Water Based vs. Oil Based Deck Stains 2024  4.3/5 (93)

This post was updated on May 1, 2024

Water Based vs. Oil Based Deck Stains

We welcome you to Deckstainhelp.com, where people come to share their knowledge and insights about deck staining in 2024. Please see below for some information that sets the record straight when comparing water-based stains with oil-based stains. As always, comments are encouraged below.


A long-debated topic is that of water-based vs. oil-based deck stains. Which one is better to use and will provide the best protection for a wood deck? Actually, there are advantages to both water and oil-based deck stains even though they do have some major differences. Both types of stains can provide a beautiful long-lasting finish on all types of wood. Both water-based and oil-based deck stains help reduce water intrusion and UV damage to increase the longevity of the wood.

Oil-based deck stains have been around the longest. Oil deck stains can preserve and enhance the wood’s natural color. They help to inhibit mold and mildew growth, which can lead to wood decay. Oil-based deck stains naturally shed water to help prevent warping, cracking, and splitting. Most oil stains are low VOC formulas that are compliant in most states.

In general, oil-based deck stains are easy to maintain meaning once the stain begins to fail after several years it will simply fade and wear off. This makes it easy to do a light wash and a recoat so the wood is protected once again. After several years of maintenance coats, it may be best to strip the stain completely off to get back down to bare wood again. Stripping an oil-based deck stain is easily accomplished using a deck stripping product.

Water-based deck stains are extremely environmentally friendly and clean up easily with soap and water. They too do a superb job of locking out unwanted moisture and harsh UV rays to preserve all types of wood surfaces. Even though they have not been around for as long as oil stains, new technology has taken water-based stains to a new level making them a great choice for long-lasting deck protection. With additives like zinc, water-based deck stains naturally resist fungal growth and wood rot. They are easy to work with for do-it-yourselfers looking for a professional finish that is going to last for several years.

Top Water-Based Stain Ratings

1. Restore-A-Deck Wood Stain
2. Defy Extreme Stain
3. Defy Hardwood/Cedar Stain

Top Oil-Based Stain Ratings

1. TWP 100 Series
2. Armstrong Clark Wood Stain
3. TWP 1500 Series

The 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.

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Hannah
Hannah
10 months ago

Hi again,

I have questions about our balcony and front steps as well!

The balcony I can’t tell if its ever been treated with stain? (Pictures below) It looks like it is just cedar toned wood bought that way. We built our front steps with cedar toned wood which is why I think that. But I wanted to ask the professionals!

Is the balcony in need of a strip or does it look like cedar toned wood and can we go ahead and stain and seal it? Should we clean it first with a cleaner or if it’s never been stained before is power washing good enough?

Thanks again!

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Hannah
Hannah
10 months ago

Hi, my husband and I have 3 separate wood outdoor surfaces we need to stain/seal. A large back deck, small balcony, and some front steps.

These pictures are of the back deck.
The deck is old with cracks and weathering but still in good condition. Before pressure washing it didn’t seem to have a stain on 85% on it, just greying all over. So we pressure washed the whole thing and it looks new again. But 15% had what the pictures show below and the pressure washing didn’t get it all off. Is it an old stain that I need to strip? Does it need to come off or can i stain right over it?

What do I use after stripper if I need it? A brightener on the whole deck or just those areas?

And if I do need to strip whatever this is, do I need to do the same to the whole deck?

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Hannah
Hannah
10 months ago

Strip and brighten for the front balcony as well? I sent separate pictures above this post, because I think it might just be cedar toned treated pine? Your thoughts?

Mike
Mike
11 months ago

We had Arborcoat natural put on our cedar siding in fall 2019 here in mountainous B.C. Canada, which receives full sun and some rain/snow exposure. It started looking poor after the first summer and looks terrible now. Would oil-based be better than water-based for this setup? Do we need to sand off the Arborcoat before putting a new product on? Would you recommend TWP 200 or Armstrong wood stain or something else? We would ideally still get this transparent look to see the beautiful western red cedar but have a product that continues looking good for years to come with least amount of maintenance possible. Thank you for all you do.

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Mike
Mike
11 months ago

Thanks Scott. Looking at TWP stain stripper to get the Arborcoat off. Would you suggest 1 coat or 2 coats of TWP 200? And how many years to re-apply? Any idea on which TWP 200 colour would be the most natural looking for cedar — perhaps TWP201 Cedartone or TWP205 California Cedar?

Tanya
Tanya
1 year ago

I just washed my deck with dawn dish soap with a broom and a bucket of water. rinsed well with the hose. I’ve had a lot of squirrels this winter pooping an peeing on my deck. Half of the deck is covered but the uncovered part is taking a beating for the sun. 2 years ago a company came out and power washed the deck with water only and let it dry for a day the came back a put one coat of Pinafin (spelling?) on it. I hated it. No water beaded up except for the covered part. they said there was no need for 2 coats. My deck looks in terrible shape this year. I live in the Denver metro area and limited guy’s that work on decks. Theses last guys wanted Thousands to sand and restain the deck. I had it sanded a year prior. What can I do now to save my deck? My husbands in his 80’s and I’m not worth much any more….

Tom
Tom
1 year ago

I am refurbishing a barn like building on my property and have a question about interior stain for re-sawn lumber. I am using the re-sawn lumber to trim out windows, for base board and for shelving. I am ok with a rustic look. Some of the lumber is western cedar re-sawn planks which I already have and some will be simple 1×4 re-sawn furring strips (I assume cedar or pine?) from either a lumber yard or box store. Any stain suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Faith Johnson
Faith Johnson
1 year ago

I am looking to stain a new pressure treated pine covered porch in Georgia. I am interested in semi transparent and minimal maintenance. Everyone I talk to recommends oil based but since it is covered, is UV protection still an issue? Also, does staining the underside of the deck offfer greater protection? Finally, what about the outside vertical areas? Should I use a more durable stain for that? Does it make sense to use a water based stain on the floor inside the porch and an oil base for the outside and vertical areas?

Thanks for any advice you can give.

Faith Johnson
Faith Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Faith Johnson

Thank you so much for your quick reply. The painter I am thinking of using to stain the new porch said they use TPW 200. Is that recommended for a screened in porch. What is the difference between that and TPW 100 that you recommend? (I don’t see the 200 series mentioned on your website.

Thanks again!!!

Edie Kello
Edie Kello
1 year ago

Scott, I am Edie Kello, director of marketing for Viance, LLC. We make the preservatives that go into pressure treated wood, selling to wood treaterts. Our website is treatedwood.com. We have many downstream customers: lumberyards, contractors, architects, code officials, DIYers, that ask us this question in your article, Water-based vs. oil-based deck stains. I would love to have you as a guest author in our news section on our treatedwood.com website. I would post your article acknowledging you as author with a link to your website for more information. This way we direct customers to the authority on this subject matter. I have read many posts on this subject and believe you have the most thorough and credible information. Please check out our site. We have over 10,000 users on our website each month. This education is important and we want to direct them to your website. Thank you.

Michael
Michael
1 year ago

I have some redwood stairs and railing that I initially treated with Superdeck semitransparent stain. Now I would like to switch to a water-based product. Is there an alternative to sending it down to bare wood first? My apologies, I am sure this question is frequently asked.

Michael
Michael
1 year ago

Here are pics showing post-scrubbing with a wood cleaner product.

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Michael
Michael
1 year ago

Thank you!

Chuck C
Chuck C
1 year ago

Hi, I’m in the Chicagoland area. We have a pressure treated pine deck, and then an addition covered in cedar car siding. What would you recommend? Thanks a ton!

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Dawn
Dawn
2 years ago

Installed new fence. I’m assuming it’s pressure treated pine. I live on the North Carolina coast, 1/2 mile from the ocean. Which should I use Oil or water based?

jeannie reeves
jeannie reeves
2 years ago

What is the best stain for coastal Mississippi?

Austrial
Austrial
2 years ago

I recently wrapped my front porch posts with KDAT pine wood. I would like to know which type of stain would be best for this project, water base or oil base. I’m looking to stain the posts a dark walnut and I do live in Illinois so we go thru all four seasons.

Brian
Brian
3 years ago

Thoughts on Ready Seal? That is the brand pushed by a company in the area. Looking to do the work myself. Power washed already, mixed reviews out there on stain. Want the best stain to look and last the longest!

Jo Anne Supplee
Jo Anne Supplee
3 years ago

My property has a cedar privacy fence and appears to be stained with a semi-transparent stain. Have no idea how old it is, but the stain is starting to fade. When I had to have some large trees removed, they dropped a large limb that bounced and took out two panels of the fencing. They did replace with two new cedar panels, but now I have to stain it. I most likely will have to stain the entire fence. Problem is, I have no idea what type of stain/sealer was used by previous owner. How can I tell if it was oil or water based stain so I know what to use? Any quick and easy solutions? Thank you.

Wayne
Wayne
3 years ago

i used what I thought was a top rated Behr semi-transparent weather proofing stain on my pine treated deck and it started pealing after a few years. While Behr replaced that product, I had to strip and sand which was a pain. While I’m planning to use Behr premium waterproof stain and sealer to recoat this deck, I’m concerned if this paint is my best choose as it has been sitting in my basement for 2 years. My son is planning to stain his treated pine fence and I question if a water base stain would be his best bet as I would hate to have him have to sand the fence when he needs to restain his the fence 5 to 10 years down the road. Your advise would be appreciated

NY1
NY1
4 years ago

I have a new pressure treated deck that was built 2 years ago, the wood has never been painted or stained. I bought Cabots wood sealer to apply and I was told that I should mix 1 gallon of the cabots with a gallon of paint thinner and apply 2 thincoats 2-4 hors apart and then in 24 hours apply an undiluted coat of the cabots. Does anyone have any experience with mixing these 2 products and does it make the finish last longer?
Thanks!

Tracy
Tracy
4 years ago

What do you consider better? I really only want to protect the wood, it is a pool deck and it is in full sun all day. Thank you for responding!

nance
nance
4 years ago

We have multiple cedar & pine decks. Live in VT. . harsh winter and strong sun. Do not know if wood is pressure treated. Have stained several times but all water based stains peel after 1 year. Never last more than 1 year. What are we doing wrong? Would we get a better result using oil based in this climate. We are at our wits end. Please advise.

Louis North
Louis North
4 years ago

Good info, but what are the disadvantages to each? Just bought a house that has a 1 year old pine deck that has never been stained. North Georgia, so very rainy winters, and surrounded by pine trees. Wondering which type would be best, oil or water based. Looking for a semi-transparent. I’ve had deck stains in the base that peeled one year later and want to avoid that here. Thanks

shnook
shnook
4 years ago

we live on rainy west coast…there is a new product that is oil based , claims organic, (claims to have no V.o.c.’s) but dries fast and cleans up with water, so is water soluble… Contains linseed and Tung oils and beeswax. .. I wonder how it will hold up on a new cedar deck? and if another traditional oil based product could be applied on top of it, once applied.?

Lou Roessler
Lou Roessler
4 years ago

We live in N.California in the SF Bay Area… We just replaced our 32 year old 800 sq foot redwood deck with a new one.
I used Penofin redwood tinted oil deck stain on that original deck and it looked and stayed beautiful for a few years before a recoat…
Our deck faces South and gets fried in the summer sun…We can no longer get the “good” stuff because of EPA regulations in this area…
What would be a good oil based product we could use on our new redwood deck?
Lou R.

Lou Roessler
Lou Roessler
4 years ago

We live in N.California in the SF Bay area…We just replaced our 32 year old 8oo square foot redwood deck with a new one. I used Penofin red tinted oil deck stain on that original deck and it looked and stayed beautiful for a few years before a recoat…
Our deck faces south and gets fried in the summer sun…
We can no longer get the “good” stuff because of EPA regulations in this area…
What would be a good oil based product we could use on our new deck?

Steve B
Steve B
4 years ago

I just picked up valspar one coat exterior stain and sealer Cardova brown. I am repainting a 980sq ft deck in Western North Carolina that was already done in a solid stain. It said a 10 years on decks and 25 years on fences and siding. I Already pressure wash the deck how long can I expect the stain to really last.

Should I also use this stain on the siding lattice and concrete We just purchased this house a few months ago and any help would be greatly appreciated

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Rayna G.
Rayna G.
4 years ago

I use oil based stain and have to re apply every 6 months

Emerson Lee Noddin
Emerson Lee Noddin
4 years ago

Read your review of both stain types/ Which one is better or do they perform identically? What do pros recommend in general and what for cold climates like Maine?

S. Carpenter
S. Carpenter
4 years ago

If one power washes the deck, can one use oil stain over an old solid water-based stain?

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