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. The 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 than 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 than 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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429 Responses to “Deck Stains”

  1. jcrn says:

    Several years ago, we put an opaque stain, not water based, on our deck. It has held up very well but when we power washed it recently, even using the lowest setting, to get rid of mildew and dirt, it stripped some of the stain off. Until then, we hand scrubbed the deck or hosed it off but this year the mildew was impossible to kill and I took a hard fall.

    Can we put new stain in top of the old without having to strip all of the old stain off? Or do we have to start from scratch?

    • Stripping will not remove all of the solid stain but it still should be done to remove as much as possible of the loose stain. Reapply the same stain when done.

  2. Patti says:

    We have a covered front porch and steps which were stained with SW Deckscapes oil-based semi transparent deck stain. We live in the mountains of NC, the porch faces east, and gets some sun, but not heavy. It has not been fully treated in almost ten years, but my husband has done occasional touch ups on the railings, which are cedar, but all other horizntal surfaces are pressure treated. I hate the look now, which is dull, shows dirt easily, and on the pressure treated wood I don't see the wood grain. Can we just use an oil based primer and then paint with an oil based paint for floors to get a little shine on our surface since we can't see the wood grain anyway? Or do we have to use the same oil based deck stain? And if so, is just pressure washing ok, or do we have to strip first (our last choice)?

    • Why can\’t you see the grain of the wood if the old stain was a semi-transparent? Primer and paint do not work so well on decks. It will most likely peel and blister, making future maintenance even more difficult.

  3. plain jane 96 says:

    Thank you for your helpful information. We have finished stripping and brightened with Restore a Deck and will next remove the wood furring/fuzzies. This is the 3rd time we have stripped the redwood deck along with 6 pair of shutters in the 30 + years since we built. Have used CWF each time but know that the product has changed over the years through experience. The last time stripped, brightened and stained was 5 years ago with CWF-UV5. Which TWP would you recommend in semi-transparent stain, the 100 or the 1500 series? TWP web site states the 1500 is "Best" and has more solids. The deck is covered on the north and west side of the house and gets sun until about 2 p.m.on the stairs and railings which lead to a concrete patio below with the walk out basement. What color is close to the Natural Tone of the CWF? Really like that color as it goes great with the reddish brick (hubby is a bricklayer).

  4. Sue says:

    We put a cedar deck/porch in last summer. We power washed last summer with deck cleaner and then learned we should wait to stain. Power washed with deck cleaner again last night. Looks great , do we still need to do deck brightner? If so do we need to power wash or can we just hose it down? Also the stains you have mentioned we are not finding in mpls. Area, we were told to use sikkens any thoughts on that brand?

  5. Sue says:

    Put new cedar deck/porch in last summer. We power washed last summer with deck cleaner and power washed 2 days ago with deck wash. Deck looks great!! Do I still need to use deck brightner? Can't find brands you've mentioned in mpls. Area, Some one recommended Sikkens!! Do you know anything about that product? We were hoping to get it sealed this weekend? Do you happen to know any brands I can buy in mpls. Mn.

  6. Michelle says:

    Hi, we had a fence added to our backyard and recently used behr solid wood stain on it as that's what the previous owners had used on the existing deck. After it dried we came to realize that behr has changed the colors and so the fence is much lighter. Seems like our options are to try to strip the deck entirely (which we may need to do eventually but it's not in terrible shape just yet) and restain or maybe we can do a second coat on the fence and see if we can get HD to remix the stain with a slightly darker color and then do a second coat on the fence? Appreciate any opinions! Thanks!!!

  7. Pat says:

    I have a rather large deck 13 x 33 foot. Full southern exposure in south jersey. Deck is 15to years old and in decent shape. I used the Behr solid stain a few years ago. Not terribly happy with the way its held up to sun but stain on the rail posts has held up ok. If I understand correctly, from reading your reply to Michele, are you saying I will not be able to strip the Behr solid stain? And if not can i apply a different brand of solid stain or am I stuck with the Behr product? Thanks.

    • You cannot strip it fully. You can strip and pressure wash to prep for reapplying a new solid stain. Look ay Flood Solid Stains or the Gulf Synthetics Deck Revive.

      • Pat says:

        I really do not want to go the sanding route. Way too much work especially if I am applying solid again. Can I simply power wash really good then just apply the Flood product right over whatever remains of the Behr?

  8. Rich says:

    Similar to many posts, but have 'refinish anxiety' :) My deck was 20+ years old, 40 x 14', Northern NJ, mostly shaded. 25% of decking was needing replacement. Found entire framework under deck was carpenter ant eaten. Redoing entire base, but want to flip and reuse good decking. All surfaces will be sanded. Questions:
    1) If I mix the new and old randomly and then sand old and new, how long to let new decking breathe before staining?
    2) I lean towards a dark semi-transparent oil based stain, given the sanding of all surfaces new/old, will the color match reasonably?
    3) Should I use a cleaner/brightener on sanded deck to open pores of new wood to help better color match?
    4) The underside of the 75% of good, old decking looks surprisingly good. Should I worry about completely removing screws/nails if I use semi-trans oil in a dark color?
    5) Should I not use semi-trans for this scenario? I'd like to minimize future ease of maintenance and increase deck longevity. I have a power washer and am OK with a good blast every 2 years and a simple reapply of semi-trans vs. full resand on a solid stain.

    Thanks in advance for your advice on this scenario!


  9. Thermalsol says:

    Piedmont NC, South facing covered front porch. Gets sun in winter, only around the edges in summer. 8′ x 32′, good overhangs. Was sealed about 5 years ago, but I do not know with what. Painter disappeared mid job. Pressure treated pine, 17 years old in good shape. Just washed and is a little light in color. Want only wood color back, protection and no stain color. Pollen is a bigger problem than mold (oak woods). Can I use an oil sealer if a water sealer has been applied in the past?

    • You have to add color if you want to preotect from UV graying. Try a light tint like TWP Honeytone or Armstrong Clark in Natural. As long as the old sealer is removed then you can use an oil based stain.

  10. Prem says:

    Your Article was extremely helpful to me. Read many other articles, they were good, but, very confusing . Seems they were trying to sell one product over another. Thank you so much.

  11. Matt Leitl says:

    Hi, your article was extremely informative! I was hoping you could help us address our issue specifically. We recently refinished our deck and, unfortunately, we did not do enough research prior to staining. A couple months after staining with Sherwin Williams Deckscapes "cedar toner" black mold spots started appearing all over the place. It was so bad I had to resand the entire deck to the bare wood. I then washed the deck with a bleach and detergent solution and we re-stained with the same Sherwin-Williams product. Low and behold, a couple months later here comes the mold! I should mention that we live in Massachusetts and the summers are very humid and we also have extremely high levels of tree pollen. Mind you, this deck is almost 1000 ft.² and I don't have the energy to keep screwing up! Could you recommend the best stain stripper, deck cleaner and semi transparent or semisolid stain for our situation? A stain with the best mold resistance is in order here. Also, would a solid stain provide more mold resistance than a semi solid or semi transparent? Your advice is greatly appreciated! I read up on the TWP stripper, cleaner and 5 gallon stain kit for $250. Not sure if you'd recommend that as her best option, though…

    • Does not matter if the stain is a semi-trans or solid. Mold will grow on top of any stain and nothing will stop that. You can minimize the growth \”in\” the stain though. Stains that are water based are much less prone to mold growth. Defy extreme is one of the best. The best oil based stain for mold prevention in your area is the TWP 1500. It contains and EPA registered wood preservative/algaecide in it. Only manufacturer on the market that contains this. RAD products work well for prep in most cases.

      • Matt Leitl says:

        Thanks for the information! In preparing the deck ( which is currently finished with Sherwin-Williams oil based stain )for a new finish do we need to strip all the existing stain? I'm assuming the answer is yes if we were to switch to a water based stain (like defy extreme) but do we still need to strip all the current stain off if we go with A new oil based stain like TWP 1500? Is it also necessary to use a bleach and detergent solution and a wood brightener after stripping and prior to re-staining? Thanks again!

        • Yes if changing brands you should always strip for proper results. Brighten as well. No bleach.

          • Matt Leitl says:

            Thanks again! And finally, if you had to choose between defy extreme and TWP 1500 which would you choose in our situation? Again, high humidity in the summers and cold snowy winters. A very high pollen counts is common. We also live in a valley and so there is a lot of mold…

          • I believe either would give good results for you.

          • Matt Leitl says:

            Thanks again!

          • Matt Leitl says:

            I decided to go with defy stain. Considering I have experienced extreme mold problems, would it be advantageous to use defy marine over defy extreme even though our deck is not near water? I'm just curious, do you know what the difference is between the extreme and the Marine in terms of ingredients?

          • I do not know the difference between the Marine and Extreme.

  12. Matt says:

    I have a Behr semi-trans in credit which is like a thin red paint – can I apply a Flood white solid over the top without the bher underneath showing through?

    Will I need multiple costs of Flood solid white? I'm doing solid white in the verticals over the Behr semi.

  13. patrick says:

    I live in suburbs of Chicago Illinois. for the last 2 years we used BEHR PREMIUM® Semi-Transparent Weatherproofing All-In-One Wood Stain & Sealer and the stuff flakes in traffic areas. my uncle used to get a BEHR paint that was something like an oil base or something and his deck turns out. My deck is on the south side of the house so it gets the sun light all day which I think would minimize the mold growth. Im looking for something that I don't have to repaint every year.

    • You have to remove and start over. The Behr can be a difficult strip. Try the RAD Stain Stripper and pressure washing to remove as much as possible. Sand the stubborn areas if needed. Brighten the wood after removal. Stain with a penetrating semi-transparent oil based stain that does not peel. TWP 1500 Series or Armstrong Clark.

  14. Teresa Hoeing says:

    I have a pressure treated 22 year old deck in Indiana. Deck is in wooded area and 90% shaded by trees. Have used Thompson Wood Protector EACH fall after cleaning with dish liquid and bleach with a stiff broom. Have not been happy with the new formula the last two years. I sprayed on the product the first twenty years. Now have to brush/roll on the new formula as it is too thick to use in pump sprayer. The new formula has not performed as well as the old formula. Would like to try a new brand this year. Any suggestions??? Indiana is not a VOC controlled state.

  15. tharooster says:

    I bought a new house deck is in good shape treated wood but rails are rougher imma sand and work on them and use a cleaner and brightner on rest. Then i wanted to use a clear oil based or a semi thats stands up to alabama ridiculous heat and humidity while preserving deck for as long as possible. Opinion on clear vs semi? Name brand to go with? Was looking at defy or flood uv or even a marine deck sealer but not near the water?

  16. John Spoeri says:

    I am in the Chicago area. I have a cedar wood deck which I stained with Sikkens Cetol SRD Mahogany (transparent) 2 years ago. The high traffic pathways are worn down, but otherwise it has held up well. It seems that they don't make the Sikkens Cetol SRD Mahogany anymore, instead they now make the water soluble Sikkens Proluxe. I have read that the colors don't match up anymore between the old and new products. This is important to me, as I am only redoing horizontal surfaces. Any thoughts?

  17. Ben says:

    If I stain my full sun deck with dark brown semi transparent stain will the surface be overly hot to touch? My old deck was very hot but it had solid stain.

  18. Keith says:

    I'm in a huge dilemma and the information I'm receiving is conflicting. I just finish building a deck last and this year I'm going to stain it. However my phobia stems from me screwing up the last part of the project. What's the best over all stain for the protection of the wood? I like the colors of the solid stains since they have more variety of colors. I can live with the semi transparent stains,but that's it. Which is best for not causing problems, semi transparent vs solids.? Cost is not a factor. Full sun exposure. However the deck is around my pool. Which is the best manufacturers of stain with these criteria? Oil based all the way. To avoid issues with the stain I have have no problem with more maintenance as long as the stain doesn't fail. Could u help with my decision. Thanks. Keith

  19. John says:

    We live in the pacific NW and we just built a new deck with pressure treated wood. We also have another deck that was built last fall, which we never stained because of the weather. We are now thinking of buying the TWP 1500 for both. We will be pressure washing both decks prior to applying stain, do we need to apply a cleaner as well before we stain?

  20. Sandy says:

    What are the cons of using a sprayer for a deck stain? It would be done by a professional painter.

  21. Missy says:

    Hi, we have an 8 year old cedar deck, in Minnesota, southwest facing. We've power washed it, stripped it, used deck wash, sanded, filled holes with Elmer's wood putty, and sanded again. I think the putty was a mistake because it dried so white and now the deck looks spotted. What would you suggest we should we do next to prep it and which stain should we get? We have purchased the Cabot Australian Oil in Mahagony Flame from Home Depot (returnable). I'm kinda nervous about applying it and having the deck look crummy after all this prep. Please advise. Thanks!

    • Putty was a mistake. It will show through the stain and does not \”stain\” to blend. It will look like white spots everywhere. Only thing you can do would be to use a solid stain on the deck. This masks all the wood so it looks like a paint.

  22. Rick says:

    Curing time ?

  23. Don says:

    I need to restain decorative posts on the garage, shutters on the house and an exterior support beam on the deck (but not the deck surface – it's Trex). I'm not sure if the original stain was water-based or oil based. I don't want to remove the shutters but plan on power washing everything except the deck beam which I sanded. What type of stain would you suggest – water or oil? I want to use the same product on everything.

  24. Jen says:

    Needing to stain our deck but so confused on which product would be best. Not impressed with Behr. Thoughts on Cabot?

  25. Howie says:

    I have a 17 year old cedar deck. I just replaced many of the cedar boards that were rotted. I now have a deck with new and aged cedar boards. I completely stripped, power washed, and sanded the entire deck. It looks almost like new. What would be your recommendation on the next step? Do I need to wait until next spring before I stain the entire deck or can I apply something else in the meantime just to preserve the wood, both old and new?

    • I would wait. Clean and brighten the wood again for the prep in the Spring. Do not sand. It will be fine through one Winter. This way the new and old wood will blend better when stained.

  26. Pam says:

    I have an oil based transparent stain (that has a cedar color to it ) on my deck and it is starting to look terrible after two years. I planned to put another coat on it, but the can says DO NOT PUT OVER TREATED WOOD! I power washed it and did the brighten and clean thing, but it has areas that are colored and areas that are not. Some areas seems resistant to waters and others do not. What do I do now???????

  27. Wjdda says:

    A most clearly written article that helps demystify the argument of oil vs water bases strains.

  28. Bill says:

    We are building a self standing screen porch room, 12×16. In Kentucky, very humid. Will either have PT pine deck board or knotty western cedar untreated. Prefer the latter IF price is,low,enough. In that case will spray seal with Hemp Shield. But if forced to buy PT wood, I will use a low voc oil based sealer. My problem is that i want the contractor to spray seal before the deck is constructed…on all six sides. He is ok with it, but is a week long enough for the PT wood to dry out? In this short period of time what oil based sealer will penetrate we'll enough

  29. Rachel says:

    I just read in a log cabin magazine that some home owners are applying two coats of stain, and then putting a coat of transparent stain on top for extra protection. Is this helpful or necessary?

    • That is not a good idea. TWP is a penetrating stain. Applying a clear coat sealer on top will result in a filming sealer that will not allow the wood to breathe. No benefit to doing this and could create many issues like peeling and trapped mold.

  30. Hope says:

    Why would you apply a primer prior to applying a solid color stain?

  31. Orlando says:

    I just power washed our deck. Previous owners used a solid stain which is about 80% off. My wife wants to use a semitransparent stain. Would you still recommend the TWP 1500 or the Armstrong Clark stains in our situation?

  32. Eva says:

    I received a quote for sealing my weathered deck. My contractor recommended WP5 – he said it is a silicone based sealer that lasts at least 10 years. Do you have any information on this product? I have a cedar wood deck.

  33. Bill says:

    I replaced old cedar with new about 3 months ago, how long do I wait until I can apply a sealer?

  34. Whitney says:

    i have a partially covered new redwood deck installed in July. I'm getting ready to stain it next month before snow hits. We live in Utah Your highest rated products are the TWP 1500 and 100 and Armstrong Clark. Which would you recommend? I will be using the RAD cleaner and brightener kit prior to staining. I also plan on using a transparent redwood stain… Would love your recommendations and to make sure i am doing thing right the first time!

  35. Amy says:

    Do you know anything about using ecowood on pt pine deck? Deck is new, partly uncovered and part covered under screened porch. Like the weathered look but do not want splinters. What would you recommend to achieve this look while protecting wood and feet? House is log cabin. Thanks!

  36. Mike says:

    Hi I used a semi transparent cedartone on PT wood i just power washed it the crdar tonr comir is still there. I'm hoing to go with a darker semi tramsparent such as a walnut. Do i hsbe to use a stripper or brightrner or can I just go over it? In Wisconsin & can you recommend a brand?

  37. Albob says:

    Last fall I built a 500 sqft deck with sienna boards. Recently I went to buy a couple of deck boards and the seller asked me if any of my boards where cracking prematurely because he was receiving complaints about the boards retaining water and splitting prematurely. He said the boards had a defect and that I should apply a sealant. I am upset with this but instead of blaming someone what is my best approach to resealing the boards. I have just finished cleaning and lightly sanding the boards. I would like to use a translucent sealer to maintain the original color, any suggestions.

  38. Karen says:

    We have two decks with many rotten boards that we have now have replaced. There was previously solid stain which we power washed and sanded. We are not really wanting to put on solid stain again but are leery about the possibility of inconsistent coverage on the new vs. old boards. We were thinking about semi-transparent. Has anyone had this issue before or does anyone have any suggestions as to what would work the best? Thanks!

    • Old wood and new wood will not match the first time staining with a semi-trans. You would have to remove 100% of the solid stain as well. If you do then try a semi-solid for better coverage and appearance. The Amrstrong Clark is what we would use.

  39. miki says:

    i am buying a home with a large didnt seem to have any sealant or stains on it but it was molding and graying. i pressure washed it and need to know what to use to tent as the colors arent an even tone and to seal it …any brands u could suggest ie australian oil cabot wolman…its driving me nuts trying to figure it out i dnt want to mess up the deck we love so much

  40. Travis says:

    Need wood fence stain/sealer to replace: Cobalt 3002-Cedar #158.

  41. G con says:

    most informative site so far thank you!

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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.