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Comparing Deck Stain Types

Deck Stains vs. Deck Sealers vs. Deck Paints

It is a common concern of deck owners whether to use a deck stain, deck sealer, or deck paint. There really is not an exact definition for any deck stain, sealer, or paint and many professionals use the terms loosely when speaking about deck coatings in general. But some clarification can definitely help. We will describe which each one is most commonly described as.

Deck Sealers

A sealer usually does not alter the appearance of the surface. It is applied to protect the surface from such things like foot traffic, water damage, mold, and mildew. Therefore, deck sealers are most commonly any clear, transparent, or translucent coating that protects the wood without altering the appearance.

Deck sealers are popular for those wanting the most natural wood look you can get while still providing water protection. Most deck sealers have excellent water repellency properties but lack in shielding against harmful UV rays causing the wood to turn gray over time.

Deck Stains

A deck stain is similar to a sealer in the sense that it provides weather protection but it does alter the appearance of the wood. Deck stains are simply deck sealers that are tinted or toned. These stains are usually the semi-transparent and semi-solid deck stains. They come in a wide variety of tints but most commonly are available in natural tones, browns, and reds. A tinted deck stain allows the wood grain to show through and can really enhance the wood’s beauty. Because of the added pigment, deck stains do provide some UV protection, unlike clear deck sealers.

Deck Paints

Deck paint usually refers to a heavily pigmented solid colored deck stain. These are also known as solid deck stains. Like paint, they completely mask or hide the surface. Solid stains or deck paints are film forming and do not penetrate the wood. They form a film on the surface and are a 100% representation of their color as no wood shows through at all. Deck paints provide the most UV protection but are also prone to cracking and peeling especially on horizontal surfaces.

Knowing the difference between deck sealers, deck stains, and deck paints can certainly clear up some confusion. It can also help you make the choice as to which product is best for your wood deck.

Question on the Different Stains Types and Which to Use? Ask Below

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29 responses to “Comparing Deck Stain Types”

  1. John says:

    We are installing a 1300 sq. ft. multi leved deck with 2×6 cedar mounted on pressure treated framing, in Vernon BC. Canada. Summers are hot, 80 to100 decrees F. Low humidity. Winter can get down to 5 to 15 below 0 F. Some snow and rain. There is so much conflicting information it's hard to know what the best product is to use to protest the deck. We have been told it's best to stain all sides before installation and insure butt cuts have preservative applied. What would you suggest in our situation?
    We also want a below deck fastener system so the top surface is not punctured. Do you have any recommendations?
    Thanks in advance

  2. tom santry says:

    Your site doesn't show a review or comments on Flood SWF Solid wood stain. After reading all the terrible reviews of other popular brands such as Olympic Recue It, Rustoleums Restore & the Behr brand, I'm really worried about the longevity of any of them. The peeling & fading that so many people have faced only one year after application frightens me. I used Restore on a small deck last Fall, but already it's peeling. I've been unable to find any reviews for the Flood SWF Solid.
    Can you enlighten me on this product or do you recommend not using these types of products at all?

    • Tom, solid wood stain are not in the same boat as the Deckover, Rescue-its. We are not a fan of solid stains as they all peel. If you chose one, Flood is a better than average brand. Oil based will perform better as well than a water based.

  3. Bob says:

    We have a deck that's probably about 5 years old (we moved in about 2 years ago, so I'm guessing). It's never been stained and so it has some weather damage (fading, cracking, etc). Would we be ok just using a pressure washer with deck cleaner followed by a stain? I was originally looking at some of the deck restore products until I read your article on them. I'm just now starting to learn more about deck restoration.

  4. Phillip says:

    Might want to go with a semi solid oil based stain. It will cover up some of the badly weathered wood grain but remember Preparation is key!!! Use a wood brightener after you have sanded the horizontal surfaces. You must sand this deck to get the weathered wood fibers off. Then spray wood brightener on it then lightly pressure wash it off. If you do all this the stain will most likely preform flawlessly. Lots of people want to take shortcuts then complain when product doesn't perform like it should. You wouldn't build a new house on a really old failing foundation ?

  5. Moose says:

    I have a floating boat dock that is 60 years old and has a gray paint on it. It is peeling and I have replaced about 10% of the wood with new pressure treated pine. What is the best coating that I can use to get it to look good again?

    • You cannot add a solid coating over a failing coating and expect the new coating to work well. Basically you cannot fix the issues you are having with the first coat. You would have to remove all of the old coating first by sanding it off.

  6. renee says:

    I have a 25 year old pressured treated wood deck (3000 sq ft) I would like to know what you recommend putting on it. I have tried the semi solid stains but the wood does not look go when I have tested it. I am looking at solid colors such as brands like SWF Flood, Olympic Max, & Behr Weatherproofing Solid. Which one would be best out of those choices. thanks

  7. sue says:

    I'm restaining an existing deck. It's had coats of semi-transparent stain over the years, none of which held up well. I used Cabot stripper and brightener per their directions but I still have some old stain left on the wood. So rather than sanding the entire deck, I'm thinking of a semi-solid stain. However, I've only found that Cabot has that type. Unhappy with how their stripper/brightener worked, I'm wondering if there are other companies that carry a semi-solid stain. Can you comment specifically on who else might carry that type, and whether it would work in my situation? I would prefer not to go to a full solid stain/coating. Thanks~

  8. Jennifer says:

    I had sandblasted my large (3000 sq) pool deck about 5 years ago since it had a few layers of solid stain that needed to be removed, due to peeling, and I like the natural look. After the sand blasting, we have used a water based transparent sealer annually to protect from water damage. It looks amazing, but the problem is that every transparent sealer we have ever used annually only protests for approximately 1 year, we live in NE and it is around a pool so it is exposed to water frequently. I like the weathered blonde look, so I am hesitant to use a semi-transparent or solid sealer. But, I have been told that going to a semi-solid or solid will stand the test of time over the transparent sealers we have always used to coat deck. So, Is there a transparent sealer that lasts at least for 3 years? or would a semi-transparent or solid sealer be what I should use if maintenance is my biggest issue? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated?

    • No transparent/clear sealer will last more then a year. Semi-solids ans solids will last 2-3 years at best. Solids peel so not easy to work with down the road. Best to use a penetrating oil based stain that is either semi-transparent or semi-solid color. Try TWP stains.

  9. PSLCB says:

    I have applied Olympic rescue it on my 500 sq feet deck last year, consistently with most comments about this product, most of it peeled off in less than a year. I have stripped and bleached my deck – it made a horrible mess as there was product chips everywhere – The thing is only 95% of it came off> i am sanding the rest off and I am just wondering if I should go with some type of would stain now and if so what product would be best to use. I am in Ontario, Canada so you can imagine the weather conditions, cold winters, hot summers.. In addtion, my deck is about 10 years old, it has been neglected in the past so the wood is not at its best, hence my previous choice. What do you think is my best bet?? Thanks so much – Excellent site

  10. ron bianco says:

    I have an older deck, that was painted .If I strip it completely and I use a quality deck stain like Armstrong Clark or Deft Extreme. What's the best way to get the surface prepared

  11. Keven says:

    I live just north of Dallas, Texas. We're just finishing up the construction of a new deck and haven't been impressed with several of the reviews regarding the solid finish resto stains. When it's time to apply, I'll be working with new decking (dried) and approximately 578 sq. ft. What would you recommend? Keep in mind, the summers down here are very hot and humid, and we're in tornado alley so the spring weather patters can be brutal sometimes.

  12. colleen igo says:

    Hi – I am ready to stain/paint my deck. i have three deck colors – one is 10 years old (faded light stain), another section is a year old(natural) and the final section is 2 years old (light stain). the stains vary. I did gently powerwash and used deck cleaner – so even among the 3 sections there is definately inconsistency in the color.

    What is my best option – do i use a dark semi stain or just use the deck paint. i have been reading about the paint peeling etc…i dread the thought of putting this time and effort and $$ … and then having it peel or chip in two years. What is your professional opinion. Also, can you recommend a brand…i looked at lowes, behr and sherwin…any ideas would be soooo appreciated.

    • I would not use a deck paint. Try a penetrating semi-solid stain in oil based to help blend the different sections better. Look at Armstrong Clark in one of their semi-solid colors.

  13. Bob says:

    I am looking to re-stain 40 8×10" decks that currently have a solid stain on them. Most do not look in very bad shape. I do not know if it was an oil based or latex used on them before. I can't imagine having to sand them down to bare wood before re-staining, not sure how one would get all the stain off between deck boards. I would imagine I will need to stay with a solid stain and close to the same color.

    I am thinking that I would pressure wash with deck cleaner then use a brightner. Would a semi transparent like Armstrong Clark work for this or would you suggest something else?

    • Pressure wash with a deck cleaner. No need to a brightener when doing a solid stain. You have to reapply a solid stain. You cannot apply a semi-trans or semi-solid.

  14. Bob says:

    I am looking to re-stain 40 8×10" decks that currently have a solid stain on them. Most do not look in very bad shape. I do not know if it was an oil based or latex used on them before. I can't imagine having to sand them down to bare wood before re-staining, not sure how one would get all the stain off between deck boards. I would imagine I will need to stay with a solid stain and close to the same color. This is in Minnesota.

  15. DOug says:

    What is the best solid color stain for my railing? I have 20 – 12 foot long sections of round wood railings on my wood log home decking. It is extremely labor intensive, sanding with multiple different sanders: orbital, belt, vibrating…etc. to get down to the wood. There is extreme water stains and using any type of cleanser is not an option for a few reasons: height of deck (12'), area below protection, wind…other. I've decided it would take months to accomplish preparation via sanding and changed my mind to prepping for "SOLID" color coating on the railing.

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*This is first and foremost a help site from our experience as wood restoration contractors. All stain and prepping manufacturer directions were followed with our reviews and ratings. We offer no guarantee of similar results. Take inconsideration that wood and deck stain results may differ due to prepping procedures, different wood types, exposure to UV radiation, natural weathering, etc.