How to Remove Solid Stain from Wood Deck

How to Remove Solid Stain from Wood Deck

removing wood stain from deckYears ago, my porch was painted bright blue. And no, I’m not talking about a subtle pale blue, no, but a freshly-picked-blueberry bright, which makes the property difficult to miss. It also makes any unwanted stains or blemishes on the house much more obvious.

One day, I was outside on the porch staining a set of bookcases with a dark finish. When I stood to admire my hard work, my foot bumped the can of stain and it toppled over. Quickly, I whipped around in horror as the dark stain spread across the bright blue woodwork. After that force majeure, I do all wood finishing only in the workshop now.

Getting rid of finish

We’ve all been there–I mean, accidents happen right? Have you ever spilled a freshly opened can of finish? Accidentally stained a deck the wrong color? Or maybe you’re just sick of your old stain chipping away, and want to replace it with a fresh coat. For any project, it’s important to understand how to remove solid stain from a wooden deck. Once you know these tricks, you’ll be able to remove all kinds of solid stains.

Painting Versus Staining and What is It?

stainingPeople often confuse the terms painting and staining and use them interchangeably. But they are two very different things, and it’s important to know the difference. Painting is what we think of when we change the color of our bedrooms walls or siding. For example, the bright blue coat my house wears was painted. Paint can go on a variety of surfaces beyond wood, like siding, plastic and metal.

Make your wood look gorgeous

Stain, however, is a finish applied to wood, not to change the color, but enhance the natural look of wood. When you use it, the richness of the wood’s unique grain and knots will appear.

Most stains come in natural wood colors, like oak or walnut, but you can find color to fit any design. Some woods don’t absorb the stain as well as others, so you might have to apply extra coats to achieve your desired look.

Taking time to research the best kind of stain for the type of wood you’re using is a smart move.

When you’re working with stain, it’s good to use long strokes and work with the grain, not against it.

However, similarly to paint, heavier stains will form a film on the wood surface to protect it against weather damage. This stronger type of stain is even more challenging to get off.

Removing stain from deck

So, here are the steps to follow:

1. Power Washing

power washingIf you’ve ever stained a deck before, you know the wood must be correctly prepared before the staining can even begin. You need to power wash your deck, making sure to remove all the built up dirt, mold and mildew. You may use a deck cleaner for this purpose. You can’t skip this step, or all the grime will be trapped under the new coat of stain, and the wood won’t hold the new coat as well. The first step in ensuring your solid stain is effectively removed is thoroughly washing your deck.

2. Deck Stain Strippers

Even then, simply washing your deck might not be enough. Most decks, especially with older, chipped stains, will need a deck stain stripper.

Deck strippers soften the existing stain so it’s easier to remove.

The formula for deck strippers often includes Sodium Hydroxide, along with other surfactants to create a more aggressive stripper than your typical wood cleaner.

Applying stripper

You can apply the stripper with paint brushes and rollers, just like you would paint or another stain. Or, when combined with water, stain strippers can also be applied with a pump sprayer. Once the stripper is on, it’s best to let the product sit on the wood for ten to fifteen minutes before removing it. This way, the stripper has a chance to soak into the stain and really break it down.

If you used solid or semi-solid stains, or if your finish particularly stubborn or thick, you might need to put on an extra coat and give the stripper more processing time.

After the deck stripper has soaked in enough, you’ll notice the old stain begin to break away from the wood. That’s a sign it’s time to power wash that deck one more time to ensure all leftover stain is removed.

If, even after all that, the stubborn stain is still there, you can use sandpaper or a sander to remove the remaining stain. Once the old stain is completely gone, you’re ready to move onto the next step.

3. Wood Deck Brightener

wood-deck-brightenerSo let’s say you use a deck stain stripper, you spend hours applying coat after coat of the stuff, and still, your deck still doesn’t look anything like it used to. Don’t worry, it’s very common for wood to appear darker after a stripping treatment. This is because the stripper raises the pH of the wood, and therefore alters the color. It’s a common problem for wood cleaners as well.

Lighten up the wood

One surefire way to solve this problem is with a wooden deck brightener. All you have to do is apply a coat of deck brightener to the wood, and it’ll restore the color and pH of your deck. It’ll also help the new coat of stain take better to the wood, as it opens the wood’s pores for deep penetration. Once you’re finished with this step, be sure to rinse your deck thoroughly.

You must let the deck stripper and the deck brightener dry for a minimum of 48 hours before putting on the new stain.

While waiting might seem tedious, it’s all part of the process. Once the wood is completely dry, you are ready to stain your freshly cleaned deck. If you attempt to restain your deck before the 48 hours is up, you might find inconsistencies in the color or strength of the stain.

And then finally, after hours of waiting and prepping, your wooden deck will be ready for a brand new stain. You can take comfort knowing the wood is properly prepared and will give you a rich stain that brings out the beautiful qualities of your wood.


It’s important to know how to remove a solid stain from your deck because outdoor stains require a lot of maintenance. Unpredictable weather conditions combined with general wear and tear can cause a lot of damage to even the highest quality finishes. With the proper use of stripping treatments, deck brighteners and fresh coats of stain, you can keep your wooden deck looking beautiful for years. These techniques are also great for correcting mistakes. Even if you spill some, you can use a small amount of stripper and brightener to fix up any mess. Even a dark brown solid stain on top of bright blue paint.

I stood on the front porch of my bright blue house and stared at the solid stain spreading its way across the woodwork. But still, I didn’t panic. I used a light duty stripper to remove the mess, and then power washed the remaining bits away. Before I knew it, the stain was gone and the cringe-worthy blue was back in full force. Because I had the proper knowledge and tools, I was able to solve the problem–long before my landlord found out.

12 thoughts on “How to Remove Solid Stain from Wood Deck”

  1. I installed a cedar a month ago. The cedar is untreated. I stained it on one section and HATE the color. When I put the stain on I rubbed it in with a rag like you would a new floor. ( although I know this is not the way to stain a deck, but when I rolled it on it was way to RED for my liking). Can I remove it with the process above? Should I try to power wash first or use the stripper first and rinse with power washer? Then use the brighter ? Appreciate the help. I do not want to ruin the new cedar. I hope I haven’t waited to long to treat the brand new cedar deck…

    Thanks for your help,
    Renee from Michigan

    • Hi, Renee.

      You should follow the steps. Please, keep in mind that strippers and brighteners may change the color of the wood after removing the stain since they contain chemicals. The final cleaned decks may look lighter a little bit than others. But this isn’t a big problem since following staining can hide this effect.

  2. Hi William,

    I have a brand new deck, we used untreated cedar. It’s been up over 2 months without being treated because we are finishing up the final touches. Is this too long to wait too treat with stain/sealer for this type of wood? We did treat one area however we HATE the color.. Can we remove it the same way you listed above being it’s new? I started rolling it on and did not like how it looked so i thought by using a rag and rubbing it in I would get a different look… Appreciate any advise on how to remove so I can finish the deck before the Michigan cold weather kicks in…

    • Hi, Ren.

      2 months is okay. Yep, you can remove the stain the same way I listed. But after removing, the wood may slightly change the color because of power washing, strippers, and brighteners. In other words, it’s hard to get back the initial color of the wood. It isn’t a problem when removing stain from all the decks. But you’re going to strip only the certain part of your wood, so the color may differ slightly. Subsequent staining may hide this disadvantage.

    • Hi James.

      There are environment-friendly stain removers and harsh removers. Look for environment-friendly options, but it doesn’t mean that you should let this remover get into the lake, try to avoid it anyway. I don’t think that fish will be hurt in that case but it’s better not to do so.

  3. Hi, I would like to remove old red wood stain from the cedar railing along my deck. The balusters are black finish aluminum slats. Do I need to remove them before putting on the stripper or can I leave them in place?

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