Your deck has seen better days and it’s time to reapply the stain. But how do you remove the old stain? Deck strippers are one of the easiest options and there are lots of great products to choose from. If you’ve never used one before, you may be a bit lost. Don’t worry, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to use deck strippers. It also includes some of my recommendations for the best products to help you bring your deck back to life.
Table of Contents
- How Do Deck Strippers Work?
- Can You Remove Paint, Stain, and Varnishes?
- The Different Types of Deck Strippers
- 10 Best Deck Strippers for Wooden Deck
- 1. Smart ‘n Easy Citrus Paint & Varnish Remover Gel
- 2. Heavy Duty Wood Stripper and Wood Cleaner Kit for Wood Decks
- 3. Klean Strip Premium Stripper
- 4. #1 Deck Wood Stain Stripper
- 5. Sunnyside Ready-Strip ADVANCED Paint & Varnish Remover
- 6. DEFY Exterior Wood Stain Stripper
- 7. Behr Wood Stain and Finish Stripper
- 8. Restore-A-Deck Wood Stain Stripper
- 9. Wolman DeckStrip Stain and Finish Remover
- 10. Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel
- How to Use a Deck Stripper to Strip a Wooden Deck?
- What are Some Alternative Ways to Strip a Wood Deck?
- Deck Stripper FAQs:
- Are Deck Strippers Eco-Friendly?
- Do You Just Wash Away Deck Stripper When Finished?
- Is Pressure Washing Recommended When Stripping a Deck?
- Should You Use a Deck Brightener After Stripping?
- Should You Use Deck Cleaner Before or After Stripping Deck?
- What Protective Gear Should You Wear When Using Deck Stripper?
- How Much Deck Stripper Do You Need?
- Final Thoughts
How Do Deck Strippers Work?
Deck strippers are designed to remove any finishes or dirt from the wood, effectively bringing it back to the bare wood. There are a lot of different types of deck strippers available and they all work slightly differently. However, most deck strippers will penetrate deep into the wood and break down any varnish, so it can easily be rinsed off afterwards.
Although the ingredients differ between products, you will often find Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Percarbonate and Sodium Hypochlorite in stripping products as these are effective at breaking down substances so they no longer bond with the wood.
Deck strippers also cut through any mold and mildew and they open up the pores of the wood again. This means that the deck is ready to be finished again once all of the deck stripper has been rinsed off.
Can You Remove Paint, Stain, and Varnishes?
Yes, deck strippers will dissolve most finishes that you put on the decking. However, they work by penetrating the pores of the wood, so they may not be as effective on paint or varnish. Paint sits on the surface of the wood and forms a barrier, so the deck stripper will not absorb as easily. It will still work once it starts dissolving the finish on the surface, but it may take longer than it would if you were just removing stain, which soaks into the wood instead of forming a barrier over the top.
The Different Types of Deck Strippers
Solvent-based Deck Stripper
Solvent-based deck strippers work by using strong solvents to chemically dissolve old stain, paint, or varnish. They are very effective at cleaning the deck, but they can be quite toxic. The solvents used to strip the deck are very harsh and they can cause damage to plants in the yard. They’re not great for your health if you breathe them in either. So, be careful when using solvent-based strippers and take precautions to protect your yard.
Common examples of solvent-based deck strippers include:
- Methylene Chloride (this is a very toxic chemical that is illegal in many countries, so is best avoided)
Caustic Deck Stripper
Caustic deck strippers work in a similar way to solvent-based ones. They dissolve the old stain, but they also change it into another substance, which is much easier to wash away. Although not quite as toxic as things like Methylene Chloride, caustic deck strippers can be quite harsh too, so you need to take the same precautions.
Common examples of caustic deck strippers include:
- Oxalic acid
- Sodium or Potassium Hydroxide (Lye)
Biochemical Deck Stripper
In more recent years, manufacturer’s have created biochemical deck strippers that are designed to be less toxic. They are made using a combination of different substances and there is a lot more variation between brands. Biochemical deck strippers are better for the environment and your health, but they are not as strong. They still work well, but you usually have to leave them on the deck for longer before rinsing them off.
Ingredients in biochemical deck strippers include, but are not limited to:
- Terpenes (usually taken from citrus fruits or pine)
- Dimethylsulfoxide (taken from wood-pulp extract)
- Lactic acid
- Citric acid
- Soy oil
10 Best Deck Strippers for Wooden Deck
1. Smart ‘n Easy Citrus Paint & Varnish Remover Gel
If you have a paint or varnish on your deck, Smart ‘n’ Easy Citrus Paint and Varnish Remover Gel is one of the best ways to get it off. It’s a very tough stripper that will cut through up to 15 layers of thick paint. It works on all kinds of paint (oil-based, latex, acrylic, water-based), and rigid varnishes. This is an all-purpose product that can be used on a variety of materials including stone, brick, glass, tile, and wood, of course.
The great thing about this deck stripper is that it’s made from simple, non-toxic ingredients derived from citrus. It is different from a lot of other strippers because it’s much thicker. That’s not a bad thing, though, because you can easily apply it with a roller and leave it without having to worry about drips and runs.
You will need to leave it for 24 hours, checking every now and again to see if the paint is starting to come away. Once it has started to crackle and bubble up, you can use a scraper to get rid of the bulk of it before cleaning with water. Alternatively, you can blast it all off with a pressure washer.
If you have an old deck that has been painted a lot of times, this stripper gel will make short work of it. However, it isn’t quite as effective on stain and you’d be better off with a different stripper that absorbs into the wood more.
2. Heavy Duty Wood Stripper and Wood Cleaner Kit for Wood Decks
This Heavy Duty Wood Stripper and Wood Cleaner Kit is a two-part treatment that will completely revitalize an old deck and prepare it for new finish. Sometimes, a deck that has been neglected for a long time needs a more drastic solution to bring it back to life. This stripper is caustic, so it can be quite toxic and care needs to be taken with it. That said, it is incredibly strong and it will make short work of any type of stain or paint on the deck in a very short time.
It comes in a powder, which can be mixed with water and then applied with a garden sprayer or a mop. It only needs to be left half an hour to cut through any existing finish, and you need to keep an eye on it because you aren’t supposed to let it dry or it can damage the decking. Once it has done its work, simply rinse it off with a hose or pressure washer and your deck will be stripped bare.
This kit also comes with a wood cleaning solution to use after the stripper. This wood brightener (also called a neutralizer) is an acidic substance which neutralizes the caustic cleaner and makes the wood more acidic, causing the pores to open up and the grain to become more pronounced. Once you have applied this brightener, your old deck will look brand new and you’re ready to apply another finish.
When your deck is relatively new, you only need a mild stripper to remove a layer of finish and then you can reapply. But if you are working with an old deck, this two-part system will completely transform it.
3. Klean Strip Premium Stripper
Klean Strip Premium Stripper is a multi-purpose stripper that is ideal for removing surface coatings from your deck. It is not the best choice for stain because it is not designed to absorb into the wood, but if you have paint or varnish on the top, this will cut through it easily. This is a solvent-based stripper, which can be used on wood, masonry, and metal, so it’s a great thing to have on hand anyway.
The biggest bonus of using this is that it’s so quick. You only need to leave it on for 15 minutes before the paint starts coming away. However, it doesn’t bubble up as much as other strippers, so it requires a little bit more elbow grease to remove the paint. That said, it will easily dissolve years worth of old finishes that have built up in layers.
There is a putty knife that comes with the stripper, but if you are working on a deck, I would avoid it. It’s a metal scraper that will scratch and chip your deck if you aren’t careful. It’s safer to use a plastic scraper instead if you want to protect your decking.
This is the best stripper to go for if you have a painted or varnished deck and you want a quick, effective solution.
4. #1 Deck Wood Stain Stripper
#1 Deck Wood Stain Stripper is specifically formulated for use on your deck (it can be used for fences too), and it will easily take off any existing stain or sealer. However, it will not remove paint or anything that forms a film over the top of the wood. It won’t work on very dark, solid color stains either, so make sure you know what the existing stain is before you get started.
If it’s a deck that you inherited when you moved into a new house, for example, you may not want to use this because you can’t be sure that it will remove the finish. It is also not great at removing mold and mildew stains, but they do sell separate deck cleaning and brightening products. If you have a lot of mildew, use one of these after the stripper.
Application is easiest with a pump sprayer because this is quite a thin product. Once you have given the deck a good covering, leave it for 30-60 minutes and then rinse it off. You’ll get the best results with a pressure washer but you can use a hose if you don’t have one, it will just take a bit longer.
This is one of the best strippers for basic stain and you get great coverage, so if you’ve only used semi-transparent stains on your deck in the past, this is the one to go for. But if there are darker stains or paints on the deck, you should consider a different stripper.
5. Sunnyside Ready-Strip ADVANCED Paint & Varnish Remover
The Sunnyside Ready-Strip ADVANCED Paint and Varnish Remover is a heavy-duty, all-purpose stripper that works great on old decks with multiple coats of finish on them. The thick gel-like formula will make short work of paint, stain, and varnish. It will take off up to 7 layers of finish in one application. However, you can reapply if you have a thicker coating to remove. This is a good one to use on a deck that has been refinished over and over without stripping between each layer because it will take off anything.
You can apply it quickly using a roller and it will start lifting the paint in an hour. However, that doesn’t mean you can take it off after an hour, especially when working on a deck where the stain is soaked into the wood. It will take closer to 6-8 hours before it has completely removed the stain, so be prepared to be patient. Luckily, the color changes to an off-white once it has stripped all of the finish, so you don’t have to play a guessing game.
6. DEFY Exterior Wood Stain Stripper
You may have concerns about using strong deck strippers that give off a lot of fumes and could damage your lawn and surrounding plants in your yard. In that case, give DEFY Exterior Wood Stain Stripper a try. It’s a biodegradable stripper that removes oil and water-based stains brilliantly, with a low VOC formula.
This stripper is ready-mixed and easily applied with a sprayer. Apply liberally because it soaks in very well and penetrates deep into the wood, removing stain as well as dirt and grime. It’s quite affordable considering the coverage (although powder based strippers are usually cheaper).
It only needs to sit for 15-30 minutes before you can rinse it off with a pressure washer or hose. Just bear in mind that you need to use the DEFY Deck Brightener afterwards to neutralize the stripper, but it’s worth it because you will get excellent results with the combination of the two.
Although this won’t work on paint or solid stain, it’s one of the best choices for removing semi-transparent stains.
7. Behr Wood Stain and Finish Stripper
Behr Wood Stain and Finish Stripper is designed to remove exterior latex, oil-based and 100% acrylic coatings from wooden decking. It is a relatively thick mixture, so you can pour it straight onto the deck and spread it out with a roller or a foam pad brush. Once the old finish starts lifting off (after around 45 minutes) you can use a stiff bristled brush to scrub it away before rinsing off the residue.
This is another biodegradable stripper, which is great, but that does mean it isn’t as tough as other products on this list. If you have one or two coats of stain on a relatively new deck, this Behr stripper will work just fine. However, it’s not the best product for older decking with lots of layers of stain on. In this case, you’ll find that you have to do multiple applications to get all of the stain out.
8. Restore-A-Deck Wood Stain Stripper
Restore-A-Deck is another powder stripper that covers a lot of decking when diluted (up to 1000 square feet). It’s also another biodegradable option, although it isn’t advisable to get it all over your plants. A great tip is to wet the lawn and plants beforehand so any stripper that does splash on them will be diluted enough that it doesn’t do any damage.
Aside from solid paint and acrylic stain, this stripper will take most finishes off your deck very effectively. Once it is diluted, you can spray it on with a sprayer or a pressure washer and leave it for a short while before spraying again to remove all of the old stain. It will need to be neutralized afterwards but this is the first step in their 3-part system to completely restore your old deck in a single day.
The biggest benefit of this stripper has to be the price. When diluted, it works out much cheaper than almost any other stripper you will find on the market. You can also use less water to create a more concentrated solution, which will tackle tougher stains and thicker layers of finish.
9. Wolman DeckStrip Stain and Finish Remover
Wolman DeckStrip Stain and Finish Remover is a universal deck stain remover that will strip all types of wood stain. This is another product that works incredibly – it only needs 15 minutes before the stain is dissolved and you can wash it away. It comes ready mixed and can be put straight into a garden sprayer and applied to a dry deck.
Acrylic wood stains can be quite difficult to remove, but Wolman DeckStrip Stain and Finish Remover is one of the best strippers for them. Other strippers outperform it, so if you are trying to get rid of non-acrylic stain, use something else. But if it’s acrylic, try this one, just be prepared to do a few applications.
10. Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel
Citristrip Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel is another eco-friendly, gel stripper with a nice citrus odor instead of harsh fumes that you find with some products. It works well on all types of paint and varnish, taking off lots of layers at once, and it works on lots of different surfaces. It goes on well with a roller and you will notice the paint or varnish start to bubble up quite quickly. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s completely ready to remove and you will have to wait a few hours, at least, before you start scraping it off.
Just like the Smart ‘n’ Easy stripper, this product is more useful for removing paint and varnish that sits on the surface, rather than stains that absorb into the wood itself.
How to Use a Deck Stripper to Strip a Wooden Deck?
1. Prepare the Deck
First, prepare the deck for the stripper. Remove all furniture and then sweep away any debris with a broom. If the deck has seen better days and there is a lot of moss growing or piled up wet leaves, etc. you should scrape all of this away first. Some deck strippers work best when applied to damp wood, so check the guidelines and, if necessary, hose down the deck to wet it.
2. Protect Surrounding Plants
Even eco-friendly deck strippers can do some damage to plants in your yard, so you should always protect them. Wetting the lawn and plants nearby can help to dilute any runoff and stop it from damaging them. If you are using solvent-based or caustic deck strippers, put down some sheets to completely cover your lawn and plants.
3. Apply Deck Stripper
It’s time to apply your deck stripper. Start by reading the directions because every product is slightly different. If you are using a powdered stripper, dilute it with the correct amount of water. If you are using a ready-mixed product, you can get started straight away. Thin, watery strippers are best applied with a garden sprayer, moving slowly across the deck and giving everywhere a good covering. Don’t spray it on too thin or it will not absorb properly into the wood and strip all of the stain underneath.
Rollers are best when using a thick, gel stripper. Simply pour some out and then roll up and down the deck boards, making sure to get a good, even layer over the top.
Many deck strippers need to stay wet while they work. Gel strippers tend to hold moisture easily and can sit for up to 24 hours or more without drying out. Thinner products are less forgiving and if you let them sit for a while, you may need to spray it with a little water every now and again to keep it damp.
4. Let it Work
Now all you have to do is let it work. Always refer to the instructions here because the time can vary. As a general rule, strippers with harsh chemicals will work quicker than eco-friendly ones. You should see the finish start to bubble up or dissolve, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready to come off, so make sure you follow the guidelines. If you are unsure, try cleaning a small patch in the corner to see how it comes up.
5. Clean the Deck
When you have given it the right amount of time, you can clean the deck. Most thinner products will absorb into the deck and dissolve all of the stain, then you can blast it with a pressure washer to clean it off. If you don’t have a pressure washer, a hose and a stiff bristled brush can be used instead.
When you are cleaning paint or varnish that sits on the surface, you may need to use a scraper to take it off. Once you have removed the bulk of it, you can then hose it down to clean the rest.
6. Reapply (if necessary)
Sometimes, one application is not enough to remove all of the old finish. If you notice some areas that are not completely clean, simply repeat steps 3-5 before moving on.
7. Use a Neutralizer
When the deck is completely clean and dry, you should consider using a neutralizer. Some products specify that this is a necessary step, but even if they don’t, it’s worthwhile. You apply deck brightener in much the same way as stripper. Mix it according to the instructions (if necessary) and then spray it on. Let it sit for a few minutes and rinse it off. This will neutralize the stripper and open up the pores of the wood, so the grain comes out and the deck is ready for staining again.
What are Some Alternative Ways to Strip a Wood Deck?
Deck strippers are not the only way to remove old stains. You usually use a pressure washer to clean the deck after applying a stripper, but you can use it on its own too. If you only have a few layers of stain and the deck is in relatively good condition, pressure washing alone may be enough to remove it all.
However, you need to be careful that you don’t damage the deck by putting the pressure too high. Set the pressure washer at around 1500 psi and start at the edge, to peel up the stain. If you find that this pressure is not enough to clean the stain, don’t just turn it up because you can damage the wood. You will just need to use a stripper to loosen the stain first.
You can also sand the deck to get rid of old finishes. This is a much more labor intensive option, but it can help you open up the pores of the wood and prepare it to take new stain. It’s also good if there is a lot of mold and mildew on the deck and you want to bring it right back and start again.
You’ll need to do 2 passes on the deck with an orbital sander to get it ready. Start with a 20-50 grit sandpaper to strip off the top layer and remove most of the stain, then go over it again with 60-80 to smooth the surface. After you have sanded, clean the deck with a pressure washer or hose to remove dust. Once it is dry, you’re ready to stain again.
Deck Stripper FAQs:
Are Deck Strippers Eco-Friendly?
It depends which one you buy. The caustic and solvent-based ones are not great for the environment, but there are a lot of great biochemical ones out there that are. The citrus-based ones, in particular, are very mild and they still do a great job.
Do You Just Wash Away Deck Stripper When Finished?
Yes, the deck stripper will dissolve all of the old finish and lift it from the wood so you can wash it all away. This does mean that it can get quite messy, especially if you’re stripping lots of layers of paint or varnish. It’s important that you wash the deck thoroughly so there is no remaining residue when you apply new stain or it can ruin the finish.
Is Pressure Washing Recommended When Stripping a Deck?
Yes. In some cases, you can use a pressure washer on its own to remove the old stain. A pressure washer is also the easiest way to clean the deck when using stripping products. That said, excessive pressure can rip up the wood if you are not careful. So, use a pressure washer but always keep the pressure at 1500 psi or lower, and keep the nozzle at least 3 inches away from the surface.
Should You Use a Deck Brightener After Stripping?
Yes, I would recommend it, especially on an old deck. Even though the stripper removes the old stain, the wood itself can still be a bit faded and tired looking. The deck brightener neutralizes the deck stripper but it also brings out the grain of the wood and opens the pores right up. Ultimately, this means that the finish will be much better when you apply new stain to the deck.
Should You Use Deck Cleaner Before or After Stripping Deck?
Use your deck cleaner after stripping the deck. There is no sense using it before because you will make a lot of mess when removing the old stain. The cleaner essentially gets rid of anything that the deck stripper has failed to deal with (like mold and mildew).
Read Related: How to Properly Clean and Maintain Your Ipe Wood Deck
What Protective Gear Should You Wear When Using Deck Stripper?
Deck strippers can be quite harsh on the skin, especially caustic ones. Protective equipment is advised, even if you are using eco-friendly strippers. Wear gloves when handling and applying the stripper. Some safety goggles are good when spraying the deck down afterwards, in case any of it splashes up into your eyes. If you are using very strong deck strippers, you may even want to wear a respirator to protect you against the fumes.
How Much Deck Stripper Do You Need?
This depends on the size of your deck. Before you start the project, measure up your deck and determine how many square feet you have. The average deck is around 300-400 square feet, but yours will likely be different. Once you have an idea of the size, you can then look at the coverage estimations on the products.
Most products will tell you how much they can cover but, bear in mind, if you are stripping dark stains or there are lots of layers, the coverage will be lower because you’ll need a thicker layer. Some decks will require multiple applications, so you need to double your estimations.
If you are concerned about costs, buying powdered deck stripper and diluting it will give you more coverage per dollar than ready-mixed options. Gel deck strippers tend to give you the least coverage.
When you are staining your deck, you get far better results if you properly strip it beforehand. Sometimes, pressure washing is enough to remove old stains. You can also sand it, but that’s a lot of work. Deck strippers are ideal for getting rid of years worth of old finishes and restoring the wood to its natural state. This gives you a blank slate for staining again. All of the products on this list work brilliantly, the most important thing is that you give it enough time to work properly before rinsing it off.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.