleaner during the pressure washing process, I decided to try one after the fact. Lots of deck staining tutorials (like this one and this one) recommend applying some sort of cleaner first, so I didn’t want to skip that step. We grabbed this $7 “Deck Wash” because we liked that it could just be sprayed by attaching it to a garden hose.

I followed the instructions, which was basically spray it, let it sit for about 5 minutes and then rinse it off. Could cleaning a deck really be that simple?

Apparently not. I didn’t even bother taking an “after” photo because it looked exactly like the before.

After two attempts (pressure washer, then cleaner) I was about to admit defeat. But I decided to give cleaning one more try, this time in the form of an $8 Olympic brand cleaner. I had bypassed it originally because it required buying this $11 sprayer.

Well, this cleaner most definitely made a difference. The same spray process commenced, I let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinsed it off, but this time it seemed to essentially bleach the whole deck clean. I was a smidge panicked with the result at first (although I had read that a bleach mixture is a commonly recommended deck cleaner) but in the end it was the exact blank slate that we needed to apply a nice even coat of stain. So to anyone wondering if the $8 product with the $11 sprayer can be that much better than the $7 one that works with a hose… in our experience the first one did nothing and the second one worked overtime.

Next up was applying the stain/sealer, which Sherry and I were both eagerly anticipating (literally the minute Clara was tucked in for her nap we sprinted out to get started in the hopes that we could finish everything before she woke up). Here were our supplies:

  1. Olympic Maximum Toner in Cedar Naturaltone color (it’s a stain/sealant all in one, and was $37 from Lowe’s)
  2. Deck Stain Applicator ($7 from Lowe’s)
  3. Large brush ($6 from Lowe’s)
  4. Rubber gloves (already owned) – and yes, I now realize they kinda look like a certain other rubber item…
  5. Paper towels (rags would also work)

As for choosing the type of stain + sealer to go with, we heard a lot of great things about it from a friend of ours who recently used it (and a few readers mentioned the same one as well). We chose a toner over a semi-transparent finish because the color would be subtler and more of the wood would show through. We’d grown so used to the “natural” look of the wood that we didn’t want to go too dark (especially with the dark brick wall on one side) and our only other hope was that it wouldn’t look too red-orange either. Of course if you look at the photo below, straight out of the can it was pretty darn orange, but thankfully it dried to look a lot more subtle.

Before taking the train to Staining Town, we had read up on several options for applying it – spraying, rolling, brushing, etc. – and we opted to use a sponge-y “deck stain applicator” because we had seen my dad use one before at my Granny’s house. Both in watching my dad, and in our case, it was pretty easy to use and seemed to make things go really quickly. The only catch is that you need to “backbrush” afterwards, which keeps the stain from pooling in any place and also apparently helps work the stain into the wood. So as usual, I did the rolling-ish step (in this case, it was the sponge applicator) and Sherry was the brush girl (she followed quickly behind me, brushing over everything I stained to work the stain into the cracks and keep it from pooling anywhere).

The top portion of the deck probably took us 15-20 minutes (this stain + sealer only calls for one coat). So that part was waaaay faster than we expected. It was the stairs and railings that ground us to a halt. That part had to be done with the brush making sure that we got all sides of each post while watching out for drips and puddles. So it took us more time and focus than we expected. Maybe two hours in total for that part? We kind of lost track, but Clara woke up before we were finished so I went in to watch her and Sherry “The Paintbrush” Petersik stayed back and got ‘er done.

When the stain was still wet we worried that the color was redder than we had wanted, but when it dried it did exactly what we wanted – it just “toned” the wood, so it still looks similar to the other exterior wood around the house (like the fence around the patio, etc). Oh and you might notice that Sherry took a moment to paint the utility box to blend a little more with the brick, just like she did at our first house. It only took a test pot of paint (around $2.50), so although it’s hardly invisible, it’s a lot less “Look at me!” in person. And I think you can tell in the photos when you compare it to the picture a few photos up.

Best of all, I was totally redeemed from my failed-ish attempts at cleaning. Here’s that corner that was especially dirty looking.

It’s not flawless, but it’s much improved over where we were post-pressure washing.

So now, eight long months after construction on the deck wrapped up (and 10 since it started!) it’s officially stained and sealed. And I’m still just as proud of her. Thankfully we got to enjoy the deck all through late fall and early spring (even before she was cleaned and stained) but it’s nice to know that she’s 100% complete and future acorns and leaves can’t do as much damage if they decide to hang out too long.

We also finally calculated the long awaited deck budget breakdown for you guys (we wanted to get her stained/sealed before breaking down the benjamins) so here it is:

Permit – $114
First lumber & hardware order – $1007
First auger rental – $60
Second lumber & hardware order – $251
Second auger rental – $60
Flashing – $40
Misc hardware & supplies – $95
Powerwash – $80
Cleaner & Stain – $76
Total: $1783

I definitely think if you didn’t have to build such a large staircase (ours has 8 steps with long railings on either side) you could save a good chunk of money. And if you don’t fail your first inspection and have to rent the auger again, you’d save 60 more bucks. Oh and you can save seven more if you buy the good cleaner the first time. Ha!

I think this project was one of my biggest (it’s right up there with our first house’s bathroom gut-job) and it certainly saved us money to DIY it (it probably would have been around 6-8K to get this hired out) but most of all it gave me confidence. Dude, I built a deck. And the permit guy said it would hold a bunch of elephants. I’m a proud poppa.

That odd little alley of ours has definitely come a long way. Here’s a picture we took during our first walk through back in 2010.

Anyone else staining a deck? Did the stain look crazy bright right after it went on? Have you tried one of those deck stain applicators on a stick? I really think in combination with the brush it was a fast yet thorough method.


  1. says

    Hugely awesome. “I built a deck” would totally sit at the top of my resume. And seeing the progression photos from this and the cleaning post was oddly therapeutic for me. So thanks for filling my DIY and therapy counseling needs.

  2. Lisa Gentry says

    Thanks for this post- we need to stain and seal our deck this summer. What do you do if your deck already has a stain? Ours has a semi transparent-like gray stain on it. I’m not sure where we should go from here! Also, for how many years does your stain provide protection?

    • says

      I believe pressure washing and using that second cleaner we mentioned would hopefully help with the stain. As for our stain and sealer, since its a toner it said something really long (3 or 5 years?) but I forget. Maybe check their website?


  3. cristy says

    Hey guys, great job, the deck looks amazing! Those last pictures reminded me of your french door switch out, and I went to look for that post and can’t find it. Can you direct me?

  4. Sara says

    We let our deck sit too long without being cleaned and stained again. I’m sure we will need some cleaner after power washing. Thanks for the tips! And that sponge brush looks like it would be so quick. We did everything with paint brushes when we stained our deck and front stoop a couple years ago. It took forever.

  5. Amanda says

    You guys need to put before and after photos around the house when you have showings. Just a subtle way of showing off all the work you’ve done. ;)

  6. KarinK says

    I’m curious – how long did you let the wood dry out (after power washing and then cleaning) before you applied the stain? Does it matter? It looks great and to comment on the original power washing post, YES! It is an oddly soothing job to power wash. We bought a cheap-o electric model from Big Lots – definitely takes longer if you have a lot of square footage, but for $70, I can deal with it.

    • says

      Every stain can has different drying times so we made sure to follow their recommendation. I think we waited 48 hrs from the last rain (it rained between power washing and staining).


  7. Elaine in Ark says

    Your deck looks great! I have a deck with an addition that needed to be replaced last fall, so now I have a two-tone deck with a roof over 1/3 of it (the original section). The builder told me to wait until spring to seal it, so I’m going to do that when the snow melts off (yes, I am in Arkansas, and I used to think it was in the South, but we have snow and it’s May 3).

    My question is: did you have to power wash the railings and posts, or just the deck floor and steps?


  8. Kim says

    FYI when you stain your next deck try this: It really is “goof proof” as in, it can puddle or drip and you don’t need to worry about catching it all because it spreads itself(I actually tried this and watch it happen, it’s sorta amazing). It may require more coats, but it was so much easier than when we used the other stuff on our deck furniture (which looks a hot mess right now because we didn’t catch all the drips, and it didn’t survive the elements well…and we even covered it during the winter!). Meanwhile, our deck still looks fabulous. We plan to use it again on our fence and I am so excited I don’t have to catch every random drip because we have a lot of fence!!

  9. Amanda T. says

    LOVE this! I’m considering staining my back patio, but it’s concrete so I’m a little scared. Haha. I have stained a deck before (in my pajamas! haha!) and it wasn’t too bad. :)

  10. LMN says

    Great deck. And SOOOO EXCITED Y’ALL ARE MOVING TO YOUR DREAM HOUSE/NEIGHBORHOOD!!! Sorry, didn’t mean to be loud. :-)

  11. says

    I am SO impressed by this deck. I’m nowhere near confident enough to building something like this (plus, I rent an apartment, so…) but I hope one day I will be. You guys are really inspirations.

  12. Diane says

    We let our kids put their handprints and names in the wet stain on our deck. Same with the concrete in our new driveway. Should have down the same with our pets. Shucks.

  13. Kim says

    Looks great! And I bet it’ll be a bonus selling feature for the house now :) I have to admit, I’m a little sad we’ll never get to see it in all it’s glory with string lights in the evening… maybe at the new house?

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