The outdoors are hard on wood surfaces. Depending on what climate you live in anything that sits outside all day has to endure everything from extreme heat and sun to bitter cold and ice. Precipitation is no friend to most woods especially those that are untreated. Rain, snow, hail, and even harsh winds or high humidity can leave wood looking faded. It can cause cracking, splitting, and even rotting if it is not properly cared for.
Everything from wood siding to fences, decks, patio furniture, and wooden swing sets all need a little attention and care if you want them to continue to look attractive and serve their purpose. Since wood is a natural substance it is inevitable that it will show some signs of wear and tear but there are things you can do to slow down this process such as staining, sealing and replacing pieces that are damaged. This is especially important for swing sets since they are a place that also needs to be kept safe for your kids.
When it comes to staining outdoor wood surfaces there is a lot of readily available advice about what you SHOULD do. But when it comes down to it nobody really addresses the things that you should avoid while staining or sealing wood that sits out in the sun and elements all day long.
Below you will find some advice from experienced experts about what NOT to do when staining and sealing your wooden swing set.
Do Not Use the Wrong Kind of Stain
Picking the right type of stain to use on you swing set is as daunting as it was to pick the swing set. There are lots of brands and types to choose from and it can be overwhelming to know if you’re getting a quality product at the right price.
Stain vs Sealant
The first thing you need to do is decide if you actually need to stain the swing set or just seal the wood with a protective sealant. Most wooden swing sets come pre-stained so the wood already has a layer of protection on it. However most of these stains are simply for color and do not seal the wood to keep out moisture or reduce fading. The only time you will probably need a colored stain is if the swing set has not been maintained and you want to restore the original or natural color of the wood.
Most hardware stores sell both stain and sealant that are designed for outdoor use. When picking one of these products it is important that they are not only waterproof but also offer UV protection. You will be able to tell just by reading the label if a stain or sealant offers both. Finding a sealant with UV protection is especially imperative if your playset does not get any shade from trees or surrounding buildings. While most people think moisture and precipitation are the main factor in damage to wood outside, sun can also be extremely harmful by fading and drying out wood components.
Water-based vs Oil-based
Just like paint, wood stains and sealants come in a variety of water-based or oil-based options. Both offer the protection the wood needs but have other properties that can make one more desirable than the other. Oil-based stains provide a thicker seal to the wood and are more durable in the elements. However, they do give off an odor and fumes that many find offensive. Water-based stains are becoming more popular because they do not have any fumes and provide a richer color to the wood.
When choosing between these two varieties it usually comes down to a personal preference and a consideration of what you’re trying to accomplish. One can often be costlier than the other and some consider water-based stains or sealants more safe for kids.
Color vs No Color
When picking out a stain for your swing set you will more than likely be picking out a color to match the existing wood. Unless your set is significantly faded, then you can pick any color you would like. Stain comes in such a variety of colors that it shouldn’t be difficult to match what you already have. If you are finding it difficult to match the color of your wood, some hardware stores will color match and mix a stain color for you. You could also buy two different stain colors and mix them to match a current shade.
Wood sealants are different than stains in that they are not necessarily designed to change the color of the wood but are more to protect the wood. However, some sealants come with tints of color that can help enhance a current color or give gray, faded wood a light burst of energy. Sealants that have little or no color will need to be reapplied ever 1-3 years as they do not protect the wood from the sun as readily as a darker color will do.
Do Not Stain in the Rain
When you are preparing to stain your wooden swing set you will want to check the weather forecast for any chances of rain or precipitation. It is recommended that you refrain from applying stain or sealant if there is a chance of rain, frost, or even dew within 5 hours after application. Too much moisture will prevent the sealant or stain from soaking into the wood and providing the proper amount of protection.
If it has recently rained it is also necessary to let the wood dry completely before application. You can use your judgement depending in the amount of rain, but if there has been a significant amount you should plan on letting it dry for 2-3 days before staining.
Do Not Stain in Extreme Temperatures
Staining and sealing your swing set should not be something you wait to do until the middle of the summer or the middle of the winter, especially if you live in a climate that has extreme hot or cold temperatures during these seasons. Just like watching the weather for precipitation you should check the high and low temperatures for the day you plan to stain.
Most stains and sealants are best applied at temperatures between 50 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The optimum temperature for application is 70 degrees. Some brands of sealant and stain can vary from these recommendations so you’ll want to check the can’s label for specific temperature suggestions. You should also avoid applying these treatments in direct sun as it can raise the temperature of the wood and hinder the ability of the stain to be applied correctly.
Do Not Forget to Cover Your Surface
This step should be a fairly obvious one, but if you are staining above a surface that you do not want to become stained or drip sealant on you will definitely want to cover it. Utilizing a large sheet or plastic tarp to cover concrete, rocks, or surfaces that you do want stain applied to is a simple process. It will save you from the headache of trying to remove discoloration from these surfaces later.
You should also remove any swings, safety handles, slides, and other plastic components before staining. Accidentally touching any of these non-wood components will cause discoloration that may or may not be able to be cleaned off later. Even the clothes you choose to wear should be those that you do not mind getting stained and dirty.
Do Not Start at the Bottom
When applying stain and sealant it is best practice to start at the very top of the roof and work your way down. Make your way around the roof and then move down to any upper forts or clubhouses and work your way around and down. This will help to avoid streaks in the stain and drips that occur if you work from the bottom up. Also remember to wipe up any drips immediately as they will dry and cause places to look darker and uneven.
Do Not Let Your Kids Play On It
It is going to be difficult, but it will need to be done. Since you have to stain or seal the swing set on nice days to avoid the moisture or the blazing sun, those days will also be the best days for playing outside. While the kids might be disappointed they should find something else to do while you’re busy applying the sealant to the wood. Whether it’s water-based or oil-based, stains and sealants are not healthy for kids to be handling.
They will also need to find something fun to do for the 24 hours following the application of the stain. Twenty-four hours is what is recommend to give the wood time to dry. It will also prevent the set from getting footprints or dirty spots in the stain or rubbing off when someone touches or sits on it.
When you decide to stain or seal your swing set you will need to do some preparing and planning. Take into consideration the weather, how long it may take, and whether you need to cover the surface area around the swing set before you start. Depending on the look you are going for you will also want to take some time to decide if you want a stain with color or a product that will stain and seal at the same time.
While it may seem like a lot of work, taking the time every 1-5 years to care and maintain for your wooden swing set will help lengthen its life and keep it looking attractive and safe.