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Your deck is where you go to relax and entertain. Regular maintenance -- including cleaning, sanding and staining -- will keep this outdoor spot in top shape.

Staining a deck doesn't require any special skills or advanced equipment (except perhaps a pressure washer), but you will need to work slowly and methodically if you want professional-looking results.

Do you have the patience to give your deck a makeover? Or is this a task best left to the pros? To decide, let's take a look at the logistics and costs of each option.

Staining a deck isn't an advanced project, but it is labor-intensive. To get an even finish, you need clean, smooth, dry wood. That means you first have to prep the deck by sanding down rough patches and tightening loose screws or nails. Then, if your deck has old stain on it, you'll need to apply a stain stripper, followed by a wood brightener. From there, you'll need to thoroughly clean the deck (very grungy decks may require a pressure washer) and leave it to dry for 48 hours or so. Then you'll apply stain.


Most experts recommend one thorough deck cleaning each year, an application of sealant every two years or so (whenever drops of water stop beading up on the wood), and new stain when the old one has weathered -- anywhere from 3 to 8 years. If this sounds something you'd rather leave to professionals, be aware that the cost varies widely. You can expect to pay anywhere from $.50-$7 a square foot depending on the amount of cleaning and repair work that needs to be done (and how many tiny spindles and other architectural details your deck has). Some contractors put together "deck restoration" packages and charge a flat fee; prices for an average deck start around the $500-$700 mark but can easily top out at $1,000 or more.

If you're ready to spend your weekend working hard, you can absolutely refinish your own deck and save lots of money. Here's what you'll need to DIY this project:

Tool Rentals

Pressure washer: If your deck is very moldy or dirty, this device can make cleaning far easier. You can purchase or rent a pressure washer from a home improvement store like The Home Depot for between $40-$200. Be sure to follow the instructions and use the recommended settings; this washer is potent enough to cause damage to soft woods (not to mention your fingers).

Tool & Material Purchases

These items can all be found at hardware or home improvement stores.

Wood stain: Price varies by brand and the amount of coverage you need.

Sandpaper: $3-$11 depending on grit. If you'll be sanding large areas, get a pole sander for about $20.
Broom: You probably already have one; if not, it'll run you about $10 to $25.
Scrubber brush: Use this to tackle grimy spots. $5.
Deck cleaning solution: Removes mildew, dirt, and stains. About $15-$18, although price varies by brand.
Stain stripper: Gets rid of old stain or residue, ensuring an even surface for new stain. About $25, although price varies by brand.
Wood brightener: Neutralizes stain stripper, refreshes wood, and helps prep the surface for stain. About $40, although price varies by brand.
Garden sprayer: Often used to apply stripper and wood brightener, although a large paintbrush can also be used. $12-$90 depending on the size you want.
Garden hose: To rinse the various solutions you'll apply during cleaning and prepping; you probably already have one kicking around, but a new one will run you about $25.
Several 4" paintbrushes: To apply deck cleaner and stain. $10 to $25.
Trim brush: To apply stain to spindles and hard-to-reach areas. About $15.
Paint rollers and extension pole. Prices vary by brand but this should run you about $10 and $20, respectively.
Paint tray: About $6 for a pack of three.
Safety glasses: $5-$20
Latex gloves: $5 or less per package.

So, are you ready to do-it-yourself...and save?


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