How long does it take deck stain to dry? Our expert advice explains

Wondering 'how long does it take deck stain to dry?' We've got the answer so you can achieve a professional looking result

woman staining a deck
(Image credit: Radoslav Cajkovic/Alamy Stock Photo)

You might well be starting to wonder how long does it take deck stain to dry if yours is starting to look a little tatty after months of constant use. After all, summer is all about spending as much time as possible out on your deck, so it's no surprise if it's looking a little worse for wear.

Depending on how big your deck is, most can be stained in a weekend, but it's important to factor in a few days for drying time, too. If you don't, and start using your deck when the stain is still tacky, it will affect the look and performance going forward. And, it could even mean you have to start again with your deck maintenance.

Follow our expert decking tips to make sure you end up with a beautifully restored deck that performs well, too.

pot of deck stain and brush on deck

Staining a deck will help it look better and last longer

(Image credit: pglover/E+/Getty Images)

How long does it take deck stain to dry – experts reveal all

The time it takes for deck stain to dry depends on several different factors, such as the type of stain you're using, how many coats are applied, the nature of the surface you're applying it to, how well ventilated your deck is, and the weather conditions on the day. Experts agree that although it can take as little as a couple of hours in some cases, it usually takes up to 48 hours, but occasionally as long as 72 hours.

'Deck stain usually takes between two and six hours to dry,' says Housetastic (opens in new tab) expert John Dempsey. 'The temperature outside and how thickly you apply the stain does affect the drying time. Bear in mind, too, that most deck stains require two or three coats. Some quick-drying deck stains are touch dry within 15 minutes. But whatever stain you use, you may need to wait 24 to 48 hours before you can fully use your deck again.'

With any deck stain, always read the manufacturer's instructions, as they may suggest longer or shorter drying times for their particular product, especially if you need to apply a second coat. Why not check out our guide on how to paint decking for more tips?

decking with furniture and plants

This deck has been given a beautiful tone with a Sadolin (opens in new tab) stain

(Image credit: Sadolin)

How long does it take deck stain to cure?

Whatever decking color you have gone for, after you have stained your deck, it needs to be allowed to cure. Curing is the time it takes for the stain to be absorbed into the surface of the wood, dry, and set to its final color. If deck stain curing takes place when it's too wet or too sunny it may become discolored or even develop mold.

'Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to find out the drying times of different branded stains as it can vary,' says Michael Rolland, DIY expert and MD of The Paint Shed (opens in new tab). 'However, in most cases a wood stain can take anywhere from about 24 to 72 hours to fully dry and cure, but typically you can apply the second coat after 4 hours.'

How long after staining a deck can you walk on it?

Generally, experts agree you should wait up to 48 hours before stepping on the deck, and in some cases as long as 72 hours. Before you do this, double check to make sure the surface isn't still sticky.

'If you're using a water-based stain, this will dry much faster, normally taking on average 4 to 6 hours,' explains Allan Jeffrey, MD at Ultra Decking (opens in new tab). 'But a water-based stain will still need at least 48 hours to fully dry and perform to its best potential. 

'Using a water-based stain means you will be able to walk on your deck much sooner than an oil-based stain, which is an advantage for a busy family,' he adds.

Oil-based stains tend to perform better for deck projects as they hold up to rain and sun exposure for much longer compared to water-based stains. 'However, to get these advantages time and preparation is key, and they need more time to soak and be absorbed into your wooden deck,' says Allan. 'On average this can take 12 to 24 hours. To get the best performance on an oil-based stain, it will ideally need to be undisturbed for 72 hours.'

modern house with decking and furniture

Oil-based stains take longer to dry completely

(Image credit: Radoslav Cajkovic/Alamy Stock Photo)

What's the best weather to stain a deck?

Keep a close watch on the weather forecast before you start any deck staining project. You’ll want to wait for a few days of dry weather, but avoid very hot temperatures. Intense sunshine may cause the product to dry too quickly and not be fully absorbed into the wood.

In the height of summer, direct sunshine can create very hot conditions, particularly on dark colors and surfaces. 'If possible, avoid decorating in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day if you're able to decorate in shadier conditions later on,' says Matthew Brown, a technical expert at Sadolin (opens in new tab).  

'If you're staining your deck, one of the key points to remember is to check the weather forecast,' says Allan Jeffrey. 'If there is any rain forecast in the 24 hour period before you're about to start, you will need to allow at least 24 to 48 hours for your deck to dry properly before you begin.'

woman's hand in flowered glove painting a deck

Wait for dry weather before staining your deck

(Image credit: Ulia Petrova/Alamy Stock Photo)

What happens if you stain a deck and it rains?

Sometimes your luck runs out (despite all the planning about how long it takes for deck stain to dry and checking the weather forecast) and it will start raining while your deck stain is still drying. 

'If it rains shortly after you stain the deck, this will cause it to flake or peel off,' says Allan Jeffrey. 'If it rains within 24 to 48 hours after staining, then water will soak into your deck and cause an uneven tone and a splotchy deck area.

'If a water-based stain is rained on within the first hour of application, and the water puddles, the product will wash off,' adds Matthew Brown. 'Although solvent stains take longer to dry, they can be more forgiving if it rains as they're not water based.'

Deck mistakes do happen and you may end up having to start over by removing the deck stain, sanding, and recoating the deck. But remember a job well done will last. 

Of course, if you create a covered deck, this could end up not ever being an issue again.

newly stained wet decking in rain

Rain can spoil the finished result of your deck stain

(Image credit: 4kodiak/E+/Getty Images)

When's the best time of year to stain a deck?

Spring and fall are the best times of year to stain a deck. Be aware though that you will still need to do the work during a dry patch. 'In early spring, mornings can be damp and evenings can still see dramatic temperature drops, increasing humidity levels. At best this will slow down drying times but at worst can allow moisture to get trapped in the coating,' explains Matthew Brown.

'You should only apply the stain or oil on a dry weather day and avoid carrying out any maintenance work during the cold winter months,' says John Dempsey. 'If the weather is damp or too cold this can have a negative effect on the application and final appearance of your deck.'

John also suggests doing a patch test and allowing the stain to completely dry before starting on the full project. This will allow you to see exactly how the finished result will look on your deck, as well as checking how long it takes to dry so you can plan the rest of your decking decorating ideas accordingly.

Sarah Wilson
Content Editor

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.