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What Type of Deck Stain is the Best?

The specific deck stain that is best for you will depend on a variety of factors. Those factors include the level of wear your deck will have to endure, how old your deck is, the climate you live in, the current coating on the deck or lack thereof, and your personal preferences. We will be covering all of those and giving some recommendations based on our experiences and preferences. 


EcoWash Deck Stain
Freshly applied solid deck stain in Madison, WI

The level of wear your deck will have to endure

Some decks, like front entryways, will be walked on nearly every day. Others, like the back deck on a vacation home, may only get walked on a couple dozen times per year. Decks with furniture, outdoor rugs, running pets, or decks that get shoveled or salted during winter, will get significantly more beat up over the course of the year. This is a primary concern when it comes to the selection of a stain.


If you need a more durable product to protect your wooden deck (and hide the existing flaws in the surface) a solid stain may be right for you. While this will look similar to paint and show no wood grain, this is a more durable product and can put up with a lot more abuse. Solid stains come in a variety of colors.


If your deck doesn’t need complete protection, a clear coat, transparent, semi-transparent, or semi-solid may be for you. Of those just listed, a semi-solid will provide the most protection while a clear coat will provide the least. 


How old your deck is

Generally speaking, older decks will need a more durable product to ensure that no rotting will occur. This can either mean a solid stain or just a more regular application of a less durable stain. Either way, older decks should be carefully maintained as deck replacement is not a cheap alternative to taking care of what you’ve already got. 


The climate you live in

The three largest climate factors affecting your deck stain selection are the prevalence of freeze/thaw cycles, average UV Index, and precipitation. 


If you live in an area with all four seasons and see multiple freezes and thaws per year, it is generally a good idea to avoid stains that can peel if possible. Solid and semi-solid stains can peel as they do not fully soak into the wood and have a film layer on top. For this reason, EcoWash does not generally recommend solid stain on a brand new deck in a temperate climate. However, if you need a solid stain for any of the other reasons listed in this article, a little peeling should not be a primary reason to avoid a solid deck stain.


The average UV index in the area you live in should inform your decision on what type of deck stain to select.  A high UV index (common in warm, sunny areas) will lead to delamination of the lignin in the wood on the surface of your deck. To avoid this, use a stain that can protect the surface. Sherwin-Williams has multiple UV and IR reflective stains which make for an excellent option to prevent wear and to cool the surface on a hot day. If this is not available to you, a solid or semi-solid deck stain will provide the most protection from UV rays and avoid the breakdown of your deck.


Precipitation is the final consideration when it comes to location. A rainier area needs more waterproofing than a drier climate. While all deck stains will waterproof, some will require less regular maintenance than others. For a lower maintenance option, consider oil-based semi-solid or solid stains.


oil based transparent deck stain
Oil-based transparent deck staining project in Muskego, WI

The current coating on your deck

When it comes to applying a new stain, you cannot avoid considering what is on your deck already. In general, it is a good idea to apply the same level of transparency as the current coating or go one step above. This is to avoid applying a coating that will be see-through and still show the coating beneath it. Read more about the different transparencies of deck stain and the methods of removing an old deck coating.


Your personal preferences

Ultimately, your deck is your deck and your tastes should be involved in the selection of the best deck stain for your project. If you like the look of a transparent stain but your deck is older and in a high UV climate, just have your deck stained more often to have the same protection. If your deck is brand new but you like the look of a uniform deck, get a solid stain. 


For my deck, I pick a semi-solid water-based IR reflective Sherwin Willaims SuperDeck stain in the color Hawthorne. I love how it looks, I love the durability, and I love the excellent value.



At the end of the day, there are no perfect solutions, just tradeoffs. Hopefully, this was an informative look at the various tradeoffs and considerations to be made when selecting the best deck stain.


If you need any further help selecting the best deck stain for your project, reach out to EcoWash here.

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