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.

5,532 Responses to “What is the Best Deck Stain?”

  1. jerry levine says:

    1.Mass
    2.Full Sun
    3.Cedar
    4.Yes
    5.Turned dark

  2. Leila says:

    I live in northern BC, Canada and just bought a house with an older pressure treated wood deck with southern exposure and no shade. The deck has never been stained or painted. The house also has a newly stained fence which has a beautiful orangey-red colour that I'm thinking I would like my deck to have as well. From what I've been reading, Armstrong Clark would be a good stain to use for durability and availability in Canada. Would you recommend the transparent Redwood Tone over a pressure treated deck? Or should I try mixing the semi-transparent Cedar and Sequoia Redwood to try to achieve the colour I want? Is there another product you would recommend that has the colour I want?

  3. Louis says:

    question for a friend
    Missouri north of KC
    mixture of new and old cedar….. new just installed this week
    part sun part shade
    green alge
    only power washed so far

    What do you recommend for staining the cedar to best blend the new and old wood? I'm guessing AC semi solid.
    Also can you stain right away on new cedar?
    I'm also guessing clean and brighten?
    Thanks alot in advance just want to see what you had to say before I gave him bad info!!

    • No you should not stain cedar right away. Let weather for a couple of months. Prep so that all wood is clean and free of any previous coatings. Stain with the AC semi-solids.

  4. Alyssa says:

    What are the best deck stains for my deck?
    1. Deck Location State: Southwestern Maine
    2. Sun exposure: Full Sun
    3. Wood type: Cedar decking on boat dock.
    4. Mold/Mildew Issues: No mold/mildew
    5. Reason for previous stain failure: Stain peeled/flaked off within a year.
    6. Other: The dock decking can be removed, so there's no need to worry about contaminating the water.

    • Make sure to prep accordingly by removing any peeling old stain. Once removed go with the Armstrong Clark in a semi-solid color for max UV protection in a deck/dock in full sun.

      • Alyssa says:

        Thank you for your help! I wish I had found your website sooner….it would've saved a lot of time. After reading many of the other posts, I'm concerned about having used Thompson's water seal on my decking. Clearly it was a bad choice. I would appreciate any suggestions you have for properly removing the old stain. One post suggested using EC1800 by EcoChem. Your thoughts and time are appreciated!

  5. eddie chicko says:

    Michigan
    Full sun…….No trees at all
    1 year old
    stain has lost its luster and turn gray
    No mold issues

    Thanks, I need HELP….Eddie

  6. Shari says:

    Northern Michigan (lower peninsula)
    West facing, covered 10' X 60' deck
    Shaded half of day, but hot sun in afternoon and eves.
    16-year-old wood – not sure if cedar, or pressure-treated wood
    Mold not a problem

    HELP!!! Last product used was Cabot SPF Deck & Fence Finish (3600 Natural). This product is a nightmare. It's peeling off in long pieces. Areas most affected are the ones on the outside of the deck with most exposure to the sun and rain. What would be best stain for me to use? What steps need to be taken before applying new stain? Thank you for any advice you can give me.

    • You have to remove the Cabot SPF now and the best way is to sand it all off. Once sanded off you should use a deck cleaner and wood brightener for additional prep. Stain with TWP 100 series once prepped.

  7. Birmingham says:

    Hello.

    Great site! Located in Toronto, Canada (snow, rain, heat & humidity), deck in full sun, Cedar, never noticed mold or mildew on old PT deck, brand new deck. Any comment on Cutek Extreme?

    Thanks.

  8. Deb says:

    What would be the best finish for my Deck?
    Missouri (KC)
    Full sun
    Western red cedar
    No mold, etc
    New deck

  9. Ted says:

    Upper Michigan
    Partial shade
    Cedar
    No mold issues
    Darkening and graying of the wood and water stains is the general problem. Areas to be stained are Deck railings, fence, and garage doors. Stain is slightly peeling on garage doors at bottom possibly form the heat coming of the asphalt?

    Thanks for the help

  10. Laura says:

    Deck location state: Ohio
    Partial Shade
    Pressure Treated Pine
    Mold & Mildew Issues: Yes
    Peeled, and Turned dark and green with mold
    We like solid stain and previously just reapplied over older coats. But, this year we used Wolman's Stripper to remove all coats down to (mostly) bare wood. What is the best deck stain for our deck?
    Thanks for your forum!

  11. Mike says:

    St. Louis, MO
    Morning sun/afternoon shade
    1 year old, not previously stained, pressure treated pine
    no mold on previous deck

  12. Laura says:

    Deck location state: Ohio
    Partial Shade, faces North-East
    Pressure Treated Pine, more than 25 years old
    Mold or Mildew Issues: YES
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Peeled in high traffic areas; turned dark and had green mold
    Previously we just re-stained in the same color over the old stain (after cleaning and sanding). But, this time we chose to remove all the old stain (used Wolman Deck Strip-ASR). It performed nicely; our next step is using the Wolman Brightener. Most of the old stain is removed, but of course some is left in the grain. That can be seen because it was a light color, solid stain. We want to restain with a darker color.
    What are the best deck stains you would recommend for our deck?

  13. Brian says:

    Ma. (north of boston)
    11 year old deck
    little mold
    mahogany
    last stain didn't penetrate/beaded.

  14. Pat says:

    North Carolina
    Mainly shade
    Pressure treated pine
    Lots of mold/mildew
    Not treated in about five years, wear patterns

  15. Stephanie says:

    Fence Location: Anchorage, Alaska
    Full sun on one side, shade on back of another side, and partial shade on the other.
    Pressure Treated Cedar
    Mold and Mildew are an issue
    Info: It is a new fence put up a week ago. You said to wait a few months for it to dry. Alaska only has a couple of months of summer left and we are heading into our rainy month of August. When would you recommend staining and what type of stain. We like the semi-gloss stains.

    • You cannot apply a gloss shine to outside wood. It will peel. Not sure what brands you can get there. Do you know? We can try and narrow it down for you.

      • Stephanie says:

        Sorry about that. I meant semi-transparent. I'm not sure of the brands we have up here. I guess my biggest question is when to stain our fence? It was put up a week ago. Should we try to stain it in 5 to 7 weeks or wait for next summer? We only have a couple of months of summer before the weather turns cold.

  16. Michelle says:

    Colorado – North East
    1/2 full sun and 1/2 in shade part of the day. (deck is composite but railings and pergola is cedar, I think)
    We cant tell what previous owners put on. Some is flaked off like acrylic. Some looks like stain that is just faded.
    It is a hot mess and we are desperate. We spent 2 hours sanding today and maybe finished 1/20th of the project. I am not exaggerating. Help!

  17. EdJ says:

    Deck Location State: Colorado
    Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun
    Wood Type: Not sure but probably Cedar
    Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Old Redwood color stain is mostly worn off and wood is gray now. Deck has probably not been treated for several years.

  18. Marcia says:

    Choosing a deck stain…
    1- Colorado
    2-Full sun
    3-unsure
    4-no mold
    5-unsure…I suspect too long between coats and not a product of quality.

    Thank you!

  19. theresa says:

    Missouri
    Partial shade
    Pressure treated wood
    No mold
    Possible 10 years old never stained before

  20. Smiley Bob says:

    Wichita, KS
    Full mid-afternoon western sun
    Pressure treated pine
    6 years old, never stained or sealed, well weathered
    1/2 of deck boards replaced, same type pine
    Should I wait until Fall to stain and will stain be different between new & old?

    • Yes wait for new wood to season and prep all with the Restore A deck Kits. The new wood will be lighter then the old wood. Nothing you can do about it but next time you stain it will blend.

  21. Rachael says:

    Indiana
    Full sun
    Treated pine?? We bought the house and deck already built and stained with solid stain
    No mold issues
    Needs restained because of couple areas starting to chip, these areas are under outdoor rugs which I want to keep because when walking back and forth from pool to house it keeps the deck cook enough to walk on without shoes. We also have a wooden play set that needs restained and I was hoping I could just use the same deck stain on the playhouse. Thoughts?

    I'm a new homeowner and this will be my first time redoing a deck, not sure where to start or what products will last

    • Once solid stained you will need to go with another solid stain unless you are willing to sand it all off. The issue is it will continue to peel. Does not matter on the brand you choose.

  22. Jason Kim says:

    1. Deck Location: Salt Lake City, UT
    2. South Facing, Full Sun
    3. Wood Type: Redwood
    4. Mold or Mildew Issues: Have not noticed any
    5. Previous Stain Failure: New deck

  23. Frank Pedro says:

    Cambridge/Boston Massachusetts
    Full Sun
    15 year old pressure treated pine
    just sanded smooth clean
    no mold

    Also 2 Mahogany decks
    1 full sun, 1 shade
    10 years
    need cleaning but only stained previously

  24. Amanda says:

    1. Deck Location-Central Kentucky
    2. Sun-Full Sun
    3. Wood Type-pre treated pine
    4. Mold/Mildew issues-yes
    5. Reasons for failure- Previous stain wore off; several big splinters. Can't afford to replace deck right now. Going to put house up for sell within a year but deck looks awful.

  25. Irina says:

    1. Canada, Toronto
    2. Partial shade
    3. Pressure treated pine 20-30 years old deck
    4. no mold/mildew
    5. it has been sanded, and prep with Restore-A-Deck cleaner and brightener.
    we want semi-transparent or semi-solid light color stain. Or should we prefer solid stain as the deck is old (it looks fine though)? Do not want to go through sanding/cleaning every 2-3 years if possible. I m thinking about Flood (as TWP and AC are not available here and I do not want to order as want to sample first). But Flood SWF-UV5 is available here in water version or Flood Woodtones oil stain. Have you heard anything about Flood Woodtones or should we stick to Flood SWF-UV5 water based?
    thank you!

  26. Jane says:

    I'm reading your site with interest. I'm actually writing about a cedar FENCE, although I'm hoping the stains/sealants described on your website will apply equally to this structure.
    Location:: central Indiana
    Fence runs east & west, so one side in full sun, the other side in full shade
    Cedar planks with treated posts
    mold/mildew on the north side
    previously used Cabots water-based: pealing and graying, mold on north
    Just pressure washed every inch!
    What should I use as a stain/sealant? Any help would be appreciated! Many thanks.

  27. Mike says:

    1.Deck Location: Newfoundland, Canada
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun, only shade in corners of deck near house
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated lumber (likely spruce)
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes, in areas with partial shade
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Peeled and lifted on flat decking, good adhesion on vertical surfaces after 3 years.

    Previously used SICO semi-transparent stain in an Urban Brown tone, was not happy with how dark it was, nor with how it lasted. My problem is that I cannot find any of the "good" stains locally (likely due to Canadian VOC laws). Seems like the best option may be Cabot Stains which I can source at one local retailer, but pricing is not very good.

    My goal is to have a light natural cedar tone in a transparent or semi-transparent, or some other light brown tinted semi-transparent. This is on an approx. 300 sq. ft. deck in my backyard. Thanks in advance!

    • If you want to go lighter you will need to remove all of the SICO stain first. Use a stain stripper to remove and brighten when finished. When looking for a stain locally and are limited, try to make sure you find an oil based penetrating semi-transparent stain.

      • Mike says:

        Yes I have already stripped all of the SICO stain and brightened as you've recommended. I don't even think I can find a pure oil-based semi-transparent stain anymore, it appears that they are all hybrid stains. Any particular brands available in Canada that you recommend for semi-transparent or transparent stains? Thanks

  28. Diane says:

    Northern Michigan – lots of snow
    pressure treated wood
    Full sun in morning
    28 year old deck
    Mold in spots
    has been power washed and sanded
    has never been stained

  29. Pete Penna says:

    Location: Seattle area
    Sun/Shade: Partial to full shade
    Wood type: Epay (or Ipe)
    Mold/Mildew issues? A little mold in the shadiest area
    Reason for failure: Improper application in some areas. I do not know what was used previously.

  30. Beth Carroll says:

    We had previously painted our deck of 28 years after previous years of stain and Thompson's water seal. After about 3 or 4 years the paint started to peel. We sanded the entire deck (pressure treated wood) but now want to put something in a gray tone that will hold up. It is only the rails, as we replaced the floor with vinyl several years ago. Since we are up in years we are looking for low maintenance.
    What should we use?

    • Deck Stain Help says:

      If you removed all of the solid stain then go with a penetrating semi-transparent. Look at the Defy Extreme in the Driftwood Gray or the Armstrong Clark in the Driftwood.

  31. garp says:

    Deck Location State: Northwestern Pennsylvania (in the rain and snow shadow of Lake Erie)

    Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun until 1 or 2 pm, then in shadow of the house

    Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine, 17 years old, being sanded down to bare wood

    Mold or Mildew Issues: Wood was gray, so yes.

    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Peeled within a year

    We last treated the deck with opaque stain after pressure washing it. This time we’re sanding all the old stain off and planning to use a pre-treatment (wood restorer) and rinsing it thoroughly before treatment.

  32. Cody says:

    Minnesota
    Full Sun
    12 year old deck
    Some boards splintering
    Badly in need of a good solid stain

  33. Art says:

    California
    Full Sun
    Redwood
    No mold
    New Stain

  34. Jennifer says:

    Victoria BC,
    partial to full shade Under a Gary Oak tree on northwest corner of house ie mildew and moss an ongoing battle.
    14 year old deck (pine?)
    Solid stained it 3 years in a row after preparing with powerwashing, TSP and rinse and light sanding, scraping of loose stain.
    Did the same to two other decks around house with no issues. This one starts peeling during the winter following the staining and continues until 50 % peeled and I restart the process. Perhaps the wood was neglected too long before we bought the house, perhaps there isn't enough air circulation under this deck so it stays wet longer during the rainy winter, I don't know ultimately why it failed.
    What would you recommend?

    • Sorry but sounds like you will always continue this cycle. Only option is to remove all the solid stain and start over with a penetrating semi-transparent. This would require sanding it all off.

  35. Kathy Boever says:

    1. Missouir
    2. Cedar
    3. Full Sun
    4. Slight mildew problem
    5. Age

  36. Tim says:

    Cleveland, OH
    Full Sun
    Pressure Treated Pine
    No Mildew
    Previous stain was solid and was peeling and worn out in less than 4 years.
    It's hard to get out the solid stain off the railings so I'd like to just paint over it with another solid stain. How do I prep this.
    I'd then put a semi-transparent stain on deck floor surface (same stain color, just semi-transparent).

    • Prep by stripping off what is loose with a deck stain stripper and pressure washing. Sand the rest off the floor. Use a Flood Solid stain for the rails (based in your area) and use the TWP 1500 Series for the horizontal floors.

  37. steve carnal says:

    st. louis,missouri, partial shade deck facing north and full sun siding facing south, cedar deck and siding, mildew/mold on deck and none on siding, siding on south face dry and faded easily absorbs water 75% amount with 25% partial shade covered with shiny color and beading water, cedar deck north facing shows multiple coats of stain accumulation and dark brown with areas of mold/mildew and areas beading water 25%. olympic maximum old stain aplied every 2-3 years and last stain 2 years ago with olympic stain and sealant all in one which really darken deck (deck 15 years old). cedar siding 25 years old but both show no rotting or graying relatively in good condition. want to return to cedar color(cedartone color). never stripped, used brightner or used cleanser on either-just power washed every 1-2 years.. question is stripping needed for both and all areas described and will one stain work for both(plan on using brightner now that i know after stripping or using cleaner. thank you

  38. Tom says:

    Deck inland northwest Spokane Wa West side of home,
    No mold or mildew
    5years old
    Stain over new wood
    Partial sun in summers which can average in 90 degree heat
    Plenty of ice and snow in winter
    Wood type: Fir

  39. Jason says:

    Western Washington
    Partial Sun
    Fir GlueLam Beams
    No mold
    The contractor forgot!

  40. Donna in Austin says:

    Thanks so much for all your info!
    Central Texas
    1/2 full shade, 1/2 full-part sun
    cedar
    none
    brand new deck – 1 month old

  41. Ronnie says:

    Eastern Virginia (On Rappahannock River)
    Full Sun
    Pressure/salt treated pine
    no mold mildew issues
    Previous stain just old, faded, turned gray, needs a new finis

  42. Gary says:

    Deck Location State: Massachusetts
    Full Sun, southerly exposure
    Cedar
    Mold or Mildew Issues: Not much, some dry rot
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Behr semi-transparent peeled off after one winter

    I have pressure-washed and sanded the whole 250 sq foot deck, and replaced a few rotted boards.
    I could go with semi-trans or even solid if that made a big difference in the stain's life span. Thanks!

  43. steve carnal says:

    thank you

Leave a Reply

Login