A Guide to Stripping or Refinishing a Deck

Spare a moment or two to think about your poor deck. It lives outside in all kinds of weather - the sun bakes it, rain and hail pound on it and snow melts and freezes on it and we won't even mention what birds do to it. No wonder it starts to look 'weathered'. Making your deck look as good as new is a job that any handy person can do. Just make sure you have the right tools, equipment and products (chemical strippers, a pressure washer and an orbital sander) to do the job. Plus, give your self enough time to do the job properly. (Even if your Mother-in -law is showing up in two days, that's just not enough time).

Refinishing a deck is a two-stage process. The first step is to strip off the old finish and clean up the wood. While the second is to paint, stain or finish the newly cleaned surface. Here's what you'll need to get your deck back in shape.

Stripping and Cleaning

• Plastic sheets (to cover plants around the deck or porch)
• Goggles
• Rubber gloves
• Rubber boots
• Deck stripper
• Paint roller, paint tray and extension handle
• Hose
• Pressure washer


• Random orbital sander (best to rent a good-sized one - don't try to use your hand sander)
• 80 grit sandpaper
• Semi-transparent stain, paint or deck finish
• Paint roller
• Roller extension handle
• Paint tray

Stripping and Cleaning

Measure the size of your deck so you can figure how much stripper you'll need. Your best choice is one of the water based strippers (available at your home store) that manufacturer’s claim won't harm plants. However, just to be on the safe side, it's best to loosely cover any plants growing around your deck with sheets of plastic to prevent any inadvertent damage.

Roll the stripper onto the deck and let it do its work. Usually about 20 minutes but go by what the directions on the can tell you. A lot of the strippers on the market today claim that you can just wash them off with a garden hose, but the reality is a power washer will do a better job, faster.

When the striper has had time to loosen the finish, power wash the deck. Hold the nozzle about 12" away from the surface, work with the grain and just watch that pressurized water peel of the old grungy finish.

In areas where your deck has been protected form the elements, you may find the original finish is still firmly attached. A second coat of stripper followed by a power wash may be necessary to get that finish off the deck.

Don't forget to rinse the plastic sheets and take them off your plants as soon as you finish power washing the deck. The plastic will create a mini greenhouse that can actually burn the plants underneath it if you leave it too long.


A downside of power washing a deck is the wood gets slightly 'fuzzy'. The force of the water actually tears the surface fibers leaving a fuzz or fur on the surface that you need to sand of before you can finish the deck.

Just don't try to sand the deck immediately after power washing it, let it dry for a good three days before attempting to sand. Use this time to set any nail heads that may have popped up in your deck boards and decide what color stain you want to on your deck. Once the deck is thoroughly dry, use relatively coarse sandpaper (80 grit) on your random orbital sander and go over the entire deck, working with the grain. This will get rid of the fuzz, leaving you with a nice smooth surface and wood fibers that are wide open and ready to receive the new finish.


Roll the stain or deck finish onto your deck using a paint roller on an extension handle. Some people like to use oil-based stains because they think they last longer. However, while that may have been true in the past, modern water based stains are just as tough as the oil-based stains, and it's much easier to clean up after using a water based stain.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

• All deck strippers can be hazardous. Read and follow the manufacturer's directions and always wear rubber gloves and eye protection to protect yourself from spatters.

• Avoid staining your deck in direct sun or in the heat of the day. The sun or the heat will dry the stain too quickly and you'll end up with a poor finish. As you can see stripping and staining a deck is a straight forward (if time consuming) job. Take the time to do it right and you'll end up with a lovely 'new' deck. Try to speed up the process and you'll end up with patchy looking deck that you'll need to refinish all over again - maybe next year.