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What’s the Best Deck Stain to Use?

When you’re looking to treat your decking, finding the best deck stain is easy if you start off by asking the right questions.

As with any buying decision, rushing in without proper forethought is a recipe for disaster.

So, before anything else, drill down on precisely what you intend to accomplish and ask yourself a few key questions:

We’ll guide you through some of the key areas to consider when choosing the best wood deck stain and this should help you address the above questions more easily.

You Don’t Need To Spend a Fortune for Long-Lasting Deck Stain

If you want a stain that will last, it’s not essential to buy the most expensive possible stain.

You can quite easily get away with spending $50/gallon or less and still find a high quality stain.

Take lengthy warranties with a grain of salt since even the best stain applied to a horizontal surface will fade after being exposed to UV rays, rain, and constant foot traffic.

Oil-Based Stain vs. Water-Based Stain

A couple of decades ago, oil-based stains were undeniably the best option. They were easy to apply and repelled water effectively.

Oil-based stains have drawbacks too though. Drying can take up to 48 hours, and you’ll need to use a strong solvent to clean off your brushes when you’re done. Flammable in its wet state, oil-based stain also contains higher VOCs (volatile organic compounds). This has led many manufacturers to change up their formulas, resulting in lower performance. However, there is another option.

Water-based deck stain contain significantly less VOCs so it’s easier on the environment and lets off far fewer fumes. Clean-up is straightforward with nothing but soap and water. Once you’re done staining, the stain will be dry in a couple of hours.

Both Oil-based stains and water-based stains can cost anywhere between $25-$60 gallon depending on where you purchase them.

How About The Opacity?

The opacity or pigment of the stain is about more than just getting the color you want.

Here are your 4 main options:

  • Clear: Also called toner, this is basically a sealer and will impart very little color to your decking. It will protect your deck from the elements but you’ll need to reapply this type of stain on an annual basis
  • Semi-Transparent: The most popular of all deck stains will give your deck a healthy dose of color without obscuring the natural grain. This type of stain needs reapplication every 2 to 3 years
  • Semi-Solid: You’ll get a deep, rich color but most of the wood grain will be hidden. Plan to recoat every 3 to 4 years
  • Solid: A solid stain, this is the deepest pigment available and lasts for up to 5 years. Don’t expect to see any wood grain showing through with an opaque stain.

Don’t Forget to Prep

Once you’ve chosen the right stain for your needs, preparation is key.

Most people think that simply using a pressure washer on their deck is sufficient. Simple pressure washing is not going to result in the maximum lifespan from your deck stain.

Using a wood cleaner and brightener are important additional preparation steps that can help open the pores of the wood so the stain can properly absorb. The more the stain is able to soak in, the longer it will last.

The deeper a stain soak in, the stronger the bond is with the wood. Now, this is assuming that the wood stain is made with high-quality resins that will actually soak in and bond in the first place. Using a cheap, poor quality deck stain that just lays on the surface isn’t going to do much good, no matter how well you prep the surface.

What Is The Best Deck Stain?

We performed some ongoing tests on a variety of the best wood deck stains.

To document how well each of these stains performed, we installed overhead cameras and took a daily photo over the course of a year. You can check out the top performers from this long-term test right here.

For your home, you’ll have to do some research to see what is the best deck stain. The type of wood you use, the environment in which you live, and your budget will all help you determine which stain works best for your deck.

6 Comments
  1. […] not choose the one that’s best suited for your deck? The one big question that will arise is what is the best deck stain?  – so here are a few tips which you should consider while selecting a good deck […]

  2. Our deck is old ! Built in the 80’s. Structurally great, yearly application and rug covered for the summer. I’m thinking if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Surface splintering,Your thoughts ? I’m thinking sanding all surface and cover with new water base protectant for another year.

    • Reply
      deckstainadmin Expert July 1, 2019 at 9:20 am

      Thomas, if the wood is starting to splinter, then you may consider using a solid deck stain. This will help hide any imperfections, and should give you at least another 2-3 years of protection. You should definitely sand the surface if it’s splintering.

  3. […] you’re choosing the best deck stain, you’ll inevitably run into this question: how do you choose between an oil vs water based deck […]

  4. I have a 600 sq ft deck, and just spent about 16 hours cleaning it with the use of sodium percarbonate and a deck brush. I scrubbed and rinsed forcefully and thoroughly (in my opinion), and was planning on staining next weekend. However, as the deck has begun to dry, there are some wood fuzzies and some white areas. Will those fuzzies show once I stain with a semi-transparent? Is it necessary to do additional prep? I don’t get many free weekends so I was really hoping to jump right into staining in about 5-6 days.

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Reply
      deckstainadmin Expert August 5, 2019 at 8:46 am

      Hi Mike, to take care of the areas where the grain is raised, you can lightly sand the boards with some rough grit sandpaper (use a pole sander to save your back!). You don’t want to sand the wood too smooth as it can make it harder for stain to penetrate, just a very quick sanding to knock down the raised areas. Once you’ve sanded it, give it another rinsing. This will wash away any sawdust trapped in the pores of the wood. Also, those white areas may be sodium percarbonate that didn’t get fully rinsed, so giving it another good rinsing is probably a good idea. If you go with a water-based stain, then all you need is about a day for the wood to dry out and then it’s ready to stain. If you use DEFY, Restore-A-Deck, or #1 Deck, you can actually rinse the deck in the morning, and stain it in the afternoon. For oil based stains, a couple days of dry weather is needed before staining.

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