Last summer, I decided to take on the project of staining my backyard deck. I had some old faded gray wood that was badly in need of sprucing up. After doing some research online and trips to the hardware store, I settled on a nice rich walnut stain color and was ready to get started.
The staining process went smoothly at first. I cleaned and prepped the deck boards properly and began applying the stain with a brush. However, as the stain dried and I got about halfway through the job, I stepped back and instantly saw something was wrong. The color was not the deep brown walnut shade I had picked out – it was much too red and orange toned. That’s when I realized in horror that I must have accidentally purchased and used the wrong stain color!
Confirming I Used the Wrong Deck Stain Color
My first step was to closely examine the can of stain I had used and compare it to the original color sample chip from the store. When I put them side by side, it was clear the colors didn’t match at all. The sample showed the dark coffee brown I was expecting, while the color on the can was labeled “rustic mahogany” – definitely a noticeable reddish hue.
I also thought back to the color I was aiming for when I started this project. I specifically wanted a stain that would give my deck a look of rich, warm walnut wood. The color developing on my deck was too orangey red, and not at all the espresso brown shade I had envisioned. That’s when I was fully confident I had accidentally used the stain color wrong for this project.
Acting Quickly to Strip New Stain Before It Dried
At this point, about 40% of my deck boards were stained with the incorrect color. Thankfully the rest still needed staining, so I knew I had to act quickly before the wrong stain dried and cured on the wood. If I had let it cure completely, it would have been much harder to remove.
For the boards that were still wet with fresh stain, I worked fast to strip it off before it dried. I used a chemical deck stain stripper, applying a thick coat according to the directions. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I was able to easily scrub off the wet stain using a stiff bristle brush.
On sections that had dried but not fully cured, I used 60 grit sandpaper to aggressively scuff off the stain. It took some rigorous sanding and elbow grease, but I was able to abrasively remove the partially dried walnut stain and get down to bare wood again.
Trying a Deck Brightener to Lighten the Dried Stain
For the deck boards where the stain had already dried and cured, I knew I needed a different approach. I didn’t want to have to sand down the entire surface, so I looked for other options.
I came across deck brightener products, designed to remove gray weathered wood and discoloration. I picked one up from the hardware store, making sure to get the heavy duty strength formula. Before applying it across the whole deck, I tested it on a small inconspicuous section first.
I followed the deck brightener directions, letting it sit for 15 minutes after applying it to the wood. After rinsing it off, I could see it lightened the reddish color quite a bit. I was happy with the small test patch, so I went ahead and treated the rest of the deck with the brightener solution. It took some scrubbing, but it removed a decent amount of the reddish tint from the dried stain.
Bleaching the Deck to Further Lighten the Stain
After using the deck brightener, the color was significantly lighter but still had some remaining reddish hue. I decided to try using bleach to strip more of the color from the deck.
I started by wetting down the wood and applying full strength bleach. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I rinsed it off and could see the bleach removed more color, but not as much as I hoped. So I repeated the process twice more to maximum strength bleach was able to pull from the wood.
With each bleach application, I was careful to fully rinse and neutralize the wood after letting it sit. Bleach can be harsh on wood fibers, so it’s important not to let it dry on the deck boards. But ultimately, the triple bleaching process successfully removed most of the remaining red tone.
Switching to More Aggressive Sanding Methods
At this point, there was only a faint hint of reddish color left on the deck. But I really wanted to get down to fresh bare wood before re-staining. So I knew I had to pull out the big guns in the sanding department.
I started with 60 grit paper, but it was taking away the stain too slowly. So I switched to an extremely coarse 40 grit sandpaper. I attached it to my orbital sander and went to town aggressively sanding the deck boards.
The 40 grit abrasion really did the trick, virtually eliminating what was left of the red stain color. But I won’t lie, it was extremely labor intensive. I broke a sweat sanding for hours under the blazing sun. And I went through countless sandpaper sheets in the process. But ultimately, it achieved the raw wood I was after.
Staining the Deck With Solid Opaque Stain
Once I had gotten the deck back to square one with bare wood, it was time to pick a new stain color and get it coated. Having learned my lesson, I was extremely meticulous about choosing the right stain this time.
I decided to go with a solid or opaque deck stain. The opaque pigment would help hide any remaining hints of the red tone bleed through. And it provides greater coverage than semi-transparent stains.
For the color, I chose a lighter golden oak shade. I knew the remnants of the previous stain were still in the wood, so I accounted for that by going lighter. This helped the inevitable underlying redness not affect the end result as much.
Using a combination of stain additive and 2 coats of the solid golden oak stain, I was able to achieve a beautiful consistent finish across the entire deck. It masked any traces of the botched reddish stain and gave my weathered deck new life.
Important Tips Learned From My Mistake
As frustrating as this experience was at the time, it provided some valuable lessons on staining a deck properly. Here are the key tips I’ll keep in mind for future projects:
- Always double check the stain color before you start – compare the can to the original sample.
- Work quickly as soon as you realize you’ve used the wrong stain color.
- Strip wet stain right away before it dries.
- Test any removal products on a small area first.
- Be prepared for major time and work if the stain has already dried.
In the end, you can recover from using the wrong deck stain color. But it’s far easier to avoid the mistake in the first place! Applying these lessons will help me prevent this headache next time I stain a deck.
Staining my deck the wrong color was certainly a disaster at first. I felt defeated after putting in so much effort, only to end up with a deck that looked like mahogany rather than the dark walnut I intended. But ultimately, I was able to strip, brighten, bleach, and sand my way back to bare wood again.
While I wouldn’t recommend staining your deck the wrong color, it is possible to fix it through persistence and some hardcore removal techniques. It required many steps and far more work than simply staining it properly the first time. But in the end, I was able to revive my deck with a beautiful new stain that finally gave me the look I wanted. This experience taught me to double check all stain colors going forward before completing an entire deck stain project wrong!
To avoid incorrect stain colors in the future, I’ll be sure to apply a wood conditioner first for a more even finish. And if I do need to significantly alter the color, I’ll prime the deck first for better adhesion and consistency of the new stain. I also learned the value of sanding between coats for a smooth, uniform appearance. If all else fails, creating a two-tone stained deck can disguise the original color while adding visual interest. Or I may even hire a professional who can provide expert guidance on repairing or changing the stain color correctly. Proper prep work and care in selecting the right stain color will go a long way in preventing this frustrating mistake next time!