How To Remove Solid Stain From a Wood Deck

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Solid stains are used on wood decks to protect them, while also adding color to the wood. With time and exposure to the elements, these stains inevitably degrade. When it’s time to refinish your wooden deck, read this article to learn how to remove every trace of solid stain.

Removing Solid Stain From Wood Decking

Solid deck stain forms a film that protects the wood from abrasion, moisture, and weather. It can be removed with a deck stain stripper. Follow these tips when your solid stain deck is in need of refurbishment.

  1. Scrape away the flaking stain. Solid stain tends to flake and peel when it needs to be replaced. Depending on how much the finish has degraded, you may be able to lift large portions of the stain off the deck using a paint scraper. Focus on areas that are already peeling, where the stain easily separates from the wood underneath. Leave the rest of it to be dissolved by the deck stain stripper.
  2. Choose the right day. The chemical stripper will need to sit on the wood for up to 45 minutes before you’ll be able to scrub away the stain. It should still be wet when you start scrubbing. Manufacturers of this product generally recommend waiting for a day that is below 90 degrees with at least some cloud cover. If that’s not realistic for your location, consider working in the early morning or late evening. 
  3. Prepare your work area. In the next step, you’ll be working with a harsh chemical formulation known as deck stripper.  The active ingredient in deck strippers is usually sodium hydroxide, a highly corrosive chemical. To avoid contaminating other surfaces, use plastic sheeting and tape as a protective barrier. Cover any siding, as well as the grass and bushes near the deck. 
Dust mask
  1. Protect yourself. Another chemical commonly used in deck thinners is sodium metasilicate, which carries a risk of serious damage to the eyes. Eye protection is essential in case of accidental splashes or spills. Make sure to wear a respirator style mask that fits well to protect your airways from caustic fumes. Use heavy-duty rubber gloves to protect your hands and forearms.
  2. Apply deck stain remover. Deck strippers or stain removers contain chemicals that penetrate the stain and break it down. This allows the old, degraded stain to separate from the wood and be removed. One gallon of deck stripper should be enough for about 100 square feet. However, it is better to work in sections of 20 or 30 square feet at a time, rather than coating the entire deck at once. 
  3. Allow the deck stain remover to penetrate. Pour the deck stain remover into a paint tray. Use a roller on an extension pole to apply the stain remover to an area no larger than 30 square feet. After applying a thick layer of deck stain stripper to a portion of the deck, give the chemicals time to do their job. 15 to 30 minutes should be sufficient for most varieties, though some biodegradable options take up to 45 minutes. Keep a spray bottle filled with water nearby. If the deck stain remover starts to dry out, mist the area with water. 
  4. Scrub away the stain. Using a stiff bristled brush, scrub at the loosened stain. If the deck stain remover has fully penetrated the stain, it should come away without much effort. If even vigorous scrubbing doesn’t dislodge the solid stain, ignore those areas for now. You can remove deeply penetrated stain with abrasive means using the instructions below.
  5. Rinse away residue. Use your garden hose to wash away the stain and deck stain thinner. A pressure washer will do an even better job than your garden hose. No matter what tool you use to rinse the deck, pay attention to the runoff. Try to direct it away from your plants and grass. If you accidentally expose your plants to a deck stain stripper, immediately rinse the leaves and drench the soil. The more diluted the stripping chemical is, the less damage it will do to your plants. 
  6. Check your progress. At this point, most or all of the stain should be gone. If there are still stubborn spots, you can apply another coat of deck stain remover. Alternatively, you can use one of the methods listed below to completely remove the stain through abrasion. 

Methods for Removing Stubborn Stain From a Wood Deck

After completing the chemical stripping process above, some patches of discoloration may remain. How deeply stain penetrates the wood is due in part to how much stain is applied, but also depends on the state of the wood and how finely it was sanded.

Angle grinder on a table

It is important to remove all traces of stain before refinishing your deck. (See the section below to understand why.) 

Here are four methods you can use to remove stain patches from your deck.

Use an Angle Grinder

The quickest and easiest way to remove traces of stain without wasting much material is to use an angle grinder fitted with a stripping disc. Stripping discs are made of nylon webbing, scrunched up and attached to a fiberglass backing. 

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When backed by the speed and power of a powerful angle grinder, these discs can remove the stain without damaging the wood underneath. For wooden decks, a nylon stripping disc is preferable to a cup brush or wire brush, as these tend to scratch and scar the wood. 

Use a Drill

The same stripping discs used for angle grinders can also be attached to handheld drills. Your progress will be much slower due to the lower power of drills compared with angle grinders.

However, the stripping disc will work in the same way on either tool -removing stain without eating away at the wood. And, a corded drill is a tool that most homeowners have, as opposed to an angle grinder which is less popular.

Use a Random Orbital Sander

A random orbital sander will remove stain from your deck, but it will also remove some of the material and may scratch the wood.

The number one rule is to go slowly when sanding. Moving too quickly or scrubbing the sander back and forth will produce a distinctive swirled scratch pattern. Worst of all, you can’t always see the scratches until you’ve already applied the finish. 

Stained wood deck

To avoid gouging the wood with your random orbital sander, place it on the wood before you turn it on. Slowly and lightly move the sander over the surface of the deck, removing patches of excess stain. 

Sand by Hand

If there are only a few small discolored areas on your wooden deck, you don’t need to break out the power tools. Sanding paper wrapped around a block can be used to sand away stained wood. This method is the most time-consuming and physically demanding.

Why Should I Remove Solid Deck Stain?

Depending on the size of your deck and the amount of free time you have, you may be tempted to skip deck stain removal and use one of the products that claim to cover up old stain. 

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However, you must thoroughly clean the deck to remove loose or faulty material, so the time saving potential of these products is fairly limited. They also have a rough, somewhat sandy texture that is not universally appealing. 

Even if you’re opting to paint your deck overtop of stain, you should still remove the previous stain.

Removing solid deck stain is necessary to provide an appropriate surface for refinishing, no matter what your next step is. When you’re switching from oil-based to a water-based alternative, it is particularly important to remove every trace of the old stain. If you miss a spot, the new stain may not penetrate or adhere to the wood in that area. 

Whatever stain you apply, make sure to use the best deck sealer to protect it and avoid this problem in the future!

Conclusion

Solid deck stain must be fully removed in order to refinish a deck. After removing loose material, a deck stain remover will break down the stain. It can then be scrubbed loose and washed away. Any stubborn or oversaturated spots can be removed through abrasion, using sandpaper or a stripping disc.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.