The Importance of Choosing the Best Deck Stains

Choosing the Best Deck Stains

Natural wood has a lot of enemies, and wood decks need year-round protection from the elements. Choosing the right stain for your deck is the best way to preserve the beauty and integrity of the wood. The best deck stains provide protection from water damage, UV rays, mildew, and insects by sealing the wood and creating a durable layer of protection that resists cracking, peeling, and fading.


Reviews of the Best Deck Stains

This comprehensive guide to the best stain for decks summarizes what you need to know when selecting the right product, including key features, pricing, and an in-depth review of the top seven deck stains. Whether you’re looking for an oil-based or water-based stain, you can choose from various opacities and colors to enhance the appearance of your deck and ensure that it lasts for many years.

Ready Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer

Ready Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer

Key Features

  • Can be used on any type of wood
  • Goof-proof application that won’t leave brush marks
  • Oil-based semi-transparent stain and sealer in one product
  • Can be applied with a roller, brush, or sprayer without running or streaking

Pricing

  • ~$60 per gallon, which covers approximately 125 square feet with two coats

With Ready Seal’s naturally looking stain and sealer for decks, one coat may be all you need for uniform coverage and beautiful color. If it’s the first time you’re applying stain to your deck, give the wood a chance to soak up the stain before applying a second coat, then test a spot to see if it will absorb it. Otherwise, wait 6 months to a year before applying the second coat for maximum protection. 

Ready Seal Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer is available in a wide range of colors, including Burnt Hickory, Mahogany, Dark Walnut, Redwood, Mission Brown, Pecan, Natural Cedar, and Light Oak. These colors all have the same undertone, so you can mix them together to achieve a unique look.

DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain

DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain

Key Features

  • Water-based stain cleans up easily with soap and water
  • Durable product made with acrylic resins
  • Natural-looking finish that adds color and highlights the wood grain
  • Long-lasting protection against fading caused by UV rays
  • 24-hour cure time

Pricing

  • $49.95 per gallon, which covers approximately 100 to 150 square feet with two coats

One of the best things about DEFY Extreme Wood Stain is that it’s easy to apply in one day. Clean your deck in the morning; by the afternoon, your deck is ready for this water-based stain. Use a sprayer, brush, or roller to apply it and clean it up easily with soap and water.

DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain contains zinc nanoparticles that protect your wood from UV rays, and it’s an environmentally friendly choice with low odor and no volatile chemicals. The natural matte finish is available in seven colors: Cedar Tone, Butternut, Crystal Clear, Gray, Light Walnut, Natural Pine, and Redwood.

Thompson’s WaterSeal Transparent Waterproofing Stain

Thompsons WaterSeal Transparent Waterproofing Stain

Key Features

  • Prevents water damage and creates a mold and mildew-resistant finish
  • Barely tinted to provide subtle color and protect the natural beauty of the wood
  • Guaranteed for 4 years on decks and 5 years on fences
  • Durable protection with just one coat

Pricing

  • $49.99 per gallon, which covers approximately 150 to 400 square feet with one coat

Thompson’s WaterSeal has been a trusted name in wood sealing products since the early 1920s. This product comes in five fully transparent shades that add subtle color, including Sedona Red, Harvest Gold, Chestnut Brown, Natural Cedar, and Desert Tan. 

Thompson’s WaterSeal Transparent Waterproofing Stain is an excellent overall choice for sealing wood on all types of outdoor projects, including decks, fences, pergolas, benches, and planter boxes. It’s intended for exterior use only and provides superior protection against UV rays. This product can be applied with a brush, roller, or sprayer, but since it’s thinner than other sealers, it is best applied with a sprayer.

Olympic Stain Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer

Olympic Stain Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer

Key Features

  • Wood stain and sealer in one product makes it easy to finish in one day
  • Ready for rain in just 8 to 12 hours
  • Can be applied at temperatures between 35°F and 90°F (2°C to 32°C) 
  • Can be used on damp wood

Pricing

  • $42.98 per gallon, which covers approximately 500 square feet with one coat

Olympic Stain Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer is a solid color exterior stain, available in one-gallon and five-gallon buckets. Your deck will look great with this solid stain and sealer, and there are over 20 colors to choose from in shades of gray, brown, tan, and ebony. 

For best results, use Olympic Deck Cleaner before applying this product. You can apply Olympic Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer with a brush, pad, sprayer, roller, or squeegee in temperatures as low as 35°F, and it cleans up quickly with soap and water. This one product stains and seals your projects to provide up to 10 years of protection on decks and up to 25 years on fences with maximum UV and fade resistance.

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane

Key Features

  • Specially formulated to protect wood from sunlight
  • The oils in this finish allow it to expand and contract to provide maximum protection
  • Clear protective finish available in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss
  • Dries quickly so you can apply a second coat within 2 hours
  • Available in gallon or quart sizes

Pricing

  • $59 per gallon, which covers approximately 500 square feet with one coat

This water-based urethane provides excellent fading and graying resistance and goes on clear. It’s available in aerosol spray cans and quarts—or you can purchase it by the gallon to cover up to 500 square feet. It comes in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss sheens, so it’s easy to find the right one for your project. We used a quart size to stain a Simpson Craftsman door.

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane dries quickly, so you can apply a second coat within just 2 hours, but it may take 24 to 72 hours to cure completely. It can be used for both interior and exterior applications, and the clear color is ideal for sealing lightly stained wood. This sealer protects wood against moisture with a finish that is flexible throughout the seasons and as humidity and temperatures change.

Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain

Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain

Key Features

  • Manufactured with superfine pigments and a 3-oil formula
  • Provides a mold and mildew-resistant finish perfect for areas with high humidity
  • Smooth coverage penetrates wood and creates a flat, translucent finish
  • Available in gallon, quart, and aerosol cans

Pricing

  • $55.98 per gallon, which covers approximately 400 to 600 square feet with one coat

Cabot has been a leader in wood care products since 1877, and the Australian Timber Oil Stain is one of their best products ever. This is the stain to choose for a regal finish on hardwood decks. The superfine pigments in this stain hide brush marks and prevent fading and peeling for years. Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain penetrates hard and soft woods and is available in 5 colors: Natural, Amberwood, Honey Teak, Jarrah Brown, and Mahogany Flame.

One gallon of this oil-based stain can cover up to 600 square feet of smooth wood decking, but coverage for rough surfaces is rated at about 250 to 350 square feet per gallon. It’s an excellent choice for outdoor wood furniture and decks. Cabot also offers water-reducible stains in the Australian Timber lineup for superior coverage and easy cleanup.

PPG (Sikkens) Proluxe Cetol SRD Exterior Wood Finish

PPG Sikkens Proluxe Cetol SRD Wood Finish

Key Features

  • High-transparency oil-based sealer that offers a clean, clear matte finish
  • One coat coverage is all that’s required
  • Anti-settling agents in this stain provide a rich color that won’t fade for years
  • Perfect for log homes and wood shingles

Pricing

  • $69.99 per gallon, which covers approximately 150 to 400 square feet with one coat

Formerly known as Sikkens, PPG makes this high-quality transparent matte wood finish. It seals wood in one coat to protect exterior decks, rails, and siding from UV rays and mildew. The superior water-repellent formula has trans oxide pigments that amplify the natural color of the wood and promote increased transparency. 


Choose from Natural, Natural Oak, Teak, Cedar, Butternut, Mahogany, and Dark Oak for a timeless color application and finish. When you want a lasting sheen and the highest quality substrate protection for any manner of exterior wood material, we like PPG Proluxe as a top choice.

Considerations When Choosing the Best Deck Stains

The best way to stain a deck depends on where you live, and there are several considerations when choosing the best deck stains. Two of the most important factors are the type of wood and the finish and color you want to achieve. You should also consider the durability and weather resistance of a deck stain, and it helps to understand the application methods so you can choose the best deck stain and sealer for your application.

Type of Wood

The type of wood you are staining plays an important role. Different types of wood accept stains in various ways, and you should find the best one for your type of wood. You also need to consider the color of the stain. Test a small area if you’re unsure how your stain will look on your deck wood.

Desired Finish

There are a few different choices available when it comes to deck stain finishes, and you’ll notice a big difference if you choose the right one. Matte finishes reflect very little light and allows you to appreciate the color of the wood, satin finishes have a translucent glow, and semi-gloss and high gloss finishes reflect a lot of light and make the wood shine. The glossier the sheen, the easier it is to clean.

Durability and Weather Resistance

For high durability and weather resistance, check out how long a deck stain is rated to last. Even though a product like Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain costs more per gallon, when you factor in the durability of the product and the superior protection that it provides, it doesn’t make sense to buy an inferior product when you’ll have to spend more money in just a few years.

deck stain Durability and Weather Resistance

Application Process

When it comes to applying deck stains, you have several choices. Most products can be applied with a roller, brush, sprayer, rag, or squeegee, but it’s important to check the recommendations for the product you choose.

Application Process brush

Oil and water-based stains are another point to consider, and while their application is similar, cleanup is much easier with water-based stains. Oil-based stains are more durable than water-based ones but are slower to dry. 

Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Deck Stains

What are the benefits of staining my deck?

Stains repel moisture and make your deck resistant to mildew and insect damage. They also prevent the expansion and contraction of lumber that occurs when wood gets wet and then dries, which leads to splintering and cracking.

How often should I stain my deck?

Staining and sealing your deck every two to three years is usually best, but how often you need to do it depends on where you live, what product you choose, and the environmental conditions on your deck. Most decks receive several hours of sunlight every day and are subject to rain, snow, mildew, and insect damage, and they need year-round protection.

What’s the difference between a stain and a sealer?

By itself, deck stain offers little in the way of protecting the wood in your outdoor spaces, which is what sealer does. For maximum protection, choose the best deck stain and sealer combination.

How do I prepare my deck for staining?

You should clean your deck as thoroughly as possible before staining and then allow it to dry. Some types of stain cannot be applied to damp wood, so be sure to let your deck dry completely. Many professionals recommend sanding your deck if you previously used a water-based stain.

How do I prepare my deck for staining

Can I stain over existing stain or paint?

You can stain over an existing stain, but not on top of paint, and some sealers won’t accept a second coat of stain. In the past several years, there have been several technological advances in more ecologically friendly water-based stains, and some new ones can be used over oil-based stains. To be certain, double-check the type of stain you want to use or strip the existing stain and sealer off your deck before applying a new one.

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