As we head into Labor Day you’ll see sales and rebates for wood stains. The three-day weekend gives you time to stain your deck, and conditions are ideal as the weather cools and humidity drops. Here’s how to nail this imminently do-it-yourself job.

Check the Forecast

You need a window of dry weather. It’s best to stain wood when it hasn’t rained for several days, and also when the forecast calls for at least two days of dry weather between 50° F and 90° F, with low to average humidity, to allow the stain to soak in and dry.

Alternatively, don’t stain wood that's in direct sunlight. “The stain dries too quickly and won’t absorb into the wood,” says Rico DePaz, who runs Consumer Reports’ tests of stains and paints.

Pick Your Equipment

Choose your stain type. Do you want clear, semi-transparent, or solid? Our wood stain tests found big differences in stains. How big? Among solid wood stains the best scored 80 overall; the worst scored a 12, meaning it looked ratty in less than a year.

More on Stains

• Use synthetic brushes for water-based stains, the type that you’ll find in our ratings. Natural bristles can become limp as they absorb the water in the finish.
• Buy a roller, if that’s what you prefer using. Get one with a ¼-inch nap or shorter to apply a layer that both adheres to the wood and prevents pooling.

Prep the Deck

Use a pressure washer to clean, or apply a deck cleaner, at least a day before you apply the stain. Let the wood dry, following the instructions on the can for how long to wait before staining.
• Wet plants and shrubs near the deck, cover with plastic sheeting, and clear the deck.
• Sand splintered spots, wearing a safety mask to avoid inhaling the dust. Sanding a wood deck treated with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, releases toxic arsenic into the air and surrounding soil. Hire a pro to sand if your deck was built before 2004 and its finish is flaking.
• Sweep the deck clean, and use a putty knife to clean between the boards.

Start Staining

Directions for staining your deck may vary by stain type and manufacturer, and instructions on the can will tell you how much drying time the product needs.

Once you start, apply a thin coat with a brush or roller, working steadily to keep the coverage even. Don’t stop in the middle of a board or let puddles form—the excess stain will dry on top of the wood and flake off. (It will also look splotchy.) Remember to stir the stain as you go to keep it well-blended.

See our wood stain ratings of solid, semi-transparent, and clear sealers to help you match the stain to the job. Click on the "features & specs" tab to find out how well a stain resisted cracking, color change, dirt, and mildew. Look online for sales and rebates, including the Facebook pages of retailers and manufacturers.