Deck Stain Reviews Ratings
Deck Stain Reviews Ratings
Deck Stain Reviews Ratings

Deck Stains

We have been getting great feedback here at 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. Harder  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. 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.

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275 Responses to “Deck Stains”

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. Greg says:


    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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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?

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • Mike says:

      Oil is better than water period. No matter what the molecular size. Water based stains have zero positive affect on wood other than covering the previous mistakes and blemishes. Good luck removing that garbage too because it makes an absolute mess and the wood itself rots underneath.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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..

  14. MWCO says:

    I have a pressure treated pine covered deck. We used Cabot Australian timber oil (natural color) a couple years ago on it. It is time to re-coat it. Man at Lowes told me Cabot was purchased by Olympic and their Elite Woodland Oil is the same. We are planning to treat with natural color again. Can I just clean the deck then apply the oil or do I need to sand?

    • You need to strip and brighten for prep. We like the Restore A Deck stripper. Cabot was not purchased by Olympic (PPG).

    • Ken says:

      I heard the same story from my local Lowes that Olympic bought Cabot and now made their paint under the Olympic Elite line and they just renamed the colors. But when I had them make up a batch of the replacement paint for Cabot Semi-solid Fence paint (New Cedar color) they used Rustic Cedar as the replacement color. They were nothing alike. Rustic Cedar is more like Rust (reddish from the purple tint) and "New Cedar" is tan with no red tones. They don't color match oils and even though their mixed stains are unrefundable I got my money back, because I didn't choose the color to match, Olympic did. The semi-solid also seemed very thin more like a semi-transparent. I pressed them on whether Olympic really bought Cabot and they began to backtrack and say they just didn't sell enough Cabot to keep them so they had Olympic make up a substitute color in the same family but not identical. I called Olympic and they said the same thing, but couldn't tell me what would be a better matching color. To give Olympic credit they did tell me to check with ACE/Truevalue hardware for Cabot paint. Shame on Lowes for misrepresentation.

      • Valspar bought Cabot about 9 years ago. PPG (Pittsburgh Paints) bought Olympic a few years ago. Lowe\’e employees should not be lying to customers.

        • erin says:

          I work at Valspar. Lowe's wanted us to not sell Cabot to independent retailers (i.e. Ace, Do It Best, etc.). We did not want to cease sales to this channel. We then ceased our Cabot relationship with Lowe's and they decided to bring in a very expensive Olympic replacement. If you want Cabot you will need to go to for a list of dealers in your area.

  15. Gerry says:

    I have a pressure treated pine deck that is in a full sun location in southern New Hampshire. It has never been cleaned or treated. I'm planning to use seal once cleaner and tinted seal once water based stain. The deck is a year old and want to make sure this is a good product choice. I've heard it has excellent UV protection,water repellent and is mildew preventive.
    Your comments are appreciated.

  16. Josiah Rise says:

    I've been renovating for over forty years and I am extremely disappointed that the environmental extremists have taken over the staining industry. After trying pretty much everything on the market, I've concluded that the absolute best stain that was ever manufactured was Olympic oil-based solid color. Then along came the environmentalists with their myopic mentalities and ridiculous laws and Olympic had to come up with a new formula to satisfy them. Unfortunately, the original formula was the only one that truly worked. It lasted for up to ten years without peeling, blistering or cracking. Sure, it faded over time, but when it did, it faded evenly and still looked good as it did. As is all-too-often the case, when they come up with an excellent product (it was made from natural linseed oil), along come the bone-headed environmentalists to quash it with some pseudo scientific research to make our lives more difficult. Now, instead of a product that would last the tests of time, we are stuck with products that need to be replaced every year. If that isn't backward environmental reasoning, I don't know what is! Now I have five times the amount of work in order to maintain what used to be a pleasure to do before the formula changes. The whole situation disgusts me!

  17. paintguyohio says:

    Fyi, It is a violation of federal law to transport a non-voc product into prohibited areas. Telling people to buy a product online and have it shipped into non-attainment areas is also a violation of federal law. Any company that does so is subject to large fines up to $50,000.00 additive per,$50,000.00 first violation,$100,000.00 second violation,$150,000.00 third violation. You really need to remove this from your website because you are liable for the same fines if the wrong person reads this. I have been in the paint business for 30 years working for a large manufacturer and was at one time responsible for compliance with these laws. I like what you are doing on this site, and I wouldn't like to see you get shut down or fined.

    • We do not tell anyone to buy a non VOC compliant stain for their state. If you read the article, it says that they would need a low VOC oil based stain. TWP 1500 and Armstrong Clark are allowed in all 50 states just like the article suggests.

      • Basic Consumer says:

        Actually, I came across this quote at the top of this page "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." While I don't wish to take anyone's side on this, it does appear that you're encouraging anyone who lives in a low VOC area and wants to use the oil based stain, to purchase it online…

        • We are saying they may need to buy a Low VOC oil based stain if they cannot find it locally in stores. You can have an oil based stain and still be allowed in Low VOC states.

  18. Eva M says:

    We just applied Olympic Rescue-It to our decks – now that we are done, we have to constantly clean our decks due to white & grey spots, dirty looking stains all the time, we clean and these spots/dirt marks keep coming back – most annoying after spending all this time painting, and all this money on this "wonder" product. Why does this keep happening, and how can we prevent it from keep happening? Thanks.

  19. Amy says:

    Does an oil/alkyde based stain (semi transparent, I think) need 2 coats? If so, how long do I wait between coats? This is a cedar sided house, being restrained after 10 years.

  20. Scott says:

    Just put in a new cedar deck, want to preserve the grain but don't want peeling or graying or mildew. Is there something out there in todays technology that can let me see and keep the grain showing? Please help.

  21. Angela says:

    After reading your website comments, I have decided to strip, sand & brighten my old deck. UGH! What semi solid stain is best for a PA wrap around second floor elevated deck that was treated 4/6 years ago with Behr solid stain. TWP, Armstrong Clark or other?

  22. Russ says:

    My inherited (Purchased home) deck appears to be cedar. I've used both Defy and Restore multiple times in my painful, tedious and I might add unsuccessful attempt to remove the Cabot deck and fence finisher (SPF48). Seems like there are multiple coats since there was no visible wood grain and it's coming up in various shades before I reach the wood. I've pretty much decided that sanding is the only viable option left. I want to use Tung Oil (Milk Paint) as the new finish. What do you think? I'm in western NC, should I wait until warm weather to complete this project?

    • Sanding is the only effective way to remove the Cabot SPF. Straight Tung Oil will offer not UV protection from graying or mold issues that you will get. That is why you need a deck stain that has pigment and mildewcides of oil based.

  23. Bill K says:

    I turned or replaced most of the boards on my treated pine deck at a lakehouse, cleaned and washed and waited for a couple of months, and recleaned/brightened a week ago. I'll be staining w Defy this weekend. My only question is whether because I'm using a water based stain from the start– am I locked into water based stains from here on out??
    Thanks– this site is outstanding.

    • You will have to stay with Defy for all future coatings unless you strip it off and start over. This is normal that whenever switching brands, you will have to remove old coatings first. Does not matter if it is water or oil based. Defy can be stripped off if ever needed.

  24. Joe says:

    1. Central Kansas
    2. Our deck goes almost all around the house from east to north to west. Some has a roof over it and some does not. The west side that is exposed to the hot sun does not have a roof over part of it. It is a lot of deck surface with deck rail and skirting that is wood also.
    3. Pressure treated pine.
    4. Yes to mildew blackness especially on the north side but there is some on a lot of it
    5. Our deck has been built in stages, the oldest is 22 years old and has been treated twice in that time frame, the rest of it is 10-12 years old and has only been treated once. The last time it was treated is approximately 9 years ago. We have some splintering and peeling of the wood on the west side that is exposed to the hot sun. We have also had to replace a few boards that rotted in a very heavy traffic area. First treatment was with Thompson's since that was so long ago, the second treatment had a little pigment in it and was possibly Olympic.

    Could you give a recommendation to the cleaner we should use and then the best sealer for aged wood?

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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.