Best Time to Stain a Deck (And When Not To!)
Having an exterior deck is extremely common for homeowners who love to sit outdoors and enjoy the weather. Moreover, adding a deck can increase the value of your property (who wouldn’t want that!).
Decks can come in all shapes and sizes, and whereas some are made of PVC, others are made of natural wood or composite material.
But there’s one common type of maintenance that comes with owning a natural wood deck – staining it!
In this post, I’ll explore the best time to stain a deck, tips to staining your wood surface, and much more. Let’s get started!
In This Article:
When Is the Best Time to Stain Your Deck?
Generally speaking, there are three times each year where the ideal conditions for deck staining occur. That being said, you also have to take your location into account when determining when it’s best to stain your deck, as the seasons are different depending on where you live.
For example, if you live in the Northeast, you may not be able to stain in the early winter because it’s too cold, whereas somebody who’s living in the southern part of the United States would have no problem staining because the temperatures aren’t nearly as low.
Below, we explain why these three times of year (early spring, fall, and early winter) are ideal times for staining a deck.
Early spring is an ideal time for staining a deck for a few reasons:
• You don’t have to worry about falling leaves touching your stain
• It’s not too hot nor too cold
• Humidity isn’t too high
• The UV rays aren’t extreme
Additionally, since many homeowners don’t take advantage of this time of year, you could get find a high-quality stain for a reduced price or discounts from a professional service.
One downside associated with staining in the early spring is that you have to worry about rain or snow more than you would if you stained later in the year. And since it usually takes four days (from start to finish) to complete the staining process, you could have a hard time finding a four-day stretch where conditions allow for effective deck staining.
Fall is when most deck owners choose to stain their decks. Who could blame them? The crisp weather is perfect for applying any wood stain! Fall is ideal for applying deck stain for a few reasons:
• The temperatures are usually in the ideal range (50°F – 80°F)
• The sun doesn’t shine as bright throughout the day as it does in the summertime, avoiding harsh UV rays
One downside of fall deck staining is you may have to deal with falling leaves and other debris that vegetation sheds during this time.
To be clear, you might be constantly removing leaves, acorns, and twigs from the deck while the stain is drying, and this could be tedious and even complicated (depending on the size, shape, and location of the deck).
Early winter is another great time for staining a deck.
At this point, you shouldn’t have to worry as much about falling leaves or frequent precipitation. The only thing that could cause a problem during this time of year is the temperature.
If, for example, you’re in a part of the country where the temperature frequently drops to the 40s and 30s at this time, you should hold off on deck staining until next year.
Be sure that the surface temperature of your deck doesn’t drop below 50 degrees when applying wood stain to get a proper finish.
Ideal Weather for Staining a Deck
The ideal conditions for deck staining are clear skies and temperatures between 50°F and 80°F. These conditions should be constant over a four-day period – the drying time of most stains. However, some deck staining professionals assert that you can stain effectively even when temperatures are closer to 90°F.
Additionally, you should stain a deck when there’s plenty of sunshine—but not too much, as this could adversely affect the stain.
Wind should be light or non-existent, as this way you won’t have to worry about debris blowing on the stain while it’s drying.
Lastly, humidity should be low so the deck has no trouble retaining the stain.
All these conditions can be met during the three seasons discussed above, though fall is when all these conditions are met most often.
Weather That Prevents Deck Staining
Just as there are ideal weather conditions for deck staining, there are conditions that should be avoided. The main conditions to avoid are:
If it rains before you stain the deck, the wood could get waterlogged, in which case it won’t be able to retain stain until it’s dry. And if it rains while the stain is drying, it’s likely the rainwater will mix with the stain below the surface of the wood, which could lead to bubbles, peeling, discoloration, and other adverse consequences.
Therefore, you should put off deck staining until there’s a four-day stretch that shows no rain in the forecast; prepping the deck for staining will take about two days, and once applied the stain will have to dry for at least two days.
Snow, like rain, can wreak havoc on drying stain, and for pretty much the same reason. And since snow only falls when the temperature is quite low, you may also have to worry about the stain freezing.
Whether it’s snow or freezing temperatures that affect the deck, the results can be warped wood and cracked stain by spring.
High humidity can be problematic as well, as it’ll make the deck moist and therefore harder to stain. Specifically, staining a deck when it’s too humid can lead to peeling, cracking, discoloration, and bubbles. During the summer months is when it’s most humid in most places, which is a main reason why it’s best to not stain in the summertime.
Sunlight is the main driver of the stain-drying process, but too much sunlight can actually cause the stain to fade.
Excessive sunlight exposure could also lead to cracking and peeling, as the stain may dry out before it’s completely set in the wood.
One of the main reasons why it’s best to stain in the fall or early winter is because you don’t have to worry as much about harsh sunlight adversely affecting the stain.
Why Time Matters When Staining a Deck
Time is a critical factor in the deck-staining process. If you rush the process or elongate it, it’s likely the stain will not set properly, which can lead to a variety of unappealing consequences. Here’s more on how proper timing affects the appearance, quality, and lifespan of a stained deck:
One of the main reasons why homeowners get their decks stained is because doing so boosts the visual appeal of a deck. But if you don’t time the staining process properly, it’s likely your deck won’t be appealing but unsightly.
Specifically, poor timing can lead to peels, cracks, discoloration, and bubbles, all of which mar the surface of a deck that’s recently been stained. And if you stain improperly once, it may be harder to stain the right way later on, to the point where you may not be able to get the color you desire unless you replace the wood.
There’s nothing worse than painting a peeling deck surface!
Ensuring the stain sets properly in the deck wood is crucial, and it’ll need at least 48 hours to do this. If the stain does not have enough time to dry properly, the adverse effects listed above are likely to be the result.
And these effects aren’t just visually unappealing—they can also reduce the quality of the wood as well.
For example, if you’re trying to make an already waterlogged piece of wood absorb stain too, this could weaken the board and compromise the overall deck structure by extension.
You could also face a scenario where boards having too much water and stain leads to mold growth, in which case this dangerous problem would have to be addressed before you could even consider putting on a new layer of stain.
Additionally, if the stain is peeling and chipping because of poor application—and the wind is blowing peeled and chipped stain around—you could be at risk of getting very sick from inhaling these particles.
To ensure the stain lasts long and you get your money’s worth, proper timing is essential. If you don’t time the process well, such could lead to consequences that require a complete redo later on.
And if you’re using a professional deck staining service, you could spend anywhere from $600 to $1,200 to have staining redone, in which case the total cost to get the job done right could be in excess of $2,000.
Always be sure to paint in between deck boards to lengthen to lifespan of your stain.
Ready to stain your deck? Check out the video below!
What Happens if You Stain a Deck During the Wrong Time of Year?
We’ve already briefly touched on some of the adverse consequences that occur when you don’t stain a deck properly, but in the following section we explain these negative consequences more in depth so you have a clear understanding of how to prevent them.
Faded stain is usually caused by too much exposure to direct sunlight.
During the drying phase, the stain will be prone to substantial fading because it hasn’t completely set in the wood.
It’s important to point out that deck stain will fade naturally over time, even if it’s been applied properly. That being said, it could take more than a decade for a properly stained deck to become noticeably faded.
Stain discoloration can be caused by a variety of factors.
In most cases, however, discoloration is a result of water moisture with the stain before it has time to completely dry. Discoloration can also happen if stain is drying while the temperature is above 90°F.
In either case, the pigments in the stain change, and the result is discoloration. Discolored deck wood is often blotchy, so it’s hard to touch up afterward.
Wood can take weeks to dry in some cases, so be sure that your deck is dry before staining!
If the wood is waterlogged or even somewhat moist when stain is applied, it may warp. Specifically, wood warps when it’s damp and subjected to wide temperature swings. In this case, the stain not being able to set should be the least of your concerns, as warping wood could compromise the entire deck structure.
Peeling & Cracking Stain
Peeling and cracking are the most common consequences of stain failing to dry properly.
Usually, peeling and cracking are the results of stain mixing with water before drying, but the temperature being too hot or too cold can also lead to these adverse consequences.
You can check out these tips to prevent wood from cracking or splitting.
Bubbling usually occurs after stain has been applied to wet wood in a humid and hot climate. The bubbles are the result of stain mixing with water in the wood’s pores, and these bubbles can harden on the surface if not addressed immediately. Bubbles and rushed work tend to go hand in hand.
Mold growth is another thing you have to worry about when staining a wet deck. If stain is applied to wet wood and the wood doesn’t dry out because the climate is damp and cold, mold growth could be the result. And if the mold is not addressed soon enough, it could spread to areas of the deck that were fine before.
You’d have to get the deck treated for mold before you could attempt staining again, and in some cases you’ll have to wait a long time, like when affected boards have to be removed to ensure the mold is completely eliminated.
Be sure to use an oil based stain or a stain for pressure treated wood to limit mold growth as much as possible.
Deck Structure Weakening
Not getting the stain right is one thing—having to get a new deck because improper staining substantially compromised the structure of the old one is by far the worst case scenario. Specifically, improper staining can lead to warped wood, weakened boards, mold growth, pest infestations, and other elements that can compromise a deck’s structure.
Final Thoughts on the Best Time to Stain a Deck
In the end, the best time to stain a deck is when clear skies and temperatures between 50°F and 80°F are expected for at least four days straight. Such conditions often occur in the fall, though you could experience these ideal deck-staining conditions in early spring and early winter as well.
Getting the timing right is especially important if you’re going to do deck staining DIY. On the other hand, if you’re going to hire a professional to do this, it’s likely you won’t have to worry as much about timing, as they’ll know when and how to apply the stain in the most effective and efficient manner possible.