5 Best Deck Stains and Buyers Guide

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It’s time to say goodbye to discolored and worn out wood, and hello to a fresh new look by choosing one of these 5 best deck stains.

STORM SYSTEM Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer & Stain Protector - Deck Protector, Fence Protector, Mahogany Stain, Redwood Stain - 291112-1 Gallon, Hickory

A deck is a considerable investment, and it deserves to be taken care of. A good deck stain will not only make weathered wood look better for years to come, but it will also save you money in the long run by protecting the treated wood from harsh and extreme weather conditions.

Decks are not just for warm weather anymore! The harsh winter cold and snowstorms can take a toll on your deck, but there is no need to worry. Now you can keep it looking new all year long with the right stain.

One of the primary investments you make when you are buying a house is your deck. Decks are expensive, but they also provide a lot of benefits for your home. The right kind of deck stain will make your deck look better and last longer.

We’ve compiled a list of 5 popular products that we think are worth considering when buying new stain or sealant for your wood decks, along with some tips on choosing which one is right for you! These products have been tested in labs and the field by professionals who know what they’re doing.

Comparison of the 5 Best Deck Stains

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5 Best Deck Stains for the Money

1. KILZ Enamel Porch & Patio Latex Floor Paint (Best Overall)

  • Interior and exterior stain
  • Quick-drying
  • Resistant to cracks, peels, and fades
  • Reapply after 4-6 hours
  • Excellent coverage per 1-gallon tin
  • Vast color choice
  • KILZ named best paint brand 2015
  • Prone to slips when wet
  • May peel if not applied correctly

2. Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain (Best Value)

  • Long-lasting
  • Great coverage
  • Easy to use
  • The translucent finish shows off the natural wood grain
  • Exterior use only
  • The low VOC version is of inferior quality

3. STORM SYSTEM Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer & Stain Protector

  • Semi transparent stain
  • Up to 150 Sq Ft per Gallon porous spread rate
  • Lap-free application
  • UV protection
  • Check expiry date upon delivery

4. DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain

  • Made in the USA
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Mold and mildew resistant
  • Up to 150 square feet coverage each gallon
  • A vast range of colors and sizes
  • Expensive
  • Difficult to apply

5. RTG Deck, Porch, & Patio Anti-Slip Paint

  • Eco-friendly
  • Four color choices
  • Up to 100 sq. ft coverage per 1 quart
  • It may not cure as well in high humidity areas
  • Less coverage on textured materials

Video: How to Stain a Deck

Deck Stains Buying Guide

Why should you use deck stains?

The sun can have a significant effect on the way your deck looks. It can be expensive to fix and restore your deck to its original beauty if you let graying, peeling, and cracking go too far. Consider using a water-based or semi-transparent stain with a UV blocker to save yourself from completely redoing and replacing seasons of damage. 

This will help prevent your deck from further damage while still allowing the beauty of natural wood to show through.

The other massive benefit of using a stain is to protect against mold and mildew growth which can warp the boards if left untreated. Stains are also significant for decks because they can even out splinters, fill cracks and holes so you can enjoy a smooth surface to walk or lounge on.

Your deck is an investment, and if you want it to last for years, then protecting it from the elements can help not only its appearance but also increase its life expectancy.

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Types of deck stains – Oil-based vs. Water-based.

Oil-based stains are typically better for decks that experience less traffic. They do a great job of making graying boards look new again with little upkeep.

If you want to make your deck last longer, oil-based stains can offer more protection against mold and mildew growth, making them ideal for wet-climate areas like the Pacific Northwest. If you’re considering an oil-based product, make sure it’s formulated with UV blockers to protect against fading and discoloration.

Water based stain is more environmentally friendly than its oil counterparts. They’re easier to clean up (use soap and water!), don’t emit harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) like their oil counterparts, and are less likely to bleed.

The only downside is that water-based stains will wear off more quickly than an oil deck stain, which means you’ll have to reapply more often.

deck stains

What type of wood is your deck made from?

This is perhaps the most crucial factor when choosing a product because many stains are formulated for specific types of wood. Do your research to see what type of stain is best suited for your deck’s wood type.

How to choose the best deck stains based on the conditions of your deck:

Why should you use a penetrating sealer? Penetrating sealers give more flexibility in coloring and offer better protection by going beneath the surface of the wood.

If your deck sees a lot of traffic, consider using a penetrating sealer because it allows the surface to breathe and expand and contract as needed. This is especially important for decks exposed to direct sunlight or that have been previously coated with oil-based products.

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How to choose the right stain for you – color options.

Stains come in so many different colors. It can be hard to know which is best for your deck.

Some stains are made to resemble natural wood tones (more like a transparent color), while others mimic the look of paint. 

If you’re trying to match an existing deck, you should probably use a product that closely resembles its color. If you want the look of paint on your deck, consider using a tinted version to get exactly the shade of color you want.

If you genuinely love natural wood, then consider using an opaque stain that’s formulated with UV protectants to help prevent fading and graying over time.

Ready Seal 512 5-Gallon Pail Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood

It doesn’t matter what type of stain you choose, as long as it’s formulated with UV protectants because that’s where all the magic happens.

There’s a reason why wood stains have been used for decades to bring out the natural beauty of old pieces. Transparent and semi-transparent shades allow you to see through them, while solid colors help cover any minor imperfections, so your furniture looks as good on close inspection as it does from afar!

If your deck is already looking tired and worn out, consider using an opaque stain to help conceal splintered boards and fill in cracks (and other unsightly blemishes).

Functions of the best deck stains.

Most products help protect your deck by helping them to retain moisture while discouraging mold growth.

Products created with water-based solvents, low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), or other “eco-friendly” products, will be less toxic and harmful to you, pets and wildlife in your area.

Often these are also low or no odor products, so you don’t have to worry about the strong chemical smell that most household paints emit.

If you’re trying to make your deck look brand new, consider using a semi-transparent stain on its surface. If you want more protection against moisture and mold growth, go with a solid color product.

Applications of deck stains.

Most deck stains work best when applied with a brush or roller. However, there are some products on the market that claim to be sprayable.

If you’re going for a more natural look, consider using a stain that’s blended with natural pigments as opposed to artificial chemicals. These will help protect your deck while also nourishing your wood with all-natural ingredients.

If you only have a few boards to cover, use something like an oil stain that can be brushed onto each plank by hand.

For more expansive surfaces, be sure to check the coverage of the product (measured in square feet) and then purchase enough for one coat. Don’t forget to order a container of deck cleaner (if that’s not included in your product purchase).

Some stains require extensive prep before you can stain your deck, so make sure you know what has to be done before putting any effort into this project. If the deck is very dirty or greasy, clean it thoroughly with a deck cleaner formulated for removing all sorts of grime and dirt.

If the wood shows a lot of wear and tear (splintered boards, deep cuts, etc.), it’s best to use a patch or filler to help smooth out the surface before you stain.

Once the wood has been adequately prepped, brush on your product in thin strokes until each plank is covered evenly. It might be tempting to slather on extra coats of stain, but resist that urge since the more you apply, the more likely your wood will get dry and splinter.

Be sure to read the instructions and follow them carefully since these products work best on clean surfaces and in ideal weather conditions.

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FAQs about deck stains

How do I apply deck stains to my wood?

If you have a large surface area or are applying your product by hand, use a brush for even distribution. If you’re painting the product on with a roller, be sure to sweep along each plank and avoid overlapping strokes, so you don’t leave any streaks behind.

Be sure to read the instructions and follow them carefully since these products work best on clean surfaces and in ideal weather conditions.

How do I choose which deck stains are best for me?

Think about what you value in your product most. Do you want low VOCs? Or would you rather have high coverage? Do you want something that can be brushed or rolled? Make a list of your priorities, and then read through each product description to find the one that best matches your criteria.

How often should I reapply my deck stain?

While some are designed to last up to 5 years, most products need an annual top-up. Please make sure you keep tabs on the date of your last application and then purchase the same brand to have your deck looking its best.

What’s the difference between solid deck stains and semi-transparent deck stains?

Solid deck stains will add a new color coat to help cover minor flaws or wood damage on your surface. These are thicker products that are typically easy to apply but can take up to three days for dry time.

Semi-transparent deck stains allow you to enjoy the natural color of your wood while also protecting it from moisture and mold damage by allowing some of your existing wood grain or tone to show through. These are thin coats that usually only take a few hours to dry but will only last about a year before you need to reapply.

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Are coverage rates generally accurate?

Many products claim to offer high coverage rates and tend to be labeled as such. Unfortunately, this is often exaggerated, and you may end up having to purchase multiple gallons of your product for one project. The manufacturer can’t know your wood’s porosity, so you must only treat it as a guide.

If you’re going to hire a professional, make sure they know the exact size of your deck (in terms of square footage), so you’re not over or under-purchased.

Is oil or water-based deck stain better?

This depends on your personal preference and the location. Oil stains tend to last longer but can be more difficult to apply since they require a little more elbow grease. Water-based products are easy to use but will fade quicker, especially if exposed to direct sunlight.

If you live in an area that experiences high humidity or rainfall, oil is probably your best bet for longevity, mold, and mildew resistance. If not, then water-based is probably best because of the high UV protection it offers.

Are VOCs bad for the environment?

Yes, because they cause smog and air pollution. Most solid and semi-transparent deck stains come with low VOCs, but if you’re particularly concerned about your usage, check the product’s label for specific details. You can also look up the company online to see if they offer eco-friendly products.

deck stains

Is it worth it to stain an old deck?

Yes! If done correctly, age won’t be a factor in the finished product, and you can expect to get five years out of your stain. That said, doing it yourself may not yield the most desirable results. Test a small section first to see how good your coverage is before tackling the entire deck.

There are many brands on the market, in a variety of price ranges. You can choose a low-end item from your local hardware store or opt for an environmentally safe product from a specialty retailer. No matter which you go with, proper research and preparation are the keys to getting the best quality results for your money.

They’re the best way to protect your deck or fence from mold and mildew, shrinkage, splintering, warping, discoloration, and more. But there are so many brands out there! How do you know which one is right for your project?

Deck stains are typically classified into two groups: solid stains and semi-transparent or thin-coat stains. Solid stains offer a higher level of protection from the elements but tend to be a little more challenging to apply. They usually require a professional to get even coverage across the surface, while most homeowners can handle a thin-coat stain themselves.

Thin-coat deck stains come in a variety of pigments, usually offering better UV protection than solid stains. They’re also easier to apply and require less maintenance over time.

Should you sand an old deck before staining?

It’s not always necessary to sand an old deck if you plan on staining it. However, if the weather has worn away most of the protective layer or your deck is made from highly porous material, a light sanding may be for better adhesion and more even coverage.

Why does stain peel off my deck?

The most common reasons that stain peels off a deck are age or poor coverage. The more years that pass, the weaker stains become, and it’s usually at this point that they begin to peel away from the wood entirely.

If the chemical makeup of your stain is more binding than penetrative, then it won’t be able to protect against moisture loss, and the wood will begin to dry out. This causes expansion and contraction as temperatures change, leading to cracking or flaking if not corrected.

Another possible cause of peeling is a lack of proper application. The cleaner your deck beforehand, the better the final result. Be sure to use a mild detergent and rinse thoroughly to remove oil or grease, dirt, or any other contaminants that could affect adhesion.

peeling deck paint

Can you pressure wash stain off a deck?

Yes, but it’s not recommended. Pressure washing removes your deck stain and leaves the wood unprotected and vulnerable to damage. It’s possible to pressure wash and still protect your deck by using a high-pressure sprayer set at 1500 PSI with a fan spray tip for 45° coverage. Be sure to hold the spray tip about 3 inches off the surface and move as you work in the same direction as the grain.

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A deck is a considerable investment, and it deserves to be taken care of. It’s worth using solid stain if you’re particularly concerned about your usage, but even thin coat stains are an excellent way to protect your deck from the elements.

Thorough preparation before staining is essential- sanding out any problems with the current condition and using a mild detergent and water to rinse the deck are entirely good ways to prepare. If stain peels off your deck, age or poor coverage are likely to blame.

Our Best Overall pick is the KILZ Enamel Porch & Patio Latex Floor Paint. The perfect paint for your porch, patio, siding, and flooring. This latex paint is also mildew-resistant to ensure it lasts longer when you are in an area with high humidity! Application takes only 1-2 hours, it is easy to clean up with soap and water or a dry cloth after application. Paint dries within 4 hours of being applied so you can be back outside before the day is over!

The Best Value choice is Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain. This product can give a new look to any outdoor furniture and does not change the color of your wood. It’s easy to apply, dries quickly, and is water-resistant. When applied repeatedly, it makes your existing timber appear more durable.

Here are some other article you may like:

10 Best Wood Fillers for the Money | Reviews and Buying Guide

10 Best Stainable Wood Fillers & Buyers Guide

7 Best Pin Nailers for the Money | Reviews, and Buyers Guide

Here are our favorite wood fillers

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Walter Snyder

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