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Why Is My Deck Sticky After Staining?

Some deck stains, particularly oil-based stains, can feel sticky or tacky after application. In this article, we will explain why this happens, how to prevent it when you stain your deck next, and how to remedy the situation if you currently have a sticky deck.

Why Does Oil-Based Stain Get Sticky?

Oil-based stains can feel sticky on your deck for several reasons:

Penetration: If the stain hasn't fully penetrated the wood, it can remain on the surface, slightly pool up in areas, and dry on the surface of the wood, resulting in a sticky feeling. This can happen if the wood wasn't properly cleaned, or prepared, or if the stain was applied too thickly.

Humidity and Temperature: High humidity or colder temperatures can slow down the drying and absorption process of oil-based stains into the wood, causing the stain to remain sticky. High humidity does this as the wood will have more moisture within its grains, slowing down absorption. Low temperatures may cause this as it constricts the wood grain, leading to the stain taking longer to get into the grain. Hot and dry weather is the way to go for oil-based deck staining, although that is hard to come by in many areas of the Eastern US where humidity is almost always high during the summer months.

Excessive Application: Applying too much stain can lead to a buildup on the surface, which can remain sticky even after drying. This could be from too many coats or too thick of coats. A thick first coat is generally fine, but second coats should be much thinner and carefully applied to prevent buildup beyond what the deck can absorb. This will depend on the wood and conditions though, so please be vigilant when applying oil-based stain.

Inadequate Drying Time: Oil-based stains typically require more time to dry compared to water-based stains. It may feel sticky if the stain hasn't been given enough time to dry properly before walking or second coat application.

Low Quality: Lower-quality oil-based stains may contain additives or impurities that affect their drying properties, leading to a sticky finish.

Oil Based Deck Before After
Oil-Based Deck Stain Project In West Bend, WI

How To Prevent Stickiness

Thinning the Stain: Thinning it with a compatible thinner according to the manufacturer's recommendations is useful if you are concerned the deck stain may be too thick. This can help it penetrate the wood better and dry more evenly. Common stain thinners are products like denatured alcohol, xylol, or mineral spirits. Any alcohol-based thinner should work fine as long as you mix it well.

Proper Surface Preparation: Ensure the deck surface is clean and free from dirt, debris, algae, or mold before applying the stain. Proper surface preparation can help the stain penetrate the wood more effectively. Pressure washing is a great preparatory step for all deck staining, but we advise waiting a few days to a week between pressure washing and applying oil-based stain to a deck. This is because the water in the wood needs to be fully evaporated before stain application. Oil and water do not mix.

Use a Different Stain: Use a different type or brand of stain that may dry more effectively in your particular environmental conditions or on your deck. Water-based stain can be applied on top of older oil-based stain and it is far more foolproof during application. For more on this, read our article on Oil-Based Deck Stains and Alternatives.

How To Fix A Deck That Is Sticky

Just Wait: Give it a few hours or a few days. Allow more time for the stain to dry completely. This might involve waiting for several days, depending on the environmental conditions. 

Apply Mineral Spirits: Put on a glove, dip a rag in some mineral spirits, and get scrubbing on those sticky areas. Mineral spirits help to break up that stickiness and remove that excess oil-based stain on the top of the wood without damaging the stain underneath that has been properly absorbed.

Topcoat with a Sealer: Applying a clear sealer over the stained surface can help to mitigate the stickiness and provide additional protection for the wood, although this is a last-ditch fix if nothing else will work.

Oil-based stains are tricky but they can be beautiful and long-lasting when done right. If you are a homeowner looking for assistance in staining your deck or in need of some advice on your current deck, please reach out to EcoWash today.


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