Hit the deck

How to refinish your worn-out wood deck

Story by Mollie Grant

Wood decking is a classic flooring option for outdoor living spaces. Decks are often made of natural woods like cedar, redwood, oak and cherry. Unfortunately, their natural beauty can fade over time. Each wood plank feels the onslaught of rain, snow and blazing sun. Deck boards are stomped all over with shoes and muddy pet paws. Without proper maintenance, the wood can dramatically change color and texture. Some woods are even prone to splitting and cracking.

 Has your wood deck lost its luster? Then, it’s time to refinish it. Home-improvement experts usually recommend refinishing decks every two to three years. Regular refinishing projects will restore the beauty of the wood’s grain. Refinishing wood decks often prevents moisture from seeping in and rotting the planks. Protecting the wood also thwarts dangerous mold and mildew buildup. Fortunately, deck refinishing can be a simple DIY project. Here’s a step-by-step guide for transforming a dull, damaged wood deck.

Strip away the wood finish

Most wood decks have been treated with a film-forming finish. Your first step is removing this layer from the wood. Use a sharp scraper to manually strip the paint, stain, or varnish. These finishes generally flake off under hand pressure. Please wear a mask and goggles during this process. You don’t want to breathe in particles you’re removing. Stiff bristle brushes can help scrub the loosened finish off the boards. Clean the corners and crevices with a putty knife. Once the majority of the finish is off, run a sander over the deck floor. Remember not to press down too hard.

Attend to the railings

Typically, the railings have the greatest amount of paint or finish. Railings, balusters, and spindles are trickier to strip. Use the scraper and synthetic-bristle brush to rub off what you can. You’ll likely need a paint stripper to reach every nook and cranny though. Wear gloves, a mask, and eye protection during this step. Paint strippers are harsh chemicals, so follow package directions for safety. Work in small sections of six feet or shorter. Apply the stripper and wait until the finish begins blistering. Use the scraper to clear the excess finish. Don’t forget to neutralize the stripper with mineral spirits afterward.

Apply natural deck cleaner

Home improvement stores have shelves full of deck cleaners. Look for a cleaning product that’s eco-friendly and non-toxic. If you’re worried about chemicals, make your own deck cleaner. Mix baking soda with vinegar, liquid soap, and a gallon of water. Pour the cleaner into a spray bottle and you’re ready to go. Cover your surrounding landscaping to avoid hurting any plants. Keep shielding your eyes and mouth as well. Spray the deck cleaner all over the wood boards and railings. The mixture will reduce any stains or discolored spots. Next, rinse the deck cleaner off thoroughly with a hose or pressure washer.

Replace damaged deck boards

Have you found a wood plank beyond repair? Don’t panic. Parts of wood decks age worse than others sometimes. Damaged deck boards can be remedied pretty easily. Begin by cutting the deck board section between each joist with a jigsaw. Using an angle square will help you cut straight. On the side of the existing plank, fasten support cleats to the joists. Pull them tight against the adjacent board and attach with at least two deck nails. Cut the new wood section and piece it in. Blunt the nail’s tip before driving it in to avoid splits. Firmly secure the new board with deck screws at each corner. Your damaged decking is renewed.

Use a wood deck stain

After the cleaned deck has dried for 48 hours, you’re ready to stain. Stains come in virtually every shade and pigment to match your outdoor decor. Some are semi-transparent to let the natural wood grain shine. Look for stains that have UV protection to prevent sun damage. Stains with a one-step application process also are handy. Apply the stain with a paintbrush or paint pad. Using a paint roller on a pole handle can make the task less back-breaking. Start with the railings and work down to the floorboards. Stain the wood deck liberally and wipe up any excess that doesn’t soak in. Leave a 24-hour drying time before adding a polyurethane sealer.


Wood decks offer a beautiful, versatile space to entertain outside your home. Faded, weather-beaten decks won’t impress your guests though. Letting your decks decay can lead to costly damage too. Neglected decks are at risk for rot and fungal infestations. Compromised deck boards might even lead to dangerous falls and collapses. So, keep your wood deck safe and stunning with regular maintenance. Follow the above steps to refinish your worn-out wood deck and restore it to pristine condition.

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