Update 2018 Please read this article and post any questions you have in the comment are below. Our newly enhanced website now offers the ability to upload and post pictures of your exterior wood or deck. This will help us determine the proper prep and overall condition of your deck, leading to better performance.
This is an updated version of our most popular article What is the Best Deck Stain? We have had over 15,000 Q&A questions for the first article, helping consumers find the best wood and deck stain for their deck and specific environment.
The point of this article and DeckStainHelp.com is to offer guidance in choosing a quality deck stain that works well and will not create larger issues down the road when time to reapply. We have updated our original article by including answers to some of the most popular questions that we receive.
Here are some of our most popular answers to remember, before proceeding with any questions below:
- No deck stain will last 5+ years. A good quality stain will last 2 or maybe 3 years on a deck floor (horizontal) and typically twice as long on railings, siding, etc. (verticals).
- Penetrating stains will have less chance of peeling as they soak into the wood grain and do not film on top of the wood grain when fully cured.
- Penetrating deck stains are easier to maintain by cleaning and reapplying after 2-3 years.
- Filming Deck Stains that dry on top of the wood are harder to remove and/or reapply as they are more prone to peeling, wear, flaking, etc.
- Not all Deck Stains are penetrating. Even when they claim otherwise.
- Semi-transparent, Transparent, and Semi-Solids will show the grain of the wood to some extent. Solid stains, Deck Resurface Coatings, and Paints will not.
- Clear sealers without any pigment/color will not prevent UV graying. Lighter Pigmented stains that are Transparent, Semi-Transparent, or Semi-solid will have less UV protection than Darker Pigmented stains in the same transparency. More color/tint = better UV protection.
- Deck Stains are either Oil Based or Water Based. Filming or penetrating. Transparent, Semi-Transparent, Semi-Solid, Solid (opaque) Stains or a Deck Resurface Coating. See here for more info on Deck Stain Types.
- Oil-based stains can still be used in all States and Canada as long as they are compliant to local VOC regulations.
- When switching brands of deck stain it is always best to remove the old coating first. Do this by using a Deck Stain Stripper and/or sanding.
- Always apply a Wood Brightener after prepping with a Stain Stripper or Wood Deck Cleaner to neutralize the caustic.
- New Decks (less than a year) are treated differently than older decks (more than 1 year). New decks need to be prepped and usually cannot be stained right away. See this about Staining New Decks.
- Prep, Prep, Prep = increased longevity of a stain.
What is the Best Deck Stain For My Deck?
This is the top question by far that we have gotten on DeckStainHelp.com. Unfortunately, there is not a “best” deck stain out there that will outperform every other stain, every single time.
A better way to approach this common question is to ask, “what is the best stain for my deck and it’s environment?” A wood deck stain that performs well in humid South Carolina does not mean it will perform well in the snowy Midwest states. VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Laws come into effect for different parts of the country as well. This may limit what is available in your state or country. For example, TWP 100 cannot be used in 17 states and Canada that have a low VOC content of 250.
To understand a deck stain and its potential longevity, we should first look at why deck stains fail:
- 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).
- Water, snow, and ice will cause damage to the wood by breaking down the exposed cell structure.
- Freeze/thaw will expand and contract the wood resulting in the stain “bond” with the wood cells to fail.
- Mold, mildew, and algae will leave the wood unsightly/dirty and can result in rotting.
- High traffic areas will wear faster.
- The previous stain used was of low quality or applied poorly.
- The 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 better for your deck or exterior wood.
In our example deck, we will ask 5 questions. Based on these answers (Answers are in Red) we will narrow the choices to 2-3 stain brands:
Example Deck Questions and Answers:
- Deck Location State: Michigan
- Full Sun, Partial Shade, Full Shade: Full Sun in Am, Shade in Afternoon
- Wood Type: Cedar
- Mold or Mildew Issues: No
- The reason for Previous Stain Failure: Dried Blotchy and Peeled after first Winter.
- Previous Coating? If so brand name and type of stain (Transparent, Semi-transparent, Semi-solid, Solid Stain): Behr Premium Semi-Transparent
Michigan is currently a high 550 VOC state, so all decking stains are currently available. If you reside in Canada, East Coast States, or California, then you may have different options. We would suggest a penetrating stain semi-transparent or semi-solid stain that does well with UV protection and fades evenly over time. Making future reapplication easier.
Based on these questions and answers we would suggest one of these stains:
- TWP 100 Series (TWP 1500 if you are in a Low VOC State)
- Armstrong Clark Deck and Wood Stain
- Restore-A-Deck Wood Stain
- Defy Extreme Wood Stain
Ask in Comment Section Below. Make Sure to Include Answers to the 5 Questions.
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 6 questions.
Adding a picture or two of the current condition will help!
Feel free to include any additional information that would be useful!