How To Strip & Clean A Deck For Stain

Yup, we decided to give stripping a go (insert obligatory stripper pun here). It’s just that our 676 square foot deck was looking a little rough…

We considered not even attempting to strip the peeling stain off of our deck and instead try a product like Rust-oleum Restore or Behr DeckOver which promised to just cover up the offending finish. While the step-skipping ease and promised durability of those products was tempting, we personally aren’t complete fans of the rough sand-like texture of Rust-oleum Restore (Home Depot had some samples of it around the store and it’s not terrible but it’s not our favorite). The DeckOver stuff looked smoother and actually almost convinced us, but it’s so new that there weren’t enough reviews to make us feel confident spending all that money on it (we’d potentially need around $500 worth of it since our deck is so huge). So we decided we’d like to try a more traditional route first: staining. Especially since that can hold up around half a decade and also lets some of the pretty wood tone peek through. But to do that, we needed it stripped first. Update: check out the first page of comments for info on why we opted not to power wash it.

We found this Behr Wood Stain & Finish Stripper and decided to give it a go. It had very mixed reviews on Home Depot’s website, but since we had a back-up plan (DeckOver) we were willing to take the risk. So here were our supplies:

  1. Bucket – to pour the stripper into for easy dipping of my roller
  2. Protective Gear – in this case rubber gloves, goggles, and a mask (this stuff stinks!)
  3. Stiff Brush – we bought this guy for $25
  4. Hose - this needs no explanation… or does it (insert dramatic chipmunk)
  5. Roller – I chose to apply with a 1/2″ nap roller on an extension pole
  6. Stripper - we bought 4 bottles (at $19 each) but ended up only needing 3
  7. Cleaner – we bought the Behr one that goes with the stripper (it was $9)
  8. Pump Sprayer (not pictured) – we still had this one leftover from cleaning our last deck

The first step of the directions was to wet down any surrounding plants to help protect them from the runoff. We don’t have much greenery worth saving around the deck, but I did it anyways. You know me, I’m a rebel rule follower without a cause. Update: We’re folks who don’t even use weed killer (we pick them by hand or embrace them as “flair”) so we definitely didn’t want anything with chemicals that would remain/do any lasting damage. Thankfully this stripping agent is “biodegradable with easy water clean-up.” Wearing a mask while applying it is important too!

Then I combined a couple of bottles of the stripper into the bucket. I thought having them in the bucket would make it easier to dip my roller, plus I could work faster with more than 1 gallon poured out at a time.

The stripper is pretty gloopy (a technical term). It was a bit more watery than paint. Maybe gluelike? I imagine it to be what porridge looks and feels like. But hopefully not what it smells like. Otherwise Goldilocks has terrible taste in stolen snacks.

But the consistency actually makes it really easy to apply. It’s thick enough not to drip off your roller too wildly, but thin enough to spread nicely.

The instructions tell you to spread it “liberally” over the surface and let it sit for 5-45 minutes. In that time you’re supposed to not let it dry, which is why they tell you to apply on a cloudy day when the temperature is less than 90° and you’re not expecting rain.

As you can imagine, that’s a hard combination of conditions to predict in the summer. I waited a good two weeks for the “perfect day” and even then it turned out to be to sunnier than I had hoped. Stupid clouds never stay put.

The good news is that the sun wasn’t disastrous, it just dried out the stripper faster than it should. But if I spotted a dry spot I just lightly misted it with water (as mentioned in the instructions) and all was right with the world again.

One warning – this stuff is also pretty slippery. I did my best not to walk on it at all, but when I did it felt like it was almost moving under my feet.

That’s when I realized it was. It was slippery because the finish was coming off under my feet. Suddenly my caution turned to excitement. Could this stuff actually be doing the trick?

I figured that was my cue to move on to the next step: scrubbing (it had probably been about 25 minutes since I started). Although it was coming off under my feet, I needed to use the stiff-bristled brush to really wipe it away.

It took a little bit of force, but in most cases I could get the finish off with just a couple of swift strokes on each board. It came off in sort of a brown sludge, but after a rinse you could really see how the wood grain was reappearing.

The job went a lot faster once I realized I could hook up my hose to the back of the brush I had bought. It meant I could kinda scrub and rinse all at the same time, which made it easier to see the progress I was making.

The scrubbing part was definitely the longest part of the process. It took me about 45 minutes to do my first pass, and then I went back and spot scrubbed parts that I had missed or that took a bit more oopmh. Even then it took two or three rinses to make me feel like I had actually gotten all of the sludge off.

After everything is stripped you’re supposed to follow-up with a cleaner to brighten the stripped wood and, more importantly (to me at least) to neutralize the stripping chemical. I had hoped to use up what was leftover from cleaning our last deck but that brand (Olympic) can only be used on dry decks – and ours was soaking wet at this stage. But the Behr stuff I had bought as a back-up was meant for these situations, so I filled up my pump sprayer (with 1 part water and 1 part cleaner, per the instructions) and sprayed away.

As much as I appreciated not having to wait for the deck to dry, I didn’t appreciate that the Behr cleaner recommended that you scrub the cleaner into the wood after letting it sit for a few minutes. So there went another 20 minutes or so of brushing our giant deck again. It said it would “foam” but I didn’t get much foaming action. Maybe I applied it too thin? I dunno.

But foam or no foam, I proceeded by giving the deck one last good rinse down to hopefully rid it of any residual stripper and cleaner.

It was a bit slow to dry out (since the clouds had decided to park themselves overhead at this point) but you can see how it looks like the process did the trick. It seems to have gotten rid of not just the peeling paint, but a lot of the gray weathering too. It almost looked like new, albeit bleached, wood.

On that particular morning I only did half of the deck. It had taken me about 3.5 hours and I was pretty tired and sweaty (okay, and hungry). Wearing pants and long-sleeves in 85° will do that to ya. But at least my half-attempt makes it easier to see the difference the stripping made. See that obvious line where the sunroom ends?

I was able to tackle the rest of the deck the next day. So here’s the whole thing free of old stain (and after it was able to fully dry out in the sun). Looking good, no?

We’re pretty psyched about how it turned out. We think it’s in great shape to get some stain on it and, better yet, I’m hoping the new boards that we patched it with won’t stand out as much as I feared they initially would.

Our plan now is to stain it with a semi-transparent stain that’s similar in color to the previous rich brown color (it must have been glorious in its day, before it started to wear away – and we think it’ll look great with our brick facade). In fact we didn’t go through the trouble to fully strip the small vertical railings (because it would’ve taken a million years, but also because we liked their color and they were in much better shape). So we’re hoping using something close in color that will make the whole thing look seamless when we’re done.

So yeah, that’s the stripping story. I guess the lesson is that even if you have a rough looking deck, some elbow grease (I think I scrubbed this thing thirty times) might just save it. Either way, we’re pretty pumped about being one step away from breathing new life into this baby. Deck stain, here we come!

Psst- Clara’s having conversations again. And as usual, the girl’s making us snort milk out of our nose.






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