How to Strip a Deck | Remove Behr Deck Stain & Sealer

November 8, 2010 | by Fred (email) |

About three years ago, we applied two coats of Behr Deck Stain and Sealer (the Premium, Natural No. 500 color) to our then-newly-built wood deck. The product cost $125 for a 5 gallon bucket, and our deck required two full buckets to complete.

After covering the whole deck, we were immediately dissatisfied with the orange-tinted hue (we were expecting a more natural, yellow look). But, like good reviewer citizens, we held off on passing judgment on the product until we could see it’s long term performance. Here’s a picture of the deck immediately after applying the Behr sealer.

behr deck stain, natural no. 500, orange

About two years after we snapped this picture, Kim wrote a follow up to our initial review that detailed how the Behr Deck Sealer was falling short of our expectations. The surface stopped beading water only 7 months after application, quickly becoming uneven and dingy looking. At two years, it looked pretty bad all around. This might not have been a problem had our expectations been set appropriately. At the time we purchased the sealer, Behr claimed this product worked for 4 years on decks and 6 years on fences. After talking to many folks in the community over the last two years, the consensus is that no semi-transparent product will last that long and still look good. Here’s a picture of Behr deck stain 2 years after application.

behr deck stain after two years

Our experience with Behr’s deck sealer product isn’t unique… If you read through the 80+ comments on our initial review, you’ll see dozens of other folks who are looking to remove this product from their decks. Hopefully, if that’s you, this article will provide some help.

Strip Behr Deck Stain / Sealer

We got a tip from a friend who was equally dissatisfied with Behr and hired a professional to strip and reseal the deck. The pro recommended a gel product called Strip-It-All from American Building Restoration Products (ABR, for short). The closest dealer we could find for the product was about 50 miles away in Fairfax, Virginia. The dealer company’s name: Virginia Chemical and Equipment. Unfortunately, they don’t have a web site for us to point you to, but their phone # is: (703) 560-9599. If you’re in the Washington D.C. Metro area and you’re looking for some help, Bill is very knowledgeable. If you’re outside of the area, ABR has a where to buy page you can consult with a phone number.

Bill recommended that rather than going with a straight Strip-It-All solution, we should use a combination of Strip-It-All and another product from ABR called Fast Finish Remover. The reason he routed us this direction is that Strip-It-All retails at $42/gallon, whereas Fast Finish Remover is a thinner liquid that runs only $26/gallon and is designed to be diluted with water. Bill recommended that we make the following mix, put it in a pump sprayer, and spray it on the surface of the deck for best results:

  • 1 Gallon Strip-It-All
  • 1 Gallon Fast Finish Remover
  • 3 Gallons Water

Because Strip-It-All is a gel, you really have to mix this good (using a drill and mixer blade), otherwise the gel will just sink to the bottom. Once it is mixed, though, it stays mixed and you can just stir it occasionally as you’re working.

Warning: Both Strip-It-All and Fast Finish Remover are pretty strong substances. They can quickly burn skin. They can also cause serious damage to eyes, irritate lungs, etc. You should follow all the safety instructions on the bottles, which includes wearing a protective suit. If you aren’t up for the safety precautions, you’ll be better off hiring a pro to strip your deck.

If you read the product sheets from ABR, you’ll see that the key to making the solution work is keeping the surface wet while you are working. If the surface starts to dry, the stripper stops working altogether. We tested a small area of the deck first, and then worked across the entire surface. The solution took an average of three hours to completely strip off the Behr from the horizontal surfaces. This included reapplying the mixture about every 40 minutes, whenever a spot started to dry. You can tell when the product has finally worked because it lifts the existing stain/sealer out and will take on its color. Since we were pulling out an orange/brown stain, we could tell when the stripper was successful when it turned a milk-chocolate look.

Here’s a picture of the stripper solution working on one section of the wood. The adjacent, dry section at the bottom has not been stripped. You can see in this picture how the liquid on the surface has not yet turned the color of the stain it is drawing out. It is still clear, which means it needs to sit longer.

how to remove behr deck stain

Once the mixture turns brown, you can lightly pressure wash the surface. Don’t over-pressure wash. If you do, you’ll start to damage the fibers of the wood. Stick with approximately 500 PSI. If the stain/sealer doesn’t come off, you’ll probably need to use more stripping solution and retry.

Stripping Behr Stain off Fences and Railings

When we turned our attention to the railings, we found that the mixture that included 3 gallons of water was simply too loose to really adhere. So we reduced the mixture to include just 2 gallons of water. The resulting solution was then thick enough that it adhered better to the vertical surfaces. It also likely stripped a little more aggressively, since it was less diluted.

Brightening a Stripped Deck

After the deck was completely stripped, we applied a brightener to remove the gray from the wood and neutralize the stripper. We decided to go with ABR’s X-180 Weathered Wood Restorer product. This is simply pump-sprayed on, and then pressure-washed clean. It really brightens up the surface of the wood.

Here’s two pictures of the deck after working the entire thing, railings and all. You can see that the Strip-It-All / Fast Finish Remover solution worked pretty well, however in some spaces it is still splotchy. To get it absolutely perfect, you will spend twice as much time working those areas, and we decided not to spend the time on this project.

stripped yellow pine deck

behr stain residue

Time and Cost for Stripping the Deck

It took 50 man-hours to completely strip this 1000 sq. ft. to a fairly uniform consistency. That included some learning time. If we had to redo it, it would probably take about 35 hours. To get the deck 100% uniform, you would have to hit the individual areas repeatedly.

It took 6 gallons of Strip-It-All, 6 gallons of Fast Finish Remover, and 2 gallons of X-180  to completely strip and brighten the deck. Total cost for 1000 sq. ft: about $600.

18 Responses
  1. Fred,

    You know how I feel…..NO MORE WOOD DECKING! I’m so tired of sealing decks with products that just can’t match Mother Nature’s abuse. Next time it’s a composite for me!

    It’s amazing how much work it takes to maintain…..I hope your next sealer works better!

    • Ruth says:

      Wow so wish I had seen your sight and responses first. I put on the deck over and it is not the color I chose at all. Thaught it might change as it dried. I do not like it at all.
      Wonder if new applied would be as hard to remove. I do not like how it looks at all.:(
      Guess if I have to ;it can be covered with outdoor carpet.

  2. Fred says:

    Todd, I’m with you… our next deck is definitely going to be composite. I’m liking what I’m seeing of Azek decking, but the price tag is steep. We’ll probably resurface in the next 3-5 years.

    • Sandy says:

      Azek is worth it! Ours is 5 years old. Cleaning it takes an hour or so. The wood deck next to it continues to be the maintenance monster it has always been. When we installed our Azek deck, their color choice was not the greatest, hope that has changed. They had what we wanted. Make sure you adhere to the construction requirements. Azek does not have the structural strength of wood and needs more support.

  3. Wow, that is some dedication! After figuring out the cost and time involved, I would’ve probably just left it the way it was and put on another coat of sealant! ha

    At least you have a clean slate….what will you do with the deck now?

  4. Fred says:

    Sara, we got advice from several other folks that if we were to apply another coat of Behr, even with a light power washing, it likely wouldn’t adhere to the surface and we would get flaking over time. I don’t know whether that’s really true, but we didn’t want to take the change on the product. It was a tough pill to swallow.

    We actually went with a penetrating oil called X-100 recommended by a local company here. They said the product can be applied repeatedly with only power washing between applications. We really like the color (post is coming on it).

  5. Walter Q says:

    WOW! $250 for crap Behr product, then $600 and 50 hrs labor to get rid of it a few years later.

    Wish I’d seen these posts before I bought this crap.

    All the while Home Depot staff keep recommending it.

    • Larry Weaver says:

      If their sealer is bad their deckover is worse. I re-did my deck with deckover and it is a complete disaster. It peels every year I replaced it last year now its peeling again.

  6. Ryan says:

    What did you end up using after you stripped the Behr? How do you like that?

  7. Ryan says:

    Fred, that was one quick reply! Thanks a ton. You definitely saved me from going with Behr. Not too excited about the ‘every-other-year’ application with the X-100 but if I can’t find another stain/sealer reviewed better I’ll give it a shot.

  8. dave says:

    a note to fellow victims of Behr/Home Depot
    be aware that there are many things that won’t work to strip the deck, the short list includes paint thinner, calk remover, standard strippers and brushing with wire brushes. you can sand, but you must countersink all screws – and flat head nails cannot be countersunk. belt sanding with 25 grit works but is not a great option.
    The material has an almost magical ability to stick to the soft wood between any raised grain.
    the only good option on the deck floor is to flip the boards. the railings and pickets should be replaced if your time is worth anything more than minimum wage. Sand down the 4x4posts. And never again purchase a finish coating from these guys.

  9. Rich says:

    I’m speechless. I used deck over from Behr/Home Depot in 2015. Started peeling last year and now a disaster. So far using boiling hot water is 50% effective. I wiill continue and use a belt sander and finally power washer.

    • Matt says:

      I am with Rich – Speechless. I also used the Deck over and it peeling. Maybe I will just re-purpose the redwood and cedar deck boards. Composite seems to be the way to go, considering the $, time to strip, and then re-apply. Then add years of maintenance and boom your spending more money.

  10. Maria B. says:

    Can we class action sue these guys? It sounds like we were ALL duped and it’s cost A LOT of money!!!!

  11. Pat C says:

    Well i’m another Behr idiot/victim. How’s that class action suit coming?

    Started with Behr semi-transparent. Went back to Home Depot after one year with photos of how much ithad peeled and faded. They told me it was simpler to deal with them instead of Behr, they told me I needed to use an opaque stain to have better staying power.

    Stupid me! Even though they gave me 4 gallons free, I never should have bit. One year later and I want to rip my deck off my house. Grrrrr. Thank you for Thais site, lots of useful info and there’s some comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only other idiot.

  12. My deck is ruined, looked good for about 3 years now it rotting peeling, never gonna use behr product ever again wonder if my homeowners insurance would cover replacing it? Probably not so all I can do at this point is replace it, I’m not made of money, it traps water after it cracks and drowns wood to rot,

  13. Karl says:

    Add me to the list of dissatisfied Behr customers. Had a deck built 3 years ago. Builder put 3 coats of Behr Transparent stain in Golden Honey without prepping the surface. 3 years later and now have mildew underneath the stain. Tried Restore-A-Deck stripper and it partially worked. Tried CitriStrip and got more removed. Going to try another round of Restore-A-Deck and CitriStrip then sand what’s ;eft. Wood is damaged from all the pressure washing. Guess I’ll be going composite route next time. The extra cost is well worth avoiding all the headaches of rot, mildew, stripping, sanding and the endless cycle of maintenance.

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