Few things are as fun for children as a wooden playset. Playsets and forts with slides, swings, climbing walls, and turrets offer kids hours of imaginative and active play, but to last through a childhood of fun, their wooden framework needs to be stained.

While this may seem like a daunting task, staining your wooden playset will add to the beauty of its wood and protect it from the elements. The time you put in toward staining your playset will pay off in the long run, saving you the expense of replacing it prematurely.

Here we’ll detail the staining process, step by step. Follow these directions and your staining job will be done in no time and will add beauty to the wood as well as a layer of protection.

How to Stain Your Playset, Step by Step

Following these steps to stain your playset will save you time and make your work easier, so we don’t advise skipping any of them. Planning and preparation may seem to make the process longer, but each step is important in the process. Plan your work, and then work your plan.

Give Your Kids Other Spots to Play

If your children are on your playset daily, this might be a great time for them to visit grandma. Having your children underfoot while you’re trying to stain their playset is a recipe for disaster. Everyone will be happier – including you – if they have an alternative place to play for a couple of days.  

Check the Weather

You’ll need at least a couple of days of clear weather to stain your playset and allow the treated wood to dry thoroughly, so if rain is in the forecast, delay staining your playset until Mother Nature cooperates with your plans. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting your time and the money you spent on products.

Dress Accordingly

When working with paints, stains, and sealants, don’t wear anything you wouldn’t want to get dirty or splattered. Latex or nitrile gloves will protect hands, and it won’t be a tragedy if the old T-shirt and blue jeans you have on get stain on them. If you don’t want stain on your hair, tie on a bandana or put on a baseball cap.

Remove All Accessories

Having swing chains, a slide attachment, and other accessories attached while you are trying to apply stain will make getting to some parts of the playset awkward or close to impossible. Be sure to place nuts, bolts, and screws removed in a labeled plastic bag and tape to larger parts removed. This will save you time later when it’s time to put your playset back together.

Using a power screwdriver will make this work easier on your wrists, but just a regular toolset with a selection of screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches will do.

Clean the Playset

Stain won’t adhere properly to wood that’s dirty or dusty. The most effective way to clean your playset is with a 50:50 solution of water and bleach in a pressure washer. This will make sure that your playset is clean and that no mold or mildew is trying to grow. Allow the wood to dry completely.

If you don’t have access to a pressure washer, you can also clean your wooden playset with a bucket filled with that bleach and water solution, a scrub brush, rags, and a garden hose. This method will take longer and requires more work. Make sure that you get all the nooks and crannies clean, rinse thoroughly, and allow your wooden playset to completely dry before staining.

Filling In Cracks and Holes

Any cracks or holes in the wood can be filled with wood putty as you prepare your wooden playset for staining. That will strengthen the wood and extend the life of your playset.

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Sand Down Any Rough Areas

Nothing ruins an afternoon of play like a child getting a painful splinter. Prevent injuries and make your playset more fun to use by giving any rough or splintery areas of wood attention by rubbing them with sandpaper until they are smooth.

Cover Your Work Area

Unless you don’t mind your working area getting stain on it, cover the work area with a tarp. Cover any small areas of the playset you don’t want to stain with painter’s tape and cover large areas you don’t plan to stain with a tarp.

Stain It!

Now comes the fun part – applying the stain. First, choose the best stain for the job. This decision will include consideration of aesthetics as well as functionality. You’ll need to think about the color you’d like to use, whether to use sealant instead of stain or as a sealing layer on top of stain, and whether you’d prefer to use oil-based or water-based products.

Stain vs. Sealant

When protecting and beautifying the wood of your playset, you can choose to use stain, sealant, or both. Stain coats the wood, protects it from the elements, and comes in a variety of colors.

Sealant, as its name suggests, seals the wood and gives extra protection from weather. It also discourages the growth of mold and mildew.

Apply stain and then, once the stain is completely dry, sealant to have a double layer of protection. Don’t apply stain over sealant-coated wood, though, as the stain will not sink into the wood properly.

Water-based vs. Oil-based

Oil-based and water-based stains and sealants are available, so choosing one over the other may come down to personal preference. Oil-based stains and sealants protect the wood for a longer time, but clean-up is more difficult and will involve turpentine or mineral spirits.

Water-based stains and sealants clean up with water, but they should be reapplied every one to two years.

Allow either type to dry thoroughly before letting your children use the playset.

We like this natural cedar color water-based stain from DEFY.

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Choose a Color

Staining natural wood is simple. You can just apply the stain without coverage worries. The color will come out pretty much as expected, but we suggest finding an inconspicuous corner of the playset to apply the stain first, just to make sure you like the color you’ve chosen.

If your wooden playset is already stained, choosing a color may be easier if you plan to match the current color. You could also choose a darker shade, which would cover lighter stain easily.

Going from a darker stain to a lighter color will require stain stripping for best coverage results. SaverSystems makes a decent stain stripper that should get the job done.

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Apply the stain stripper, wait five to 10 minutes and wipe it away, starting from the top and working toward the bottom for the smoothest finish.

Apply the Stain

There are a couple of ways you can apply stain to your playset, and either will produce results you’ll be proud of. You can use a sprayer or a paintbrush, whichever you prefer, and have on hand.


Using a paint sprayer will make quick work of staining your playset. Start at the top and work your way down. Since the product comes out as a fine mist, you will get even coverage and won’t have problems with drips.


A good paintbrush and a roller will also give your wooden playset a great finish. Apply stain or sealant evenly to avoid drips, and make sure you apply the product in all the playset’s cracks and crevices and between boards.

Dry Thoroughly

Once your staining work is done, make sure you allow enough time for your playset to dry before putting it back together and allowing children to play on it. It will take at least a day of clear weather for the stain to completely dry.

Reassemble Your Playset

Once the wooden parts of your playset are completely dry, you can begin to reattach all the non-wooden accessories you removed earlier. As you do this, check the hardware for rust and plastic parts for wear. Nothing can make them look worn out more than a fresh coat of stain on the wood nearby. Any parts that look significantly worn should be replaced.

Final Comments

Keeping your children’s wooden playset in tip-top condition by staining the wood regularly will extend its life and make your backyard the place where all the kids want to play. If your playset is a bit more decrepit and needs more than just a new stain, head over to our guide on how to restore a wooden swing set.

Follow these step-by-step directions detailing how to stain your playset, and you’ll have clean, professional results with a minimum of aggravation. Careful preparation will make the actual staining of your wooden playset go quickly. Before you know it, your children and their buddies will be having fun on a well-maintained playset.

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