Deck Stains

We have been getting great feedback here at www.deckstainhelp.com from all of the consumers who have been looking for better stain alternatives for their deck restoration. Our most popular article, “What is the Best Deck Stain” has quickly become the number one article on the web for asking questions and getting answers on restoring your exterior wood and deck.

In this article we are going to cover what actually is a “Deck Stain”. We will compare the many different types of decking stain options available and what are the positives and negatives of each.

Deck Stains

Deck stains are used to protect and preserve your exterior wood. They offer UV protection, water repellency, mold and mildew resistance, etc. Deck coatings come in many different types of opacity and bases. Many deck stain brands can be restricted in certain states, cities and counties due the VOC laws.

Deck staining can be a “chore” for residential homeowners and unfortunately walking into you local store may produce some of the worst options available. Not all deck stains are created equal and there is not a perfect stain type or brand that will out perform all the others.

Water-Based Deck Stains

Water based deck stain have come on rapidly in the last 4 years. The main reason for the vast amount of water based stains on the market today is related to changes in VOC laws across the country. Many states have adopted or soon will adopt lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) regulations. This has prompted stain manufacturers to increase production of water soluble decking stains. In our opinion, water-based deck stain are “thin” paints with varying amount of acrylic and pigment.

Pros: Water cleanup, less chance of mold or mildew growth. Environmentally friendly.

Cons: Do not penetrate like an oil-base can. Slightly harder to apply as they dry quicker. Can be prone to peeling and wearing. *Defy Stains are the only exception that we have tested. They penetrate the best of all water based stains, nearly as well as an oil.

Oil based Deck Stains

Oil based decking stains have been around for 20-30 years and have been traditionally what all stain manufacturers produce. Oil based stains are typically made up of natural and synthetic oils. Many contain oils such as: Linseed Oil, Paraffin Oil, Tung Oil, Rosewood Oil, Etc.

Pros: Excellent penetration into wood. An oil molecule is smaller in size then a water molecule. Better a deck stain can penetrate, the better the performance. Easier to apply. More natural looking

Cons: Stronger odors, longer drying and curing time. Some oils can promote the growth of mildew. Some oil-based stains will darken in color over time.

Solid Decking Stains (Opaque)

Solid deck stains look like paints. They cover the wood so you will not see the wood grain anymore. Once you apply a solid decking stain there is little chance you will ever be able to go back to a transparent stain. Solid stains come in both oil and water based versions.

Pros: Excellent UV protection.

Cons: Films on top of the wood and do not penetrate well. Prone to peeling. Looks like a paint. HarderĀ  to apply. Cannot be removed with a deck stain stripper effectively.

Semi-Solid Stains

The Semi-Solid Deck Stain will only show a small amount of wood grain as they contain a high amount of pigment. They are offered by a limited amount of manufacturers. Semi-solids can be both water-based and oil-based.

Pros: Very good UV protection

Cons: Only a small amount of wood grain will show. Oil-based semi-solid versions will penetrate and perform much better the water-based versions.

Semi-Transparent Stains

Semi-transparent stains contain pigment that highlights the natural grain while sealing the surface. The semi-transparent wood and decking stain is our favorite. Both water and oil-based are available.

Pros: Average to better then average UV protection. Shows natural grain. Very good penetration. In most scenarios can be cleaned and re-coated easily. Can be removed with a deck stain stripper.

Cons: Most water-based versions perform poorly compared to the oils. Many states with the Low VOC laws have a limited amount of quality oil based stains available. May need to buy online if in a Low VOC area.

Transparent Wood stains

Transparent deck coatings look the most natural as they contain minimal pigment. Average life of a transparent decking stain is about 1 year. Mostly oil-based only are available.

Pros: Very easy to apply and reapply as needed. Natural looking.

Cons: Below average UV protection. Typically need to be re-coated annually.

Clear Wood Deck Finishes

Clear Deck Finishes offer little to no UV protection and will gray quickly. Typically used as sealers.

Pros: Does not change the appearance. Extremely easy to apply.

Cons: Grays and oxidizes in months.

Non Drying Oil vs Drying Oil- Based Stains

Drying oils are “curing” oils. This means that they actually dry on top of or just below the surface. They will help “seal” the wood as well. Non-drying oils are the opposite. They never actually dry but rather dive deep into the wood to help condition the cells of the wood. Paraffin oil (not wax) is the most common.

Are Deck Finishes, Stains, Sealers, or Both?

This question can be confusing to homeowners. In general all deck stains are sealers as well as they will help prevent water absorption. Deck sealers typically are not stains as they do not have any pigment. Some though may have a very light tint.

Low VOC Stains and States:

Currently there are 17 States that restrict Decking Stains and Coatings. These states require a lower amount of Volatile Organic Compounds to be released into the air. This mainly affects oil-based coatings. By lowering the amount of “solvents” that can evaporate into the ozone you need to increase the amount of “solids”. This can cause issues with oil-based stains as they may have drying and curing problems. There are still a few good oil-based stains available in Low VOC States but not as readily available at your local stores. You may need to go on the Internet to find them and have them shipped. A couple of examples would be TWP 1500 Series and Armstrong Clark Wood Stains.

Current Low VOC States:

California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Northern VA, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana.

DeckStainHelp.com Suggestions:

With all of these different types of products we prefer the semi-transparent products as they allow the wood grain to show. They offer better then average UV protection and can be easier to reapply in the future. Penetration is better for oil-based versions over the water-based versions. The one exception is the water based Defy Stains.

*All decking stains will eventually fail that is why you want a deck stain that is easy to work with down the road.

247 Responses to “Deck Stains”

  1. Maris says:

    How I wish I knew about your site years ago. I originally applied Cabot solid stain and now contractor had a really hard time getting it off. There are some parts that it can't get off. The wood had to be sanded and now it is rough. How can you effectively remove solid stains completely? Also, is a brightener important. i don't think a brightner was used. We're replacing old solid stain with TWP 100. Is TWP 100 Redwood a "solid"? (I don't want to have to go thru this again). Thanks!!

    • TWP is not a solid and does not come in a solid. For you to use TWP, you would need to remove all of the old stolid stain first.

      • Maris says:

        Thanks for the reply! the contractors removed as much of the old cabot stain as they could but there were some places where it couldn't get off (knots and some edges). They ended up staining over them because 95% of the rest of the wood was finally clean after numerous sandings. again I wish I saw this site bc they used behr cleaner. unfortunately they didn't use a brightener and I hope that doesn't bite me in the future…

  2. Tiffany says:

    I had my deck refinished 2 years ago. they sanded it down and applied a coat of…
    BEHR Premium Semi-Transparent Deck, Fence & Siding Wood Stain

    I would like to now stain my wood fence (this has never been stained, only used Thompsons clear sealer) and I'd love to put a new coat of stain/ sealer on the deck. What would you suggest?
    I have completely power washed the fence and deck. I'm just wondering if anything will stick to the deck now.
    I'd love your suggestions here :)

    • Tiffany, if you want to change brand on the deck than you must remove the Behr first. If you do not want to sand and strip to remove than best to stick with same brand even though it will peel. For the fence you should use a penetrating oil based stain like TWP. Same if you decide to remove the behr off the deck.

  3. Gail says:

    I used an oil based deck stain on my deck about 14 years ago, and hired someone to recoat the deck this year He was going to ask if a latex product could be used after the oil based stain I used, but said the people at the store didn't know whether or not it was possible.He power washed and brightened the deck, but bought a clear latex coating. I'm afraid it will not adhere to the wooden deck as well as oil, and don't want him to use it until we find out if it will work well to protect the deck. Can you tell me if the latex will work after I used the oil based stain? I really need your help. I'm a senior citizen on a fixed income and can't afford to make a big mistake. Thank you for your help! Gail in Michigan

  4. PGPW says:

    Just curious can you apply the same manufactured oil stain and color (like TWP) that was previously used a few years ago after just cleaning it or do you need to remove the old stain completely? Also in order to add a 2nd coat to the horizontals like the floor and top rails using TWP how long do you have between coats to apply. I don't want the 2nd coat to just sit on the surface or it will obviously peel. Thanks!

    • We strip when we reapply as we fund it easier and the stain will absorb better but that does not mean you have to strip. TWP is applied wet on wet but we only do that to the horizontals. Verticals are just one coat. Apply the one coat to the floor, wait about 20 minutes and apply the second coat making sure to not step in your second coat.

  5. Greg says:

    Hello!

    Thanks for your help!

    We have live in south central PA on a wooded lot. Our deck is 4 years old and made of cedar. It gets atleast 8-10 hours of direct and hot sun in the summer. I tried using the water based stuff that you can get at lowes and it needs to be done annually as it looks AWEFUL. I'm pretty sure I need to go oil based, but before I go to the expense, I'm wondering if you would kindly offer your opinion on the kind of stain I should go with. I've been told by neighbors that Sikkens has a great oil based product, but I just want to hear what you have to say as well.

    Many thanks for your time and opinion!

    • Oil based is the way to go and our two that we use are the TWP Stains and the Armstrong Clark. We are not huge fans of the Sikkens SRD as it is an average stain when it comes to reapply. Darkens some and attracts mold. Over priced as well. Still much better than a water based stain from Lowes or HD. No matter what you will need to remove the water based stain first bay stripping and sanding to get it all off first. Use the brightener when done.

  6. Tom Vaillencourt says:

    I have a six year old deck that has never been treated. It is pressure treated pine, and sees alot of shade and moisture. Very prone to alge buildup. It was very blackish green and slimey after two years.
    I have washed off all the alge with a power washer, (no chemicals or detergants). Ive also sanded it to remove the fibers lifted by the washer. It looks great, but is there anything else I should do before i seal and stain it, and what type of stains will be best for an environment like mine. (Wet area, lots of shade, lots of alge buildup) I live in Connecticut, and my deck is fairly low traffic, but I want to seal it to protect it from excessive moisture, and hold down the alge. I also want it to last a few years, and not require extensive work to refresh it when needed. (i.e. I do not want to have to powerwash old stain off before reaplying a new coat every year or three) is there any realistic hope here? And what should i do after sanding before i seal/stain?

  7. stainer says:

    Have a question regarding the 1500 series semi-transparent stain. Power washed and sanded old stain from cedar deck. Used Gemini 2-step cleaner and brightener. Applied stain and pretty happy with how it went on and looks. A couple of small glossy, wet looking areas that did not get wiped, but overall happy. Would like to apply 2nd coat to higher traffic, horizontal surfaces. I was not able to reapply a second coat 15 minutes after the first as it says on the can. Is it too late? Is there a benefit to putting another coat a couple of days later?

  8. Denise says:

    we have a new deck. Not yet put any stain on it at all. it is showing all signs of traffic, and spill stains. I am going to pressure wash it…. then use some stain of some sort, to hopefully stop this foot traffic from being shown up so badly. What do you recommend to use, that would seal it good, and not show so much foot traffic?

  9. tara runfola says:

    I have an old deck stained a dark reddish brown. I'm assuming its a solid oil based stain, and want to get the verticals to white and the horizontals to grey. Is this even possible? I stripped, and power washed the floor. Still lots of brown showing. started sanding today, then will use a deck cleaner. will a solid white stain can cover the residual brown or do I need to paint the verticals? Do you ever recommend a paint for decks?

    • Solid white will cover the verticals. For the floor it would be best to get off all the old stain and use a semi-trans penetrating oil based stain for this. It will make future maintenance much easier.

  10. ben says:

    BTW, Oil penetrating bettter than water has nothing to do with molecular size; oil molecules are MUCH larger than water molecules. Water is more cohesive, plus lignin in wood is somewhat water repellent.

  11. Rob A says:

    What do you think of the new Olympic Elite Woodland Oils for cedar siding? They say they offer a lifetime warranty on mildew but what about wear/fading?

    • Anyone that offers a lifetime warranty is full of BS. That alone makes me want to not use it. Olympic used to make a decent oil based stain. Not sure on their new elite. They were bought out by PPG and PPG has never proven the ability to make a quality deck stain. Decent paints though.

  12. Tom says:

    We have a two month old pressure treated pine deck in NC mountains in full sun uncovered. What do you suggest to use to keep the deck looking good and prolonging its life. So many types and brands of products. I am confused!

  13. Rick Noyes says:

    Thanks for all of your great information, why do you seem to recommend AC, if deck is weather longer than 6 months? If I use Timberoil now (deck is KDAT wester red cedar, 2 months old), is there a drawback to continuing with timberoil? It just seems like to recommend Timberoil highly, yet have stated to use AC for people whose deck is a little older?

    • TimberOil (not the Cabot brand) works well on wood that is 1-3 months while the AC works better if 3-6 months. In general the UV protection is better for AC over the TO and it cures the wood as well.

  14. alice says:

    just got done painting the deck with cobalt soild oil strain, it looks like its going to be very slippery , what can i paint on top of this,we live in the northern states, ,so we get ice and snow what should we do,help..

Leave a Reply

Login