Deck Stain vs. Paint: What’s the Difference Between Stain and Paint, and Which Is Best for a Wood Deck? 5/5 (4)

This post was updated on February 8, 2022

A question we hear often at is, “What’s the difference between using deck stain and regular house paint?” The key to answering this question starts with understanding the difference between stain and paint.

Is it Better to Paint or Stain a Deck?

Deck Stain vs PaintIf you’re comparing stain to house paint, it’s absolutely better to use stain on your wood deck. House paint is designed specifically for vertical surfaces, such as walls and trim, not horizontal ones like the surfaces of your deck. House paint is much thicker, and when applied to a deck, it will wear and peel. Meanwhile, staining is a more budget-friendly option that is easy to apply and shows off the natural look of the wood.

However, it’s important to note that there are numerous coatings designed specifically for horizontal wood, such as a deck floor. Paint for a house is not one of them, but if you really like the look of paint rather than stain, you can buy specialized deck paint that’s made for horizontal surfaces.

What Is the Difference Between Deck Stain and Deck Paint?

The main differences in using deck paint vs. stain are the appearance and the ease of application. Deck paint will cover the grain of your deck completely and hide any blemishes you don’t want people to see, and it comes in an array of colors; stain shows the grain of the wood and typically only comes in shades of brown. However, a stain can be applied in one coat and doesn’t show brush or roller marks, while deck paint will require multiple coats and is harder to apply smoothly.

What Lasts Longer: Stain or Paint?

Stain is much more durable than house paint on a wood deck. However, if you’re comparing deck paint vs. stain, the paint will often last longer, assuming that you’ve applied it correctly. While the stain is fairly easy to use, deck paint will require you to use a wood preservative and a primer underneath, and a sealant on top.

Types of Deck Stain vs. Paint

Exterior wood and deck stains come in many different types and transparencies. The most popular are transparent deck stains, semi-transparent deck stains, semi-solid deck stains, and solid color deck stains. These deck stain types are designed especially for decks but will have different appearances and longevity. Here’s an analysis of the different types of deck stain and how they compare to house paint.

Solid Color Deck Stain

Solid deck stains look like deck paint. They cover the wood completely, so the grain won’t be visible anymore. Once you apply a solid deck stain, you will have to stick with a solid stain in the future unless you want to power-sand to remove it.

Differences in a Solid Stain vs. Paint

While both will hide the wood’s grain, giving you a similar appearance, a solid color stain for decks will have a thinner consistency. This allows for better penetration into the wood grain, and this has a huge advantage over paint, as there will be less chance of peeling.

Is Solid Stain Better Than Paint?

Solid deck stain is absolutely better than house paint for your deck.

Semi-Solid Deck Stain

A semi-solid deck stain will only show a little of the wood grain, as it contains a high amount of pigment. Semi-solid stains come in both oil- and water-based versions. Oil-based semi-solids are better, as they will soak deeper into the wood grain compared to water-based semi-solid stains.

Difference Between Paint and Stain That’s Semi-Solid

Transparency and penetration into the wood are the main differences between paint and a semi-solid deck stain.

Semi-Transparent Deck Stain

Semi-transparent deck stains are designed with pigments that highlight the natural grain of the wood while sealing the surface. Semi-transparent wood and deck stains are among our favorites, and they come in both oil- and water-based versions. Check out our recommendations to find the best semi-transparent deck stains.

Comparing Semi-Transparent Wood Stain vs. Paint

In most scenarios, semi-transparent deck stains will have very good penetration into the wood grain. They also show or highlight the grain of the wood, while the paint will hide the grain fully.

Transparent Deck Stain

Transparent deck coatings contain minimal pigment, so they look the most natural. Transparent stains last about 12 to 18 months

Difference Between Transparent Deck Stain and Paint

While paint will cover up your wood, transparent deck stains look the most natural and will not hide the grain of the wood. This is also the easiest type of stain to remove and reapply as needed down the road.

What’s the Best Deck Paint or Stain?

There’s no one best deck stain for every situation, but we do have a few favorites:

Frequently Asked Questions About Deck Paint and Stain

Is it Better to Paint or Stain Treated Wood?

It’s better to stain pressure-treated wood instead of painting because the preservatives in the pressure-treated wood make it harder for the paint to bond to it. Staining doesn’t require any additional preparation for your wood and handles the abuse of the sun, rain, and snow better than deck paint would.

Is it Cheaper to Paint or Stain a Deck?

Wood stain is a more affordable option for homeowners than paint. Deck Stain has an average price range of $30 to $50 per gallon, while exterior paint for decks has a price range of $40 to $75 per gallon. If you choose to paint your deck, you’ll also have to buy a wood preservative and primer to coat your deck before you paint it, which can cost between $15 and $40 per gallon each.

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Gates Johnson
Gates Johnson
1 month ago

My deck is a few years old. About two years ago it was painted with a solid deck paint. Now it is flaking badly. I am having it pressure washed and sanded, but not down to bare wood. I am totally disappointed in the deck paint and want to use an oil-based stain that penetrates that wood and is rain resistant. My question is… Can I use stain now since the deck will still have patches of paint? Or will I have to remove all the paint?

1 month ago

Is this true even for using a solid stain? Thank you… I have the same problem as this poster.

Tim Claypool
Tim Claypool
1 year ago

I built a new deck next to my swimming pool last summer (2020) using treated pine. This year I am ready to put a protective coat of something on it.
There is so much information out there and everyone I talk to says something different. I’m kind of leaning towards water based over oil based but I feel overwhelmed!!! We want to stay close to the natural color of the wood but I read above that a transparent stain will only last 12-18 months. I live in N. E. Ohio in the snow belt so this is going to go through all kinds of rain and snow. I liked the article you did on “Restore A Deck”
Please help me!

1 year ago

I had my deck painted 2 years ago.
Can i get a semi transparent stain, or i need to sand everything down before getting to semi transparent paint

Glenn Badham
Glenn Badham
2 years ago

I asked for my deck to be stained. When I returned to my lake house it was painted.
Now it is peeling. Is it possible to remove the paint and then stain the deck. Do any of these products work?
Smart Strip
Multi Strip

Deck is 6 years old and looks terrible.

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