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.


  1. Emily R says

    THIS is exactly why I wouldn’t stain it! I like a nice natural grey patina with just some clear sealer on it. And you won’t have to take HOURS to remove it once it’s gone kaput!

    • Michele says

      I totally agree — I’d just seal the deck too. I like the contrast of the clean deck with the darker rails. Having re-stained decking every few years around a pool when I was growing up really gave me an appreciation for unstained decking.

  2. says

    This looks great! We had a company stain our deck two years ago, and I’m bummed that it’s already wearing in places. It needed some attention this summer, but that’s not going to happen. Next summer, absolutely.

    I was hoping to get more years out of it, but it seems like in some areas 2 years is the most you can expect.

    I’m also interested in the rustoleum or Behr type finishes this time.

    Also — we had sap seep through the wood in some places. I dunno what that was about.

    • says

      Our first home had it’s deck in about the same shape. The neighbor that lived behind us had 11 tall trees at the end of their property line, some branches we could grab from our deck…. We ended up cutting those branches and my hubby power washed the deck, all that tree sap and mildew on the surface of it made it gross looking.

      After it was power washed it looked brand new again. We ended up staining it in a walnut coloured transparent stain. I wanted a transparent stain cause I still wanted the wood grain coming thru…. It looked amazing. But unfortunately we too had to re-stain it every two years. But it wasn’t so much work as the first time.

  3. Jennifer I. says

    Thank you for this post! We are at the exact same spot, we have just stripped an old red opaque stain off about 200 sq feet of decking, including railing posting and stairs (uggh) by using stripper and power washing (it has been a PAIN to say the least), taken us several weekends. We are finally up to the point where we can put some semi-transparent stain on it, so I’m hoping your post pops up this week so I can see and make an educated choice!! Love, love, love your deck :)

  4. Lindsey says

    Such a huge piece of your exterior – what an accomplishment! It’s going to look great when it’s all done! Is the stain you’ll use an all-in-one or do you need some sort of sealer, too? I guess I don’t know much about these things.

  5. Renee says

    So did the stripping not rough up the wood texture and cause splintering? We had to sand ours and replace a lot of pieces, but maybe ours was just too miscared for to save.

    • says

      It didn’t at all- that’s why we chose it over pressure washing, which we heard could splinter or fuzz-out the wood (and we wanted something as new/smooth looking as possible).


  6. Nick says

    Why didn’t you just use a pressure washer. I recently did my fence that was stained red and my pw did a beautiful job of removing the ugy red and now I have a beautiful natural wood fence again. No chemicals needed.

    • says

      We actually talked to a bunch of people about that and they said since the wood was older it could have ended up fuzzy and splintered, so in the interest of a smoother surface for Clara’s little feet, we opted to put in more labor to keep the boards from getting more beat up.


    • Maureen says

      You were right to not pressure wash. We recently replaced our deck flooring and not the steps and railings, and when we went to pressure wash the stairs and railings to clean them up a bit, and make them match until we got new ones, they absolutely were splintered and fuzzy. Definitely not the way to go if you aren’t replacing them like we are.

    • Lesley says

      The age of the wood factors HEAVILY in the strip versus spray debate. The wood pulp between the grain (or if you cut it down, the rings of the tree) gets soft over time, when you apply pressurized water it blows it out from between the grain leaving the ridges.

      The chemicals seem like a harsh solution, but the same applies to removing paint from brick on a house; pressure washing/sand blasting removes the paint AND the protective coating on the bricks. When we had our house inspected the inspector looked closely at the brick and stated that we were lucky is was chemically peeled, and wouldn’t have to ultimately replace all of the brick on the front of our house. Apparently it becomes a sponge and results in moisture damage in the walls of your house!!!

    • Claire says

      Our deck is stained red as well – we were originally going to pressure wash it, but might do this process instead. The only problem is, because it is stained red, we definitely need to strip all the spindles, railings, fence, and pergola along with the deck floor. Stripping all of that would be impossible! Would you recommend pw for those other parts and stripping for the floor? Any idea how pressure washing would work on spindles/railings?

    • says

      That’s a good idea! Maybe just power wash the railings and then you can sand them if they’re fuzzy/splintered before staining them to seal them all up again.


  7. Emily says

    We wanted to change our deck color from one of the standard (boring) premixed colors to something more rich as well. We used all these same products with awesome results! We then stained it Cordova Brown semi-transparent from Behr (hige Home Depot fans here!). I love love love this color – it’s a a darker brown with a bit of grayish undertones that really makes all the greenery and our inlaid black metal star pop. Since colors don’t show well through computers I don’t know if this matches yours or not but I just wanted to attest to its awesomeness :)

  8. Ann says

    That looks AWESOME! (Insert inappropriate “Magic Mike” joke here.) Question, though: so is all that sludgy stuff now just hanging out under the deck? Or does it kind of dissolve during the rinse?

    • says

      Oddly enough between rinsing it and scrubbing it and rinsing it again and scrubbing it again and then following with the cleaner, it seemed to dissolve – so there thankfully aren’t globs of brown stuff around the deck.


  9. says

    I am telling my parents about this. Their deck needs stripping before they put it on the market and this is perfect. Do you think it would be difficult for an older couple to do (60’s)? I may have to go up and help them. Thanks!!

    • says

      I think if they did it on a cool day (or over a few cool days, in smaller sections) they can totally do it! A great scrubbing brush that allows a hose to be inserted will definitely make it easier.


  10. says

    Wow! I wasn’t sure if it was worth all that work until I saw the photos next to the sun room, and literally gasped OMGeee out loud. That stuff really works! We have 3 biggie decks on our home and we’ve been looking for a solution. Thanks!

  11. says

    We’re in the process of using Behr Deck Over right now! Chose it over Home Depot’s option because of the smoother finish as well! The ease of just cleaning the deck first with their product (instead of stripping or anything first) pretty much sold us since our deck was still structurally sound. I say in the process because you can’t have rain for 24 hours after applying and we’ve been in a every other day rain segment for the past 2 weeks.

    • Sabrina says

      We redid our humongous back deck this spring with behr deck over. Part of the deck was new and part was original. It was pretty labor intensive going on (we did the railings as well) but it has been completely worth it. We did a smoother finish and love it. It has just enough texture to it to be non-slip around the pool area. Also the older portion of our deck gave our two younger daughters splinters ins regular basis and I can happily say we had zero splinters this summer!

  12. says

    Wow – that made such a difference! Can’t wait to see how it turns out once you stain it! We need to strip and re-stain our deck, too — it has been stained 2 different colors over time and now it’s starting to peel in a bunch of places so you can see both colors. Nice… May be hard to find a day that it’s under 90 degrees here and not raining for a while, though :(

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