DIY Section

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The Basics of Exterior Staining Prep

We know you want to be proud of the way your stained wood looks—and one of the secrets for success is to prep the wood before you begin. These easy-to-follow steps will help you get pro-like results, right from the start.


Here's what you'll need for your prepping

  • Clean cloth
  • Garden pump sprayer
  • Scraper
  • Scrub brush or power washer
  • Ladder
  • Safety glasses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Cabot® Problem Solver™ Wood Cleaner
  • Cabot® Problem Solver™ Wood Brightener


Preparation: Make sure the wood is dry Make sure the wood is dry Before staining, check to see if the wood is moist or dry. Stain that's applied to damp surfaces won't adhere well and will crack or peel. Moisture can also cause premature wood erosion, rot or decay. So you'll want to make sure the wood is dry before staining it.

Exterior Preparation: Look for surface problems Look for surface problems For the best possible results, never stain wood that's eroded, decayed, rotted, contaminated, dirty or stained. If you notice any of these problems, you should either replace the wood or clean it, depending on the problem:

  • Eroded, rotted and decayed wood should be replaced
  • Contaminated, dirty or stained wood can be cleaned

How to remove contaminants Over time, the surface of wood can become contaminated with a wide range of substances, such as mildew, soot, rust and tannin bleed. Each of these contaminants has its own tell-tale signs—and each one requires a different treatment.

For more information on how to identify and treat common surface contaminants, see our article How to Remove Surface Contaminants before Staining.

Test for flaking stain and loose fibers Flakes of old stain or loose wood fibers can cause problems when staining, so they should be removed before you begin your project. Fortunately, it's easy to check for this problem: Just press a piece of household tape firmly against the wood. When you tear it away, look for flakes or fibers. If you see any, you'll want to sand, scrape or power wash your wood surface to remove loose debris before you stain. (Always follow manufacturer's directions when using a power washer.)

WARNING! If you scrape, sand, or remove old paint, you may release lead dust. LEAD IS TOXIC. EXPOSURE TO LEAD DUST CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ILLNESS, SUCH AS BRAIN DAMAGE, ESPECIALLY IN CHILDREN. PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD ALSO AVOID EXPOSURE. Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to control lead exposure. Clean up carefully with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop. Before you start, find out how to protect yourself and your family by contacting the National Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or log on to

The time you spend prepping your exterior wood surfaces is time well spent. And you'll be reminded of that whenever you look at how beautiful your siding, deck, fence and furniture looks when they're stained.

For easy reference, you may print this article.