There are certain steps to take when protecting and preserving a wood surface like a deck, fencing, wood siding, roofing or a log home. The wood needs to be cleaned thoroughly and prepped prior to staining. A wood prep consists of cleaning the wood followed by a neutralizing process to open the wood pores to ready them for stain. Once you have completed a proper wood prep there is a certain amount of time the wood needs to dry before applying stain.
The amount of time necessary can vary from surface to surface. Weather, humidity, sun exposure, wood age, type and porosity can all affect the dry time needed. Although the wood dry time may vary there are some basic guidelines. Most wood surfaces will be dry enough for a stain application 24-48 hours after the wood prep. If you want to get technical you can buy or rent a moisture meter. Stick the wood in several different areas to get an average moisture reading. Most wood stains can be applied once the moisture level is 12% or below.
Without a moisture meter, waiting a couple of days is typically sufficient. Dry time after prep before applying stain should be reset if the deck gets rained on. Rain during the drying window will delay the stain application. Once the rain stops the wood needs to dry another two full days on average. Wood surfaces in full sun during warm weather and a nice breeze may only take one day to dry while a deck in full shade may take longer. If you are unsure it is best to wait a couple of days than to apply stain to early.
Not waiting the appropriate dry time after prep before applying stain can actually trap moisture in the wood, which can cause mold and mildew infiltration. Applying stain over wood holding too much moisture will also jeopardize the longevity and performance of the wood stain. Therefore it is best to wait too long than to apply stain too soon. On average you need three days of dry weather after prep work has been completed. Two days of dry time and dry weather on the third day during the stain application assuming it can be accomplished in a single day.