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Should I Sand My Deck Before Staining?

Sanding a deck can be a useful technique for increasing your deck's curb appeal and smoothing out a rough surface. While it may seem as though sanding a deck is necessary or even a good idea before staining a deck, some considerations have to be made before deciding if sanding your deck is the right idea. In this article, we will take a look at the benefits of sanding a deck before staining, the potential issues with sanding a deck before staining, and our general opinion on what is the right call to make for your deck based on a few hypothetical scenarios.

stained deck
A freshly stained deck in Mukwanago, WI

Benefits of Sanding

  • Smoothness: Sanding can be an incredibly useful technique for smoothing out a wooden surface. Sanding is standard practice on most fine woodworking tasks such as furniture building. This smoothness on a deck can be great if you have an uneven or rough deck and often walk on it with bare feet. Splinters should be avoided and sanding can help greatly with that. 

  • Curb appeal: A smooth deck can look nice after a fresh coat of stain is applied. It will generally look even, which is something that homeowners picking a solid stain are generally looking for. On a semi-transparent stain it can also be excellent for removing the delamination lignin layer (the gray old wood on the surface) and revealing the beautiful wood grain hidden underneath. This can help the deck to look its best immediately after staining.

  • Leveling: Old solid stain will peel in some areas and not others. At the threshold between the peeling areas and the stain that is still stuck on, there will be about a millimeter difference in height. While this may seem small it is noticeable and sanding just on that threshold can level out the height difference and make a smooth transition between the two areas that is unnoticeable.

  • Stain Removal: Removing old stain can be a real pain. If chemical methods do not work, sanding can be a useful tool to remove the old stain. Fair warning though, it takes a long, long time to fully remove old stain by sanding. For more on this, read our article on stain removal.

EcoWash Deck Staining
EcoWash staff staining a deck

Issues with Sanding

  • Clogging of Wood Pores: This is our primary issue with sanding a deck before staining. As sanding is an abrasive process that removes materials, fine dust particles are created. These fine particles can get pushed into the wood with the downward pressure applied from hand sanding and clog the wood. This is a huge problem as stain is a material that works by absorbing into the wood and if it cannot be absorbed it will not last nearly as long before peeling. 

  • Time:  Sanding is incredibly time-intensive if done to a whole deck. Spot sanding leveling areas is not nearly as time-intensive and is more desirable in this aspect. 

  • Thinning of boards: This is not a major concern in the vast majority of situations but oversanding repeatedly can lead to deck boards thinning out over time. A deck board is usually an inch thick at first and repeated sanding over time can thin that board out dramatically to the point where some areas could be less safe for multiple people to be standing on.

  • Cost: When hiring a professional, consider the time they are working and their hourly rate. Sanding is time-intensive and fully sanding a deck is not something that we think is worth the money. Spot sanding can be quite valuable and worth it. For more on cost, read our article on the cost of deck staining.


  • New deck: A new deck should not be sanded before staining unless the wood is very rough. 

  • Old deck with flaking solid stain: Old stain should be scraped off and spot sanding should occur to fix leveling issues.

  • 5-year-old deck with transparent stain: Spot sanding is okay but anything more than that should be avoided to prevent clogging of the wood pores before restaining. 

before/after deck stain
In general, sanding is optional.

Our General Opinion

In general, spot sanding is a useful tool to help levelling issues with old stain, to smooth out a rough deck to avoid splinters on bare feet, or to remove old stain. Outside of these specific use cases, sanding should be avoided as much as possible to prevent clogging the wood pores as that can hinder the stain adhesion and lead to a peeling deck much sooner than normal.

If you are a homeowner looking for advice or help with a deck staining project, reach out to EcoWash today.


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