Big Summer 2019 Project: How to strip & stain a painted deck

Many new homeowners have dealt with painted decks that needed some love after escrow. This was my second such occasion and the 3rd home we've owned that had a deck. One of those situations where you're able to take what you've learned in the past and apply it to the present.

Deck staining complete
My oldest son and I enjoying the finished product.

The couple we bought the farm from did a great job taking care of the home and the landscaping, they truly blessed us with a beautiful canvas on which to paint our own hobby farm experience. The only decision they made that I didn't agree with was painting the deck. People do this all the time as a substitute for having to stain the deck every couple years. They believe the pain will lessen the workload over time, in my experience this is not true. There isn't a paint on earth that can withstand direct impact with spring rain, summer sun, and winter snow without peeling, cracking and bubbling. Our house exteriors fare better because of the eves that protect them and their vertical construction, but a deck is truly a sitting duck when it comes to defending itself from the elements.

The first house we purchased in 2010 had 2 deck pieces, one under a covered patio area and one out in the elements. The deck was made out of tight knot cedar and painted forest green. When we moved into that house, we had just had our first set of twins, life was crazy and I was a first time homeowner. The easiest way to cover that terrible paint was to buy a 5 gallon bucket of Restore deck resurfacer. If you're not familiar, this is a roll-on product that is similar to bed liner for a truck. It is highly textured and works well for its purpose – covering ugly decks. It also kicks the real problem down the road. Deck resurfacer, although it may last a bit longer, will eventually succumb to weather. The other problem with this product is that it makes it very difficult find and remove screws in the case that you are ready to replace some or all of the deck.

Our 2nd home had a well maintained soft cedar deck that the previous homeowner used a grey tinted stain on. This home also happened to be in Minnesota where the winter snow and summer rains combine to hammer decks. We lived in that house for 4 years. I re-stained this deck twice. To complete the job I put a brush on a broomstick and went board by board. Pretty easy job to keep the deck in good condition.

With the hope that Crushlife Acres is our forever home I wanted to do this job once and do it right: strip the paint, give it a light sanding and re-stain it with a high quality oil-based product. Here is how I went about it...

Paint Stripping

The first time I put stripper on the deck I was very excited. It was over my lunch break and the directions said to put the stripper on, let it rest for 4 hours and come back and scrape it. Being very excited to get the project started, I covered about 1/8 of the deck with the stripper, went back to work and couldn't wait to get back home and start peeling that paint off in what I believed would be huge, easy to remove sections! Well, when I got back, the stripper had turned white and had gone from a gel-like substance to a dry powdery one. Needless to say, the paint did not come off effectively. Disappointed, I went back at it after the kids were in bed and found the stripper worked much better if it was scraped while wet after sitting for 5 minutes or so. The product I used for this first test was Ready Strip. For the container size, the cost and the effectiveness I knew I need to try a different product. I also didn't like the fact that it turned white, It made it hard to deal with the areas between the boards, if I didn't get down in there and get every bit of the stripper out it looked terrible.

Stripping paint from a deck
The first stripper product I tried after letting it sit for 4 hours like the directions stated. You can also see the areas where the paint had peeled. Not a great look for BBQ's.

Product #2 was the old classic Klean Strip Premium Stripper. Big metal can, strong odor, industrial quantities. Will run you about $30 at Home Depot. As you can see in the picture below I used a brush that connects to a broom handle and an aluminum pan. This stuff is very hard on plastic so if it gets to the handle of your brush or your scraper or you use a plastic receptacle you may regret it. This Klean Strip product still required effort but it definitely softened up the paint quickly and worked well as long as I wasn't working in direct sunlight on hot paint.

Klean Strip for stripping paint from a deck
The product I settled on that carried me to the finish line. This huge deck took 5 total jugs.

The best tool I found for actually getting the paint off was a stiff Husky scraper pictured below. The big rubber handle was sturdy and had a good grip and the blade didn't bend and wasn't too sharp so it didn't damage the wood when I was forced to scrape against the grain. On nice level boards I used the scraper attached to a broom handle and broke a few of those. In the end the best way to use this tool is to get on your hands and knees (using husky knee pads) and scrape the paint using alot of pressure, inching along with the grain of each board. It mostly worked like this:

The basic process involved painting the stripper on 2 or 3 half boards, letting it sit for a few minutes and then scraping as much as I could before painting on the stripper again. Each section took three to five attempts to get all of the paint off. Some of the boards had become slightly concave over time so you have to scrape at an angle to get to the middle, the knots are tough at times and these exterior paints are made to be tough! If you're not prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to get the paint off your deck this isn't the job for you. Might be best to cover it with the Restore product I mentioned above. I personally came to enjoy the work. Beautiful weather, good podcasts and manual labor are my jam.

If you follow me on instagram you saw I had a little fun with the process:

After nearly 2 months of scraping, the day I finished the paint stripping was one of best days of my summer:


My goals for sanding were to remove any remaining paint while knocking down some of the slivers and rough spots. I used my old trusty palm sander I received as a hand-me-down from the father-in-law and 80-grit sandpaper. This was another situation where I had to buckle down for a few days to do the job right. In total, sanding took me 7 total 1.5 hour sessions. I got good use out of my kneepads and got the job over the course of a few lunch breaks and evenings. Overall, much easier and more enjoyable than scraping.

After getting the deck sanded I had a decision to make regarding the removal of the leftover dust. I could either blow the dust off or wash the dust off. After a conversation with the farm wife I chose the power washer option for 2 reasons: 1. Getting the dust wet and removing it that way should help contain it, all thats under the deck is ferns anyhow. 2. The back of the house needs to power washed anyhow, good opportunity to get rid of some cobwebs and clean the windows.

The power washing step was a great day. I sanded intermittently from about 9am until 3p on a cloudy, mid-60's Saturday then the sun popped out and I could feel it was time to give the sanding step the ol' G.E.M.O. (good enough move on) treatment. I moved all the furniture off the deck, hooked up the water hose and the extension chord and handed my 1500 PSI electric power washer to my 6 year old with simple instructions: don't miss a board. He did a great job and I followed behind him with a squeegee to get any unnecessary standing water off the newly sanded wood.

Video of my son crushing his first try on the power washer below...


The staining process went very smoothly and quickly. I was so excited to get started, this deck was clean, dry and ready. The wife even chipped in! The stain I chose was Behr Premium Waterproofing Stain and Sealer (available at Home Depot). I talked it over with the wife and decided to go with semi-transparent with the understanding that we could always go darker in the future if we wanted to. The last thing I wanted to do was regret covering the wood with color and be back to where I started. It took just over 3 gallons to finish our deck, not sure on the exact square footage but it's a big one. The strategy I employed was the Stain and Waterproofing Brush that connects to a broom stick (big key) like the 3-pack in the link below:

There are many ways to apply stain, some use foam brushes or rollers. The reason I like these brushes is that the big bristles get your stain in the crevices and knots while also havin no issue with pieces that have bowed a bit. Even with this tight-knot cedar, the wood isn't perfectly flat. Brushing works great. We put one good coat on the deck and checked the project off the list.

If you want see and hear more there is a quick video overview below. Now back to the batting cage....

Deck staining tools of the trade
Deck staining key: Stain and Waterproofing Brush that screws onto a broom handle. Stand and stain all day baby.

Before and after:

Finished scraped and stained deck
Here is the deck with the old pain, chipping badly and partially scraped on the left and the deck finished off and protected on the right.

Video Overview:

Rise. Shine. Crush. Get the things done you said you would! Get your checklist going! Feels unreal when you just hammer stuff off the list!