How To Choose The Right Deck Stains For Your Home

deck-stains.JPG I’m in the process of sprucing up the back deck of my house. It’s got 21 years worth of wear on it but it’s in really good shape. I’ve cleaned and sealed it several times over the life of the deck, so far, and now it’s time to do it again.

I am going to make one change to the process this time, though. We’ll be looking at deck stains to hide some of the wear and tear while lending a little bit of color to the property.

Here is a short video (below) on choosing a deck stain courtesy of ExpertVillage. There are a series of worthwhile videos on cleaning and staining your deck that give pretty good advice.


I’ve always used a transparent water repellent, but I’d rather add a little color to the scenery out back this time just to mix things up a little.

We’ll be painting the house soon so coordinating deck stains with the new house color, also known as hues, will be a big factor in the decision making process this time.

Time to get out the color wheel. Not only do we need to see what color of deck stains are available, we’ll also need to choose a level of opacity. Be sure to choose a stain or repellent containing UV inhibitors.


Selecting A Deck Finish

Think about the color you want (red, green, brown or whatever) and then consider different shades of the color of your choice. Take some samples home and try them out in areas that will not be noticed. Once you’ve got the tone, tint or shade of a color chosen, figure out which sheen best suits your needs. Most decks look best with a flat sheen but your situation may be different.

You need to find out how durable the finish is and ease of application. Water repellents are easiest to apply, then stains and, finally, paints take the most effort. Take a sample home, if possible, and apply it to a small area. Once you are satisfied, go with it.

Did you know that you can purchase penetrating deck finishes that contain insecticides? Not sure if that’s good or bad. Wear sandles! That’s all I’m saying.

Skip the lacquer and varnish. They don’t hold up very well under sun and rain.

As always, look for products with low VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) whenever possible.

Low VOC’s = Reduced air pollutants

There are basically 4 types of deck stain opacities:

  • Clear (or natural): Clear highlights the true colors of the wood and allows you to see all of the wood grain. Using clear deck stains (water repellents) is a great choice if you’re protecting Ipe, cedar, redwoods and teak. These types of woods are more expensive than pine, for example. Clear finish protectants allow the wood grain to weather a natural gray or whatever tone comes natural. Clear protectants need to be re-applied every couple of years*.
  • Tinted Deck Stains: Tinted stains gives minimal change in color to the natural wood color. If you’ve never stained your deck before, you might want to consider tinted stains because it is very subtle and hard to screw up when you apply it. Accidentally doubling up on the same section of board will be hardly noticeable. Re-apply every 2-3 years*.
  • Semitransparent Deck Stains: This type of stain has heavier doses of pigmentation added to them but the wood grain still shows through. These hues of deck stains are recommended for older decks that have had a few boards replaced along the way. The depth of hue will make all of the boards seem more uniform. Re-apply every 3-5 years*.
  • Solid Deck Stains: Recommended for older decks to hide imperfections, slightly damaged areas, wear and tear. Wood grain will not show through with solid deck stains. The wood grain texture will be visible and will have all of the divots but streaks from pressure washers will be covered. Re-apply ever 5 years*.

*This is an average life span for each type of stain. Life span will vary by brand.


How To Clean & Prep Your Deck Before Staining It

Olympic Paints & Stains has some great guidance for determining if your deck is ready to be stained by performing a water absorption test and/or a tape peel test.

Pour a cup of water on your deck and if the wood soaks it up within 10 minutes, or if the surface color darkens, it will absorb a protectant. You want the deck stain to penetrate the wood for proper protection. That’s the water absorption test.

The tape peel test is for decks that have been previously coated with a solid color stain. Take a putty knife and mark an “X” in 3-4 random areas on your deck. Make your marks without cutting into the wood. Cover an “X” with duct tape and press down firmly. Quickly remove the duct tape. If any wood flakes or color stain sticks to the tape, the deck needs to be stripped prior to being stained again.

This video shows how to strip a deck:


You’ll also need to clean your deck to remove all dirt, mold and mildew. Otherwise, all of your hard work applying the new product will be for nothing, not to mention the time and expense you put into it. Use a pressure washer in conjunction with a deck cleaner. A simple stiff brush with a bucket of prepared deck cleaner will suffice, also. Let it dry thoroughly.

If you have redwood or cedar, consider using a Brightener rather than a cleanser. It’s less harsh and let’s the beauty of the grain come through. Cedar and redwood are softer woods and require a little bit extra TLC.

This video shows how to clean a deck:


This video shows how to apply a semi-transparent deck stain:

You’ll notice, they used an airless sprayer and a 9 inch painting pad. Rollers do not do as good of a job as painting pads.

Well, that’s basically all there is to it. As with many things of this nature, the prep work is just as important as the application process. Good luck with your project.


More Tips For Staining Your Deck

Randy Boerstler

Randy Boerstler

Writing a home building blog that chronicles new homes during different phases of construction from a consumers' point-of-view is rather unique and loads of fun. Basically, my tips are a collection of checklists for what I think should (and should not) go into building a quality home. So let's have fun seeing what's new in the housing market these days!

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  • Bettyhaynes

    ok…i read your how to stain your deck…how to remove old stain and sanding etc. sounds like work to me. great article.