If you’re looking for the best deck stain in 2021, it can seem like an overwhelming decision to make.
Luckily, we have everything you need to find the top-rated deck stains, from reviews to instructions.
Choosing the right deck stain to use is a crucial decision because the choice you make will influence both the appearance of your deck and the durability of the wood. Staining your new deck will protect it from harmful UV rays and mold and mildew while simultaneously giving your deck a polished finish.
Before jumping into the best deck stain reviews, consider a few critical factors to streamline your buying decision.
Factor #1: Type of Deck Stain
First of all, do you prefer an oil-based or water-based wood stain? Twenty years ago, oil-based stains were the best choice. But oil-based wood stains contain higher amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can harm the environment. With the VOC laws changing in the last 10-15 years, all oil-based wood stain manufacturers have had to change their formulas, and some are not as effective as before. Additionally, water-based wood stain technology has drastically improved to the point where many water-based stains outlast their oil-based counterparts. Water-based stains allow for easy cleanup with soap and water as well.
If you have more questions on this, check out our handy breakdown right here.
Factor #2: Transparency of Deck Stain
With that decision made, next, think about what transparency you want in your stain. You’ve got four choices when shopping for top-rated deck stains:
- Clear Stain: A clear stain or sealer leaves the natural wood grain exposed. While these transparent stains and sealers don’t contain any pigments, they will still protect your wood against the elements, such as UV rays and mold and mildew. The transparent, waterproofing stain will keep your exterior wood deck preserved to some extent.
- Semi-Transparent Stain: You’ll get a little color imparted with semi-transparent exterior wood stains while still leaving the wood grain visible. Penetration is excellent, and you shouldn’t need to reapply the stain for 2-3 years. Water-based versions of this stain tend to perform better than oil-based.
- Semi-Solid Stain: Containing a higher level of pigment, you can still see some of the wood grain. The key selling point of this type of stain is the outstanding protection from UV rays it provides.
- Solid Stain: Solid exterior wood stains, also known as opaque wood stains, last for three years or more after one coat before you need to reapply. This type of stain sits on top of the wood rather than penetrating. It works well to mask any flaws or inconsistencies in the decking and covers the natural wood grain. The flipside of this type of stain is that it can be prone to peeling on horizontal surfaces.
Factor #3: Color of Deck Stain
Deck stain comes in an array of colors.
When choosing, also consider other elements such as the exterior paint and deck furniture to make sure you are happy with the color over time.
Semi-transparent stains typically come in pre-packaged colors. There are some brands that can be tinted to custom colors, but most are standard colors that are already pre-tinted. Solid stains are more similar to paint and can usually be tinted to whatever color you like.
Make sure to conduct a small test first if possible. This way, you can be sure you like the look of the stain on the decking before committing to purchase. Test the stain in an area that is not visible or less visible.
Factor #4: Coverage Area of Deck Stain
Don’t obsess over coverage area at the expense of quality. Try to get the balance right.
As a rough guideline, most exterior wood stains cover about 100 square feet per coat.
Using wood cleaners and wood brighteners open up the pores of the wood so that maximum stain absorption can occur. This is an essential step in helping the wood deck stain last. The deeper they soak in, the stronger their bond is with the wood. But keep in mind that if you clean and brighten the wood as you should, the wood will absorb more stain, and you may not cover as much area as advertised because more stain is absorbed. The upside is that the stain will last longer.
Now, this is assuming that the wood stain is made with high-quality resins that will actually soak deep into the wood and bond in the first place. Using a cheap, poor-quality deck stain that just lays on the surface won’t last and won’t be worth it, which brings us to the next factor.
Factor #5: Price of Deck Stain
Price always plays a factor in any buying decision, but it should never be the only deciding factor.
You would think that the most expensive deck stains (some reaching $60+ per gallon) would be the longest-lasting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition, some stain manufacturers have 3-5 year warranty claims. In reality, this is just a marketing gimmick. No exterior stain will last 3-5 years on a horizontal surface. The idea is that they’ll sell more product because they have a warranty, and those increased sales will outweigh any warranty claims they have when their product fails to last.
But, on the other end of the spectrum, a cheap stain will be low quality, won’t penetrate the wood, won’t protect the wood, and won’t last long.
Whether you want an oil-based or water-based stain, the best deck stain doesn’t come particularly cheap. This is all the more reason to make sure you get the most appropriate treatment for the wood and your preferences.
What to Do Next
Check out our selection of the best wood stains below. We tested 30 different deck stains to see how well they performed. To document our testing, we installed cameras over a board and took one photo per day for a year. Click on each product to view the time-lapse video results and read our deck stain reviews 2019 to see how each one might work for your home.