When it comes to any painting job, the key is to properly prep all surfaces prior to painting. With deck painting, it is imperative that you properly prep your decks wooden boards, and painting in between the deck boards. To prepare your deck for painting, you will need to take several measures to ensure you do the job the best way possible to guarantee the paint will last a long time. The process we will discuss includes how to prepare and paint an old deck, how to paint a new deck, how to paint pressure treated wood, and how to decide between painting or staining your deck.

Preparing Your Deck For Paint

Before you can paint your boards, you need to make sure you prep them properly. The preparation stage has several steps, which we will now go over.

Clean the Surface

The first step is to clean and wash your decks boards to remove any debris – this must be done even if your deck is new. Remove any and all furniture, grills, planets, etc., and thoroughly sweep your deck. After you have swept everywhere, you are ready to sand. It would also be worth your while to make sure you cover all sides of every board, and yes, that means underneath as well. Since your boards are exposed to a lot of moisture and temperature changes, if the underside of your boards aren’t painted, these changes can force your boards to expand and contract, wearing down the paint faster. To ensure a long lasting paint job, make sure to prep, prime, and paint all 6 sides of every board. Does this mean you can’t paint your deck if you can’t get underneath the boards? No, but understand that the paint will wear faster if the wood is not protected on all sides.

Sanding Your Boards

Sanding is one of the most important steps in the preparation process. During the sanding process, you need to remove all of the old paint, stains, and other residue from the wooden boards. You want to expose almost all bare wood and get rid of anything in the way. Make sure to also sand out any grooves, and imperfections. Only sand in the direction of the grain, and not against it. Almost always, the grain on wooden boards extends lengthwise.

How to Prep and Paint an Old Deck

There are some things to consider when working with older wooden decks. The deck painting process is still the same for an old deck, but there are a couple extra steps you need to address. For one, there may be a lot more imperfections in the aged wood, such as chips, splits, dents, and so forth. You may need to use a wood filler to fill out imperfections before priming. Any imperfections that you can see on the bare surface will show up in your paint or stain. In general, you want to make all surfaces smooth and flat to ensure the best paint job possible. Painting on top of old, cracked, unsanded, and chipped wood will not last a long time. If you don’t mind having imperfections show in your paint job, you can skip the wood filler, but you still need to sand, especially when dealing with older wood.

Cleaning Your Boards

After sanding, you want to go over your deck again and remove any debris, dust, and wood shavings to make sure your primer sticks onto the surface well. Start off with sweeping all over your deck again, and then start cleaning your deck. The most effective way to wash and clean your deck before painting is to get a deck washing solution, work it onto your boards, and use a pressure washer to remove everything. Once the surface has fully dried, you are ready to prime.

Priming the Deck

As with any painting job, it is also very important to prime the surface before applying paint or stain. Your deck boards need to be properly primed because they are constantly exposed to varying temperatures, moisture, humidity, and lots of foot traffic. Priming is especially important with wooden surfaces, since wood is very porous and absorbent of liquids that get on the surface. Although wood is porous, it is not consistently porous throughout all of the grain, and therefore may absorb the paint differently in areas, leading to an uneven paint job. Primer will close off small pores in the wood, allowing the paint or stain to hold better once applied. The primer will also ensure that the paint sticks properly, and will help you avoid any peeling, bubbling, or blistering in your finished paint job.

Painting Your Deck

Ok, so, you sanded, cleaned, and primed your boards. Now you’re ready to apply your paint or stain. The best way to go about this is to get a paint roller, and liberally apply the paint to your boards. Don’t use too much at a time though! You don’t want to waste the paint you paid for by spilling it all between your boards. Use a painting tray to remove excess paint from your roller. Once you go over the boards with a roller, grab a paint brush and get in the nooks and crannies, and paint in between the boards to spread the paint all over. Again, if possible, paint on all sides of the boards. It will extend the life of your paint job. Once you do two coats, you should now have a brand new deck! Softwoods absorb paint like a sponge, so a third coat might be needed for an even finish.

Staining vs. Painting

Frequently, people are torn between painting or staining a wooden deck, and aren’t sure which path they should go down. Here, we will briefly go over the pros and cons to deck painting vs. staining.

Painting a Wooden Deck

Deck paint has a lot of pros, and is a common choice for anyone repainting their wooden deck. For one, it is thicker, which helps protect the wood better, and can even hide imperfections in the wood if you couldn’t get everything out during the sanding stage. Paint is often the better choice for older decks, because of the thickness that can cover the old boards. Another advantage to painting versus staining is that there are a lot of color options in paint, and you can get just about any color you can imagine on your deck. Yet another advantage is that paint will last longer because of the thickness to it, and it is more durable. The only big drawback on deck paint is that it hides the natural look and beauty of the wood. Again, if you’re working with an older deck, this is generally not a concern and is the better way to go. A smaller setback is that dried deck paint can be a little slippery when wet, after raining for example.

Staining a Wooden Deck

Staining also has its advantages over paint. If you’re painting a new deck, or a pressure treated deck, staining may be the better option because it brings out the natural grain look of the wood. Stain is also easier to work with, since you don’t need to do two or three thick coats. Since stain is thinner, however, this leads to stain having a shorter life span than paint. Ultimately, there is no huge advantage to either, but it comes down to taste and what you’re working with. A newer deck is generally better with a stain, and an older deck is generally better with paint.

Tools and Cost

Whether you choose to stain or paint your deck, you will need certain tools and materials to get the job done. Everyone wants a ballpark estimate before starting, but it depends on what tools you have available to you prior to your project. Ultimately, you will need paint rollers, brushes, pans, paint/stain, primer, sandpaper, and a deck washing product. Prices vary on the brands, quantity, and types of paint/primer/stain that you end up purchasing.


If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of this project yourself, contact a local residential painter to get a free quote and have everything done for you, avoiding the stress of going through the process yourself.