As the weather gets warmer, we’ll all want to be spending more time in our outdoor spaces. A great way to give your backyard oasis an upgrade is by refinishing your deck—so today, we’re showing you how to do the first step: stripping off your current deck coating.
Stripping a deck is a messy job. Strippers are usually gel-like substances that sit on and soften the existing coating (stain or paint). That gel and the finish underneath it are then removed. In the best scenarios, the old coating rinses away. Often, scrubbing, scraping, and re-applying the stripper over stubborn areas is needed.
Some strippers are designed to strip old stain, and some strippers (like the one we use today) work on stain or paint. Choose a stripper that fits your needs.
Remember that a stripper will remove a coating from wood, but it won't restore the wood to a like-new condition. You'll see a remarkable change after your hard work, but you'll still have with the same wood you had before (with or without its blemishes). If a previous tenant or owner painted over your deck boards, there may have been a good reason.
If you don't think stripping is the solution for your deck, take a look at two other possible solutions: Our How to Refresh Your Deck post shows you how to renew a tired deck, and Resurfacing a Deck with Composite Decking shows you how to replace old deck boards with new, composite ones. Otherwise, read on to see how stripping our deck went for us!
Step 1: Prep your deck
The first step of any successful project is to read the instructions for the product you’re using. We’re using a stripper from Peel Away that's diluted with water when removing some finishes, but our deck boards have a solid, paint-like stain on them, so the label recommends using it full strength.
Once you’ve read the directions for using your stripper, you’ll need to prep your deck area. Usually, this means protecting vegetation and masking off any surfaces the stripper shouldn’t come in contact with, like surrounding glass or metal railings. The area under your deck boards may also need to be protected since there could be drainage between boards.
The instructions on your stripper will tell you what tools you’ll need, such as scrub brushes, gloves, and eye protection. Once you’ve gathered your supplies and prepped the work area, pour the stripper into a plastic garden sprayer.
Step 2: Coat deck with stripper
Spray the stripper liberally onto the surface of your deck and allow the solution to sit until the stain has visibly lifted—this usually takes between five to 15 minutes. You can tell when the stain or paint starts to lift because the coating will soften. Let the stripper sit on your deck as long as needed, but make sure you don’t let the solution dry. If it starts to dry, apply a little more to keep the surface wet.
Note: The sample deck we created had a new, solid-color coating on it so it took more than 15 minutes to lift.
Step 3: Remove paint or stain
Here comes the messy part! Once the coating has visibly lifted, agitate the surface using a stiff brush or power washer to remove the old coating. Using a brush requires a lot of elbow grease, while using a pressure washer makes the job less labor-intensive. If you use a pressure washer, make sure you don’t overdo it—set the pressure to a maximum of 1000 PSI. That pressure will allow you to wash away the old coating as it sloughs off without damaging the wood underneath.
In a perfect world, everything rinses away, and after drying you're ready to put on a new finish. But this world is not perfect. Many deck stains and paints will run down the vertical cracks between deck boards. You might also need to scrub or scrape around railing posts, balusters, or other intricate details. If the old coating must be removed from those areas, it will require more time and effort.
Step 4: Rinse and let dry
After you’ve brushed or pressure-washed the old coating away, rinse your deck with water and allow to dry. You’ll notice the boards we stripped still have a tinge of green on the surface. To strip the wood bare, we’d need to repeat the stripping process. If you’re planning to stain your deck a lighter color than the coating you removed, you’ll need to make sure the wood is stripped bare so the old coating doesn’t show through. If you’re recoating with a darker stain, it might cover the remaining old coating. If you're painting the newly-stripped wood, results like ours are just fine.
After stripping your deck, it's recommended to follow with a brightener/neutralizer. This product will neutralize the pH of the wood and allow the new deck finish you apply to adhere. The product also brightens the wood, which brings back some of the original color. We don’t show this step in this tutorial, but it’s a simple matter of spraying on a diluted liquid, lightly agitating it, and rinsing it off. It’s much simpler than stripping. For more in-depth directions, see this earlier tutorial.
Finally, when the deck is dry and ready, recoat your deck with the paint or stain of your choice.
After walking through this process on a small sample deck and projecting that work onto a full-size deck, we came to the conclusion that this is not a job for the faint of heart. If you're stripping a semi-transparent stain, the work will be easier because there's less pigment to remove. But stripping our paint-like stain was a much bigger job and left us very grateful for products like Penofin Renewal that give you a different option. In fact, resurfacing a deck seems more doable (albeit more expensive) than stripping paint from every nook and cranny. If you're interested in alternatives to paint stripping, check out our How to Refresh Your Deck and Resurfacing a Deck with Composite Decking posts.
And did you know that some deck stains (like Penofin) don't need to be stripped at all? Check out the Penofin line in our How to Refinish a Deck blog.