What is the Best Deck Stain? Different Options for Outdoor Use (2023)

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If you don’t want your wood deck planks to rot, a deck stain is the best preventive solution. But as recent studies show, not all stains are safe for humans, plants, and pets. 

I cannot stress enough the importance of safeguarding not only your cherished outdoor space but also your own well-being. With steadfast commitment, I embarked on a rigorous journey of verification and testing to uncover the most secure and efficacious deck stains available.

Premium Option
SaverSystems Deck Stains
Editor’s Choice
Defy Extreme Water-Based Wood Stain
Budget Option
Ready Seal Wood Sealer and Stain
SaverSystems Deck Stains
Defy Extreme Water-Based Wood Stain
Ready Seal Wood Sealer and Stain
• Water-based
• Semi-transparent stain
• Perfect for softwoods application
• Water-based
• Semi-transparent
• Suits most exterior wood types
• Oil-based stains
• Semi-transparent
• Two-in-one solution: sealer & stain
Premium Option
SaverSystems Deck Stains
SaverSystems Deck Stains
• Water-based
• Semi-transparent stain
• Perfect for softwoods application
Editor’s Choice
Defy Extreme Water-Based Wood Stain
Defy Extreme Water-Based Wood Stain
• Water-based
• Semi-transparent
• Suits most exterior wood types
Budget Option
Ready Seal Wood Sealer and Stain
Ready Seal Wood Sealer and Stain
• Oil-based stains
• Semi-transparent
• Two-in-one solution: sealer & stain

Reviews of the Top Deck Stains

1. Defy Extreme Wood Stain

The Defy Extreme Water-Based Wood Stain is one of the stains you can find today. The semi-finished Defy deck stain features various natural wood tones, which will show your deck wood’s natural beauty. This new tone also helps counteract the greenish hue still found on pressure-treated lumber.

I can confidently attest to the superior formulation of this product, enriched with ingredients that effectively ward off the detrimental effects of UV rays.

Having personally applied it to multiple decks, I was genuinely impressed by its enduring vibrancy, even after prolonged sun exposure. Additionally, its water-resistance is top-notch.

However, I don’t advise you to apply this stain made from pressure-treated wood to newly-constructed deck boards. Wait for about six months to give time for wood chemicals to dissipate, so they don’t interfere with the stain absorption.  

What I Like

What I Don't Like

2. SaverSystems Deck Stain, Semi-Transparent

Another one of the best deck stains is the SaverSystems Semi-Transparent Stain for Decks, Fences, and Siding. Using this, you can give your deck a new look that looks natural and resistant to fading and staining.

When I applied this opaque stain in a light walnut shade to the decking board, the results were outstandingly uniform and smooth. However, I’d recommend applying two coats to achieve a brilliant sheen and richer color.

Also, it’s water-resistant, perfect for softwoods, cedar decks, and redwood. But it’s advisable to wait for the wood to age for one year at least to let natural oils dissipate to not interfere with the absorption of the stain.  

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. Ready Seal Wood's Sealer and Stain

The Ready Seal Wood Stain and Sealer also proved to be an effective coating that protected wooden decks. It comes in various bright, wood-toned colors – providing deep protection while allowing the natural wood grain to shine. It contains UV protection preventing mildew and mold growth.

However, an oil-based stain emits fumes, so you need good ventilation when applying. If you apply it to your entire deck, fumes should not be a problem. It’s water-resistant, so expect its color to be fresh and bright after exposure to rain or wet conditions. 

This is ideal for any pressure-treated wood deck. But, it’s best to wait six months after the wood’s construction to allow chemicals to evaporate first. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. Cabot Semi-Solid Deck Stain

This semi-solid stain from Cabot is a great choice for replacing mismatched or distressed wood surfaces. Its oil-based, high-pigment level, and UV protection provide a long-lasting and even-looking exterior wood finish. 

I applied this semi-solid stain to a test board and was immediately taken aback by the transformation into a rich, deep hue. Contrary to many wood stains I’ve encountered in the past, this oil-based variant doesn’t mask the wood grain. Instead, it remarkably enhances it.

It’s low in VOCs [1], so it didn’t emit fumes. This wood stain’s rich and dark tone is ideal if you want to restore a deck that needs a boost. Also, you can upgrade any type of wood surface or existing deck. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

5. Seal-Once Premium Marine Wood Sealer

This water-based transparent stain provides elevated protection for any deck restoration. From its name, “marine,” it safeguards your wooden deck from water damage, especially in areas near saltwater. Also, there are no hazardous fumes, which is a good thing.

After testing various types of wood stains, this water-based stain didn’t seem to change the wood’s appearance. After application, it didn’t change the tone of the wood, and its yellow color in the can didn’t transfer to the wood.

So if you want to maintain the natural appearance of your wooden deck while also protecting it from moisture, Seal-Once Marine is a decent choice.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

6. Valspar One-Coat Semi-Transparent Stain Sealer

Valspar One-Coat Semi-Transparent Stain Sealer

Wood decks are protected from damaging elements with just one coat of Valspar’s semi-transparent stain. 

This semi-transparent stain will help keep the wood looking its best and prevent it from being damaged due to the harsh weather. It provides lasting protection against UV light and will prevent wood rot, crack, and peel.

Besides, it creates a finish that’s ideal for preventing mold and mildew from developing on your exterior wood deck. It’s also ideal for cleaning and can dry longer than four hours. What’s unique about Valspar’s semi-transparent stain and sealer is it comes with a four-year to six-year guarantee, depending on the application. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

7. Behr Solid Color Waterproofing Stain and Sealer

Behr solid deck stain can hide various imperfections and make your old wood deck look new. And it’s also great for composite decking. 

The all-in-one solution from Behr includes a sealer and solid stain, transforming the look of your old wood decks or even a new deck. It’s 100% acrylic construction provides unmatched protection against rain, snow, and UV rays. Two coats of this solid color stain can last up to 25 years if used on siding or fences.

This stain stands out for its user-friendly application and hassle-free cleanup, primarily because it isn’t oil-based.

For optimal wood protection, I’d personally endorse applying two coats, aligning with the advice given by most stain manufacturers.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

Deck Stain Buyer's Guide

Oil-Based vs. Water-based Stains

Compared to an oil-based stain, a water-based option has better resistance to UV light, which means it can last longer. 

A water-based stain is also more eco-friendly, fast-drying, odor-free, and prevents moisture from getting trapped in the wood. But the drawback is they can take longer to apply.

In comparison, oil-based stains are easy to apply. But they typically will only last for a while. These tend to trap moisture and have less lasting power.

If you’re already using an oil-based stain on your deck, you should use another one instead. And if you’re planning on using a water-based one, it will likely peel off after a while. 

This is because the water-based stain has a lower density than the oil-based one. If you decide to switch to a different type of stain, you’ll have to sand the entire deck.

But due to the existence of volatile organic compounds in oil-based products, some regions do not allow the use of these products. Take note that California is one of the most rigid in the country when it comes to standards for the use of oil-based stains. 

If you live in this particular area, you might find it hard to purchase oil-based stains near you. 

Level of Transparency

The level of transparency to which wood stains can be opaque or transparent determines the deck’s finished appearance and how well they can protect it. Four different opacities can be used for deck stains:

Toner

This product closely resembles a clear sealer. Its application imparts a subtle tint to the wood without altering its inherent beauty. To ensure top-notch deck protection, my professional recommendation is to reapply it annually.

Semi-transparent

Semi-transparent stains are mostly used on decks to add a hint of hue but expect the wood grain to be noticeable still. Also, semi-transparent stains usually offer sealer protection. Recoating must be made every 2 to 3 years to restore a deck properly.   

Semi-solid

Semi-solid, also known as semi-opaque, wood deck stain contains enough pigment to conceal most of the grain while enhancing the color. However, it requires recoating every 3 to 4 years.

Solid or Opaque

Solid stains, sometimes referred to as “solid deck stain,” is the most pigment-rich type and can last the longest. However, it requires a recoat every four to five years. Also, the solid stain is the densest, completely hiding the wood fibers.

Color

Aside from being transparent, the best deck stains can come in various colors. So it is important to consider your deck’s shade before picking the wood stain. 

Make sure that the deck stain you choose will highlight your deck’s character and stand out against your house’s overall color. Some of the colors include brown, blue, gray, and red. 

Suggested Reading

Deck's Age and Current Condition

Before you start shopping for exterior stains, it’s important to know the age and the current solid stain condition of your deck. Choosing a more expensive stain will last longer and prevent you from having to apply new ones often.

Although your personal preference may play a role in the type that you choose, the type of wood that was used for the construction of your deck will also affect the opacity and color of the finished product. 

For instance, solid and semi-solid stains are better for medium-cost-friendly woods such as cedar and pressure-treated pine.

Wood Type

The different types of wood species and some types of wood are suited to varying weather conditions. While some types of wood require protection to maintain their natural beauty, some can eventually benefit from a deck stain that will bring out colors. 

When it comes to building exterior decks, the most used types of wood are as follows:

cca treated wood

However, it can take up to six months before ACQ completely dissipates from the wood. When staining a treated deck, wait until six months after the installation to apply a deck stain.

Although it can look attractive over time, applying a wood or deck stain is not necessary to maintain its appearance.

When it’s in good shape and new, it doesn’t need a stain, so long as it’s regularly applied with a penetrating sealer. If an older cedar deck shows a weathered gray color, it can be as it is, or apply you can apply a tint to restore a deck.

Cedar

To maintain its natural beauty, avoid using deck stains on a regular basis and apply a clear penetrating sealer. Older redwood decks can benefit from a combination of a wood stain and sealer. 

Temperature

High temperatures or cold weather can affect the curing time of deck stains. The temp range should be between 40 to 90 degrees F, but don’t forget the humid level. When the humid level is low, the faster the deck stains cure and dry. 

Type of Application

Depending on the type of deck stain, you can paint your deck using a variety of tools: roller, brush, or sprayer. Before you start working on your deck, make sure that it is thoroughly cleaned and that any repairs are made.

Additionally, ensure the wood is completely dry, and the temperature is mild. Although deck stains can do well in certain weather conditions, they will not work well in humid or too cold temperatures.

Dry Time and Cure Time

Before you start working on your newly-built deck, make sure to read the label of deck stains clearly and see the recommended drying time. 

This means that if a deck is not ready to be walked on, it might not have the full color of the wood. Also, if a deck is not fully cured, it might not have the full effect of the stain.

Water Resistance and UV Protection

Water-resistant wood stains, such as oil-based and water-based stains, can prevent water from soaking up the wood. This can help prevent rot, swelling, and damage to the wood. The best stains also repels ultraviolet damage, which can lead to fading and splintering.

Actually, some types of deck stains contain mildewcide, which can prevent the development of black mold and white mildew that can lead to wood decay. This added protection usually adds to the cost, but they are worth as long as they can protect wood from harsh elements. 

Value for Money

The popular saying “you get what you pay for” applies when it comes to choosing a good quality sealant and stain for your deck. The long-term protection that a good quality stain provides is typically around two to three years. 

Less expensive options usually need to be re-applied yearly. Having a deck is a notable investment in your home, and it’s worth the extra effort to protect it.

Deck Stain vs. Sealer vs. Paint

Sealers (whether semi-transparent or not) allow you to enjoy the natural grain and color of your wood while protecting it from rot and water damage. They also repel water and keep it from getting damaged. 

Also, some coating types provide a hard surface that can add a scratch-resistance effect to your wood.

On the other hand, deck stains are a type of sealer that adds a pigment to your wood and protect it from UV radiation. It can also provide a vibrant and natural look, but it will eventually fade and crack over time. 

Most deck stains need to be re-applied for at least two to five years. Solid and darker colors have the longest-lasting effects.

Furthermore, deck paint is different from stains or sealers. A deck paint will cover the entire wood surface, allowing you to make many different color choices, while a deck stain will give the wood a natural look. 

Why Should You Stain Your Deck?

Wooden decks need maintenance to help keep their longevity and appearance. It’s vital to keep in mind that your deck is exposed to various types of weather, such as rain, snow, and ice. To minimize the impact of these elements on the wood, it’s a good idea to restrain it.

Although it’s important to keep a well-maintained wooden deck, you must consider taking the necessary steps to ensure that it’s protected and looks its best. Some of the most typical reasons why people choose to stain their deck are to protect it and give it a new look.

Here are the top reasons why you should stain your deck: 

To avoid cracking: Many people mistakenly believe that applying deck sealant will solve all of their wood problems. However, cracking is not one of the problems that can be solved with just a sealant. 

Between the natural drying process and the sun’s ultraviolet rays, wood can become cracked. To prevent this, use an oil-based stain to keep the wood’s moisture content in check. 

To repel moisture: Like the exterior paint of your home’s walls, a deck stain can help prevent water from soaking into the wood. Unlike paint, which only covers the surface of the wood, deck stain acts as an impermeable barrier between the water and the wood. 

If the water-soaked wood begins to grow mold or mildew, it can eventually lead to the replacement of the planks.

To prevent sun damage: Untreated or unsealed wood can get damaged by the sun. Its appearance changes, its shape can warp, and it can get more prone to cracking. 

To avoid decay: This is a common reason homeowners stain their decks. One of the benefits of using a deck stain is to prevent wood from decaying due to harsh conditions. So, it’s worth giving your deck a new coat of stain. 

To give a fresh/different look: This is usually the main reason why homeowners stain their decks. So, why should you, right? A previously stained deck can transform into a fresh, lively one by giving it a new coat of stain or seal. It does improve your deck’s appearance while protecting it from harsh elements. 

How Often to Stain Your Deck?

Your deck stains’ opacity determines the finished look and impacts how well the product will safeguard your deck. 

With finishes, semi-transparent stands out as the most favored opacity level. While it introduces a tint to the deck, it beautifully retains the prominence of the wood grain.

As previously noted, such stains typically incorporate deck sealer protection. However, to maintain its luster and protective qualities, I’d advise restaining or recoating every 2 to 3 years.

Temperature Range When Applying Deck Stains

If you’re planning on staining a deck, make sure that it’s not too cold or hot. According to most manufacturers, a range of around 50 to 80 degrees F is ideal. But some companies claim you can stain a deck even when the temperature reaches 90 degrees.

If you have a chance to stain your deck without rain in the next couple of days, consider doing so when the humidity is low, and the air is not too humid. In some cases, you can let the stain cure for 72 hours for best results, even if the label says that it can be cured in four or five hours.

You should know that timing is very important when it comes to staining a deck, as some products on the market have longer drying periods. Unlike paint, which can be applied to the surface once it has dried, deck stains need to cure before they can be opened or set foot on.

I strongly advise homeowners residing in regions with elevated humidity and regular rainfall to opt for stains boasting swift curing times. Always scrutinize the stain’s label for precise guidelines, and for an added layer of insight, I recommend consulting online deck stain reviews.

FAQ

Which deck stain lasts the longest?

The deck stain that lasts the longest is an oil-based deck stain. But it still depends on the type of wood your deck has, how long your deck has been unprotected, and the weather condition.  

What is the best stain color for a deck?

The best stain color for a deck is the hues close to cedar and redwood. But other wood tones are also popular these days.  

How many coats of stain should you put on a deck?

You should put on two coats of stain on your deck. While some deck stains only require a single coating, adding another coating can add more brightness to the wood. 

However, apply as much as the wood can absorb. Hardwoods with extremely dense structures can only absorb one coat of stain. 

Why does my deck stain peel every year?

Your deck stain peels every year for two main reasons: poor adhesion and overapplication. With semi-finished products, such as those with a semi-transparent finish, you only want to apply as much as the wood can absorb.

My Top Pick For a Deck Stain: Defy Extreme Water-Based Deck Stain

If you ask me, the Defy Extreme Water-Based stain emerged as the best deck stain. Aside from being environmentally friendly (as it’s water-based), it’s also VOC-compliant which means no toxic fumes. 

It settles best on wood, providing a shield from harsh elements. Besides, it is not just for deck use but for siding, fencing, furniture-coating, and other exterior surfaces as well.  

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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