What is the Best Deck Stain?

What is the Best Deck Stain?

This is the most popular question that deck owners have. Unfortunately there is not a “best” deck stain out there. There are products that are better then others, but there is not one that will outperform every other stain.

A better way to approach this common question is to ask, “what is the best stain for my deck and it’s environment”? Just because a deck stain performs well in the Northeast part of the country does not mean it will perform well in the high altitudes of Arizona. There are also VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Laws the come into effect for different parts of the country. This may limit what is available in your state. For example, TWP 100 Series cannot be used in 17 states that have a low VOC content of 250.

To understand a deck stain and it’s potential longevity we should first look at the main reasons deck stains fail:

  1. UV rays from the sun will damage the wood resulting in degradation of the wood cellular structure. This will break down the stain while causing the wood to oxidize (turn gray).
  2. Water, snow, and ice will cause damage to the wood by breaking down the exposed cellular structure.
  3. Freeze/thawing will expand and contract the wood resulting in the stain “bond” with the wood cells to fail.
  4. Mold, mildew, and algae will  leave the wood unsightly/dirty and can result in rotting.
  5. High traffic areas will leave “wearing” patterns.
  6. Previous stain used was of low quality or applied poorly.
  7. Stain was not applied properly or the wood was not prepped properly prior to application. Bad prep is the number one reason stains prematurely fail!

Once we figure out the main reasons for failure, then we should research what stains would work well for your deck. This is the difficult part, so lets get started!

We will ask a series of 5 questions. Based on these answers (Answers are in Red) we will narrow the choices to 2-3 stain brands that will work at maximum performance for your deck:

Here is an example deck:

  1. Deck Location State: New York
  2. Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun
  3. Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
  4. Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes
  5. Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Peeled and turned dark in color

First of all the state of New York is a low 250 VOC state. This limits the stains that can be purchased or sold legally. Many decks stains that are of low VOC have been known to fail faster then a 550 VOC stain. There are still quality stains available, just not as many. The rest is fairly easy to figure out. This deck should use a 100% penetrating stain that does will with UV protection and is not prone to mold/mildew growth. A semi-transparent stain that fades evenly over time with little to no wearing. This make future maintenance easier.

Based on these questions and answers we would suggest one of these stains:

So here comes the fun part! Feel free to ask what are “the best deck stains for my deck”? Just post a comment below and make sure to include the answer to the 5 questions. Feel free to include any additional information that would be useful!

Ask in Comment Section Below. Make Sure to Include Answers to the 5 Questions.

5,585 Responses to “What is the Best Deck Stain?”

  1. voongmc says:

    Northern California (Not Much Rain – 100 Degree Summers)
    Kiln Dried Con Heart Redwood
    Partial Sun – Overhang covers the deck and provides shadow most of the day.

    I have the wood laid out but have not installed it yet. My plan is to give the wood a cursory sanding on all sides and then to apply Penofin Red Label Transparent Redwood to all sides of the wood (doing an edge and a face at a time, letting dry, then repeating). I then plan to install the deck using the CAMO edge screwing system.

    After doing some additional reading online I have a few questions about my plan:
    1) Is Penofin the right choice for my wood type/climate/etc?

    2) What preparation should I do to the wood before staining? Should I sand it? (I've read on this site that sanding makes it harder for the stain to absorb, but other posts/sites disagree) Do I need to pressure-wash, pH balance, or otherwise chemically wash the new wood? If so, what do I use and how long do I wait before staining?

    3) How long should I wait to stain the wood – should I install the bare wood and let it age before staining? CalRedwood seems to say that this kiln dry wood should be stained immediately and on all sides.

    4) If I stain on all sides pre-construction, should I then restain the deck surface once it's installed?

    5) The CAMO edge nailing system is well-reviewed and produces a good-looking product, but what is your experience with it?

    Thank you for any help or advice you can offer!

    • 1. Penofin will darken in color from our experience.
      2. Let wood season and prep with a deck cleaner and wood brightener: http://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
      3. For kiln dried you do not need to wait a full 3 months. More like a month.
      4. No need to stain all sides but just the exposed wood. No advantage and sometimes a big disadvantage.
      5. Seems to work well in our experience but we only see after the fact as we do not install.

      • voongmc says:

        Thanks for the quick reply! A couple more questions:

        1. If not Penofin, what do you recommend for my climate/wood type? We are looking to retain as much of the reddish color as possible.

        2. What is the sometimes big disadvantage of staining all the sides?

        3. Should I absolutely not sand the wood?

        4. What should I use for a deck cleaner & wood brightener?

        5. Should I pressure wash the deck at any point before staining?

        Thank you again for your advice!

        • 1. TWP or Armstrong Clark
          2. Need the wood to breathe and not 100% seal the surface.
          3. Only sand if need to remove splinters.
          4. Restore A Deck Kits
          5. You use the pressure washer when using the cleaner and brightener.

  2. old lady says:

    western virginia mountains
    full sun with some tree cover coming in on north side
    10 years?
    pressure treated
    treated some years ago with oil with color stain- neglected for years- big sun and climate damage to mold and algae on the overlapped parts-am striping it now-just faint color left after striping first deck thank you

  3. Laura says:

    Bunn, North Carolina (Raleigh area)
    Full Sun
    20 year old deck
    Mold, dirt, gray cracked boards
    Was stained by previous owners to sell house – suspect it was neglected for years – red stain of some sort is fading/washing off
    Have not done anything to it yet

    • Prep first by removing the rest of the old red stain and cleaning the deck. Brighten all wood after. Stain with the Armstrong Clark in a semi-solid for this older neglected deck in full sun.

  4. Kathy says:

    Baltimore, MD
    Partial sun
    20+ years
    No mold; maintained ~ every 2 yrs
    Stained it 2 yrs. ago, with a semi-transparent
    Power-washed with deck cleaner this a.m.

  5. Jacques says:

    Location: Edmonton alberta Canada
    Full sun half the day
    Cedar deck: some older dark planks, some newer much lighter planks
    Mold: no
    Previous application was oil based semi solid which peeled after a few months. Deck has been sanded down to bare wood.
    What is the best stain to use. TWP and Defy not available in canada

  6. Maddie says:

    Eastside of Seattle
    2 years old Cedar deck.
    75% sun when its sunny/ a lot of rain
    We stained with olympic solid stain about 1.5 years ago which started peeling within weeks of application
    deck has since been pressure washed twice
    a little mildew

  7. lisaleek says:

    Mt. Vernon, Washington Pacific northwest
    Full sun until approximatly 5:00pm
    4 month old cedar deck never been finished
    minor mildew
    want a product that can just be applied after a year or two with no sanding in between years and no peeling

  8. LEO says:


  9. Anna says:

    Eastern Iowa
    Some shade in the morning but mostly full sun, snow in the winter
    pressure treated pine
    mild mildew on railings
    Deck is older and poorly maintained. Used to have hot tub on it. Just bought the house in January. We chemically stripped and brightened it. Love how it cleaned up! Now looking for something to protect it but don't necessarily cover up the grain.

  10. Sobryan says:

    1.Deck Location State: Indiana
    2.Partial sun or complete shade in some areas. Heavily wooded area around deck.
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Age/power washing

    Deck has not been re-done in over 10 years. Exposed areas in bad shape (very little stain left), covered areas are not bad, Deck get's power washed a couple times a year. Was previously done in a Solid, Oil based stain (but no idea what was used previously). Looking for the best suggestion for Solid/Oil based stain.

  11. Laurie says:

    Shelton Washington
    Partial sun
    Iron wood
    There is no mold on this 10 year old deck.
    There is wear, just needs to be restained. An oil product was used 10 years ago, but I was considering a water-based product. At this point, it has been sanded down and is ready for final cleaning and then stain…but which one?

  12. Kathy says:

    Baltimore, MD
    Partial sun in afternoon
    Pressure-treated, 20 yrs old
    No mold, algae & has been cleaned & stained every 2-3 yrs.
    Was considering Deckover until I found this site (thank you!), now looking at oil-based semi-transparent?
    Pressure washed with deck cleaner yesterday

  13. Fran says:

    Best deck stain recommendation for 26 year old deck to improve its weathered appearance
    Deck location- Kentucky
    Full sun/ partial shade and full shade – all three
    Wood type: Pressure treated pine
    Mold mildew: yes
    Reason for previous stain failure – no failure only apply those stains that are annual – semi transparent usually oil based Cabot

  14. Michelle says:

    Deck is 10 years old – stained and sealed
    Mostly shade – under a red oak
    Made of Cedar
    Moss and it was black from the roof rain
    Just pressure washed it, and I will sand it down a little before applying anything
    Live in Minnesota

  15. steve carnal says:

    thank you

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