Deck Stain Reviews Ratings
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Deck Stain Reviews Ratings

Deck Stains 4.9/5 (154)

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 based on their VOC laws.

Deck staining can be a “chore” for residential homeowners and unfortunately walking into your 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 outperform 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 stains 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: 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.

Deck Resurface Coatings

Deck Resurface products are basically similar to an extremely thick paint. They are designed to mask the wood and fill large cracks or voids. Deck Resurface products will not show any wood grain. Please note that this product is far beyond conventional wood restoration.

Pros: Excellent UV protection. Enhanced traction. Fills voids and cracks. Great idea to restore an older deck if it actually works.

Cons: So far most of these product types fail miserably. They peel after the first Winter and cannot be removed with a deck stain stripper. Sanding, scraping or even the replacement of the wood is needed. There are numerous reviews on our site and other sites with angry consumers and product failures. Class action lawsuits are being filed against Rustoleum Deck Restore and Olympic Rescue-It. Behr Deckover has the same issues as well. Only a couple of these products seem to work. If you really want one of these coatings, consider the Gulf Synthetics Deck Revive. See this link for more info, articles, and reviews on these coatings: Deck Resurface Coatings

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. Harder to apply. Cannot be removed with a deck stain stripper effectively.

Semi-Solid Stains

A 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 pigments that highlights the natural grain while sealing the surface. The semi-transparent wood and decking stains 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. The 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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505 responses to “Deck Stains”

  1. Sheryl P says:

    I loved the article. I live in South Carolina and we have a 20 yr old wooden fence that we just repaired. What brand and stain type do you recommend?

  2. Donna says:

    Very good info. Thanks.

  3. Carol says:

    Info cleared up a lot of my confusion as to what to put on my deck. Thanks!

  4. Mike says:

    Thanks for the great advice and thorough articles

  5. Tom W says:

    Ready to apply TWP100 to my stripped deck. What is the lowest temperature I can apply the stain?

  6. Wendy says:

    Excellent information. We have a mahoghany deck that we made some pretty miserable decisions with from the start, now we have completely sanded the deck and do not want to make the same mistake twice. This article pointed us in the right direction and for that we thank you.

  7. jeremy says:

    In full Florida sunlight, does dark stain contribute to warping more or less than light stain. Dark colors attract heat so does dark stain contribute to warping more than lighter stain colors?

  8. Max says:

    We have a cedar deck and it has a few coats of Thompson's Water Seal on it from a few years ago. What type of sealer can we use without sanding down the deck and just using a proper wash on it? Something that will last a long time in hot summers, cold snowy winters.
    Thanks so much

    • You have to remove the Thompsons to ensure proper adhesion. Use the Restore A Deck stain stripper with your pressure washing. Neutralize with the Restore A Deck Brightener. One removed, try Defy Extreme or TWP stains.

  9. Brigitte says:

    Hello, Originally I used watered based stain on my deck most of it has peeled, I sanded most all to the wood, on another of my deck since there was no peeling I sanded lightly, now I want to try and use semi transparent oil based stain on my deck, hoping if might be better than water? Would I ever be able to go back to water based stain?

  10. Stacy Eide says:

    We live in Minnesota with snow, freezing, and rain. Need to do a deck restore on the floor to fill cracks. Does anyone have a suggestion on the best oil based restore stain to use in harsh elements?

  11. Sue Van Thiel says:

    I'm needing information because my deck is 22 yrs old and never stained or sealed. Last year 7 treated boards were replaced . Recently deck was power washed and wow what a change. Tomorrow it will be sanded. I live in Wisconsin and deck faces east so sun and shade. Do I need to apply a wood brightener? A friend says oil base is better because you see the grain of wood. Deck is 14×16 and wondering to go with oil base or semi transparent oil base. What is TWP? I see Olympic Elite at Lowes or Cabot at Menards . Can you help? Also worried new boards from last year to match .

    • Yes you should lightly clean and brighten after the sanding. Use the TWP. It is a penetrating semi-transparent oil based stain.

      • Sue Van Thiel says:

        thank you but TWP is only available by ordering and I have no idea how much I would need-deck is 14×16 with railings and wood spindles, steps-would Cabot oil or semi transparent oil work as well?

      • Sue Van Thiel says:

        TWP can only get online and wondering how much I need for a 14×16 deck with railings and spindles or can I use Cabot oil or semi-transparent oil based stain that is available at Menards.

        • You are not going to find a quality stain at Lowes or Menards. I would contact TWP for some help.

          • Sue Van Thiel says:

            want to use brightner-sunny today then next 3 days storms and 3 days look ok and then storms so if we wait til after 3 days of storms then do brightner and wait 48 hrs and stain but day after stain predicted storms

  12. Mike says:

    I live in Milwaukee Wisconsin my deck stain is peeling all the time what is the best thing to use in this climate

  13. Sue Van Thiel says:

    is it ok to stain deck if rain is predicted next day?

    • Depends on the brand you are using. Best to ask the manufacturer.

    • Josh says:

      I work as a professional painter , and it all depends on what type of stain you are using. Oil stain will take around a full day or two to completely dry, and will be water safe within 8-10 hours after applying. Where as water based takes less time around 12 hours to fully dry , and around 4 hours to be rain safe. And nontransperent stain is just a waster of money it will ruin your deck and peel in a year or so if you live up north.

  14. Gregg says:

    Question. Which of the TWP 1500 products do you consider semi-transparent? I want to use what is best for a redwood deck but want to maintain as much of the natural look as possible.Thanks

  15. tfeeha says:

    Can I stain my 15 year old deck with minwax wood finish penetrating stain (oil base) than seal it with a clear sealer?

  16. Donna says:

    I just used old pressure treated lumber to build a deck and then new pressure treated lumber for a pergola to go on top. All has been pressure washed and cleaned with a deck cleaner. I live in WV. I built a cat tree in one corner of the pergola. Yesterday I began staining the cat tree with Behr semi-transparent Stonehenge gray wood protector…only the cat tree. Last night I noticed so many bad reviews that I am afraid to go ahead with the rest of the pergola and deck. What should I use?

  17. Brian says:

    We just applied Olympic Elite Stain to the ceiling of a new outdoor T&G pine ceiling. Is there any issues after it dries to go back and add a spar urethane over it?

  18. Annette says:

    Just had a new multi level deck built using "Severe Weather Max Top Choice Prime" pressure treated pine. I live in Alabama and we have had a month of 90 degree plus temps. The decks are in full sun most of the day. My deck builder says it is ready to stain because it has been so hot but I have reservations. This brand says wait 2-3 months, it has some kind of water repellant added in the treatment process. I talked to the Armstrong Clark owner and he said Spring should be a good time. My questions are, 1. What is the safe time to wait to stain? 2. What is the best semi transparent stain for this deck, keeping in mind I want easy reapplication and protection for this beautiful home addition.

  19. Scott says:

    I used the Olympic rescue it and like others it has peeled up. Between using deck cleaners and scrapping it off I've gotten most of it off the floor of my deck. Is there a known way to removing this product? Some of it is not coming up, almost like it actually adhered to the wood. Could I use another resurfacer over top of the stuff that won't come up?

  20. Saurabh says:

    I live in Cary, NC and thinking of getting my rear deck stained. The deck has been through all the temperature variations; low 30s to high 90s. It is exposed to sun all day; morning to afternoon. The deck is almost a year old (new construction). I am wondering when is a good time to get it stained? Can I get it stained in September or should I wait until next Spring (2017). Please guide.


  21. Barbara says:

    I have a beautiful and very large driftwood that is mounted (via rods) onto a base. I do not want to change the color, but want to show the natural color and grain!!!!!!

    As we are displaying this in the front of the house, I only want to seal the wood from water, the sun (FL living)and mildew.

    We were thinking deck oil (willing to retreat) but don't know of a sealing oil product that repels water, protects against the sun and mildew.

    PLEASE help with recommendation

  22. Chelle says:

    I just spent a couple of hours in a "Paint" store yesterday which resulted in my leaving empty handed and with more questions than I had originally had upon arrival at the store. My husband and myself had decided that we needed to consider our cost in a product to be an investment in our deck and our time when it comes time to restrain and resell our deck… Thank you for the full explanation of all of the products. Our paint store failed at this much of a breakdown of the components in stains.

  23. JOAN DAVIDSON says:

    I still do not know what brand touse, after disaters with Benjamin Moore ARBORCOAT premium exterior classic oil fnish eetc. b;ah blah
    Horrid masses of black stains largish like masses of hair and small but obviuous and hrrid on new fir decking.
    I was told NOT to put two coats!
    Have spent hours qnd three days trying ro move horrid areas down to raw wood.
    UNHAPPY me.

  24. Dave M says:

    As stated many times, the action word heard is 'confusion'. Repel water. Repelling water 'can be' dangerous as it becomes slippery and also freezes on deck 'floor'. So, do all stains, water and oil base, repel if you want to add color to your deck for your aesthetics goal? We have the cedar and a gallon of dark redwood linseed oil based. Tested one plank and boy does the water just sit there. What choice is there for such a beautiful strong semi-translucent color?

  25. John Pollarine says:

    What is the best stain for me to use? I live in NJ and have a 6mo. old mahogany porch. It has never been sealed or stained. We have a new born baby, so we want to be careful with fumes. We would like a semi-transparent stain. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  26. Alisha says:

    Our deck is made of Epay, a Brazilian hardwood. It's beautifully colored with grain naturally. We have 2 dogs who can often bring mud on the porch so we need something to heavily protect and provide a easy way to clean. Would rather have a stain that seals and waterproofs for easy rinsing.
    What is the recommendation for this?

  27. Darlene says:

    I live in Houston Texas and need to protect my deck, I have a large deck and about 1/2 of it is old and could use a deck restorer, but the reviews are horrendous. The other 1/2 of my deck is only 2 years old. It is very humid here and we have rainy seasons mixed with very dry seasons. I am thinking a semi-transparent stain, based on what I have read so far. Any suggestions?

  28. Steve says:


    * any recommendations please for a black oil based stain to be applied to a pine timber boundary fence. Don't want it to peel or require regular re-coating.

    Thanks Steve

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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 in consideration that wood and deck stain results may differ due to prepping procedures, different wood types, exposure to UV radiation, natural weathering, etc.