Decking is, by extension, an integral part of the aesthetics of a building. In fact, a deck is the first structure that your guests get to see when they come to visit. As an enthusiastic homeowner, it is important to ensure that your deck looks good all day long, every season of the year.
So much goes into improving and maintaining a deck. Besides regular sweeping and mopping, staining is what makes them look appropriate. Stains are where you spend most time and energy before committing your resources to buy them.
Because their performance in guarding your deck against UV rays, foot traffic, mold, and other outdoor elements is dependent on the model.
For this reason, we have compiled a list of top stains –that includes both oil and water-based stains- to help you understand what works best for your deck.
Quick Glance: Best Deck Stain on the Market
The Best Deck Stain on the Market of 2021
1. SaverSystems #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain for Decks
The #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain is one of SaverSystems’ latest models that are currently hot in the markets. Its versatility extends to not only coating decks but also gazebos, fences, wood siding, and much more.
Manufacturers of this semi-transparent stain had wood pores in mind. So they designed a formula that can easily penetrate into wood to maximize protection and last long. #1 Deck Premium is effective in guarding wood against the unforgiving UV rays of the sun, wearing, and graying. And since this is a water-based stain it resists mold, algae, and mildew that come looking for food in wood material.
Also worth mentioning is that the #1 Deck stain is easy to apply. And that holds for both dry and damp wood alike. It takes one day to prepare and apply the stain. The colors available are; natural, light walnut, dark walnut, and cedar.
Before applying #1 Deck stain you have to ensure that the floor is super clean and brightened. This enables long-lasting results. And along the lines of being durable, this type of wood stain would be best suitable for pressure-treated softwoods like fir, cedar, redwood, and pine.
The other selling point to this wood stain is the ease of maintenance once coated on the wood surface. Regular sweeping and cleaning must be practiced, and when the surface starts to pick a dull look you can simply wash with soap and water. Applying one coat of the stain then follows.
On the flip side, #1 Deck Premium wood stain is not ideal for hardwood surfaces. Which are pretty much more durable as compared to their softwood counterparts. Similarly, the stain may be a bit pricey. But this owes to the high quality of service they offer.
Otherwise, we can forgive the few flaws considering the fact that the number of positives heavily outweigh them. This is a safe product, with low VOC content that will pose no side effects when you apply it on a DIY basis.
What We Like
- Low maintenance costs.
- Looks natural and nice on surface.
- Easy to apply even on damp wood surface.
- Doubles as both a stain and sealer for the wood.
What We Don’t Like
- A bit sticky in the beginning.
- Not suitable for hardwoods.
2. DEFY Extreme Wood Stain
DEFY Extreme wood stain is also a production of SaverSystems as #1 Deck stain above but is a bit older and falls on the DEFY line of wood products. It is one of the most advanced models whose popularity has stood the test of time.
As a matter of fact, DEFY Extreme was the first wood stain to introduce a formulation that adopts state-of-the-art nano-technology, which is best known for durability. With a high level of innovation, this semi-transparent, synthetic-resin wood finish performs better than most of the competing products in its price segment.
To protect the wood from the battering UV rays of the sun, DEFY Extreme has tiny particles of zinc oxide. These particles reflect away the rays to prevent graying of the wood. One can easily think that the zinc oxide particles can tamper with the fresh look of the wood but in their nano state, they cannot be seen with a naked eye.
The zinc oxide particles are evenly distributed to maximize protection from the sun. In addition to being reflective of the UV rays, fungus-like mold and mildew don’t stand a chance of growth where there is zinc oxide.
Available in 6 finishes, DEFY Extreme maintains the natural appearance of the wood. In fact, the wood grain shows through. This wood stain pretty much handles all that mother-nature throws at it. The six colors available are; white walnut, butternut, cedar tone, driftwood gray, natural pine, and redwood.
Besides decks, DEFY Extreme is also useful in wood exteriors of many other structures. These include playsets, fences, siding, outdoor patio furniture, wooden homes, and much more.
So generally this is a good wood stain. One disadvantage though -since the stain is water based- it’s a bit watery and armatures may feel lost in the mode of application. Especially if they use the large brush that is recommended. It would be advisable to apply it using a 3.5-inch staining brush, which is a bit slower but more accurate as it lets you be in control.
One other downer for the people who live in areas that experience snow and ice is that maintenance would be more regular, thus adding to the expenses.
Those are minor inadequacies as they are limited to external factors and not the performance of the product itself. For instance, to solve the mode of application problem a user manual would be really helpful. Good preparation and careful application are crucial in achieving the best results, and that’s durability.
What We Like
- Reflects sunlight rather than absorbing it.
- As per the porosity and texture of wood, 1 gallon of DEFY Extreme coats 100-150 sq. ft.
- Acts as both a stain and a sealer.
- Doesn’t peel and fades minimally.
- Repels water and sunshine.
What We Don’t Like
- May come off as lighter than expected, but darkens with time.
- Its light nature requires patience and expertise in application.
3. Ready Seal 512 Wood Stain And Seal (Our Top Recommended)
Ready Seal 512 is an oil-based, semi-transparent wood stain and seal with all the right ingredients to protect and preserve external wood furniture. These ingredients include grounded trans-oxide pigments, paraffin oil, algaecide, and quality resins. Their combination forms a unique blend that works magic in keeping wood projects looking all-natural and fresh.
Similarly, being an oil-based wood stain and seal, Ready Seal gives the right tone to wood exteriors allowing the wood grain to show through while maintaining the original texture. Its formulation is designed to penetrate deep into wood, is tough on algae, mildew, mold, and protects the wood from the damaging UV rays of the sun.
Unlike other models that require many processes to apply, Ready Seal application is a one-off process. You, however, have to check that the target surface is free of dust, mildew, and paints or any other stains that must be scraped off. Otherwise, a roller, brush or sprayer and you are good to go. No primer needed.
According to the instructions on the user manual, the ease of application extends to even damp wood, and the stain dries up in two to three days. But that’s highly dependent on the weather conditions of a particular place and the porosity of the surface the coat has been applied. At first, the coating looks dark when freshly applied and gains its true color in two weeks.
Just as all the other things in life, Ready Seal errs too. Firstly the rate of coverage area per gallon does not compare with the competitors. A gallon is only effective on 75-100 square feet area and considering the fact that two coats should be applied makes it costly. Additionally, the stains’ absorption rate into wood is high. It takes more gallons than normal.
Another deficiency is spotted on the inability to protect the wood from the battering UV rays of the sun, and improper sealing of the surface. Color fades significantly within a short period.
But deep penetration, extreme ease of application, and the fact that oil used are environmental-friendly compensate all that. Moreover, there are 9 different range of colors, making it ideal for many wood types. Ready Seal can be used on decks, log cabins, arbors, fences, and much more.
What We Like
- Is both a stain and sealer.
- Extremely easy to apply.
- Woodgrain shows through. No darkening but fades instead.
- Works on damp wood.
- Pocket-friendly and available in 9 different colors.
What We Don’t Like
- Has a limited rate of area coverage per gallon.
- Color fades away shortly.
- Water bead off is weak.
4. Cabot Australian Timber Oil
For maximum protection and preservation of wood projects, Cabot Australian Timber Oil contains a number of different oils that serve different purposes in its blend. The oil stain is arguably one of the best translucent oil treatments for premium exotic wood surfaces like decks made of teak and mahogany breeds.
With long-oil alkyds that enhance longevity, high-grade linseed oil for deep penetration, and pure South American tung oil that maximize water repellency and rich color depth, you don’t need to look further if those are the factors that matter to your wood care.
Initially, Cabot Heritage designed this product for extreme Australian breeds. Cambara, tallowwood, and Merbau are the dense hardwoods this oil stain was originally made for. But over the years it has proven to be useful in all the other hardwood products globally.
In addition to the powerful unique oil blend, Cabot Australian Timber Oil also contains complex translucent iron oxide pigments that absorb UV rays. This is an alternative to zinc oxide which rather reflects the UV rays away. But all in all, both efficiently protects the wood grain from these harmful rays of the sun.
With that being said, application of the timber oil may not be easier than most oil stains, but is far much easier than applying water-based stains. And like most stains you have to clean the target surface of mildew, loose wood fibers, mold, dirt and other foreign matter before applying this particular oil treatment. That guarantees maximum penetration for high performance.
Converse to the above sentiments, linseed oil -which is one of the oil components in timber oil- leaves hard stains on your hand and clothes when applying it. The oil stain also does not work on damp wood. Only a moisture content of less than 15% is workable and wood must be exposed to direct sunlight for 3-5 days for maximum results.
Those are minor flaws that are easily compensated by the excellent features of this timber oil. Oh, and the rate of area coverage as compared to Ready Seal reviewed above, is a big mismatch. One gallon of Cabot Australian Timber Oil effectively covers a smooth wood surface of 400-600 square feet area. And on a rough surface, a 250-350 square feet area would be okay.
What We Like
- Has high penetrability into the wood grain.
- Easy to apply/ reapply.
- Higher rate of area coverage per gallon.
- High water repellency.
What We Don’t Like
- Application limited to hardwoods.
- Linseed oil stains hands and clothes during application.
- Color darkens when molds and dirt start to attack.
5. KILZ Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
Featuring a beautiful decorative cedar tone, KILZ is potentially one of the best semi-transparent wood stains for the exteriors of your outdoor wood projects. It has good waterproofing properties, is durable and has a provision for mildew resistance. In fact, water beading on the wood surface coated with this wood stain is unmatched, making it very easy to wash too.
KILZ incorporates a 100% acrylic formula, which provides the best wood care against snow, sun, and rain. Acrylic is highly soluble in water when applied but then dries up and develops resistance against water right afterward. It’s also preferred for being highly elastic.
The wood stain is best suitable for decks, but also siding, wood patio furniture, shingles, and many other outdoor furniture. But there has to be a proper preparation before applying it. For instance, you have to remove loose wood fibers and refill wood grain if need be, clear all dirt, mold, and other foreign matter. This enhances high performance and longevity.
As economical as it is, one gallon of KILZ semi-transparent wood stain covers an area of 250 square feet for the first coat. This doubles to 500 square feet on the second coat. Most competing stains in its price category cover between 100 and 150 square feet.
On the downside, this wood stain is not very effective on extremely weathered wood surfaces or those that have been exposed to external weather conditions for more than 10 years. Also, it’s not a one-day affair to prepare and apply the wood stain. The target surface has to be thoroughly washed and brightened, then wait for another day for it to completely dry before now applying it.
Those are the common challenges with most wood stains anyway. The inadequacies are nothing compared to an outstanding thick coverage that you will achieve for your deck. All these while showing off wood grain and its stunning architecture to your visitors.
What We Like
- Dries nicely to develop a waterproofing layer.
- Provides a mildew-resistant finish.
- Covers 250-500 square feet per gallon.
- Features a 100% Acrylic formula.
- Lasts 3 years on deck (foot traffic), and 5 years on siding and fences.
What We Don’t Like
- Area coverage can vary with external factors.
- High-quality paint pad has to be used. This poses additional expenses.
6. Tall Earth Eco-Friendly Wood Stain
The first thing that makes this wood stain outstand the competition is that once applied, the wood exterior will never need reapplication, flaking or scraping of any kind. This is geared by the fact that the wood stain deeply penetrates the wood grain and completely changes its structure. It initiates artificial aging to give a permanent silver or brown color to the coated surface.
As the name suggests, Tall Earth is environment-friendly. It doesn’t contain VOCs, and that means the product does not emit any toxic organic compounds to the air. Thus making it totally safe for human beings and pets. In that matter, you can use it both indoors and outdoors. It can safely be applied on the soffits of wooden staircases and fascia boards.
When it comes to application, this wood stain is definitely the least demanding of the models already discussed. Absolutely no special type of preparations needed. Except for that wood which had previously been treated should be quickly sanded to allow maximum penetration. Otherwise, no waiting for the wood to dry, just apply it and wait for the best results.
Tall Earth’s unique blend of preservatives effectively protects the wood from mold, moss, fungus, and both dry and wet rots. The coated surface will not experience peeling or flaking throughout the life of the wood product.
A few points deduct where this product may not work out the same for different wood breeds. For instance, wood projects made from white pine will not work exceptionally well will Tall Earth wood stain. So you might as well consider the type of wood used on your deck before moving ahead with your purchase.
Aside from decks and soffits, this wood stain is ideal for siding, fences, outdoor furniture, and marine applications.
What We Like
- Super easy to apply.
- Does not need reapplication throughout the life of the wood project.
- Protects wood against moss, mold, wet rot, and dry rot.
- Totally safe both indoors and outdoors.
- One gallon covers 120-150 square feet.
What We Don’t Like
- Works out different on different wood breeds.
- It does not create a waterproof seal on wood.
7. Thompsons WaterSeal Advanced Natural Wood Protector
The UV rays of the sun together with its graying effect, water infiltration, and mildew growth are all spoilers for decks and other beautiful wood projects. But all those go away as soon as you apply a coating of Thompsons WaterSeal Advanced Natural Wood Protector on their surfaces.
Of course, being water-based makes it easy and convenient to use. And with just one coat applied, that can protect your wood for years and years on end. The product especially excels very well in what its name suggests, waterproofing. Water beads on its surface rather than penetrate it. Scientifically moisture is the main contributing factor to rotting in wood. Because molds, algae, moss, and other parasitic plants breed well in parts of the wood that have moisture.
Preparation and application of Thompsons WaterSeal is a one day project. In fact, it doesn’t matter if the wood is dry or damp. A single coat will get the job done, making it so economical, unlike most of the models we have discussed.
Apart from decks, you can extend the application of this wood sealer to your gazebos, siding, fences, and the exteriors of other outdoor wood furniture. Cleaning these surfaces becomes relatively easier after applying it since it’s a water-based wood stain. Furthermore, Thompsons WaterSeal coating dries up faster, so you can clean your deck right after application.
One disadvantage would be the fact that you can observe some yellow tinting on your wood if not applied correctly. It would also seem a little slick, and if you are not careful when sitting on it with your chair you would easily slide off. Especially when the coating is super fresh. Also, the longevity of the product is not the best in the market.
The wood protector is, however, far much better than a lot of wood care products available. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a water-based stain that guards wood on a single coating. Overall, in my own opinion, this is a product that will provide a total value for your money.
What We Like
- Good waterproofing capacity.
- One single coating does effective protection.
- Formulated to resist mildew, fading, and UV rays.
- Preparation and application happen in one day.
- Applicable to both damp and dry wood.
What We Don’t Like
- Maybe a bit slippery in the beginning.
- If not applied correctly it may cause some yellow tinting on wood.
Types of Deck Stains
Our list above is comprehensive but not exhaustive. The models included are mainly either oil or water-based. But there are surely many other types of deck stains available in the market, even gel, although not discussed here. The following are the common types widely used for wood care around the world.
1. Transparent Stains
Also known as clear sealers, and best suitable for highlighting the natural beauty of wood grain without adding any sort of color or darkening. They contain no pigments but have water-repelling properties in them. Thompsons WaterSeal, discussed in this article falls on this category of deck stains. They offer no protection against damaging UV rays and graying effect, however. Artificial aging takes charge to camouflage that.
2. Semi-Transparent Stains
Semi-transparent deck stains are ideal for decks that had previously been treated with a transparent stain. Compared to the latter, semi-transparent stains add a color intonation to the wood exterior while letting the wood grain show through. Best to show off breeds like Black Walnut for instance. However, no amount of transparent deck stains can match the toughness of a weakest solid stain. Most of the last for two to three years utmost.
3. Solid Stains
Solid deck stains last the longest, with the best model surviving through up to five years. They are best for covering up wood exterior that was previously treated with transparent or semi-transparent deck stains. If the looks on the wood grain for wood used on your deck do not look particularly beautiful, it might be the best idea to hide it under a solid stain. However, you should be warned that over time solid stains may create a film that is susceptible to peeling, chipping, and cracking, just like paint.
4. Oil-Based Stains
Oil-based deck stains are popular for their high penetrability into wood and ease of application. The binder allows you to remove the excess stain before it fully dries up, making it much easier to use. Also, this type of deck stains is loved for their natural and synthetic oil ingredients including paraffin oil, linseed oil, rosewood oil, tung oil, and others. They, however, take longer to dry, have a strong smell, and may help breed mildew.
5. Water-Based Stains
It is common to wonder if oil or water deck stain better. But water-based stains with no doubt last longer if applied correctly. This owes it to the fact that they retain natural wood color more, and have better resistance to the damaging UV rays of the sun. VOC laws in recent years changed in favor of the water-based deck stains and that’s why they are becoming more common in the market. They can be easily cleaned up after and they suppress the growth of mildew and molds, unlike their oil-based counterparts.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Deck Stain
If you are like most new homeowners or doing decks for the first time, you may wonder, how do I choose a deck stain? Well, with many different brands and types of deck stains finding the best model may be a bit tricky. Here are a few factors that might help kick-start your purchase journey.
There are different climate zones around the world and where you live is a huge determinant of the stain that will work for your deck. This is especially true for people who live in extreme climates, like at the poles where temperatures are too cold. Climate is not much of a problem if you live in areas within the normal ranges. It is important that you check the labels carefully to ensure that a particular product is designed for your climate zone.
It’s unlikely that you will have fun stripping off a wood surface previously coated with solid stain if you want to replace it with a transparent or semi-transparent wood stain. In this case, you might like a solid stain that will add an even darker color to cover up for the previous coating. This shows why the previous coating is a huge determinant of the stain you will need to buy for your deck.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
For wood stains that contain these components, they must pass EPA requirements and laws or standards set by other authorities and countries. VOCs are considered extremely hazardous as they pose health complications to human beings and pets. From throat irritation to frequent headaches and to severe damage on the kidney and the central nervous system at large. Therefore, it is important to see if the wood stain you are about to buy complies with the industry standards set for VOC compliance.
The type of wood you are using for your deck plays an important role in the end result of the final looks. Before settling down on a particular stain, it is recommended that you perform a test on a small part of your deck and observe how it turns out. This way you can be able to tell if the finished color is what you like.
Deck’s Exposure to the Sun
Despite the use of canopies and other measures you may initiate to guard your deck against the sun, it is essential to investigate the extent that the sun hits it. UV rays is a killer for the dream looks you desire for your deck for two reasons. First, it hits to the cellular structure, baking and drying it, thus killing the fresh looks of the wood grain. And then when eventually beaten the wood starts letting in moisture, further breeding molds, moss, mildew, or other parasitic plants. This cuts short the life of your wood project and pressures the need for quick replacement.
It is evident that choosing the best deck stain for your deck is more than just if it is oil-based, or water-based, or long-lasting. You have to dig in deeper to see how it might change the wood structure, the magnitude of work applying it, suitability for the wood type of your deck, the climate zone of your place, and much more. But with whatever budget you have set, there’s always a perfect wood stain for your deck. The process only needs patience and passion, just as an enthusiastic homeowner you are.