Deck Paint 101: Everything You Need To Know

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A deck is a special place for many homeowners. A beautiful deck is like an outdoor room: it provides a place for friends and family to relax while enjoying the fresh air and beauty outside.

Decks come in many shapes and sizes. Some are in the front of the house, some in the back. Some wrap around the whole house, even extending to the second floor!

Regardless of what kind of deck you have: big or small, new or old, either painting or staining it is mandatory if your deck is made of wood. In this article, I have outlined the benefits and drawbacks as well as tips for each process. I hope you find this piece of information helpful.

Why Should You Paint or Stain Your Deck?

Why should you paint or stain your deckNatural wood has so much beauty. Why should put in all the extra work, and pay more money to change that?

Natural wood is porous and is going to be continuously exposed to the sun. Paint and stain provide a protective barrier against moisture and the sun’s UV rays. Over time, wood that hasn’t been appropriately sealed will crack, deform, and change color. Paint and stain protect your deck against these hazards and give you another way to customize and add to the beauty of your house.

Is it Better to Paint or Stain a Deck?

Is it better to paint or stain a deckThe decision to paint or stain a deck finally comes down to one primary consideration- what you want your deck to look like. Staining a deck offers a more natural look.

Deck stains range in color from nearly transparent to opaque. The opaque stains are earthy, wood-tones. People who stain their decks want the benefits of preservation that the stain provides while retaining the ‘natural’ look of the wood on their decks.

Paint, on the other hand, comes in thousands of hues, offering homeowners endless choices as to the color of their deck. Painting is generally a longer, more expensive process; and it is challenging to remove paint once it’s been applied. Therefore, unless you are dead-set on a specific color for your deck, it might be a better idea to stain it.

Each process has its unique problems, too. Over time, paint is subject to peeling and chipping, while stains can become discolored due to the heat of the sun. These issues only require maintenance, so I think the look of your house and your personal preferences should decide whether you paint or stain.

How do You Prepare the Deck for Painting or Staining?

How do you prepare the deckThe most crucial step to take before painting or staining your deck is to prepare the deck to be painted or stained properly. If this isn’t done correctly, the deck will not have the fine, finished look that you desire. It makes a BIG difference to the final product: the time and cares you take in this early, admittedly not fun, a bit of drudgery.

A new deck needs to be swept clean of any debris, washed, scrubbed and sanded. Any splinters, rough edges or uneven surfaces can be brought off with sandpaper. After the deck is looking beautiful, it is prepared. You are now ready to apply the paint or stain!

A little note for you is that a used deck might need further cleaning. Especially if the wood has acquired any mold or mildew, these areas must be washed and scrubbed thoroughly first.

Mold and mildew can ruin the finish you put on your deck. It creates a weak spot that can be exploited by moisture from outside. It is also important to note that after rinsing the deck off, it must be given a couple of days to dry off completely.

Once you sweep the deck clear, you are ready to go with a paint or stain product.

Can You Paint Over Old Paint on a Deck?

Can you paint over old paint on a deckIf your deck has previously been stained, it is easy to add another coat of stain (in fact, after a year or so, it becomes necessary), or to add a new coat of paint. Follow the cleaning process above and get started.

On the other hand, it is much more challenging to change your deck finish from paint to stain. Before cleaning, the old paint must be stripped from the deck using a commercial paint stripper.

This is a labor-intensive process. It requires a very potent solvent and physical scrubbing and scraping of the paint. After that, you must sand it down to altogether remove the old paint. Only then is it ready to be cleaned and taken on for a new finish.

As for adding a fresh coat of paint to your already painted deck, it is fine. As long as you properly clean and sand the deck beforehand. If you want to change the color of your deck, you have to really consider the color you’re changing it too.

To go from a lighter color to a darker one doesn’t require any additional steps. To go from a darker shade to a lighter one, though, you will need to add a coat or two of light-colored primer before applying the new paint. If you don’t, the result will look nothing like the color you wanted. The darker paint underneath will alter the color of the paint, leaving you with an appearance you didn’t desire.

I think it would be appropriate here to add a note about protective gear. When working with solvents, stain, and paint, you need to take steps to protect the skin on your hands and your lungs. Rubber gloves should be worn at all times, and a respirator when dealing with the paint, solvent, or stain.

Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging your lungs. Safety first.

Is it More Cost-effective to Paint or Stain Your Deck?

cost-effective to paintGenerally, it is much cheaper (and less work-intensive) to stain your deck. The only downside is that stain needs to be applied more often, once every one to three years, depending on the pigment of the stain.

Pigment refers to the color of the stain. Darker stains will need to be applied less often as they reflect more light, and thus afford more protection from the sun. The wood appearance will stay brighter, longer, with a darker finish.

Painting a deck requires more supplies, more money, and more work, but you have much more control of the finished product. Whereas with staining, you will only need the stain itself and a polyurethane sealant.

The grain and natural color of the wood will remain, and in fact, that is the highlight for people who prefer to stain. A polyurethane sealant is essentially a liquid plastic that keeps out moisture and seals the paint within, thus providing an even greater level of protection.

To paint, you need to buy a good, outdoor-specific paint primer, the paint, and a sealant. The primer will require 1-2 coats. The paint will require 2-3 coats, including a perfect topcoat, to really highlight your dedication. The sealant can be applied only once, but make sure to coat the surface of the deck evenly, and completely.

Whatever you chose to do, make sure you have enough money to do the job right. You wouldn’t want to skimp on something you see and use every day. To get the job done, an investment of anywhere between $75 and up would be good enough – depending on how much paint/stain you need to buy.

However, once you have completed the job, you will be able to enjoy that beautiful paint job for a long time. The paint will only need to be washed every once in a while. It also should be freshened up about once every ten years.

How do Paints Protect Your Deck?

How do paints protect your deckThe paint will not cover the wood evenly on its own, and will not seep deep into the pores of the wood. Paint alone will allow moisture to get into the wood, and consequently, mold and rot.

Here, I will describe why it’s so important, before painting your deck, to add at least one coat of high quality, outdoor-specific primer. The primer creates an even surface to paint on and protects the wood from moisture. Once the deck has been primed, you will be able to apply paint to the deck evenly, for a beautiful finish.

As I side before, the paint itself will need 2-3 coats, with special attention paid to the topcoat, as that is the most visible. As a rule, lighter hues will need more coats of paint than darker hues. In addition to the primer, after you have finished painting the deck, you will need to add a coat of clear, polyurethane sealer to protect the outer layer of paint.

Without this sealant, the paint will start to chip and peel over time, allow moisture to seep into the wood, and completely ruin all the work you put into it. Essentially, if you stain your deck, you are looking at two simple processes after cleaning and preparing the surface. Paint requires three, separate, more labor-intensive processes.

How do Stains Protect Your Deck?

How do stains protect your deckAs I stated before, the primary reason you must stain or paint your deck is to seal it from moisture and the UV rays of the sun. Without any stain or paint, your brand-new deck will look old, worn, and faded within no time.

Stains come ready to provide this protection. They are lower in viscosity (the ‘thickness’ of the liquid) than paints. As a result, they are able to seep deep into the wood, giving it the protection it needs.

The stain reflects the sun’s UV rays and protects the wood from becoming saturated with moisture. Also, most stains come mixed with a wood preserver, further enhancing their protective qualities.

These preservers can help deter insects and the growth of mold inside the wood. If you add a layer of polyurethane sealant over this, your deck will be ready to withstand mother nature.

What Kind of Stain Should You Use on Your Deck?

stain should you use on your deckOnce you’ve decided whether you want to paint or stain your deck, you have a plethora of options to choose from to complete this task.

As I stated earlier, stains will protect and enhance the natural beauty of the wood. If you are satisfied with the color of the wood as it is, you should choose a stain that is transparent, without any added color.

If you want to change the tint or color of the wood, there are also a wide variety of stain hues to choose from. You should keep in mind that the more pigmented the stain is, the better the protection from moisture and UV rays it will afford. That means it will need to be applied less often than transparent stains. After making these considerations, it’s merely a matter of deciding which stain you like best.

What Kind of Paint Should You Use on Your Deck?

paint should you use on your deckPaints generally come in two varieties, oil-based and water-based (otherwise called latex-based). Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Oil-based paints provide better protection from moisture, while water-based paints offer a shield from the sun’s heat (UV rays).

Oil-based paints, to look fresh, will require a new coat every year or so. For that reason, I think it’s better to go with a water-based paint, provided you’ve properly cleaned and primed the deck beforehand.

It is essential to choose high-quality water-based paint. This is not the place to skimp on your budget. Your deck will be exposed to all the elements: burning sun, freezing cold, rain, snow, etc. You will want a paint that can withstand the elements and maintain its luster for years to come.

That being said, do not cut costs in this area of your project budget.

Conclusion

The deck is a wonderful part of anybody’s house. If you’re lucky enough to have one, they provide a place for relaxation, parties, BBQ, or a lovely setting for dinner.

You want your deck to complement your house and yard; to be as beautiful as possible. Doing anything right takes time, work, and consideration. You should put as much thought into the design and function of this ‘room’ as you do for any other room in your house.

I hope this guide has provided you with the facts about the critical choice of whether to paint or stain your deck. It is essential to understand that a little bit of hard work at the beginning will save you from a nightmare further down the road. Now, be proud, get out there and get started beautifying your outdoor living space!