This post originally appeared in the Seattle Times

A deck is an investment that gives you an outdoor oasis in the sun, but it has to be properly maintained in order to make it through our wet winters year after year. One of the most important things you can do to keep your wood deck looking good is to stain (or restain) it. 

There’s a lot more to staining (or restaining) a wood deck than most people think. That shouldn’t deter you—it’s still a simple task that pays dividends. The stain manufacturer’s instructions will give you directions, but here are some helpful deck-staining tips that might not make it onto the can—no matter which brand of stain you go with.

Allow new wood to dry

If you have a new wood deck, let it fully dry (or “season”) before applying a stain product. Proper dry time is anywhere from four to 12 months, depending on the time of year it was installed. It’s ideal to allow the wood to season to a 15 percent or less moisture reading; a moisture meter can tell you whether your deck is dry enough to stain. Should your deck be fully dry and you want to stain your deck before it has "seasoned" for the recommended amount of time, consider using a wood brightener product beforehand to help the wood open up and accept the stain more readily. 

Always clean your deck first

If your deck is brand new, you might be thinking, I bought new wood, so I should be able to sweep or rinse it off and get started! Don’t be fooled—that brand-new lumber you purchased has been on a long trip from the mill to the distributor, then by truck to the lumber yard. Wood gathers dirt and mold spores from multiple environments as it passes through each leg of its journey, so hosing off the sawdust and visible dirt isn’t enough.

Whether your deck is old or new, use a cleaner specifically made for wood decks. Remember to read the cleaning instructions, which will help you take the right steps to protect your plants, siding, and hardscapes. After a thorough cleaning, it can’t hurt to evaluate if your deck could benefit from an application of wood brightener.

Wait until the wood is dry enough to stain

Staining your deck before it’s completely dry runs the risk of trapping moisture that could lead to mold or mildew challenges. In general, wait one to two days after cleaning your deck to begin the staining process. If you experience a rain event, wait another one to two days before resuming the project. If your deck doesn’t receive direct sunlight, it might take an extra few days to dry out properly after wet weather.

Pay attention to the details

Steps like sanding and application sound simple, but little things can add up and affect the finish of your deck. If you’re sanding, make sure the dust is totally removed before applying the stain; this is especially important for hardwood decking. Be careful to avoid sanding the heads of nails or screws—it’ll remove the protective coating—and don’t use anything finer than 80-grit sandpaper for hardwoods or 100-grit for cedar.

When you’re applying the stain, don’t apply more than the wood can absorb. Over-application is the most common problem people experience. More stain sounds better, but too much stain can turn into a gummy mess that’s difficult to fix. Instead, work in small areas—like doing the entire length of one to three boards before moving on to a new section—and keep a “wet edge” as you go along.

Protect Your Deck During Wet Weather Months

All in all, maintaining your deck isn’t a monumental task. Invest one weekend a year for a quick clean and recoat, and you’ll enjoy the beauty and performance that come with a job well done for the years ahead. Looking for more deck maintenance information? Check out our blogs on how to prolong the life of your deck and our series on how to build a deck