How to Refinish a Deck: Essential Steps and Tips

Learn to refinish a deck with our guide. From prep to maintenance, avoid common errors and achieve a professional finish.

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Hubert Miles

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Welcome to the world of deck maintenance! You’ve made a wise decision to refinish your deck, and we’re here to guide you every step of the way.

Maintaining your deck is not just a matter of aesthetics; it’s a matter of pride. Your deck is an extension of your home, a place where memories are made, laughter echoes, and you can enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. It’s a place that deserves your attention and care.

Refinishing your deck involves understanding the type of material your deck is made of, recognizing signs of wear, and gathering the right tools for the job. Start by thoroughly cleaning your deck, repairing any damages, and sanding it smoothly.

Refinishing your deck is an investment in your home’s value and quality of life. A well-maintained deck not only looks better but also lasts longer. It withstands the elements, resists damage, and provides a safe and comfortable space for you and your loved ones.

But the benefits of refinishing your deck go beyond the practical. Imagine the satisfaction of looking out your window at a beautifully refinished deck, knowing that you’ve done the work yourself. Picture the compliments from neighbors and friends, admiring the transformation and asking for your secret.

Refinishing your deck is about reclaiming your outdoor space, taking control of your home’s appearance, and creating a place to relax, entertain, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

Key Takeaways
Understanding your deck, including its material and signs it needs refinishing, is the first step in the process.
Deck refinishing is not just about improving the look of your deck but also about enhancing its safety and longevity.
Proper preparation of your deck, including cleaning, repairing, and sanding, is crucial for the new finish to adhere properly.
Choosing the right finish for your deck depends on the deck material, weather conditions, and the look you want to achieve.
Applying the finish correctly in thin, even coats ensures a smooth, durable finish.
Regular maintenance, including cleaning, reapplying the finish as needed, and addressing minor damages promptly, keeps your deck in top shape.
Avoid common mistakes, such as not preparing the deck properly, choosing the wrong finish, and ignoring safety precautions.
Deck refinishing is a doable DIY project, but hiring a professional is also an option, especially for large or severely damaged decks.
Deck refinishing is not just about improving the look of your deck, but also about enhancing its safety and longevity.
Embrace the process, enjoy the journey, and look forward to the satisfaction of a beautifully refinished deck.
how to refinish a deck

Understanding Your Deck

Before diving into the deck refinishing process, it’s essential to understand your deck. Knowing the type of material your deck is made of and recognizing the signs that it needs refinishing are crucial first steps.

Types of Deck Materials

There are primarily two types of deck materials:

  • Wood Decks: These are traditional and offer a classic, timeless look. They can be made from a variety of woods, including pressure-treated pine, cedar, redwood, and tropical hardwoods. Each type of wood has its unique characteristics and maintenance needs.
  • Composite Decks: These are made from a blend of wood fibers and plastic. They are durable, resist rot and insects, and require less maintenance than wood decks. They come in a variety of natural uniform colors and mimic the look of real wood.

Now, let’s talk about the signs that your deck needs refinishing. It’s not always easy to tell when your deck is crying out for help. Here are some telltale signs:

  • Peeling or Fading Finish: This is a clear sign that your deck’s protective layer is wearing off and needs to be reapplied.
  • Splintered Wood: Wood decks can develop splinters over time, making them unsafe and uncomfortable.
  • Discoloration and Coat of Stain: These can be caused by mold, mildew, or weathering, indicating that your deck needs a good cleaning and a new finish.
  • Water Absorption: When water no longer beads up on the deck surface but instead soaks in, it’s time for a new finish.

Recognizing these signs early and taking action can save you time, money, and the headache of more significant repairs down the line. So, take a good look at your deck and listen to what it’s telling you. It’s the first step in your deck refinishing journey.

deck refinishing

Tools and Materials Needed for Deck Refinishing

Now that you’ve assessed your deck and determined it’s time for a refresh let’s gather the tools and materials you’ll need for this project. Having the right tools at your disposal will make the process smoother and more efficient.

Here’s your essential deck refinishing toolkit:

  • Deck Cleaner: This is a must-have for removing dirt, mildew, and old stains from your deck. Choose a cleaner suitable for your deck material.
  • Pressure Washer: This powerful tool helps deep clean your deck and prepare it for the new finish. Remember to use it carefully to avoid damaging the wood.
  • Sandpaper or Sander: You’ll need this to smooth out any rough spots or splinters on your deck. A power sander can make the job quicker for larger decks.
  • Paint Brushes and Rollers: These are for applying the new finish. Brushes are great for detail work and getting into tight spots, while roller brushes can cover large areas quickly.
  • Deck Finish: This could be a water-based or oil-based stain, sealant, or coat of paint, depending on your preference and the look you’re going for.
  • Paint Tray and Stir Stick: These will help you mix and apply your deck finish evenly.

Safety should always be your top priority when undertaking a project like this. Here’s the safety equipment you should have:

  • Safety Glasses or Protective Gear: These protect your eyes from splashes of cleaner or finish.
  • Gloves: These will protect your hands from harsh chemicals cleaning and splinters.
  • Protective Clothing: Wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin.
  • Non-Slip Shoes: These will help prevent slips and falls, especially when working with a wet deck.

Armed with these tools and safety equipment, you’re ready to take on the task of deck refinishing. Remember, preparation is key to a successful project. Let’s move on to the next step: preparing your deck for refinishing.

Preparing Your Deck for Refinishing

The secret to successful deck refinishing lies in the preparation. A well-prepared wooden deck ensures a smoother application of the new finish and a more stunning result. Let’s walk through the steps of cleaning, repairing, and sanding your deck.

Cleaning the Deck

Your first task is to give your wooden deck a thorough cleaning. This step is crucial to remove any dirt, mildew, or old finish that could prevent the new finish from adhering properly.

Start by sweeping the deck to remove loose debris. Then apply a deck cleaner suitable for your decking material. Follow the instructions on the cleaner, which usually involves applying it, letting it sit for a specified time, and then rinsing it off.

A pressure washing or power washer can be valuable for this task, but be careful not to damage the wood with too much pressure.

After cleaning, give your deck time to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This could take a day or two, depending on the weather.

Deck strippers are great for removing old paint, stains, and sealants from wooden decks. They can also be used to remove old wood finishes and blemishes. Deck strippers help make the job of cleaning up your deck easier and more efficient but remember to use proper safety gear like safety glasses and rubber gloves, and wear protective clothing,

Repairing Damaged Parts

Once your deck is clean and dry, inspect it carefully for any damage. Look for cracked or splintered boards, loose nails, or any other issues that need attention.

Replace any severely damaged deck boards, and hammer in or replace any protruding nails. If you notice loose or shaky deck railings or steps, tighten them or reinforce them as needed.

Remember, safety is paramount. A well-maintained deck is more attractive and safer for you and your family.

Sanding the Deck

Sanding is the final step in your deck preparation. This step is essential for smoothing out any rough spots or splinters and creating a better deck surface for the new finish to adhere to.

You can sand your deck by hand, but an electric sander can save you time and effort for larger decks. Use medium-grit sandpaper, and make sure to sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid scratches.

Pay special attention to railings and other areas where hands are likely to touch. These areas should be as smooth as possible to prevent splinters.

Once you’ve finished sanding, sweep or vacuum your deck to remove any dust. Now your deck is ready for the new finish.

Preparing your wooden deck for refinishing may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. By cleaning, repairing, and sanding your deck properly, you’re setting the stage for a successful refinishing job and a beautiful result.


Your deck is an investment in your home and your quality of life. By taking care of it, you’re not only enhancing its appearance and longevity but also creating a safer and more enjoyable outdoor space for you and your loved ones. So roll up your sleeves, gather your tools, and let’s get your deck ready for its transformation.

Choosing the Right Finish for Your Deck

Now that your deck is clean, repaired, and sanded, it’s time to choose the right finish. The finish you choose will determine not only the look of your deck but also its durability and maintenance needs.

There are three main types of deck finishes:

  • Stains: Deck stains penetrate the wood and provide color while allowing the wood grain to show through. They come in a range of opacities, from clear to solid. Clear stains show the most wood grain but offer the least UV protection. Solid color stains offer the most UV protection but show the least wood grain.
  • Sealants: These are clear finishes that protect the wood without adding color. They’re great for preserving the natural color of your deck.
  • Paints: Deck paints provide the most color options and the highest level of protection, but they hide the wood grain patterns.

When choosing a finish, consider these factors:

  • Deck Material: The type of wood or composite material your deck uses can influence which finishes will work best.
  • Weather Conditions: If your deck is exposed to harsh sun, a finish with UV protection is essential. A water-resistant finish is a must if you live in a wet climate.
  • Maintenance Level: Some finishes require more frequent reapplication than others. Consider how much time and effort you will put into deck maintenance.
  • Aesthetics: Think about the look you want for your deck. Do you prefer the natural look of wood, or do you want a pop of color?

Choosing the right finish is a crucial step in your deck refinishing project. The right finish will enhance the beauty of your deck, protect it from the elements, and make it a place you’re proud to show off. So take your time, consider your options, and choose a finish that fits your outdoor space’s deck, lifestyle, and vision.

How to Apply the Finish to Your Deck

You’ve prepared your deck and chosen the perfect finish. Now comes the exciting part: applying the finish and seeing your deck transform before your eyes. Let’s walk through the process step by step.

Step 1: Check the Weather

Before you start, make sure the weather is on your side. You’ll need a few dry days to apply the finish and let it dry. Avoid working in direct sunlight if possible, as it can cause the finish to dry too quickly and unevenly.

Step 2: Prepare Your Workspace

Cover any areas you don’t want to get chemicals, paint, or stain on, like house siding or landscaping plants, with plastic sheeting. Also, ensure you have all your tools: your chosen finish, paint brushes or rollers, a paint tray, and a stir stick.

Step 3: Stir the Finish

Stir your finish thoroughly to make sure any color pigments or protective additives are evenly distributed. Don’t shake the finish, as this can create bubbles that will show up on your deck.

Step 4: Apply the Finish

Start at one end of your deck and work your way to the other, applying the finish in thin, even coats. Use a brush or roller that’s appropriate for your type of finish and deck material. Remember to work with the grain of the wood, not against it.

For the best results, “back-brush” the finish — that is, brush over it again after application to ensure it penetrates the wood and eliminates any puddles or drips.

Step 5: Let It Dry

Once you’ve covered your entire deck, give the finish time to dry. The drying time will depend on the type of finish and the weather conditions, but generally, you should wait at least 24-48 hours before walking on your deck.

Step 6: Apply a Second Coat (If Needed)

Some finishes require a second fresh coat for maximum durability and additional protection. If your finish is one of them, apply the second coat after the first one has dried completely.

And there you have it — a beautifully refinished deck that’s ready for barbecues, sunbathing, and making memories.

Here are a few extra tips for a smooth application:

  • Don’t Rush: Take your time to apply the finish evenly and thoroughly. Rushing can lead to a sloppy job and an unsatisfactory result.
  • Maintain a “Wet Edge”: You should always brush the wet paint or wood stain onto the wet finish to avoid lap marks.
  • Clean Up Promptly: Clean your stiff-bristle brushes and paint rollers as soon as you’re done to keep them in good condition for your next project.

Applying the finish to your deck is a rewarding task that brings your deck refinishing project to its culmination. With patience, attention to detail, and the right techniques, you can achieve a professional-looking result and give your deck a new lease on life. Enjoy the process, and I look forward to your many happy hours on your beautifully refinished deck.

refinished deck

Maintaining Your Refinished Deck

Congratulations! You’ve successfully refinished your deck, which looks better than ever. But your work isn’t quite done yet. Regular maintenance is key to keeping your deck looking its best and extending its lifespan. Here’s how to take care of your newly refinished deck.

Regular Cleaning

Just like any part of your home, your deck needs regular cleaning. Sweep it regularly to remove leaves, dirt, and other debris. Rinse it with a garden hose to remove dust and pollen. Use a mild detergent and a soft brush for a deeper clean, then rinse thoroughly. Avoid using a pressure washer for regular cleaning, as it can damage the finish and the wood underneath.

Periodic Reapplication of Finish

Even the best deck finish won’t last forever. Over time, it will start to wear off, especially in high-traffic areas. It’s time for a touch-up when you notice the finish starting to fade or wear thin. Depending on the type of finish and the weather conditions, you might need to reapply the finish every 1-3 years.

Addressing Minor Damages Promptly

Even with regular cleaning and reapplication of finish, your deck might still suffer minor damages, like small cracks or loose nails. Address these issues promptly to prevent them from becoming bigger problems. Replace any severely damaged deck boards, hammer in any protruding nails, and fill any small cracks with a wood filler.

Maintaining your refinished deck might seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. A well-maintained deck is safer, more comfortable, and more beautiful. It’s a place to relax, entertain, and enjoy the great outdoors in your backyard.


Your deck is more than just a structure; it’s a part of your home, a part of your life. Take care of it, and it will take care of you, providing a space for relaxation, entertainment, and making memories for years to come.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Refinishing a Deck

Refinishing a deck is a rewarding project, but it has its pitfalls. To help you navigate the process and achieve the best possible result, here are some common mistakes to avoid and tips on how to sidestep them.

Mistake 1: Not Preparing the Deck Properly

Proper preparation is key to successful deck refinishing. This includes cleaning the deck thoroughly, repairing any damages, and sanding the entire surface smoothly.

Avoidance Tip: Don’t rush the preparation process. Take the time to clean, repair, and sand your deck properly before applying the new finish.

Mistake 2: Choosing the Wrong Finish

Not all deck finishes are created equal. The right finish for your deck depends on the type of deck material, the weather conditions in your area, and the look you want to achieve.

Avoidance Tip: Do your research before choosing a finish. Consider your deck material, your local climate, and your aesthetic preferences.

Mistake 3: Applying the Finish Incorrectly

Applying the finish incorrectly can lead to a patchy, uneven result that won’t protect your deck effectively.

Avoidance Tip: Follow the instructions on the finished product carefully. Apply the finish in thin, even coats, and always maintain a “wet edge” to avoid lap marks.

Mistake 4: Ignoring Safety Precautions

Deck refinishing involves using tools and chemicals that can be hazardous if not handled correctly.

Avoidance Tip: Always wear appropriate safety gear, including safety glasses, gloves, and non-slip shoes. Follow all safety instructions on the tools and materials you’re using.

Mistake 5: Neglecting Regular Maintenance

Even after your deck is beautifully refinished, it still needs regular care to stay in top shape.

Avoidance Tip: Regularly clean, reapply the finish as needed, and promptly address any minor damages.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help you achieve a deck refinishing result you can be proud of. Remember, every step of the deck refinishing process, from preparation to maintenance, is an opportunity to improve the longevity and beauty of your deck.

FAQs About How to Refinish a Deck

As you embark on your deck refinishing journey, you may have a few questions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about deck refinishing.

How often should I refinish my deck?

The frequency of deck refinishing depends on several factors, including the type of finish you use, the weather conditions in your area, and the amount of traffic your deck gets. Generally, you should plan to refinish your deck every 1-3 years.

Can I refinish my deck myself, or should I hire a professional?

Deck refinishing is a project that many homeowners can handle with the right tools and patience. However, hiring a professional can be a good option if your deck is large, in poor condition, or if you don’t have the time or inclination to do the job yourself.

What’s the best time of year to refinish my deck?

The best time to refinish your deck is usually in the spring or fall when temperatures are moderate. Avoid refinishing your deck in extreme heat, which can cause the finish to deck dry too quickly, or in damp conditions, which can prevent the finish from adhering properly.

How long does it take to refinish a deck?

The time it takes to refinish a deck depends on the size of the deck and the condition it’s in. A small, well-maintained deck might only take a weekend to refinish, while a large, neglected deck could take several couple days.

Can I change the color of my deck when I refinish it?

Yes, you can change the color of your deck when you refinish it. If you’re using a solid stain or paint as your finish, you can choose from a wide range of colors. If you’re going from a dark color to a lighter one, you may need to apply a primer first.

What should I do if my deck is in really bad shape?

If your deck is severely damaged, it may need more than just a refinishing. You might need to replace some or all of the deck boards, or in extreme cases, you might need to rebuild the deck entirely. If you’re unsure about the condition of your deck, it’s a good idea to consult a professional.


Every deck is unique, and so is every deck refinishing project. The answers to these questions are general guidelines, but your situation may vary. Always do your research, ask questions, and don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if you need it. Your deck is an important part of your home, and it deserves the best care you can give it.


You’ve journeyed through the comprehensive process of deck refinishing, from understanding what your deck needs to gathering the necessary tools and materials, preparing your deck for refinishing, choosing the right finish, applying it, and maintaining your newly refinished deck. You’ve also learned about common mistakes to avoid and found answers to frequently asked questions.

Deck refinishing is more than just a home improvement project. It’s a labor of love, a commitment to your home’s value, and an investment in your quality of life. It’s about taking control of your outdoor space, making it safer, more comfortable, and more beautiful.

Yes, it requires time, effort, and patience. But the reward is a deck you can be proud of, inviting you to step outside, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

So, are you ready to roll up your sleeves and give your deck the makeover it deserves? With the knowledge you’ve gained from this guide, you’re well-equipped to tackle this project. Remember, every step you take, every board you clean, and every coat of finish you apply brings you closer to a transformed deck.

Embrace the process, enjoy the journey, and look forward to the satisfaction of a job well done. Your deck is waiting for its transformation, and you’re the one to make it happen. Happy deck refinishing!

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting professional home inspections since 2002. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Professional Inspector (CPI), Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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