Dear Angie: Our deck has had a stain applied, but it has worn off. The deck is not covered, so I want something durable. Would I be better off staining it again or painting it? — M.S., Sour Lake, Texas.
Answer: Unfortunately, for exposed decks, they need to be stained every few years. Even the best stain fades eventually, especially in high-traffic areas.
For longevity, the best way to go, according to deck pros I've talked to, is to use a clear sealer or a semi- transparent stain.
The problem with painting a deck is that most deck surfaces are horizontal, so the paint just "lays" on the deck. As a result, those areas hold water. Painting, or using a solid-color stain with no sealer, will help trap that moisture in the wood. As your deck boards expand and contract with variations in temperatures and weather conditions, paint begins to chip, and you end up with peeling paint, rotting wood and other potential problems.
A quality stain and sealer, though, penetrate the wood grain to seal it while allowing moisture to escape from the wood. It won't chip, peel or crack as the deck wood swells and shrinks. The more tinting the stain has, the better protected your deck will be from fading and moisture.
Before you stain the deck, I recommend you have a professional power wash to remove any remaining stain, sealant, dirt and grime. A properly prepared deck will yield the longest-lasting results. This is something you don't want to do yourself, unless you have the expertise. A common issue power-washing professionals see is homeowners who get overzealous with the amount of pressure they use and cause splintering and other damage to the wood.
Staining a deck can be a time-consuming job. What you think could be a weekend project could end up taking weeks if you do it yourself. I talked to one deck-cleaning company owner who joked with me that he doesn't even stain his own deck because it's such a demanding job. He hires his workers to do it for him. Plus, a quality deck maintenance company can offer the best suggestions for your specific situation to help you get the longest-lasting finish possible.
If you do tackle the staining yourself, you'll want to make sure the deck is dry after it's been cleaned — two to three days in dry weather usually are sufficient — and then apply a clear sealer or a semi-transparent stain. Many products contain both a sealer and stain. Deck pros tell me that an oil-based or semi-transparent stain offers the most natural look.