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4 Mistakes When Staining Pressure Treated Wood

I’ve built a few decks in my time and I can assure you that staining a new deck made of pressure treated wood is in some ways easier than restoring an older deck, but it has some unique challenges that trip a lot of people up. So you’re not one of those people who have to go back and fix your deck let me share these common mistakes with you.

This post was sponsored by Cabot Stains. I’ve used a variety of their products on exterior wood projects and their history (since 1877) means they have more experience protecting exterior wood than anyone else.

Mistake #1 Not Seasoning the Wood

What is seasoning wood and how do you do it? I’m so glad you asked. If you’re using pressure treated lumber on your deck, which most people are these days unless you can afford the expense of an all Accoya deck then you need to season the wood before you can apply any stain or paint.

There is nothing you need to add to the wood to season it. You just have to wait a while, usually months, for the chemicals in pressure treated wood to dry out. How can you know if the wood is dry enough? There are two ways to test:

The Water Test

Spray a little water on the wood. If the water beads up on the surface, the wood hasn’t yet dried and you still need to wait.

Many factors can influence how quickly or slowly treated wood dries. Your climate and the exposure of the deck being the main variables. You can generally count on pressure treated wood to dry naturally within a couple months, but sometimes, the process can take longer in cool seasons or wet locations.

The Moisture Meter

Pressure treated wood will usually have a moisture content of more than 75% when it gets to the lumberyard, but it needs to be somewhere in the 12% to 16% range before you apply any kind of stain or finish to the wood. The water test above gives you a rough approximation, but a better option is to use a moisture meter to be absolutely sure.

Mistake #2 Choosing the Wrong Stain

There are countless wood stains on the market, but only certain ones are designed to be used on exterior pressure treated wood. I’ve seen people use interior wood stains designed for flooring on decks to their dismay too many times.

cabot deck stain

Of all the options I’ve used Cabot deck stains are in my opinion the best there is. Their products are easy to apply and pretty hard to mess up. For most exterior decks, Cabot’s oil-based Stain & Sealer is the best option. You can choose from semi-transparent, semi-solid, or solid options. The deep penetrating characteristics of an oil-based stain creates a finish that lives deep in the wood so it resists peeling as well as mold and mildew to stand up to the harshest weather.

For the pressure treated deck pictured here I used Cabot deck stain in a semi-solid form in their Oak Brown color. The semi-solid transparency helped hide the cheaper pine and transform the deck into something that looks more like high end cedar or oak in appearance, but keep the excellent rot-resistance of pressure treated wood I wanted.

Mistake #3 Rain & Sprinklers

Some finishes are rain ready in times as short as 30 minutes to an hour, but that is not the case with a quality oil-based wood stain like Cabot makes. This is not specific to pressure treated wood, but it still trips a lot of people up.

You need at least 24 hrs of dry weather when you apply exterior deck stain. If it rains or the sprinklers pound your deck while it is drying the water will penetrate the wood and push the stain out leaving a blotchy deck. Minor water damage can be resolved by spot sanding and reapplying, but a major rain storm while stain is drying will likely need to have the entire deck stripped, cleaned and have stain reapplied.

My best advice is to wait until you have a clear weather forecast at least 48 hours in advance and that you turn off your sprinklers after application for the same time period to protect your work.

Mistake #4 Applying Too Many Coats

Read the manufacturer’s recommendations. That is particularly tough for us guys, but it’s super important. Cabot recommends only 1 coat of stain be applied. Applying a second coat of stain often leads to poor adhesion, peeling of the stain, and an uneven sheen.

This applies to working in a pattern that allows you to keep a wet edge. If the stain is drying and then you are coming back to touch up sections it’s the same as applying a second coat to those sections. Working the stain while it’s wet and do all your touch ups right then. Don’t come back later or you’ll regret it.

Bonus Mistake #5 Not Mixing Stains

One more tip for you! If you’re staining a large area that requires more than 1 gallon of deck stain then you absolutely, without a doubt need to mix the whole batch of stains together. There are always slight differences in color between batches of stain or paint so to avoid this you should grab a big bucket and mix all the buckets together into one. Then you can pour out the mixture into it’s respective cans being sure every can will yield the same color and sheen.

What did I miss? What tips do you have for staining pressure treated wood? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you do have a deck stain project coming up I strongly recommend you check out Cabot deck stains. You really can’t go wrong with their products whether you are staining pressure treated wood on a new deck or restoring an old deck. They’ve got everything you need to get the job done right, of course that’s only if you avoid these 4 mistakes.

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9 thoughts on “4 Mistakes When Staining Pressure Treated Wood

  1. I picked up some pressure-treated wood for a pergola in Florida. Because I had limited time, I got home and stained the wood with cabot. A friend told me that by staining, wet, pressure-treated wood, it doesn’t allow the water to dry, and the wood can rot. It’s only been a week in humid Florida, should I sand the wood and give it some time to dry out?

  2. I have red oak with a natural stain inside that I’d like to match on my outdoor Pine Deck Boards. What color do you think would achieve this? Thanks

  3. We ripped up our wood for a screened in porch after using Behr deck over. We replaced the flooring with pressure treated wood and let it sit for a few months. We painted our railings and sanded the flooring where we needed to. We bought Behr Semi-Transparent stain and we are on our second coat. I believe it is water based. Which I was told is better. We have semi-sun on this side of the deck. We just put the second coat on and I see a lot of streaks. Any recommendations?

  4. What color of the Cabots should I use to get a dark mahogany color on treated pine? Its about 3 months since I built it but can’t seem to find the right color, most seem to be an orangey tint. Thanks

  5. I don’t understand your statement ‘One more tip for you! If you’re staining a large area that requires more than 1 gallon of deck stain then you absolutely, without a doubt need to mix the whole batch of stains together.’ To what ‘batch of stains’ are you referring?

    And do your suggestions apply to staining a redwood fence? Thank you.

    1. @Bruce Codding-Scott is referring to the need to mix the gallons of stain you purchased for your project together in one very large bucket. Obviously, you may need an exceptionally large bucket if your project is so large that you’ve purchased 5 one gallon cans of stain. This trick eliminates any potential for visible color variations if you were to open each gallon of stain and use it up before starting the next can of stain.

    2. Switching from one can to another may result in differences in colour. Different production batches may have variations.
      If your project requires more than one can, mix the contents of all the cans together…and mix well, solids can settle into a thick layer at the bottom of the can and may settle as you use the stain.

  6. HI Scott, My deck is two yrs old and looking tired and worn. I don’t think it was seasoned. The contractor used a white-ish stain on it that looked really good (for a while). My question is ….can I change my mind and use a darker wood stain on it? and how do I have it prepped to do that?

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