6 Best Deck Stains of 2021 – Oil-Based & Water-Based Deck Stain
Building an outdoor deck takes a lot of resources, effort, and time. The end result is always worth the time and effort, though. After all, when you have a well-made deck finished with a high-quality wood stain, it can become a favorite place for all kinds of activities: from hosting friends to having family board games out on the deck.
Back to the task of building a deck, in most cases, the finishing seems to take a huge chunk of the time. In the process, the importance of a good deck sealer can’t be overstated, especially when the deck will be facing the sun for large stretches of any given day.
Whether you live in Colorado, Canada, or California, using one of the best deck stains on the market will prolong the life of any deck. This means it will look better, and you will not have to take on the task of refinishing it for a good long while.
There are a lot of top-rated deck stains out there, but how do you know which one to pick? One main question that is likely on your mind is, Which deck stain lasts the longest?
This article will help guide you in the process of choosing the best deck stain for your particular style and environment.
Just as a side note, although painting the deck is also an option, deck stain seems to be a preference for many people. However, you need to understand what the pros and cons of deck stains are as opposed to paints, the different types of wood stains available, and also how to choose the best deck stain for your outdoor area.
In this article, we highlight some of the foundational things you should know about deck stains. We will also review 6 of the best deck stains out there on the market.
Last update on 2021-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Table of Contents
- What is the Best Deck Stain?
- 6 Best Deck Stains – Reviews
- #1. Defy Extreme Best Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain
- #2. Ready Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer
- #3. Thompson’s Water Seal Transparent Stain
- #4. Valspar Semi-Solid Deck Stain
- #5. KILZ Exterior Waterproofing Wood Stain
- #6. Minwax Deck Stain
- Types of Deck Stains
- Oil-Based Stain vs. Water Based Deck Stain
- Paint or Stain
- How to Buy the Best Deck Stains
- How to Prepare Deck Stain
- Deck Staining Tips
What is the Best Deck Stain?
There are different types of deck stains available. In other words, you have plenty of options to choose from for your deck. However, the most important thing is to understand what the best choice is for your particular needs.
If you are simply touching up an old deck, you have an easy choice before you, as you will only need to use the stain that is already on the deck. But if you are building a new deck, things are not always that straightforward.
You want the longest lasting deck stain you can find, obviously. The thing is, for different situations, that will mean a different wood stainer.
First of all, the best deck stain for you depends on the type of wood that you want to stain. If your deck uses rare wood types like cherry, aged pine, mahogany, or maple, you might not even need to use any stain as these grains of wood look great when left in their natural state.
In addition to the wood type, your personal preferences should also guide you in determining the best wood stain for your deck.[Pro tip: To get an idea of how the stain looks on your deck, you can try it on an inconspicuous part of the deck.]
The kind of finish that you want also determines the best deck stain for you. Some wood stains will provide a clear finish while others are opaque and they allow only a little grain to show.
Another important point to keep in mind as you decide the best deck stain is whether you prefer to use oil-based or water-based stain types.
While both have some unique benefits, they will also have some shortcomings and drawbacks. Weighing the pros and cons for your particular situation should help you decide which of the two is best for you.
6 Best Deck Stains – Reviews
#1. Defy Extreme Best Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain
Editor’s Rating: (4.4 / 5)
Semi-transparent wood stains like this water-based one from Defy make it possible to add some color to your deck while still allowing the wood grain to show.
The environmentally friendly stain also produces a natural-looking matte finish that will make your deck stand out in the backyard. Additionally, you can get it in seven different colors, which makes it highly likely that you will find something that matches your home’s exterior.
Winner: Best Water-Based Deck Stain
Although it is one of the priciest deck stains on our list, the quality of the finish makes it worth it. It uses some high-quality resins to make it more resistant to common wood stain problems such as fading and darkening. This makes it the best stain for decks on this list.
With the enhanced mildew and mold resistance of the stain, as well as ease of maintenance, this will be a great stain to have on your deck.
- Beautiful natural matte finish
- Easy to maintain
- Available in seven color options
- Made with high-quality resins
- Enhanced mildew resistance
- Relatively small area of coverage
#2. Ready Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer
Editor’s Rating: (4.6 / 5)
The oil-based Ready Seal also comes in seven different colors to make it possible to get something that suits your preferences. As a semitransparent stain, it will prove to be a great choice when you want to keep the wood grain visible.
Applying this deck stain is relatively easier than many other oil-based ones and you can use a roller, brush, or even a sprayer to do it.
Winner: Best Oil-Based Deck Stain
One of the best factors about this wood stain is that you can use it in a wide temperature range; it will be suitable for use whether you live in a beach house on the west coast or in a forest up north. We have found this to be one of the most versatile and best oil-based deck stains available.
This stain will provide coverage of 175 square feet for every gallon. However, if you have a deck with old lumber, you will need more stain to cover the same area as old wood soaks up a lot of paint and/or stain.
Finally, this deck stain will not require a primer, yet it will penetrate deeply to protect your outdoor deck’s wood.
- No primer required
- Easy to apply
- Ideal for use in any temperature range
- Seven stain color options
- Relatively affordable deck stain
- You require more than one coat for old decks
#3. Thompson’s Water Seal Transparent Stain
Editor’s Rating: (4.3 / 5)
Thompson’s Waterseal is the cheapest item on our deck stain reviews. Despite the affordable price tag, it can still provide coverage of up to 400 square feet per gallon depending on the surface you are staining.
It is highly useful in preventing water damage. Additionally, it uses some advanced polymer for fade resistance, which proves quite effective in resisting UV damage and mildew.
The transparent stain makes it possible to keep the natural wood grain visible, and homeowners can choose from five color options.
You can apply this stain on both freshly cleaned and damp or dry wood. It is also for a variety of uses, which means you can also use this same stain to cover your outdoor wood furniture.
- Highly affordable
- Fade-resistant color
- Mildew and UV damage resistant
- Up to 400 sq ft coverage
- Not very long-lasting stain
#4. Valspar Semi-Solid Deck Stain
Editor’s Rating: (4.5 / 5)
If you prefer the good old redwood finish on your deck, here is a great option for you. The semi-solid oil-based deck stain will not crack, peel, or blister. In other words, it will last longer than most other brands of wood stain.
It is a deep-penetrating stain that will protect and preserve your deck lumber for a long time. The finish it provides is water-repellent, so you don’t have to stress when you get a storm warning in your area.
The ultra-pigmented oil-based stain provides a rich color that will likely last longer than most other semi-solid stains. Additionally, the color you get on its application is said to be fade resistant.
With this deck stain, you will also get some significant UV protection. Finally, it is resistant to both mold and mildew.
- Water-repellent finish
- Does not crack, peel, or blister
- Mildew resistant
- Deep penetrating oil-based stain
- Fade resistant finish
- Relatively expensive
- Only available in one color
#5. KILZ Exterior Waterproofing Wood Stain
Editor’s Rating: (4 / 5)
The relatively inexpensive KILZ semi-transparent deck stain offers long-lasting protection for your deck, but you can also use it for other outdoor staining applications.
Besides the long-lasting protection, this deck stain also waterproofs the deck lumber and is mildew resistant. It is very useful in maintaining the beauty and integrity of wood under extreme outdoor conditions.
The 100% acrylic formulation will protect your expensive outdoor deck from snow, sun, and rain damage. The manufacturer backs it with a 3-year warranty for deck staining; this handy guarantee proves that they have confidence it offers good durability.
With a gallon of this transparent deck stain, you can cover up to 250 square feet with the first coat, and an impressive 500 square feet for the second.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Long-lasting protection
- 100% acrylic formulation
- Mildew-resistant finish
- Easy clean-up
- Few color options
#6. Minwax Deck Stain
Editor’s Rating: (4.3 / 5)
Here is a typical deck stain that will work for almost any kind of wood. It offers a long-lasting coat that is also scuff resistant.
The resulting deck stain coat will also be resistant to harmful UV rays and mildew, which means your outdoor deck’s wood will stay in good shape for a long time.
Under normal conditions, it should dry in less than two hours, which is a relatively short time compared to some of the other brands.
The best part about this particular stain, however, is that it keeps the natural wood grain visible. This gives the deck an appealing look as many people prefer to have that natural finish.
Miniwax deck stain provides a larger coverage than many other wood stains for both smooth and rough lumber. You can apply it with a brush, exterior paint pad, roller, or even a sprayer.
The cleanup is also quite straightforward, which you can accomplish with some soap and water within a short time.
You can get this deck in four different colors and up to an impressive 42 colors when mixed.
- Long-lasting and scuff resistant
- UV and mildew resistant coating
- Keeps wood grain visible
- Quick-drying stain
- Large coverage for both smooth and rough lumber
- Quite an expensive stain
Types of Deck Stains
There is more to picking a deck stain than just going for a color that you like.
As mentioned earlier in this article, they come in various types that are available on the market. Although there are different ways of classifying deck stains, the following are the most common types.
#1. Clear Deck Stains
Clear deck stains are by far the most popular type since most people prefer to use something that shows the natural grain of the wood.
Most clear deck stains (or deck water sealers as they are also known) do not contain any oil or pigments. Some will have a little oil/pigment for preservation. However, almost all types will have water repellent and a wood preservative compound to protect the lumber.
These stains are easier to apply than most other types. Their main shortcoming is that they gray and oxidize after a few months, which means that an annual reapplication is necessary.
#2. Semi-Transparent Deck Stains
Semi-transparent deck stains are the kind that will put some color tinting to the deck while still making the grain visible to some extent.
These stains will soak deeply into the wood. This means that they tend to last longer than most clear stain types and also offer more protection to the wood.
They are a good choice for expensive woods such as cedar and redwood. Although the semi-transparent stains still do not last indefinitely, they provide excellent wood penetration. With some types, you can go for at least two years without having to reapply.
Due to the ingredients in these stains, they are less likely to peel off the deck. As a result, your deck will still look fantastic even as the stain ages.
You can get these stains in both water and oil-based versions. However, with the semi-transparent stains, the oil-based ones seem to perform better than the water-based stains.
#3. Solid Deck Stain
Solid deck stains (also referred to as opaque stains) are the longest lasting of the three main types. If you go for a high-quality brand, you can go for at least three years without having to reapply.
These deck stains are a great choice when you want to make a bold statement and have little concern with showing the grain of the wood.
Solid deck stains will not penetrate the wood and will instead sit at the top and cover it, as paint does. They are very useful when you want to cover inconsistencies, flaws, or discoloration on the deck and also for adding some warmth or flare to your outdoor space.
There are plenty of solid deck stain colors out there, so it should be easy to get something that suits your tastes and matches your outdoor home decor.
But, like the other two types, these stains also have some drawbacks. Besides the obvious issue of hiding the wood’s natural grain, they are prone to peeling, cracking, and chipping. Also, the solid deck stains can build up an ugly film.
#4. Semi-Solid Deck Stains
Just like the semi-transparent deck stains, the semi-solid stains will only show a small amount of the wood grain. This is because they contain a high amount of pigment.
Semi-solid deck stains can be both water and oil based, but only a few companies manufacture them. Their greatest advantage is that they provide great UV protection for your deck. The oil-based types perform better than the water-based as they will penetrate the wood.
Oil-Based Stain vs. Water Based Deck Stain
Now that you know the main types of deck stains out there, the other equally important thing is to understand the differences between the oil and water-based stains and their pros and cons.
#1. Oil-Based Stains
Oil-based deck stains are the older of the two types; they have been around for at least three decades. They are the penetrating type of deck stain and most will contain both synthetic and natural oils such as paraffin oil, tung oil, and linseed oil.
They give the wood on your deck excellent protection by penetrating into its pores. Since they penetrate into the wood, they are also easier and quicker to apply.
The best oil-based deck stains are also easier to maintain than the water-based types because, as they start to age, they will just fade. Applying another coat is all you need to do to maintain a fresh look.
However, the oil-based deck stains are not very eco-friendly and they come with a stronger odor that takes longer to dissipate. These deck stains also require more time to dry and cure because of the oil components.
- Excellent wood penetration
- More natural-looking stain
- Much easier to apply
- Stronger odors and longer drying and curing time
- Not eco-friendly
#2. Water-Based Deck Stains
Water-based deck stains have become more popular in the past few years as more and more homeowners prefer to use environment-friendly products to maintain their properties.
Changes in laws in many localities to prohibit VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) are also a contributing factor to the increase in popularity of water-based deck stains.
These deck stains tend to adhere better to surfaces that have undergone some sort of staining or painting. Most tend to retain their color better than the oil-based deck stain types.
Water-based deck stains are more breathable, which means that they will not retain moisture. This makes them more mildew and mold resistant than the oil-based ones.
Other positive elements that set the water-based stains apart from the oil-based ones include the fact that they are quick-drying, have fewer odors, are non-flammable, and are easy to clean with soap and water.
However, the quick-drying factor can be a shortcoming as it makes them harder to apply. This is more so the case if you have a large deck to cover. Also, they will not penetrate the wood as deeply as the oil-based ones.
Water-based deck stains are best suited for lumber that resists decay naturally such as cypress and cedar.
- More mildew and mold resistant
- Environmentally friendly
- Easy clean up with soap and water
- Do not penetrate wood deeply
- Slightly harder to apply
Paint or Stain
Whether you are finishing up a new deck or want to breathe some new life into your old one, you will need to choose whether to paint or stain it.
While in most cases it will depend on your personal preferences, it is important to understand what you stand to gain from painting as opposed to staining.
Painting is an obvious option for some homeowners as it looks easy. To add to the convenience, the paint will last longer while requiring minimal maintenance. Finally, all paints offer UV protection.
Even if you decide to use the best quality and expensive deck paint, it will be cheaper in the long run as it lasts longer than stains do.
Because paint covers the wood grain, it will not be a good choice if you want to enjoy the natural beauty of the wood. It is also more likely to trap moisture in the wood.
A quality deck stain, on the other hand, will penetrate the wood and seal it, and this is more so when using the oil-based versions. It does this while allowing moisture to escape.
The stain will rarely peel, chip, or crack as your deck wood swells and shrinks due to changes in temperature. If you use the solid-color stains, you will also get a decent amount of UV protection.
But, the greatest advantage of staining your deck is that it keeps the wood’s natural grain or beauty visible, which creates an aesthetically appealing deck.
Should You Paint or Stain
The decision depends on the look that you want to achieve and your preferences. But if you do not mind reapplying stain after every couple of years, it is a good option.
If you do not have the time or you hate working on your deck every few years, then you should paint it. Also, paint it if you want more UV protection and color options.
How to Buy the Best Deck Stains
Your choice of a deck stain will affect more than just the appearance of the deck as it also determines the durability of the lumber.
The good news is that there are more than enough deck stain options on the market. All you need to do is to understand how to pick the best deck stain for you.
#1. Deck Stain Type
One of the first decisions that you need to make when buying a deck stain is the type to choose. Here you will not only need to pick between water-based and oil-based but also from the four common types.
The type you choose depends not only on your tastes and preferences but also on the wood type that you have on your deck. For example, water-based types are best for cypress, redwood, and other wood types with natural decay resistance.
#2. Coverage Area
Deck stain is in most cases cheaper than paint but you still need to consider the coverage area when buying your stain. Remember that you need to reapply the stain at least once every couple of years.
The coverage area will vary from one brand to the other because of the difference in formulation, but the larger the area you can stain with one gallon, the better.
However, you should never compromise on the quality of the stain just to get something that covers a wide area in one gallon. A stain that covers at least 100 square feet with the first coat is good enough.
Just like paint, you can get deck stains in various colors, so pick something that complements or enhances the appearance of your home.
The best way to choose a stain color for your deck is by going for something that matches an unchanging color in your yard such as your home’s exterior. Doing this ensures that your stain choice will remain relevant for a long time and you will not need to change it.
Also, you can match the stain color to the wood that you use on the deck if you want a more natural look. Common deck woods, such as pressed pine with its appealing green tint, have a great natural appearance. In such cases, a clear stain would be the best choice to maintain the look.
Remember to test out the color on a small section of the deck to determine how it will look and strip it off if you do not like the appearance.
Whether you prefer to use water-based or oil-based deck stain, the best brands will not be cheap. However, you still need to make sure that you get the best value for your money.
If the price of the deck stain is high, it should also be top-notch quality and provide a large area of coverage.
Avoid going for unusually cheap brands because in most cases they will also be low quality. Good deck stains will retail anywhere from just under $20 to close to $100 per gallon.
How to Prepare Deck Stain
Preparing a deck stain should not be very hard. Try the steps below for a smooth operation.
Step#1: As with anything, the deck needs to be clean before you start staining. Sweep the floor and remove any hard debris such as leaves and pine needles.
Step#2: Use a mild detergent to sweep and brush the deck. Ideally, the detergent needs to contain an anti-grease compound that will break away oily and fatty substances on the deck. Allow the detergent to sit for around 10-15 minutes, then thoroughly wash with water pressure or a garden hose. It should be very clean at this point and you should get a better idea of how many coats of deck stain you will need.
Step#3: Once the deck is dry, scrub it to remove any imperfections. You can use a sander to polish bumps or remove residual paint on the deck. Once you are done, sweep the floor one more time to clean it. You can use a synthetic bristle brush for the best effect. Make sure your brush is long, as this will prevent any major back pain from happening.
Step#4: Once again, use a power washer equipped with a 45-degree tip and set to 1,200-1,400 PSI. Make sure not to make the tip come too close to the deck. Ideally, keep the tip at least eight inches away from the deck to prevent damaging it.
Step#5: Once this is done, you will see residual imperfections with more clarity. Lightly sand one more time if you need to. Then you are nearly ready to start staining your deck.
Remember to sand in the direction of the wood vein and never against it, as this will most likely damage the wood. You should only need a few minutes if you use a power tool like an orbital sander with an 80 grit sandpaper.
Deck Staining Tips
Using a discardable brush, apply a stain sealer to the cracks and side of the wood. Wipe off the excess sealant and stain or it will look uneven. Use a clean rag to do so.
When staining a deck, one thing you will notice is that you need tons of rags to wipe. Make sure that you have a plentiful supply of clean rags for this purpose.
It is important to look at the wood grain direction and stain along with it and never cross-ways. Going across the wood vein will result in a poor and unprofessional finish.
Wet rags that have been used to wipe oil-based wood stains are extremely flammable and should never be thrown away when wet. Make sure they dry completely before you throw them away.
Wood stain is toxic. You need to use rubber gloves at all times when applying it.
If you have a large deck, then you will spend a considerable amount to stain it. You can always invite a friend over for much-needed help.
Another lifesaver tip is, instead of kneeling down, you can use a pole sweeper to stain. Your back will thank you for it.
Staining is one of the best ways to finish your wooden deck. Also, it gives the deck a very appealing look that will enhance the overall appearance of your backyard. So what is the best deck stain?
Deck stains will come in various types and in different categories and so you will have plenty of options to pick from when shopping.
Understanding the different types and the pros and shortcomings of each, as highlighted in this piece, should make the decision easy.
But, also remember to try out a stain on a small section before applying it on the entire deck as you cannot be certain that you will like the appearance until you see it on the wood.
Lastly, our reviews should give you some idea of some of the best deck stains out there and also some of the brands that you can trust to have something that suits your deck.
Last Updated on January 6, 2021 by Tom Bradly