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.

6,346 Responses to “What is the Best Deck Stain?”

  1. Zane says:

    1. Colorado (Front Range)
    2. Full Sun in winter, partial shade in summer.
    3. Cedar, 12 years old – about 550 square feet.
    4. Minor mold/mildew. Part of the deck is under a 'messy' willow tree.
    5. Benign neglect. Previously ruined with Behr water-based crap; subsequently stained with adequate oil-based stain (unknown brand) about 4 years ago. Zero water resistance now.

    The deck was aggressively power-washed with a deck detergent (brand unknown) in the last two weeks. The power-washing has left the surface somewhat fuzzy. Otherwise, the wood is in fair shape, with cracks but no warping. I'm hoping for a light/clear color result, but would prefer to stay away from yellow-toned stains. Mostly I am interested in protecting my original investment from further weather damage. After the Behr fiasco I'm a bit gun shy; I'd appreciate any advice.

    • Did you remove all of the old coatings? Lighter colors tend to be yellowish in color. Clear offers no UV protection from graying but will offer water protection.

      • Zane says:

        The old coatings are about 95% removed; the Behr product (essentially an orange paint) is very stubborn around knotholes. I am realizing from reading the threads that a clear stain won't offer the UV protection.

    • Dave says:

      By "aggressively" power washing you have caused the wood grain to raise You have to get that "fuzz" off before you do anything. That fuzz will color darker then the wood itself. With the history and what you have now I would sand the deck to get a new surface to start over on.

  2. CH2 says:

    Deck Location State: Northern California
    Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun
    Wood Type: Redwood
    Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Worn in traffic areas, re-stained without cleaning and stripping last year

    Stain has now been stripped and and wood brightened with Superdeck stripper and brightener

  3. Faye says:

    Location: NW Washington state, north of Seattle
    Partial shade, full sun in late afternoon.
    At least 10 years old, pine, I believe it's pressure treated.
    Mold/Algae are a problem.
    Has been painted twice and is now sanded clean. Paint was peeling terribly.

    I would like to put the Armstrong Clark semi-transparent rustic brown color on it. It does freeze at night here in the winter and we get a little ice on the deck. Snows maybe once or twice a winter. Would the AC semi-transparent work for this?

  4. Chris says:

    Deck Location State: Colorado
    Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: 25% shade summer, 75% shade winter
    Wood Type: Redwood
    Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: None

    This deck is a rebuild with recycled redwood, unstained side turned up. I will be taking a deck sander to it. Any recommendations for a final grit? If well sanded is cleaning of any kind required? Winter is almost full shade and subject to snow accumulations with freeze/thaw cycles.

  5. John B says:

    Thank you in advance for your recommendation on our 3 month old deck.

    1.Deck Location State: Northern Virginia (Washington, DC)
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Partial Shade
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: New deck installed last week of June (3 months ago)

  6. SJP says:

    Deck Location: Colorado Front Range (Alt.6,358', warm summers, moderate winters, )
    Full Sun, Full and Partial Shade (multiple decks)
    Wood Type: Redwood approximately, 17 years old.
    Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: UV exposure, snow, freezing, thawing, and possibly the application/product used; Behr Waterproofing Wood Stain Solid, applied 2 years ago.

    One deck has taken a full week of preparation and yet, stain is still visible! The deck boards are gray with and cracking (some large). Currently, I am sanding over the remaining exposed deck and stain, while wondering, what product to use? With the terrible product reviews of the Restore products and night temperatures (now in the 40's) I am in dire need of professional advice! What stain product? Will adding walnut shells really help? Which wood putty product? Do I need to treat the screws to resist rust? Thank you for the great site and information!

    • Do you want another solid stain? If not then you need to remove 100% of the old solid stain first. Not sure what you mean about adding walnut shells. Wood putty does not work on outside decking. Do not use any.

      You cannot treat screws to resist rust. You can replace them if needed.

    • SJP says:

      All of the advice was moving towards a (Restore) type product until I found your website. Now I am working to find a better product/solution (and some purchases already acquired). Would you recommend a solid stain for UV and damage? I have been told by several (paint store experts) that adding walnut shells to the stain in high traffic areas will help with slick icy spots in winter. Is there a better wood filler/product to use for exterior wood (extreme temps)? I was sold me some Durham's (rock hard) Water Putty (which will only work with solid stain). Many Thanks!

  7. Jeff says:

    1.Deck Location State: Nebraska
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Half of the deck is mostly shaded/Half mostly sun
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: Previous deck yes, this is a new deck about 5 months old
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: New deck installed May, wood was fairly dry at that time

  8. Dave says:

    1. Eastern Iowa
    2. Faces West: Sun for half the day
    3. Cedar, 1 year old
    4. No mold issues yet; only 10 months old
    5. Never been sealed or stained yet. Looking for a recommendation for first time sealing – preferably with a tint and want to maintain wood grain (transparent or semi-transparent)

  9. Ven. Sobhana says:

    Seeking a standard program for 11 small decks in remote cabins.
    Deck Location State: California
    Mostly partial shade, one full sun, two full shade
    Wood Type: Redwood, either never stained or random products purchased locally.
    Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes. This is coastal redwood rainforest in Northern California
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Decks turn black.

    For most of our cabins it is not practical to bring water, so usual deck cleaning products are not possible. Decks are 3 months to 3 years old, and last staining was done in 2012.

  10. Bob says:

    1.Deck Location State: New Jersey – Shore Area
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Mostly Full Sun w/ some partial shade
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes in certain areas
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: General lack of upkeep.

    Recent prep has included high pressure wash and sanding – ready to be stained.

    Prefer a semi-transparent stain.

  11. Willie says:

    Deck Location State: Maine
    Partial Shade
    Wood Type: Pressure Treated
    Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Worn off

    Would there be a problem with using something like a Tung oil to make the color of my deck a bit nicer (it's grey-ish), then following up with a transparent stain?

  12. Terry Brown says:

    Deck Location State: Dayton OH. Harsh winters (cold and moisture), hot summers
    2. Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun early, shade late afternoon
    3. Wood Type: Pressure Treated
    4. Mold or Mildew Issues: Minor
    5. Reason for Previous Stain Failure: solid color stain peeled badly. Sanding whole deck to removed all stain

  13. Phil says:

    1. Deck Location State: Spokane, WA
    2. Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: South facing section full sun, west facing mostly shade until late afternoon
    3. Wood Type: Cedar
    4. Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    5. Reason for Previous Stain Failure: N/A

    Newly refurbished deck with composite deck floor and cedar post & rails. Want best stain option for posts/rails without hiding natural cedar color with a heavily pigmented stain. Desire the highest UV protection possible to minimize recurring maintenance.

  14. Jim Luckett says:

    Deck:
    New construction this October in Waltham, Massachusetts.
    Full sun in some areas and full shade in roofed area.
    Pressure treated pine.

    Siding:
    Untreated rough-cut vertical pine boards, kiln dried, new, installed with back ventilation.
    Going up in October.
    North side will have full length porch so it will be well protected. West and east have 2-foot overhangs providing protection and west is shaded, whiie east is exposed. Not using wood on south.

    I used Seasonite on my rough-pine-sided cabin in Vermont 27 years ago and it worked great. Do you recommend it as a first-year treatment and stain in second year?

    Want to prevent gray, mildew, warping and splitting. Want to stain to enhance wood grain but darken as little as possible.
    What prep procudures and what products should I use on deck and siding?

    • No need for the seasonite. Since it is vertical and kiln dried, you could get it stained this year if the weather cooperates. Prep with the Gemini Restore Kit first and stain with the TWP 1500 Series. Honeytone is the lightest tint. Natural is the second lightest.

  15. Jim Snider says:

    Just built a new deck. Researching how to finish it. Have used Olympic Maximum on a previous deck in another city in NC. Now living on the coast I am considering some other options. Here are the specs.
    1. Location: Wilmington NC
    2. Full sun till mid-late afternoon
    3. Wood type: Pressure treated pine
    4. Mold or mildew issues: minor
    5. New deck. built 2 months ago.

  16. Randy says:

    1. Deck Location State: NW Washington state (Seattle)
    Partial shade, full sun in late afternoon.
    3. Wood Type: Pressure Treated Hemlock/Fir
    4. Mold or Mildew Issues: Very little
    5. Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Age. It has been 2 years since we put the last stain on. Used Cabot last time and wasn’t impressed with how long it lasted. When we used Olympic stain ,the water beaded up on the deck for about a year. Cabot’s only lasted a few months.
    Deck is 25 years old but overall great shape.

  17. Brenda says:

    1. Deck Location State: Illinois – Far West Chicago suburb,rural
    2. morning sun, afternoon partial shade
    3. pressure treated pine
    4. yes
    5. 20+ years old and has never been treated; previously only powerwashed
    Have power washed to remove dirt,mold/algae and discoloration and now need to know what is the next step to condition/clean prep the deck before staining. Receives wear and tear from the windy exposure too. Looking for something to restore and protect the wood but not too difficult to apply.

  18. Hank says:

    Marine boat dock
    Location Northeast Florida
    Full sun
    Wood type: pressure treated pine
    20 years old, never stained or sealed, only occasionally pressure washed
    Some cracking and splintering. Some nails are popping up.as wood curls in some places
    Color is now a gray with dark streaks
    Contractor will be pulling boards down flat with stainless screws and sanding prior to staining.
    Want to improve appearance of the wood and avoid tripping of people walking on dock.
    What surface treatment should I use?

  19. Sharon says:

    What stain should i use for a covered porch? Had been thinking of using deck over product but after reading up on all the complaints, decided that staining would be better.
    1. Location: Columbia, Maryland
    2. Exposure: Covered porch, minimal sun but does get snow
    3. Wood type-treated wood
    4. Mold or Mildew-Not a problem
    5. Nothing has failed, just time to be re-stained, porch is in decent shape-may need some sanding (possible power washing and buffing depending on stain) and hammering in of nails.

  20. Chris says:

    1.Deck Location State: VIrginia
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Partial Shade
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: NO
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: General wear (even)
    Deck is wrap around covered porch facing north…looking for semi transparent rich wood color to re-stain deck that was originally stained about 5 or 6 years ago. wear is even, no damage or peeling
    Thanks

  21. Brian Black says:

    Deck Location State: Utah
    Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full sun
    Wood Type: not sure, cedar maybe?
    Mold or Mildew Issues: no, wood fairly new (within past 3 years)
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Previous owner used Restore 10x paint product. Has chipped since it was applied about 18 months ago. I have used a pressure washer, belt sander, and numerous products to remove it and want to tear down my deck! ;) Since I do not think I can remove all the paint, what would you recommend applying to it? Anything like a light gray tone in what you would recommend? Thank you sooo much.

  22. Dana says:

    Deck Location State: Lake Tahoe, CA
    Full Sun
    Wood Type: Redwood (2 years old)
    Mold or Mildew Issues: no
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Peeled (probably used Behr)
    Plan on pressure washing prior to staining

  23. JAE says:

    1.Deck Location State: Southern Missouri, Ozarks
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Have over 4000 SF of deck 75% full shade/partial shade, 25% full sun
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine, previously stained 5+ years ago.
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes in shaded areas
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Lack of general upkeep.

    Recent prep has included high pressure wash and sanding – ready to be stained.

    Prefer a semi-transparent stain.

  24. aim says:

    1) northwest suburb of chicago
    2) Part to full sun
    3) cedar
    4) no mildew
    5) had used Behr and it peeled terribly…just sanded it off

  25. Ginny says:

    Hi! Great blog. Looking for best stain for 11 year old deck.
    1.Deck Location State: Chicago Suburb, IL
    (NOTE: we are willing to travel to IN, MI or WI to pick up a different stain brand if you think it will work)
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Floor surface full-to-partial sun (some tree shade on parts of deck)
    3.Wood Type: Cedar
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Peeled, fade quickly, colors way off from samples

  26. Kim says:

    Western WI_Full sun_Cedar_No_Not sure, it is next to a swimming pool so maybe pool chemicals

  27. Marsha Brand says:

    Northern West Virginia
    Full sun, mostly partial sun, some in shade
    Pressure treated pine
    Mold and mildew somewhat of a problem
    probably 30 year old deck, some replaced, has been treated in the past but not sure when (we've owned 2 years), no color left except very little on top rail
    Please advise
    Thank you–and thank you for your site–this is what much more of the web should be!

  28. talip says:

    I have a porch that has never been stained or treated that is going on 5 years old. I'd like to use the Gemini Restore Kit, and then either TWP or Armstrong. I see that I need to wait several months after restoring to stain it. I live in the midwest, so my question (with winter coming) is would it be best to restore now and stain in the spring? Or wait until the spring/summer to restore and stain. Side of the porch is full sun, inside is covered/screened.

  29. Amber says:

    Deck Location State: Michigan
    Full Sun
    Pressure Treated Pine
    Mold or Mildew: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Stain peeled off after one season. I appled a water based Cabot, semi-transparent product. After the winter, the stain had peeled off over many of the sections of deck. I also have two 60lb dogs who scratch the product off the deck. I have since sanded the entire deck and I'm preparing to clean the deck with the clean and brighten product. I don't mind having to reapply a product every couple of years, but I would like to be able to reapply over an exhisting product without sanding.

  30. Donna says:

    1.Deck Location State: Pittsburgh Pa
    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: 10 year old well used deck around our pool. It is subjected to lots of chlorine water. I have not stained it in quite a few years.

    • Make sure to prep to restore wood first with a deck cleaner and wood brightener. Stain with the Armstrong Clark in a semi-solid color.

      • Donna says:

        Thanks so much for your input. Hoping to have a beautiful looking deck again by next pool season.

        Also my husband was thinking of putting some sort of outdoor carpeting on part of our pool deck. I didn't think this would be a good idea, my thoughts were it may trap water under the carpet leading to wood rot or excessive mold and mildew growth. Any thought on this? Thanks again

  31. Granit says:

    1.Deck Location State: Chattanooga Tennessee
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Partial Shade
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Wood
    4.MOLD OR MILDEW Issues: Yes
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: The deck and porch were previously painted. The paint was peeling and has been removed. What is the best stain for me to use?

  32. J. Rodman says:

    1. Deck location: North eastern Kansas
    2. Full Sun in the morning. Area close to house/under eaves is less exposed and therefore less dry.
    3. Pressure treated wood, type unknown
    4. No mold or mildew issues
    5. We are inconsistent and a long time between sealing the deck
    Deck flat surfaces are quite dry and somewhat split.

  33. PatM says:

    Deck location: North Central Wisconsin
    South facing full sun
    New wood: either a quality pressure treated or possibly KDAT (Kiln dried after treated) lumber.
    The previous 22 year deck boards, which were stained with Sherwin Williams semi-alkyd wood preservative about every 7 years finally began to split, crack, and now are mildewing on the shaded steps (but the deck board stain never peeled and finally started to fade)

    • Remove the SW first by stripping an sanding the wood if needed for the steps. Brighten all the wood when done. Prep new wood with a deck cleaner and wood brightener. Stain with Armstrong Clark.

  34. Peter Davey says:

    Deck Location State: Tennessee (Kentucky border)
    Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun
    Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
    Mold or Mildew Issues: No
    Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Brand new deck with no stain

  35. momo says:

    1.Deck Location State: Stamford CT
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun
    3.Wood Type: Mahogany
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: No (only the front door which is full shade)
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: Do not know. I just purchased this home

    • Prep with a deck cleaner and light pressure washing. Once the wood color is restored, look at a stain for Mahogany wood type such as the Armstrong Clark in the amber or Mahogany color. Other option would be Messmers Hardwood stain or IPE Oil.

  36. els says:

    Deck location: MO_Mostly sun, morning shade_Cedar_yes on mold and mildew even had green like fungus I'd call it growing on it._I don't know whether to say it actually failed it just needs help again I know. I have tried multiple stains over the years. I have pressure washed it although I have to admit I hate doing this to wood as it does make it a bit fuzzy and sometimes splinters in areas. On part of it I used a deck cleaner to see if there was really a difference and I have to admit I really can't say that I did considering a pressure washer was used to begin with. My fear now after reading several things on here is that with using the pressure washer that it may have drove the mold/mildew and other things into the wood and not sure if I should now prep it in some other way now before continuing with a stain that you may recommend.

    • I doubt that you drove the mildew into the wood grain with the pressure washing. This is what we would do if getting the fuzzies. Continue pressure washing with a deck cleaner to restore wood color. If you still have mold in the wood then use a watered down mixture of one part bleach to 4 parts water. Use a wood brightener when done. Rent a floor buffer machine with a sanding screen of 80 grit and lightly buff off the fuzzies to to smooth down the wood.

  37. Gayle Kuipers says:

    1.Deck Location State: Michigan
    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: N/A

    Description: Large back deck, 150 square feet. Older home, 15 year old deck & never been stained.

  38. Ardis says:

    Deck Location State: Oregon
    Exposure: Full sun until mid-to-late afternoon
    Wood Type: Pressure Treated
    Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes
    Reason for Previous Stain Failures: Hasn't been stained in a few years. This is an old deck (at least 20 years) on a float over the water. The wood is in bad shape — splinters & cracks & popping nails — but I am trying to make it last as long as the float lasts. I have used semi-transparent stains in the past, and I've read that that's what the EPA recommends for old pressure-treated decks. I was considering products designed for badly-worn decks (e.g. Superdeck Elastrometric Deck Coating or Deckover/Rescue-It/Restore), but most of them get bad reviews.

    • Look at a penetrating stain like the Defy Extreme for a deck that has mold issues. AS for the Deck Resurface products, we have not seen one that actually works well as of yet.

  39. Lori says:

    1.Deck Location State: Corpus Christi, TX
    2.Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Partial Shade
    3.Wood Type: Pressure Treated Pine
    4.Mold or Mildew Issues: Yes, we live on the water
    5.Reason for Previous Stain Failure: no stain was ever applied, deck is 10 years old and has been pressure washed
    I love the color of TWP dark oak, just don't know what the 100 or 1500 mean.

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