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Protect Your Wood Deck With Proper Preparation and the Correct Stain or Sealer!

by Tom Daniels of Cabot Woodcare Products

Decks are extremely vulnerable to the harsh elements of nature as well as man-made abuse.  Acid rain, ultraviolet light, heat and standing moisture in the form of rain, dew, frost, ice or snow, all can cause damage to your deck.  But foot traffic, barbeque grills, food and drink spills and water from a pool or sprinkler system also can be harmful and jeopardize the longevity and appearance of your deck.

Homeowners must take precautions to protect the investment made in their deck and minimize or eliminate these problems as much as possible.  Selecting a product specifically designed for deck protection, combined with proper product application and a few maintenance steps will help put an end to deck hassles.

Preparing the Surface

Wood should not remain exposed for longer than three months without some form of protection.  According to research from the Forest Products Laboratory, over-exposing unprotected wood for long periods of time can cause surface damage that reduces the wood's ability to hold onto applied stain or paint coatings.  This can lead to premature coating failure.

Allow new wood two to three weeks to dry in order to bring the moisture content down to an acceptable level and to make sure the surface is dry and porous. This is especially important for pressure treated wood, as it is often times damp or wet at the core depending on treatment method used and amount of drying time. Some weathering of the wood is necessary if non-film forming finishes, such as stains and water repellents, are to penetrate the wood's surface and work effectively.

Whether staining old or new wood, inspect the surface for cleanliness, making sure it is free of mildew stains, dirt and other foreign matter. If the deck needs to be cleaned, scrub it with Cabot Problem-Solver© Wood Cleaner #8002, rinse with clean water and then allow two to three days for it to dry prior to staining.

Selecting the Correct Product

When selecting a stain, base your decision on aesthetic qualities, wood species and performance of the product.

1) Product Options

2) Wood Species

Each deck product has its own features, benefits and limitations. For a distinctive look, mix equal parts of Cabot's oil-based Clear Decking Stain with a semi-solid pigmented Decking Stain in the desired color, to create a uniquely translucent type appearance.

Applying the Stain

Before you begin the staining process, check the weather forecast.  The ideal temperature for applying stain is between 50© - 90©F.  It also is best to refrain from staining if precipitation is in the forecast for the 12 to 24 hour period after coating. And always avoid application in direct sunlight.  Before you get started, test a patch of wood to make sure you like the color and the dry time is normal be sure to blend all of the stain together to ensure color consistency.

More is definitely not better when applying stain.  Over-application is a major source of problems with deck finishes.  For an oil-based stain to be effective, it must be able to penetrate the wood's surface. Over-application leads to a buildup of material, forming a film on the wood which can ultimately peel or crack when exposed to excessive moisture. Applying too much of an oil-based product can produce an excessively waxy, sticky or slick surface, which interferes with the finish's ability to dry properly.

Untreated pine or fir absorbs stain products readily. Be especially careful not to saturate the wood and avoid excess pudding of the finish.

The recommended method of application is with a natural bristle brush because it works the oil-based stain into the wood fibers and cells more effectively. First, heavily coat the open end-grain of the boards. Brush three to four boards at a time, from one end to the other in smooth strokes. To avoid lap marks, make sure that the leading edge is kept wet and that the wet stain is brushed into wet stain. On new decks, it is important to only apply one coat of oil-based deck finishes.

For composite decking, which is made up of recycled plastic materials and wood, it is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Penetrating and film-forming coatings can be used successfully, however, when using penetrating products, spread rates and longevity may vary due to the makeup of the composite materials used.


Once you have finished and stained your deck, maintenance is a necessity for keeping up the aesthetic. Clear finishes will require reapplication every six months to a year, pigmented finishes, like Cabot Decking Stains, will require inspection and reapplication every two to four years, and Cabot Solid Color Decking Stains need to be inspected every two to three years.

The major cost of most deck finishing projects is in the labor, so using a high quality, premium performance finish is the most cost effective.  Whether protecting the deck from the scorching, summer sun or shielding it against the damaging effects of winter's ice and snow, a deck finish must be properly selected, applied and maintained to maximize the deck's beauty and longevity, and most importantly protect your investment of time and money.

The author, Tom Daniels, is director of marketing & business development for the Cabot brand and woodcare products. He also oversees the integration of interior wood stains and clear protectors.  Daniels is a certified Coatings Consultant and serves on the executive committee of the Coatings Research Group Inc.

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