How to Remove Flaking Deck Stain

Updated: May 16, 2024

Remove stubborn solid stain from your deck and make it look like new!

Next Project
Time

One to two days

Complexity

Beginner

Cost

$75 to $150

Introduction

All good things must come to an end, and the stain on your deck is no exception. What was at first a flawless, beautiful coating has turned into a peeling, flaking mess in the span of four or five years. You didn't do anything wrong. Solid-color stains protect wood decks and look great when new, but even the best ones eventually flake and wear away. Peeling stain not only looks bad, but leaves the deck vulnerable to damage from sun and weather.

If you want to restore your deck to its former glory, you'll need to strip it, then clean it, recondition it, and finally stain the wood. Read on for our step-by-step guide to removing flaking deck stain, with pro tips from Ryan Ghent from Element Pressure Washing and Shayne Pancione from Pancione Painting Plus.

Why Is My Deck Stain Flaking?

A few reasons. If solid stain flakes less than three years after application, there's a problem with the application, not the product. Either the deck wasn't dry or clean enough when stained, the temperatures were too hot or cold, the wood wasn't seasoned enough, or maybe it rained soon after application.

Properly applied solid stain should last four to five years, but even the best deck stains eventually fail. At first, solid stain stretches as the wood expands and contracts with weather, temperature and humidity changes. But after years of sun exposure, the stain becomes brittle. Instead of stretching with the wood, it begins to crack. Once this happens, water gets under the stain and breaks the surface bond with the wood. This cycle continues until sections of stain loosen and flake off.

When to Call a Pro

While beginners can tackle this project, call a pro if you don't feel comfortable using chemical stripping products.

Before You Start

Safety Precautions

You'll use a chemical stripper to strip the deck and oxalyc acid to brighten it afterward. When using chemical products, wear appropriate safety gear and clothes. Eye protection and chemical resistant gloves are advised and avoid contact with eyes or skin. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety recommendations.

Tools

Chemical paint strippers will remove the majority of existing solid stain, but stubborn spots will need to be sanded. The best tool for the job is a paint stripping disk attached to an angle grinder (the fastest option) or power drill (much slower). You can pick up an angle grinder for under $50, or rent one for around $30. The rough surface of paint stripping discs works much faster than belt or orbital sanders.

Materials

Powerful stripping products do the heavy lifting to remove solid stains. Use a stripper with a thick consistency that is applied with a paint brush and roller. Thinner deck strippers work better for transparent and semi-transparent stains, but avoid these when your deck is coated with solid stain.

The stripper needs to remain wet during the dwell time, so avoid working in direct sunlight and high temperatures. It's best to work on cool, overcast days if possible. You can find a paint stripper at any home center.

To condition, or brighten the wood, we used oxalyc acid, an environmentally safe product. Ghent recommends always using a wood brightener after using a stripper to neutralize the wood. "Strippers alter the wood's PH, and often darken the wood," he says, "Brighteners restore the wood's natural PH and bring it back to a natural look." Pick up oxalyc acid wood brightener in any home center or paint store.

Choosing a Deck Stain

With your deck stripped down to bare wood, you have your pick of deck stains. "You really have to think about what the desired result it before deciding how to proceed," Ghent says. In addition, consider your deck's condition and age as well as the durability of the stain.

Solid stains offer excellent durability and a painted look that covers imperfections. Go with solid stain if you have an older deck or like the idea of re-staining every three to five years.

Semi-transparent and transparent stains look best on newer decks in great condition and let the wood grain shine through. However, these stain types are less durable and will need to be retreated every one to three years. "A transparent stain will keep your natural wood looking nice for several years,

Tools Required

  • 3/8 to 1/2-in. nap roller
  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Angle grinder
  • Chemical resistant gloves
  • Cordless drill
  • Dust mask
  • Extension cord
  • Extension pole
  • Hammer
  • Knee pads
  • Nail set
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray
  • Paintbrush
  • Pump sprayer
  • Rags
  • Safety glasses
  • Scrub brush
  • Stiff brush
  • Stripping discs

Materials Required

  • Chemical deck stripper
  • Deck wood brightener/conditioner
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic drop cloth

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Prep the area

Before removing previous coatings, protect nearby areas and make any necessary repairs.

  • Remove any patio furniture from the deck.
  • Sweep and remove any debris or organic material.
  • Tape plastic over nearby siding and cover or wet down bushes and grass around the deck.
  • Reset any nails or screws that stick out from the wood surface.
  • Replace or repair any damaged or rotting boards. “If replacing pieces of the decking, you want to make sure the wood has had enough time to dry or age, especially if using pressure-treated wood,” Pancione says. He recommends waiting at least two to three months before staining.
Step 2

Scrape the deck

Use a paint scraper to scrape off any loose solid color deck stain.

  • Apply moderate pressure on the scraper to avoid gouging the wood.
  • Work methodically across the deck, one section at a time.
  • Go with the grain of the wood.

Removing Flaking Deck Stain with Scrub BrushTMB Studio

Step 3

Remove the stain with a chemical stripper

Strip the deck with a special deck stain remover. Chemical strippers need to dwell, or sit undisturbed, to activate and are only effective when wet. To avoid applying more stripper than you can remove before it dries, work in small sections. Avoid working in direct sunlight on hot days, and reapply the stripper to any dried areas.

  • Pour paint stripper into a plastic paint tray. Avoid using a metal tray as it can react to the chemical.
  • Use a paint roller with an extension pole to spread a heavy coat of stripper over the stained boards. Use a brush to apply to edges and corners.
  • Cover 20 to 30 sq. ft. at a time, then stop and wait.
  • Let the stripper dwell for 15 to 30 minutes to soften the stain before you scrub. Dwell times will vary, so read the product label for manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Use a stiff brush to scrub off old stain in the 20 to 30 sq. ft. section.
  • Repeat this process until the entire deck has been treated and scrubbed.
  • Rinse the residue off with a hose and allow the deck to dry.
Step 4

Sand the wood

Solid stain is more durable and can be arduous to remove entirely. Use a coarse stripping disc on areas that are heavily discolored or where the stain doesn’t come off. Stripping discs are faster and more effective than regular sanders and work best on angle grinders to strip the deck.

  • Attach a stripping disc to an angle grinder or power drill.

Stripping Disc on grid backgroundTMB Studio

  • Apply the stripping disc to areas of the deck with remaining stain or discoloration. Apply even pressure and check your work often to avoid damaging the wood.
  • Continue until all remaining stain is removed from the deck.

Sanding the Deck Stain with angel grinderTMB Studio

Step 5

Apply wood conditioner

Finally, use a deck brightener or conditioner to neutralize the stripper and restore the wood to something close to its original color.

  • If using a concentrated brightener, mix with water following the manufacturer’s recommended ratio amounts. Wear protective gloves and eyewear.
  • Wet the deck with a hose.
  • Apply brightener to the deck and railings with a pump sprayer, roller or brush.
  • With a long-handled scrub brush, scrub the decking, going with the grain.
  • Wait the recommended dwell time to allow the brightener to work, which is usually 10 to 20 minutes. If the brightener begins to dry, reapply to keep the surface wet.
  • At the end of the dwell time, rinse the deck thoroughly.
  • Wait several days to ensure the deck wood is completely dry before applying stain. Both pros recommend waiting for a minimum of three days with dry, low-humidity weather.

applying deck conditioner using brushTMB Studio

Step 6

FAQs

How do you prevent deck stain from flaking?

You can’t prevent deck stain from flaking forever, but most applications should last four to five years, if prepped and applied correctly. To get your stain to last, take the time to prep thoroughly and always apply stain to dry wood.

Can you strip a deck in the rain?

No. The stripper needs to dwell to activate and soften the stain. Rain would disrupt this process and may dilute the chemicals.

About the Experts

Ryan Ghent is the owner of Element Pressure Washing, a residential pressure washing company in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. He has four years of industry experience, including many decks.

Shayne Pancione is the owner of Pancione Painting Plus, a full-service residential and commercial painting company in Easthampton, Massachusetts. He has over 25 years of experience in the trade.

Sources:

What you should know about using paint strippers“. US Consumer Product Safety Commission.