Deck Stains: Different Types for 2024  4.8/5 (793)

This post was updated on May 12, 2024

Hi, I am Scott Paul, a leading exterior restoration contractor and business owner with over 30 years of experience in exterior wood. My reviews and help tips are based on my history as a wood and deck restoration contractor and actual hands-on testing, all designed to present you with the top product choices. See here for more info about me.

Different Types of Deck Stains

Since the early 1990s, I have seen and used numerous deck stain brands and types. I have tried them all. Some were great, but some are no longer available due to the constant changing of manufacturers and VOC laws. Fortunately, there are still high-quality deck stains out there in 2024. You just need to know where to find them.

Deck stains have changed much in the past 30 years. Many brands have switched from oil-based to water-based stains, but you can still use oil-based stains in all US States and Canada. We currently restore about 300-400 decks annually, and my favorites are the penetrating semi-transparent and semi-solids.

In this article, I will explain the different types of “Deck Stain” and compare the many types of decking stain options available, examining the pros and cons of each.

What are Deck Stains

Deck stains protect and preserve exterior wood. They offer UV protection, water repellency, mold and mildew resistance, and more. Deck coatings come in many types of opacity and bases. Based on their VOC laws, many deck stain brands can be restricted in certain states, cities, and counties.

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 no perfect stain type or brand will outperform all the others.

Water-Based Wood Deck Stains

Water-Based Wood Deck Stains

Water-Based Wood Deck Stains

Water-based deck stains have risen rapidly in the last 8-10 years. The main reason for the vast number of water-based stains on the market today is related to changes in VOC laws across the country. Many states have adopted or will adopt lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) regulations, which has prompted stain manufacturers to increase the production of water-soluble decking stains. I believe water-based deck stains are “thin” paints with varying amounts of acrylic and pigment. Most water-based deck stain brands have a high failure rate, but a few great options exist.

My Pros: Water cleanup, less chance of mold or mildew growth. Environmentally friendly.

My Cons: They do not penetrate as an oil base can. They are slightly more complicated to apply as they dry quickly. They can be prone to peeling and wearing. *Restore-A-Deck Wood Stains and Defy Wood Stains are the only exceptions I have used successfully. They penetrate the best of all water-based stains, nearly as well as an oil.

Oil-based Wood Deck Stains

Oil Based DeckStain

Oil Based DeckStain

Oil-based decking stains have been around for 30-40 years and have traditionally been what all stain manufacturers produce. Oil-based stains are typically made up of natural and synthetic oils. Many contain oils, such as Linseed Oil, Paraffin Oil, Tung Oil, Rosewood Oil, Etc.

My Pros: Excellent penetration into the wood. The better a deck stain can penetrate, the better its performance. It is also easier to apply and more natural-looking.

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

My Pros: Excellent UV protection, enhanced traction, and filling of voids and cracks. Restoring an older deck is a great idea if it actually works.

My Cons: So far, most of these product types have failed 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 many reviews on our site and other sites with angry consumers and product failures. Class action lawsuits are being filed against Rust-oleum Deck Restore and Olympic Rescue-It. Behr Deckover has the same issues as well. Only a couple of these products seem to work. Consider the Gulf Synthetics Deck Revive if you want one of these coatings. See this link for more info, articles, and reviews on these coatings: Deck Resurface Coatings.

Gulf Synthetics Deck Revive Photos

Solid Color Decking Stains (Opaque)

Solid deck stains look like paints but are thinner for better adhesion and penetration into the wood. They cover or mask the wood, so you will no longer see the wood grain. 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 water-based versions only nowadays.

My Pros: Excellent UV protection.

My Cons: Films on top of the wood do not penetrate well, are susceptible to peeling, look like paint, and are harder to apply. They cannot be effectively removed with a deck stain stripper.

Solid Color Deck Stain Photos

Semi-Solid Wood Deck Stains

A Semi-Solid Deck Stain will only show a small amount of wood grain as it contains a high amount of pigment. Only a limited number of manufacturers offer semi-solids, which can be both water-based and oil-based.

My Pros: They provide very good UV protection. However, if they are water-based, they are prone to peeling. Look for oil-based semi-solid stains only.

My Cons: Only a tiny amount of wood grain will show. Oil-based semi-solid versions will penetrate and perform much better than water-based versions.

Semi-Solid Deck Stain Photos

Semi-Transparent Wood Deck Stains

These are my favorites, but the primary key is that it must be a penetrating semi-transparent stain. Semi-transparent deck stains contain pigments that highlight the natural grain while sealing the surface. Both water and oil-based are available.

My Pros: They offer average to better-than-average UV protection, show natural grain, and have very good penetration. In most scenarios, they can be cleaned and re-coated easily and removed with a deck stain stripper.

My Cons: Most water-based versions perform poorly compared to the oils. Many states with Low VOC laws have limited quality oil-based stains available. If you live in a low VOC area, you may need to buy online.

Semi-Transparent Deck Stain Photos

Transparent Wood Deck Stains

Transparent Deck Sealer

Transparent Deck Sealer

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.

My Pros: Straightforward to apply and reapply as needed. Natural-looking.

My Cons: Below average UV protection. Typically, it needs to be re-coated annually.

Clear Wood Deck Finishes

Clear Deck Sealer

Clear Deck Sealer

Clear Deck Finishes offer little to no UV protection and will gray quickly. They are typically used as sealers or water repellents and will not last over 6-12 months before needing to be re-coated.

 

My Pros: They do not change or alter the appearance of the wood. Extremely easy to apply.

My Cons: The wood will gray and oxidize from the sun’s UV 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 also help “seal” the wood. Non-drying oils are the opposite. They never actually dry but rather dive deep into the wood to help condition the cells. Paraffin oil (not wax) is the most common.

Are Deck Finishes, Stains, Sealers, or Both?

This question can be confusing to homeowners. All deck stains are sealers that 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, 20 States and Canada restrict Decking Stains and Coatings. These states require fewer Volatile Organic Compounds to be released into the air. The lower VOC changes mainly affect 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, which may have drying and curing problems. A few good oil-based stains are still allowed in the Low VOC States but are not as readily available at your local stores. You may need to go online to find them and have them shipped. Examples would be the TWP 1500 Series and Armstrong Clark Wood Stains.

Current Low VOC States:

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Northern VA, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.

LOW VOC States Deck Stains

My Deck Stain Suggestions

I prefer penetrating semi-transparent products with all these different types of 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 than water-based versions. The exceptions for quality semi-transparent penetrating water-based stains would be the Defy Extreme Stains and the Restore-A-Deck Stains.

See My List of the Top 8 Semi-transparent Deck Stains

5 717
4 52
3 7
2 2
1 14
0 1

My Different Types of Deck Stains Video – DeckStainHelp.com

Please Rate This. You may also post comments or ask questions below.

author avatar
Scott Paul ~ Restoring Wood & Decks Since 1993 Owner
As an article and comment contributor to the site, Scott has been around the pressure washing industry since attending college. In 1993 he started his first company called Oakland Pressure Wash specializing in exterior pressure washing and deck staining. That company evolved into OPW L.L.C. shortly thereafter concentrating more on exterior wood and deck restoration. Scott and his Deck Cleaning Michigan company have restored over 10,000 decks in the Metro Detroit area since the early years. He has become an authority in the deck restoration industry and has contributed to numerous wood restoration forums and informative sites. All the products he suggests through this site are sold through online sites and in retail stores, allowing the consumer to choose their own means of purchase. Scott’s eCommerce sites do sell many top brands he endorses and if you appreciate any of the help he has offered then feel free to purchase from one of them.

Related Deck Stain Help Articles & Reviews

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Al filimonow
Al filimonow
1 month ago

What is your opinion of ready seal semi transparent exterior wood stain for a new pine wood fence

Kdonehoo
Kdonehoo
10 months ago

Do you have a review of Zar exterior stains?

Kdonehoo
Kdonehoo
9 months ago

about to clean and brighten 9 month pine deck in ga. I will use TWP on floor.

I can’t get the color match I need in defy or RAD solid stains for deck railings. Would you recommend using the closest color I can get in Flood, or use Behr or another name?
Should I use oil or acrylic?
I’ve got to make decision and I’ve searched so much I’m confused. Thanks is for your help.

Richard Brown
Richard Brown
11 months ago

Hi I sent a question earlier about what to do with 7yr old deck

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Richard Brown
Richard Brown
11 months ago

What is the best product to put on a 7 year old deck with no board rot . I want to keep the natural wood look stain and seal and what is recommended for cleaning before treatment

Dina
Dina
1 year ago

What product do you recommend for cleaning the oily wood?
and ,please suggest me what product I can use to protect and stain!
th you!

dina
dina
1 year ago

Hi,
I clean and us the thompson oil based sealer and after 2 weeks stil not dry and is still oily.
what can i do ? please i really need suggestion !

Eliza karlson
Eliza karlson
1 year ago

Would you recommend a semi transparent or semi solid oil based to cover the deck and it’s issues . I plan to Brighten first. We will sand off some hard to remove bits in railingsI am thinking TWP.
Thanks!

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Barbara Joan Whiting
Barbara Joan Whiting
1 year ago

My deck was stained with an oil based stain two years ago. Is there anything special I need to do if I use a semi-transparent water based stain this year?

glen
glen
1 year ago

is there an oil based stain that can be custom tinted? Thinking semi transparent or semi solid. If so brand. Want to stain PT pine posts match house color.

Bob Boice
Bob Boice
1 year ago

Do you have any feedback on a stain product made in Oregon called Exoshield. From what I understand it uses tung oil. I am curious since I don’t see it on your website.

Bob Boice
Bob Boice
1 year ago

Do you have any plans for testing their product to see how they compare with others for use up here in the Northwest.
I am looking for independent testing that it not paid for by the suppliers so I get a totally honest review. I am not making any comments toward this website, just trying to get good information so I can feel confident using their products. Stripping a large deck because of poor performing products is a ton of work and very disappointing. I have done it a couple of times due to false claims. Thanks
The company is Nova Wood Products

SoldotnaAK
SoldotnaAK
1 year ago

Hi, I’m in the middle of restoring my 1100 sq ft deck on my Alaska log home. I read several of your reviews and after selecting a stain that had all the characteristics I was looking for, I found out it is not available in Alaska and no retailers ship there. So, I chose another stain, same result. I chose a third, same result. I did not find any of your 2022 top stains available to Alaska. Can you recommend something that is? Here’s my dilemma – it’s getting late in the year, temps are dropping, it may already be too late to apply stain before winter. In addition, I need to find a stain that can be applied to a damp deck, as it seems I can’t get two dry, rain-free days in a row. Help!

Ken
Ken
1 year ago

Fence, treated Pine – used to use Olympic Maximum before they changed formulas. Excellent protection and would dry with a slight sheen and type of protective surface – bonded/soaked in – doesn’t peel. 4 coats at 3 yrs apart and each coat added to the previous coat providing good protection, and color has stayed mostly good for 11 years since last coat. Some areas are showing need for another coat. #1 Is there any current product that seals the same way? And #2 anything that I can put on top of what is there now?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ken
Mark
Mark
1 year ago

I need to re-stain my deck and I’m unable to get the PARA TimberCare hybrid translucent stain I previously used. I’d like to know what an alternative stain that can be used over my previously stained deck. Photos show the current sanded and un-sanded areas for reference. In previous years I rough sanded the surface and applied the same stain over top which held up very well. Hoping to do the same.

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Holly Conner
Holly Conner
1 year ago

I live in Seattle, WA and have a large 10 year old cedar deck that was originally stained with Penofin Red Label. My deck floor is not cedar and not part of this project.
I restrained the cedar walls and rails 3 yrs ago, made mistakes along the way, but loved the way it tunes out. However, I neglected it and the beauty didn’t last. This summer, I have hired help and I’m wondering if I should use a different product.
The wood had been cleaned and stipped of all product (using Penofin products to clean and brighten). Photos attached.
Which product would you recommend that will be easy to maintain and hold up in Seattle weather? Thank you!

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Ahmed
Ahmed
1 year ago

I have an old deck that I don’t think was ever protected. Age is between 5-10 years. Was here when I bought the house.

I would like to use semi-solid stain. Is that a good idea? Should I power wash it and clean it? I live in Canada and weather is cold most of year but quite sunny July-August.

Best options to buy? I have access to Home Depot, Ben Moore and Sherwin.

Thank you!

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Deborah
Deborah
1 year ago

Thank you so much for this website. I appreciate all the information. We are staining our screened in deck with ReadySeal. That was what they used previously. They recommend two coats. Looks pretty good after one coat, are 2 coats necessary? Are 2 coats recommended so you don’t have to restain as often? Thanks in advance for your reply. Sorry if this was asked before, I didn’t see a way to search the questions.

Deborah
Deborah
1 year ago

Thanks, FYI, we are used Restore-A-Deck stripper and brightener and are getting ready to stain our other deck with the recommended TWP. It looks amazing so far. Thank again for all your advice. We had tried the Behr stripper previously, a total waste of time and $$.

Merle Mulder
Merle Mulder
1 year ago

Changing from Olympic stain and sealant to Val spar in canyon brown. Is it the sam?

Miller
Miller
1 year ago

I was glad to see your website. I originally wanted to put on behr semi
-transparent but then read information here. I returned 2gallons, only left 1 gallon for unimportant surfaces. I did the staining last week, and in a small section I tried both to compare. You’re absolutely right! Defy is so much easier to apply and penetrate, while behr stain feels as thick as paint. Behr stain behaves more like a surfactant instead of penetrant. I’ll keep using defy stain for my deck and use the behr only for my fences and vertical surfaces. One question though, for WA where there’s lots of rain and some cold winter times, how often should I re-apply? And do I need to strip old defy stain or I just apply a new layer?

Bob Hall
Bob Hall
1 year ago

Hi someone tell me Olympic maximum semi transparent neutral base deck stain I got it at Lowe’s now they don’t even sell Olympic they’ve changed this once or twice on me from what I originally started and said that they use this which was originally a semi-transparent too so I don’t know if they changed something or not but that’s what it originally had but it seemed like acting like it was a little different but I don’t know I don’t understand it this is turned into a job this stuff never worked it last 2 years an peel it would peel in a spot so I’d have to do the whole deck again now it looks like a solid the stuff don’t work and I don’t even want stain no more . Turned into a job. Was originally supposed to last five six years it never lasted but 2 years ever every two years I’m tired of doing it I want to know if there’s a paint an oil-based paint that I can paint over it this stain does not work it’s not worth the price it’s junk and turned into some kind of crazy science fiction science to try and figure out how to find something to work talking to any of these paint people you can’t believe anything from Sherwin-Williams to Lowe’s to Menards any of them what really works and it’s too expensive being robbed my opinion is they took the pigment the lead the oil out of all these products and charge more money and nothing works it’s whitewash is all it is expensive whitewash junk. These company’s are liars. If anyone is thinking about a deck Concrete it be better cheaper no maintenance you will be happier believe me unless you want spent all your time dealing stripping wasting money on lies an maintenance . Sorry this is long am mad now I find this about VCO or VOC restrictions on stains in different areas states another problem so more white wash this stain I remember use be 4 bucks a gallon what a robbery hoax they got going an was better than now what’s lies an more lies about stains . Does anyone remember when you could feel the oil in the paint when you put it on not anymore so now they flat lie an made a full time job try figure out there lies there no end to this . How many questions here about stain its bull crap a cheap white wash that they want you to believe works and create more & more lies cover up there’s lies people . This crazy for last few years been trying figure out why can’t find how fix this product last longer it won’t sanding give me a break sand cheap stain redo what he’ll you build a deck for if all you do is redo it. IAM convince this is all big hoax they’re not making products that work anymore and… Read more »

Joe
Joe
1 year ago

What is the best clear coat deck sealer

Tricia H
Tricia H
2 years ago

Before I found your website, I saw a youtube video that said to clean the deck with solution of 2 c.Oxiclean, 1/4 c. dish soap and 2 gal.water. It had good reviews so I did it. Our deck was installed in Aug 2020 and hasn’t had stain or sealer applied yet so it still looks good. Can I assume this cleaning is sufficient and I can now apply the stain?

Tricia H
Tricia H
2 years ago

We replaced our deck in Aug 2020 and haven’t stained it yet. We live in MI so snow is a factor to consider. Plus our deck gets intense sun in the summer so we will probably go with either clear or very minimal tint. Can you direct me to a product that will last more than one year?

James B
James B
2 years ago

What are your thoughts on Flood brand wood finish? Have used it for years but wondering if I should switch to Behr or something else.

James B
James B
2 years ago

Would I need to strip the deck if I switched products? I’m also needing to replace part of the fence around the deck so I will have some un-stained wood as well.

Nick
Nick
2 years ago

Hi,

Two years ago moved into a house built in 1983 with a large deck. The previous owners used some sort of stain that looks like paint and has been peeling up for over a year. I want to re-stain with a better product that hopefully will last longer. Is the proper method to power wash, then sand, then apply stain? I’m assuming Restore-A-Deck Wood Stains and Defy Wood Stains are the most recommended stains? I would like my stain to last a while and be envirnementally friendly if possible.

Nick
Nick
2 years ago

Thanks for the response. Is there a reason why you recommend solid stain over semitransparent stain? Also, for the prep work, should I use a deck stain remover before I pressure wash? Thanks again!

Michael David Myers
Michael David Myers
2 years ago

I applied two coats of Olympic Rescue It on my deck in 2019.
I followed all Olympic suggested preparations. Within the first few months after using the product, I noticed blistering and peeling. I painted over the Olympic with a light color exterior paint, hoping the blistering would stop. The blistering continued; the following year I repainted the deck with a dark exterior paint in order to remove as much of the Olympic Rescue It. This method worked, yet hours and hours of scraping took place the entire summer to remove the Olympic Rescue It, When the deck wood was dry, I applied Thompson’s WaterSeal TOTAL, then applied two coats of paint: one coat of Sherwin Williams Everlast and one coat of Valspar Duramax Flex-Shield 365. This has worked well; the only areas blistering are the areas the original Olympic Rescue It remained. I have many photos of the deck and actual samples of the blistered Olympic Rescue It.

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