TO STAIN OR NOT TO STAIN? THAT IS THE QUESTION!
Three years ago, my wife and I undertook the sometimes painful task of home remodeling. We added a 20 x 20 room and a beautiful cedar plank and rail deck. The room is beautiful. So is the deck (in theory).
The problem was this. We messed up big time waiting to stain the fresh cedar! Being so dazzled by it's beauty, we were completely stupefied! Blinded!Too much time was spent in ignorant admiration and not enough in effort. We simply waited too long to stain the wood! Blasted!
Here's our story:
After countless hours of laborious planning and construction, my 'brilliant' thought process went something like this. Wow! This deck is beautiful! Just look at how nice that fresh-off-the-truck cedar looks! I want to keep it that way!
Let's stain it! -- Now!
Yeah! That would be great!! -- (That would've also been smart). -- But we waited some more. Don't know why. Still blinded I guess. Or cedar drunk!
"Let's pick out a color," my wife chimed.
"Not a problem," I added. "And the best deck sealant as well." (By this time the deck had been weathered but still looked decent; or so we assumed).
So off we go to the local Lowe's and get our stain. And much to our happy, happy joy, the search didn't take long. We quickly found what we were looking for and motored back home. Our shiny new deck would soon be encapsulated for generations; or so we assumed (again).
After sun bathing for about 5 weeks, most of the deck's shiny new skin could still be seen. So we joyfully applied the most expensive deck stain our rollers could dip into and journeyed on toward deck nirvana. That was the last of the happy, happy joy time.
I can't recall the exact date and time but it wasn't long before our freshly-stained deck morphed into our freshly-peeling deck. And then our freshly-diminishing-in-appearance deck. And eventually our headache deck of epic proportion. It looked awful. Still does. See the photos! Ugh!
In short, allow your new cedar deck to be naked for two weeks max. If you wait longer than that, the woody freshness (all nice and sexy for sure) will wane to a dull gray. The window of opportunity will shut tighter than a croc on a log.
For us, the task ahead is the painstaking process of sanding, power washing, and finally restaining our deck. Not a happy, happy, joy time for sure!
Oh, and did I mention we used the most expensive stain we could find. Brilliant!
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Will on April 22, 2015:
I like the grey look!
jimmy d on March 10, 2015:
tried all types of stains . coat mine with diesel fuel let dry and hit the thin spots about every 4 years and it repels water well and holds on. let dry about a week before using to keep from staining cloths
jimc on November 20, 2014:
Jay is correct, and if I may add, paint or stain peels because of internal moisture for one thing. Latex Paint or Solid Stain, which are almost the same, should not be applied over any wood that is over 8% moisture content. Stain is about the same, you may have a little more lee way.
So how does the average DIY homeowner check moisture content? Many hardware stores or discount tool outlets have inexpensive moisture reading instruments, about $10. They are relatively accurate and very handy.
The cedar does need to breathe for a while, rather than slapping on paint immediately, but you need to check any wood for moisture content before you prime/paint, otherwise you seal in the moisture, but when the moisture trys to get out, the "coating" paint or stain will peel or sluff off.
Pressure treated wood is as bad or worse, as the chemicals fill the internal structure of the wood. Some of this stuff is almost dripping wet when you pull it off the shelf at the box lumber stores.
roy on July 20, 2014:
just had cedar deck built, talked to 2 professional painters and said wait 2-3 months at least and use semi-transparent oil based stain. one coat and apply with hand brush. also read u should stain as soon as possible. so many different opinions, just cleaned now going to see if water beads, if not I will apply all accessible wood. composite warps, gets hot and not maintainence free
swags on July 16, 2014:
same problem with our deck we even put that new restoration paint or whatever on the deck boards and still chipped off in big pieces you could peel it off
Eric on July 05, 2013:
Don't know if your cedar deck is now in fine shape, but ours is garbage now.
We cleaned (with the Most Expensive Brand's Cleaner), powerwashed, sanded where needed, and applied the Most Expensive Stain and Sealer exactly to the manufacturer's specifications, only to have our deck look as dilapidated and forlorn as the deck in your pictures --- well within a year.
My thought: cedar belongs inside, not outside.
Jim on June 30, 2013:
It's important to remember that you will require different preparations and possibly a different product for vertical surfaces (i.e. railings, fences etc) than for horizontal surfaces (i.e. DECKS). There is very little to worry about in applying stains to vertical surfaces, whereas strict preparation and product consideration is necessary in dealing with horizontal surfaces.
serge on May 12, 2013:
I have the same problem with my cedar deck and I will not use wood again. The government in US and Canada have legislated stain content and new generation stains are no good. My house( pine boards) was stained 16 years ago with Cabot and looks good except for knots that are starting to show. New Cabot stain are not as good anymore. Pay the extra money and go with composite that will never need stain.
SP on April 14, 2013:
Wow, thanks for all the comments! We just had a cedar deck built and I am in the decision phase about sealing it. I am not sure what to do now, after reading all the comments., i am leaning on letting it set for a year or 2 before we do anything. Any comments about the cedar wood when adding a hot tub to to our deck, that will happen in a month.
Todd Swisher on April 07, 2013:
I'm a painting contractor in the North-East, and the truth about having a deck is it's a lot like having an automobile. You should have your oil changed every 3-5 thousand miles with your car, plan on having your deck maintained every 1-2 years...even if you use a quality brand name oil based penetrating deck stain with the proper prep work.
JK on April 03, 2013:
Same issue with our deck. We JUST sanded and stained last year and already it's peeling in places. Some places don't even get any wear! I am waiting to hear back from Deck Tech , they are in Illinois area and hopefully they can rescue our deck! But I agree, almost any of that stuff from HD or the like are just not going to cut it!
Linda on March 26, 2013:
After reading all this I have thought twice of staining my deck, cedar deck installed 18 mths ago....it looks great, it should be stained eventually, plan on tackling the project on my own with no experience, the comments above have helped me out tremendously....thank you all!
Dan on October 28, 2012:
Don't use stuff from Lowes or HD! Find something like TWP 100.. Must better than Behr or the other deck stains..
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on June 12, 2012:
Thanks Caa. I, too, had zero luck with any type of stain. My problem was inexperience and ignorance. I am learning a lot, though, through the fine comments here. Thanks for stopping by.
caa on June 10, 2012:
My deak looked just like yours peeling after staining.I used Cabots natural stain on my new cedar deck and it peeled off. I contacted them and they told me I must have put too mjuch on, I don't think so. When I contacted them and they said they would reimburse me for the stain and since then have NOT heard a thing, even though I contacted them a number of times. I ended up sanding the whole deck to remove the 1/2 peeled spots, a very big job for an 80 year old woman. Hope you get better luck than I had with Cabots if you use that brand. I felt sorry for you when seeing the before pics. Good luck.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 29, 2012:
Thanks for dropping by. As far as advice for decks, I am relying on the pros that have commented previously here. There is so much info to sift through as to what way to go it really can be overwhelming. For me, my deck is a mess but there is a local company I plan to use to bring it back. I would recommend speaking to a deck refinishing company in your area for advice prior to staining.
AF4 on May 27, 2012:
Since your out in Missouri, check out a company called Wood Re New, www.woodrenew.com. The process they use involves a foam cleaner and a water-based stain that truly does work. I've seen this product work wonders on new and old wood and there expertise is in Cedar. It's the whole reason the company was initially founded in 1993.
If anything they can at least offer advice if not service for getting and keeping your deck beautiful.
Ian on May 27, 2012:
Great info here! I'm in the process off putting a cedar deck up in southern ontario, and haven't finished the deck. Oars yet. But they are already showing signs of black mold (I think). Can this be sanded off before staining, or do I have a bigger problem on my hands?
Denise G on May 26, 2012:
I appreciate this discussion as we are building a 10 by 10 Cedar deck tomorrow in 90 degree weather (southern Ontario) ;( . We were advised not to stain it for at least 2-3 yrs, which was fine with us as we love the look of the Cedar. There's always composite...but it is very expensive! :)
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 19, 2012:
Thank you all for stopping by and leaving such knowledgeable comments, especially the most recent. As mentioned in this hub, I am NOT a deck pro. I simply have a story to tell. Most of the solid advice is from commenters above with the real know how. Thanks again to all.
Amazed on May 15, 2012:
Wow there is soo much misinformation on this stream I have no idea where to start. Firstly, pressure washing. Never ever ever pressure wash cedar ( or any wood for that matter) your number one enemy when staining is loose wood fiber on the surface of the wood, pressure washers only create a loose fibrous surface, when the wood expands and contracts with temp change, the fibers stand on end and take the stain with them. Your second enemy when staining is the hot sun. Most people assume a clear hot sunny day is the perfect weather for staining......nope! The idea is to put the stain on as thinly as possible so that your first coat absorbs into the surface of the wood without forming a film, if you put the stain on in the sun it cures to quickly and does not get a chance to absorb into the surface. Stain early in the morn or in the eve and remember..........thin to win! It is also extremely important to prep the wood before staining with an oxalic acid wood conditioner, this will remove mill glaze and open the pores of the wood to accept a stain. Do a tape test and absorption test on your wood before staining, this will ensure the wood is porous and free of loose wood fiber. I do a lot of deck staining and have had lots of success with the 100% acrylic water based stains. (the hybrid oil/acrylic stains are too finicky and do not last and cannot be touched up). If you decide to sand your deck to remove the old stain don't forget to prep it after sanding, the easiest way to remove an old stain is to strip it with a chemical deck stripper, way easier then sanding.
Lynn on May 10, 2012:
Oh my gosh! Thank you for posting everyone! I thought I was the only one with this problem. We put in a cedar deck 6 years ago, and every spring I have to redo, by the fourth of July I am retouching. What a pain! The first year our carpenter told us to wait a tear to stain allowing for the cedar to dry out. Used a semi transparent stain, again on the Fourth! By the 4th year I was pulling my hair out! Went to Sherman Williams for a "good stain" they recommended using a solid base coat, big mistake! Touching up the deck 3 times a year now. 6 year, tommarrow I am renting a sander to get all the last of the peeling deck, hand sanding under all the rails and around the hot tub! OH JOY! After it's clear I'm power washing waiting a week then using an Australian oil base stain I found on the Internet! Hopefully nightmare over!
Loretta on May 09, 2012:
Rob, Your deck looks exactly like mine. I'm getting tired of staining and sanding it every year. I listened to everyone ones advice about waiting for the cedar to dry and stain it after. I have sanded the whole deck so many times I'm lucky to have any cedar left...lol The Home Hardware store recommended water base Behr and I used that last year 2 coats it looked really good till spring and now it looks the same as previous years all peeling off. I don't even need to use pressure hose just regular water and it peels off. I guess what I'm looking for is should I use an oil base and if so what kind? I would appreciate any advice. Thanks Loretta
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 07, 2012:
My wishes are for your success. I'll be sure to update this hub when it is looking better as well as how it was done.
moonlake from America on May 03, 2012:
We cleaned our very old deck put the stain on, beautiful. Every where the rain hit it the stain came off. We know what's wrong with it we used water base stain the same stain that's on our house. It works on the house but not on the deck. This year it will be cleaned and all old stain removed and oil base stain will be put on.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 03, 2012:
I used the most pricy product I could get. But as you say, my lack of experience certainly bit me in the rear. Thanks for contributing your professional input.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 03, 2012:
The more I learn, the more I realize what a mess I created. This is the year, however, when I hope the rectify things with the deck.
Eric Nelson on May 02, 2012:
What expensive stain did you actually put on your deck? I think you have missed the real issue...it is not that you waited too long to apply the stain, it is the stain that you applied that caused the adhesion issue. I treat 100 decks a season and your hypothesis of waiting too long has too much research contradicting your conclusions. Deck prep prior to your stain application could have played a part but by looking at the pictures I have a pretty good guess at the brand/product you used.
Jannet on April 22, 2012:
Hi Rob - I am building a cedar fence and have been told in every paint store and by every one I know who has worked with cedar that I have to wait at least 6 months for it to dry before sealing. Perhaps you sealed too soon and the moisture still present didn't allow the stain to penetrate and in fact pushed it up??? I'm itching to seal at least the face of the boards so the colour is preserved but your deck is telling me not to!!
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on June 17, 2011:
Thanks Maureen for your well taken comments. This project is scheduled for a redo next year.
Maureen on June 16, 2011:
My husband built a deck we I think we too were cedar drunk. We got a lot of conflicting advise on whether to stain or even not to stain. We didn't stain at all for 3 years. In Ontario we are subjected extreme cold, snow, sun you name it. It was looking really dirty and dark in a lot of spots. In doing some research, I knew it had to be cleaned first, so I got out my scrub brush and buckets of hot water and Oxyclean. I was amazed at mildew and gunk that came off. Next I tackle the pickets! We did sand when the deck was completed though. So I guess we should be good to go to stain. I'm not sure what brand to buy yet but for sure I'm going with oil and a penetrating product. It's not easy, but worth it though.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on June 05, 2011:
thanks everyone for the nice comments! Right now we are waiting for the budget to allow us to stain the deck the right way. All is not lost. The deck can be reclaimed.
kevin Porterfield on June 05, 2011:
It looks like you used a water based stain. They always peel and do not work. All was not lost and your deck should have been an easy fix. Just a sand, brighten and stain 2 times. Also make sure you always dry wipe after you stain. I always also tell people to go to a real paint store and ask what most of the deck guys are using to find what will work best in your part of the country as a Lowes and Home depot you get someone will little to no knowledge. Oh and one last thing is like Wayne said most would has a mill glaze so you should always sand a new deck before you stain it.
Wayne Howe on February 09, 2011:
One of the issues could easily be that the stain you are using is not a penetrating type of a product. It is behaving like a film forming protectant/stain, which can easily have this end result. Also, waiting the time you did, was not a mistake, as new wood can have an issue termed "mill glaze." Prepping the wood prior to staining is a very important step.
Doug Black on June 08, 2010:
Treat with sodium percarbonate, pressure wash, strip with potassium or sodium hydroxide, Treat with sodium percarbonate, pressure wash, finish with oxalic or citric acid while wet, leave on, if any residue remains at dry spray off with hose.
There you go. New deck.
Don't stain a dirty deck!
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 02, 2010:
I had no idea! So in essence, what you are saying is that now is the right time to stain? If so, then maybe I can get back to the nice color my wife and I wanted to begin with, and the scope of this hub is skewed. Just curious. Everybody I know has told me that I waited too long! Even some respected home improvement sites advise staining early. I guess for me, it doesn't matter. The deck was installed nearly 5 years ago and is now a calm state of grey. Thanks for your knowledgeable viewpoint. Please drop by any time.
Jay on May 02, 2010:
What's important to realize with CEDAR wood material is that this particular species of wood is naturally, very highly acidic. Cedar lasts structurally a very long time because of this natural internal chemical resitance to rot and breakdown.
The utmost important practice when using CEDAR lumber for your deck or gazebo etc is to do NOTHING to it after installation. Let your new cedar deck enjoy mother nature for a period of 2 yrs min and maybe more depending on your local climate and UV exposure. Over time, the cedar will sweat out its natural acids which will allow stains and colors to properly adhere to the grains.
Remember, the worst thing you can do with CEDAR is to stain or seal it right away....let it dry out and discolor..then deckwash, light sand and color/seal....
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on June 29, 2009:
Connie, Sorry to hear about your deck. Ours still looks bad, but word is that once I powerwash it, my next step is to seal it without a stain. Hopefully that will work. I'll let you know... Thanks for stopping by!
Connie on June 29, 2009:
It doesn't matter if you waited or not, we stained ours right after we had it done, and I think mine looks worse than yours. We have sanded and stripped and restained it about 3 times in the last 5 years and it continues to peel every year. I have yet to find a solution to this deck problem short of getting rid of it. Hope you find a solution to your problem because we are still searching. If you find one, let me know.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on June 05, 2009:
THAT is a great idea! I'm out to give it a try! Really!
Jeff J on June 05, 2009:
I have read dozens of stories of cedar deck restoration but a yet to read of anyboby using my solution of silmply unscrewing the deck boards and turning them over.I cleaned and then used a brightener and now have a new looking cedar deck.
livingincomfort from Gaithersburg, MD on May 27, 2008:
The pictures do a great job of illustrating your situation. Thanks for sharing your experience. We can all learn from it.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on May 07, 2008:
I appreciate all your kind words of encouragement. If my wife and I had the time and fortitude we might tackle this beast this year. Bids to have it done are sure to be outrageous.
C.S.Alexis from NW Indiana on April 30, 2008:
I have seen many others make the same mistake, you are not alone if that is any consolation. You will have a good laugh with this after the restoration is complete!
gspyda on April 29, 2008:
lol, this is why i stopped undertaking projects. me and follow through, not always the best of buds.
at least it isn't years worth of damage, but make sure you have the time free and the will power to sand through and stain fast. can't wait to see the finished product.
Cindi Pearce from United States on April 04, 2008:
Cedar drunk! Ha! A hard-learned lesson.
SirDent on April 02, 2008:
I know you probably tried this but, did you try using a deck wash? Bleach is good for cleaning decks and restoring them somewhat.
Rob Jundt (author) from Midwest USA on April 02, 2008:
I'll keep you posted when we get it done. It'll be awhile for sure. Thanks.
In The Doghouse from California on April 02, 2008:
Yikes! You have a job ahead of you now! Good luck with that one... post some pictures when you have finished it!
SirDent on April 02, 2008:
Sorry you had to go through way you did to learn how to do it right. Any wood that is left to weather will turn colors quickly. Even treated wood will lose it's color.
I am glad you shared this with everyone.