How Do I Know if My Deck is Dry Enough to Stain?

August 4, 2023

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It's finally summer, and you're eager to revive your weathered deck with a fresh new stain. But before breaking out the brushes, you need to make sure the wood is actually ready for staining. Nothing worse than wasting time and money on staining a damp deck! 

So how do I know if my deck is dry enough to stain? You can do the tape test by sticking down adhesive tape and seeing if the underside feels damp when removed after 1-2 hours. Also, use a moisture meter to check for a reading of 15% or less before applying stain. 

Read on for the key signs that will give you the green light for staining success.

Check the Wood's Appearance

If your deck is freshly washed or has endured recent rain, give it a good visual inspection first. Look for any dark or discolored patches which indicate lingering moisture. Also, check for light gray shading, fuzziness, or raised grain, which signals the wood fibers are still swollen with water. If the boards have a uniformly weathered appearance and feel rough to the touch, you're good to proceed.

Run your hand over the surface too. If it comes away dusty, you have a dry deck! If it feels cool or damp at all, wait longer. And watch for water droplets forming underneath when you press down - another red flag for excess moisture. Basically, if your deck looks thirsty, it's ready for stain!

Do the Tape Test

Here's a more definitive test to confirm the deck is adequately cured. Take a piece of plastic tape or adhesive bandage and firmly stick it to several areas around the deck. Leave it for 1-2 hours, then come back and remove it. If the underside of the tape feels damp at all, the deck is still too wet. Any staining product will fail to penetrate and properly bond.

If the removed tape is completely dry, though, you can rejoice knowing your deck is ready for staining! The key is patience here to allow the tape ample time to detect any lingering moisture under the wood fibers.

How Do I Know if My Deck is Dry Enough to Stain? Check Moisture Content

For the most precise readout, use a moisture meter to numerically measure water content in the boards. Look for a reading of 15% moisture content or less before staining. Higher than 18%, and you risk trapping moisture underneath the stain, leading to potential peeling, cracking, or mildew.

If you don't own a meter, try the quick "paper towel test." Tape a paper towel securely to the deck for 24 hours. If the towel is wet or discolored underneath, moisture is still evaporating out. Let the deck dry longer before applying stain.

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Mind the Weather

Even if your deck feels dry, the weather itself can dictate your timing. Avoid staining immediately after rain or during periods of high humidity. Moist air will slow drying time and interfere with proper stain absorption. Ideal conditions are low humidity, moderate temperature, and no imminent rain forecast.

Also, keep in mind that morning dew can dampen your "dry" deck, so schedule staining later in the day once any overnight moisture has evaporated. Paying attention to weather trends will ensure your deck is ready for staining the day of.

Be Patient!

It can be tempting to rush into restaining your weathered deck. But patience pays off when it comes to waiting out proper dry times. Most pros recommend letting new wood dry for 6+ months before staining. For refinishing, allow 2-3 sunny days after power washing to be safe. Remember, porous deck boards can retain water underneath for longer than you expect.

Test questionable areas to be 100% sure of dryness. And don't let eagerness cloud your judgment - only a thoroughly dry deck will allow stain to properly set up. A little extra wait is worth it to avoid a peeling mess down the road!

Consult the Stain Directions

Finally, read the directions on your selected stain for any specific dryness instructions. Different stain types have varying allowances for acceptable moisture content. Some newer water-based formulas allow staining freshly washed or damp wood. But oil-based products still require totally dry deck surfaces. When in doubt, go by the stain manufacturer's guidelines for best results.

Conclusion

Well, there you have it - six definitive ways to determine if your deck is dry enough for satisfactory staining. Just remember to check the overall appearance, do the tape test, measure moisture content, consider the weather, exercise patience, and follow stain directions. With the right prep, you can look forward to kicking back on a refinished deck and enjoying your handiwork this summer!

About RI Deck & Patio Builders

Are you searching for top-rated deck services that are affordable and long-lasting? RI Deck & Patio Builders offers just that! Call (401) 756-1155 to speak with a custom-decking contractor and get your project underway. We provide 100% FREE design consultations and estimates.

FAQs

Does a deck have to be completely dry before staining?

Traditional oil-based stains require the wood to be fully cured and dry before application; otherwise, moisture can become trapped underneath the stain. However, newer water-based stains are more forgiving and can be applied to damp or freshly washed wood without bonding issues. Always check the manufacturer's recommendations, as some water-based products still need maximum 18% moisture content. Testing small sections is wise to ensure proper adhesion and curation of any stain type if the deck's dryness is questionable.

Is 24 hours enough time for a deck to dry before staining?

Simply waiting 24 hours is usually not enough time for a deck to adequately dry out after power washing before applying stain. A minimum of 2-3 full sunny days is recommended by most professionals to allow the wood fibers to completely dry out. Porous deck boards can retain moisture deeper down for longer than you may expect after cleaning or rain. It's best to err on the side of letting more time pass and to test questionable areas with a moisture meter to verify the deck has reached the ideal 15% moisture content or less. Patience pays off when allowing proper dry times before staining.

How do I know when my deck is dry?

Visually inspect the deck boards for a uniformly weathered, dusty appearance with no dark patches or raised grain which indicates moisture. Feel the boards all over and across the grain - they should have a rough texture with no damp or cool spots. Perform a tape test by adhering plastic tape to the wood for 1-2 hours, then check if the underside of the removed tape is dry. Use a moisture meter to test different areas - look for readings of 15% moisture content or less for dry enough wood to absorb the stain. If in doubt, allow more dry time before attempting to stain a potentially damp deck.

How long after rain can I stain my deck?

Staining a deck after rain requires extra dry time for the wood to fully cure, as moisture can linger under the surface. Professionals recommend waiting at least 2-3 sunny days after rain or power washing before applying stain. Less humid weather will accelerate drying time compared to damp, muggy conditions after rainfall. Test questionable sections with a moisture meter and look for readings below 15% moisture content before staining post-rain. Patience and taking moisture readings allow you to ensure the deck is adequately dry for staining after a rainy period.

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