Every few years, wooden decks start to look warn and dirty. Hiring a contractor to refinish your deck can be expensive but a determined, patient and persistent homeowner can do the work on their own and save money in the process. Here are the steps to follow to get your deck back to looking almost new.

1. Clean Your Deck

Apply a deck cleaner product to your deck to get the dirt and algae cleaned off. If you have a pressure washer, use it to rinse off the cleaning solution but be careful not to use a tip that will harm the wood.

2. Apply a Stripping Product

It's important to remove existing stain from your deck because stain isn't like paint where you can apply it over existing layers. You want to get your deck as close to its original state as possible.

Allow your deck to dry for at least a day after cleaning it and then apply a stripping product. Work in relatively small sections of 50-100 square feet at a time. After allowing the stripping product to sit on the wood for a few minutes, use a stiff bristled brush to scrub the deck. Many products will not mention scrubbing but it is almost always required in order to completely remove the stain. After scrubbing, it may appear that the stripping product has already been absorbed into the wood. Apply more stripping product to keep it wet for a total of about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, rinse the wood with a pressure washer or garden hose.

Move onto the next section of the deck and repeat until the entire deck has had the stripping product applied to it. Allow the deck to dry for a day and then check to see if any areas need a reapplication of the stripping product.

3. Sand the Deck

Now that the deck is clean and has the old stain removed, it's important to sand the entire surface of the deck after it has had a chance to dry for a couple of days. This process will remove the old layer and expose new, fresh wood that will accept the stain easily. Sanding by hand will take many hours and be a very difficult process.

The easiest and most effective way to sand your deck is to rent a floor sander. Floor sanders are available to rent at home improvement stores for under $50 for a few hours. Get 60 - 80 grit sandpaper to use with the sander. That may seem like a rough grit to use but fine grit sandpaper will not allow the stain to be applied well. The only time a finer sandpaper should be used is in the case of railings that people will be touching with their hands.

4. Apply the Stain

After sanding, be sure the surface is free of all sanding dust or other debris. Use a broom, leaf blower or other tool to help clear the deck. Following the directions on the stain, apply the stain. Staining pads with an extension pole attached can ease the process and keep you from having to tape off areas. If the stain says that back brushing is required, that means that you'll need to go over the surface twice to make sure excess stain is removed. Your first pass could be applied using a roller brush and then you could back brush with a paintbrush. Apply additional coats according to the directions on the stain and allow your deck to dry.

After a day or two, your deck should be ready to use. Here are some additional tips to make sure the process of refinishing your deck goes smoothly:

- Read reviews on all products before buying. Some work much better than others and using good products can prevent rework and save you money and time.

- Wear rubber boots while working on your deck. Many of the products are quite toxic and can hurt you if they come in contact with your skin. You may even consider wearing long-sleeve shirts, a mask and gloves to provide more coverage.

- Refinishing a deck is all about the preparation. Be patient and plan on spending most of your time preparing the surface to accept the stain. One of the most common mistakes is staining while the wood is still wet. The top surface may feel dry but the wood may still be wet. Allow at least a week after power washing to apply stain. Allow at least two or three days after a rain or using a garden hose to stain.

- Many of the chemicals can harm surrounding flowers and shrubs. Be sure to wet those down before using the products or protect them with plastic until you're finished working on the deck.

- Test the stain before applying it to the entire deck. The color swatches provided by the stain companies are often inaccurate because all wood reacts differently and is in varying conditions.