Why is my deck stain peeling and how do I prevent this from happening? This a common question and occurrence for many exterior wood deck owners. Homeowners love their wood decks and patios and nothing ruins the outdoor experience more then a ugly looking peeling deck. In this article we will look at the main reasons for deck stains failures, how to fix them, and how to prevent the stains from peeling in the future.

Did Not Prep the Deck Properly:

Improper prepping of the deck is the number one reason that a new decking stain will fail. In general the better a deck stain penetrates into the wood the better it will perform. Here are a few examples of improper prepping.

  • Grayed deck was not cleaned with a wood deck cleaner prior to application of finish. The use of a quality deck cleaner will not only remove all the dirt, grime, and graying but it will make the prepping process much easier. Never use household bleach or chlorine based deck cleaners. This will damage the cellular structure.
  • Old failed coatings where not removed with a deck stain stripper. You should not apply a new coating over top of an old coating that has failed by peeling or wearing unevenly. This will prevent you new coating from performing properly as it will be subjective to continual failure of the old stain.
  • The use of a wood brightener was not used after a deck cleaner or stain stripper. It is very important to use a brightener to neutralize the caustics of a cleaner or stripper. Failure to use a deck brightener will leave the wood in a high pH state. Decking stains will fail faster if the wood has a high pH balance.
  • Applying a water-based stain over top of an oil-based stain or vice versa. Many stains will not adhere to different brands or types of stains. If switching a brand or type of stain it is best to remove the previous coating as much as possible. This will give your new coating the ability to adhere and penetrate into the cellular structure.

Deck Sanding:

Sanding the deck to a super smooth surface such as a hardwood floor causes penetration issues. Wood decks are not the same as interior wood. The more porous the wood is the better the stain can attach to the interior of the wood. If you sand we strongly suggest that you sand with paper of 60 grit or less. In addition it would be best to use a deck cleaner and brightener to remove the sand dust when done.

Wrong Type of Stain or Sealer Was Used:

Always use stains and coatings that re specifically designed for exterior wood decks. Coatings that are too thick or unable to penetrate the wood will fail much faster and will be difficult to fix in the future:

  • Never apply a polyurethane or varnish type coating to horizontal wood. It will peel, turn yellow, and will require heavy sanding to fix.
  • Interior stains such as minwax will not work on outside decking. They will be prone to mold and mildew while offering zero UV protection
  • Exotic hardwoods such as IPE require coatings that are able to penetrate into their very dense cellular structure. Make sure to buy a brand of stain that is specifically designed for these wood types.

New Decks:

Just because a deck is new and free of dirt and old coatings does not mean it is ready to be stained. All new decking should be prepped to remove the mill glaze. This allows the stain to penetrate. This can be accomplished with a deck cleaner and deck brightener.

More Stain is Better:

Very common mistake here. Homeowners believe that if they apply another coating or two that the stains performance will increase. It is actually the exact opposite or less is better. In general you want to apply as much stain as the deck allows to absorb into the wood. Coatings that are over applied will film "on top" of the surface instead of "in" the surface. Film forming coatings are much more prone to peeling and wearing.

Poor Quality Brand of Decking Stain:

There are many deck stains available today but one thing is certain, they are not all created equal. Do some research online for deck stain and reviews. You will find that many of the different stains brands have a history of failure and poor performance. Do not believe ridiculous deck warranties either. The best deck stains are typically not bought at your local Big Box store but rather online or at your higher end speciality stores and lumber yards.

Penetraing vs. Film Forming Stains:

Penetrating stains will always out perform stains that dry or "film" on top of the wood. In general the better the deck finish penetrates, the better the performance. Many stains claim to penetrate when they actually do not, Be wary of water-based sem-transparent acrylic wood stains such as Behr and Sherwin Williams. They claim to penetrate when in actuality they are thin versions of paint.

Best Practises for Deck Stain Performance:

  • The better you prep the deck, the better a stain will perform. Do not skip steps and strongly consider stripping off old coatings first prior to reapplication.
  • Penetration is king! The better the stain penetrates into the wood the less chance of peeling and wearing
  • Do not over apply!
  • Read all manufacturer's application directions.
  • Research the brands of stains thoroughly.
  • Choose a deck finish that allows ease of reapplication in the future. All stains fail eventually and choosing a coating that requires minimal prepping for reapplication makes future maintenance much easier!

If you have any questions about your deck project please ask below in our comment section.

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pressure treated deck will not hold stain
I installed a pressure treated deck 4 years ago. After a few months I washed,sanded and stained the deck spindles and railing. The first time I used Cabot exterior stain. After one year the stain was almost gone. I started over by belt sanding the deck down to bare wood, washing and re staining using a Behr exterior stain. Again the next spring the stain was gone. This time I tried using a stripper sand wash and re stain using T P W total wood protection. This is the third time coming up with the same results. Please HELP. This spring the deck needs to be stained again. How do I get more than a year out of the stain? I can send pictures. I have always used a semi transparent stain. What am I doing wrong? Can someone help? Do I need to replace with a Trex type product?
Don Tonk , February 18, 2017
re: Maintaining
No the behr needs to be removed and switch to a better brand.All of their products are poor quality.
TheSealerStore , July 01, 2014
I preparing to re-stain my deck. It is not in terrible shape but was last coated with behr semi-stransparent redwood. It is peeling in a few places, possibly due to preparation issues. You posted an article on maintaining the deck by cleaning and re-staining annually or semi annually. Does this apply to the behr product? I always thought it had to be completely stripped to allow the new product to penetrate. Also, I have seen some pretty bad reviews on the Behr stripping and cleaning products as well as the stain. What are the main short-comings of these products? Thans.
Nathaniel , June 30, 2014
Tery, it should not as the kit does not contain bleach.
TheSealerStore , May 14, 2014
If I use the Restore a Deck kit, will it bleach out the stain I used (Olympic Maximum Stain & Sealer in One)?? I spent many, many hours staining the underside of the deck and am afraid it will streak the underside as it drips through the deck boards. We have a sitting area under the deck so it is very visible.Thanks!!
Tery Blase , May 13, 2014
Carla, you cannot fix by adding more product on top of the paint. You would need to sand off all the old paint first.
TheSealerStore , May 09, 2014
Hi the deck is approx. 12 yrs old, I would need a name of a company that carries a finish that will penetrate well. I have been painting the deck every two yrs.
The stain just peels. Thank you
carla , May 08, 2014
Stripping will not remove a solid color stain. Sorry but you will have to sand.
TheSealerStore , April 28, 2014
We did everything wrong staining our deck, now we have a peeling mess. I pressure washed it 3 times being careful not to damage the wood. I still have over 50% of continuously peeling stain. I thought about using a stripper, but I am concerned about damaging our air conditioner, pool filter and pump and also the pool which is partially under the deck. For many years we have used oil based stains, but our local big box store told us they only had water based now. It had been 4 years since the last staining so we thought it should be okay to switch. We used Cabot solid color water based stain (2 coats) over 2 years. Can you suggest the products I could use. I would prefer not to have to sand 725 sq.ft. of deck.
Lois Haen , April 28, 2014
Elmer, all of the old stain by sanding. Clean and brighten after for prep.
TheSealerStore , April 25, 2014
deck peeling
My floor peels after a year every time I stain it with Woodsman solid color (Rustic Brown)stain. The only reason I use it is because the rails are still in good shape so they will match the floor. I have never prep the wood before staining and it peels off. The wood is cracked and gray looking. Should I sand, clean (with deck cleaner) and do another step pior to staining. THANKS
Elmer Fox , April 24, 2014
re: Pool Deck Peeled
Best to use the same type (oil or water based) of solid stain that was used before.
TheSealerStore , April 11, 2014
Pool Deck Peeled
Two years ago we had a new cedar deck built around our above ground pool. We used a solid stain that we bought from Sherwin Williams (not sure of the brand). It started peeling mostly in the traffic areas. We pressure washed it and got most of the old stain off. Now we want to re-stain it. Would we be better to use an oil based transparent stain this time? Would it cover over the areas that we were unable to get the old stain off (mostly on knots)?
Sherry , April 10, 2014
Roland, Behr is not easily strippable. You can strip but you will not get it all off. You will end up having to sand to remove. I would:

1. Strip what you can.
2. Sand the deck
3. Brighten the wood.
4. Stain with TWP 1503 Dark Oak or the Armstrong Clark Rustic Brown
TheSealerStore , September 26, 2013
Hello I have a large wrap around deck, some of witch is older( 25 years or more) the other section is newer( within the last 3 years. it is made from 2by4 cedar. the older section was originally stained using Ben Moore oil base for a number of years it started to become an eye sore and I wanted to stain the old and the new to a newer dark brown color so I stained everything using Behr latex deck stain. I was in a hurry to prepare for a large gathering and did not properly prepare the newly installed cedar deck therefore the stain did not penetrate and is peeling badly. I need to strip the stain and reapply using recommended type of stripper and procedures. The older deck does not have as much of a tendency to peel as the new deck. I need help with recommendations for using the proper deck stain stripper and prep materials along with a recommended stain to use so I can get away form having to deal with peeling etc. can you help me, thank you.
Roland Lebeau , September 25, 2013
re: New wood - treated white or yellow pine
Stay away from Behr. it will peel again. Try TWP or Armstrong Clark.
TheSealerStore , August 20, 2013
New wood - treated white or yellow pine
We stained the deck immediately with Behr semi transparent stain with three coats last summer. Most of it peeled off after the winter. We have sanded it with a heavy sandpaper and went to Home Depot to get advice. They sold us Behr All In One Wood Cleaner and after cleaning it to put screws in the wood in different places to see if moisture comes out. If not, to restain with the same Behr Semi Transparent stain. What should we do?

Richard Clement , August 19, 2013
Mitchell, clean and brighten the wood with the Restore A Deck Kit after the sanding so the stain penetrates better.
TheSealerStore , July 15, 2013
home owner
Last year I installed a new cedar deck in summer home on Lake Michigan in New Buffalo Michigan. I cleaned it and applied Arborcoat semi transparent stin and a n Arborcoat sealer over the stain. It started peeling badly after one year. I power washed it with a deck cleaner and sanded it with an orbital sander so it looks like new wood again.

I want to apply TWP. Do I need to do any more prep before staining it? It does not look dark, it is not dark, but looks new.
Mitchell Tannenbaum , July 14, 2013
The better it is prepped the longer the stain will last. In general solid color stains will start to peel in 1-2 years.
TheSealerStore , July 02, 2013
Thanks for the response. So is it normal to wear out in just one year? If I restain to match what's on there should I not expect more than a year's worth of coverage? If I just restain over bad areas with solid stain will I need to sand down much or most or all of the existing wood? Or can I get by with just light sanding the areas where the solid stain is loose? Thanks for the help, hope these are not too dumb of questions but I don't have much experience in this department.
James Samuel , July 02, 2013
James, anything that sits on top of the wood will peel eventually. Solid stains will do this especially in the exposed areas. Not much you can do really as it will continue to do this in the future. There is not a way to fix this unless you want to sand the entire deck down and go with a penetrating semi-transparent stain.
TheSealerStore , June 29, 2013
I have a deck that was stained last summer with a solid stain. It has already started peeling in the high traffic areas. But NOT in the high traffic areas under the overhang of the roof of the house - so less rain and sun are hitting this area. I am wondering what could have caused this? Poor stain (Sherwin Williams deck stain)? Poor preparation (It was just pressure washed then stained? Also....what is your recommendation to fix this without making things worse in the future. Thanks!
James Samuel , June 28, 2013
re: twp or armstrong clarck for cedar siding house
Either are excellent but since your wood is so old, the AC might be the better choice.
TheSealerStore , May 31, 2013
twp or armstrong clarck for cedar siding house
I have a thirty year old cabin with cedar siding. It has been sealed many years ago with thompson sealer. I plan to strip it and sand the wood. Which would be a better sealer/stain? I am leaning towards two or Armstrong clark. Any preferences? Thank You!
steve bell , May 30, 2013
Sue, try TWP or Armstrong Clark. Make sure the wood is free of all old coatings.
TheSealerStore , May 19, 2013
What stain do you recommend ? Decks receive middle of the day sun. Tried Home Depot stains and they are terrible. Want something that will penetrate wood and not peel off.
Sue , May 19, 2013
re: new & old decking
It is not possible to match new wood to old wood when using a semi transparent stain. The new wood will be lighter in color. I would start by using a cleaner and a wood brightener to prep all the wood. Restore A Deck Kits work great
TheSealerStore , October 04, 2012
new & old decking
I have added to my current deck, the original decking is dark grey and was probably never cared for prior to my purchasing the property. The new deck is attached to the old deck and I would like to stain so both are protected and are the same in color. What preparations need to be done on both surfaces to achieve a compatible color.
Renie , October 03, 2012
Thank you for straight answers! This has helped a lot.
Tom , May 30, 2012