Home Improvement

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.



How To Switch Out A Bathroom Faucet

Check out this ladykiller in the half bathroom:

It’s not especially offensive looking, but it leaks. And with a single knob I’m always worried that Clara will accidentally turn it to scalding hot when she’s washing her hands.

So we hit up our Habitat ReStore hoping for a cheap find. Sherry lunged for joy (you need to see that in person by the way) when she spotted this $12 find in the pile… only to learn that it was inexplicably missing one handle (we dug around for 20 minutes looking for it to no avail). Just wasn’t meant to be.

So we settled for this $34 find at Home Depot, which was pretty much the most affordable option they had. We figured that it was worth the peace of mind that we no longer had a leak and that Clara could use it more easily.

Making the switch promised to be quick and easy. Turn off the water. Unscrew some hoses. Bada bing. Bada boom. Hello new faucet. Except step one revealed a slight snag in the this-should-be-easy plan. The hot water valve wouldn’t turn off. It turned just fine, but the turning had no effect on the water flow. It just spun like a pinwheel.

That’s how switching out the faucet turned into replacing the hot water shut off valve (something I’d never done before)… which meant turning off the water to the whole house at the street. So we whipped out our water meter key to help twist the always stubborn valve out there (these are around $7 and we use ours more than you’d think).

I don’t have photos of the next part unfortunately, because I spent most of it with half of my body stuffed into the vanity trying to wrench various valves and hoses apart, wrap plumber’s tape, and wrench things back together. And somewhere between yelling at Sherry to have a plumber on standby and quietly cursing, I forgot to ask her to hand me the camera (which probably would have gotten wet and resulted in too-dark-to-see photos anyway). #bloggerfail. But for an idea of what the installation process looked like, you can check out this well-lit and profanity-free video from Home Depot.

I tell ya, I was convinced throughout this entire project that I was going to break some pipe and a cartoonish explosion of water would erupt from the ground, lifting our home from its foundation like we had just struck oil. But surprise – none of that happened, and I was able to get the new hot water valve in without any problem.

With the new valve attached, I got the old faucet out of the way, scraped away some of the gunk on the sink with a putty knife, attached the new hoses under the sink, and put the new fixture in its place.

When it came time to turn the water back on, I was certain at least one or two of the five new connections I had just made were going to leak (just call me the most pessimistic plumber in the world). So I laid some colored construction paper under everything so if something dripped, I’d be able to spot it quickly.

To my shock, there were no drips. And I watched for a good ten minutes – convinced they were just waiting for me to look away. Then Sherry finally dragged me away from my sink staring-contest and encouraged me to accept the victory like a big boy. Our new faucet (and its hot water valve) were officially installed!

It’s not a big exciting design decision, but we’re certainly glad to have it taken care of for functional reasons. And I guess we did make a deliberate decision about the finish. We looked at a few oil-rubbed bronze options (to match things like the doorknob and the light fixture), but all of those were at least $80+ (which felt too expensive for a Phase 1 fix). So we’re glad that brushed nickel worked just fine (and was a lot cheaper) thanks to the mirror, which acts as a “transition” between the two metals, since it mixes both tones in one spot.

Hilariously enough, the new faucet didn’t fail to impress our toughest critic. Clara walked in there after her nap and just stood there for a second staring. When Sherry said “Is everything OK?” she said “Wowwww! It looks beautiful in here! Did we get a new washing thing?”

She often notices things that change in the house, but I think this is the first time she led with such a strong compliment. We’ll take it.

Oh and here are the before and after photos you guys requested on our last bathroom post:

As for a budget breakdown, in our still-settling-in chaos we don’t have every receipt on hand, but our best guess is that we’ve sunk about $110 into this room in total (for the mirror, paint, light fixture, vanity knobs, and faucet). So for rooms that you use every day but are pretty pricey to fully renovate (like a kitchen or bathroom), it’s nice that an in-the-meantime upgrade can make a difference while you’re saving up for Phase Two down the line.

On to the next room!