A Guide to Selecting the Best Deck Stain

When it comes to freshening up the wooden fence in your backyard or sanding your decking before summer comes in full force, there are a few things that are worth knowing before you get to the point of picking a product.

Backyard wooden deck floor boards with fresh brown stain

First of all, there is a difference between painting and staining. Painting obscures the grain and appearance of the wood and is opaque, meaning that you lose all color of the wood and only get the pigment that you pick. Staining, on the other hand, enhances the wood grain and is semi-transparent. Both of these options repel water, keeping your deck free from mildew and mold. Which one you go for depends on what you want the final aesthetic to be.

This article specifically focuses on stains, so that is what we will bear in mind going forward.

Considerations when choosing the most suitable deck stain

Oil-based deck stain

  • Also known as ‘alkyd’ – When shopping for a new stain, what type of stain is called what is something important to keep an eye out for.
  • Anti-mold – Mold and mildew are damaging to wood. Not only does it look unpleasant, but it rots and weakens the wood. This makes your fence or decking less stable or sturdy than it should be, which can pose a health risk.
  • Repels water – Water and wood may complement each other concerning trees in their natural state in the wild, but water and wood once they have been fashioned into a product, not so much! Water can cause wood to split and swell, so a stain that repels water will keep your wooden products lasting longer.
  • Up to 48 hours to dry – This is a long time, which may make it less practical for a variety of reasons.
  • Cheaper than water-based paints – Affordability is something that is increasingly important.

Water-based deck stain

  • Cleans up easily – For folks with kids or who are working in a professional context, being able to clean up after you’ve done the job is important. Water-based paints make this easier than ever.
  • Dry within 2 – 3 hours – No more waiting multiple days for
  • Doesn’t penetrate the grain – This means that only the surface of the wood is protected. While the sealant in some stains means that the wood is protected regardless, this is something to consider still.
  • Lower VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – The less of these a product has, the better! VOCs are harmful to both the environment and human health. If you have no choice but to use a product with them in, do so in an outdoor or ventilated space.

Best Deck Stains

[1] Cabot 140.0003400.005

This is also known as Australian Timber Oil. It is a semi-transparent oil-based stain. It is designed to protect your wood from moisture damage and is long-lasting. Once applied, it takes an estimated 24 hours to dry. The semi-transparent nature of the stain means that you can preserve and take pride in the hue and grain of the wood itself.

Buy Cabot 140 from Amazon.com

[2] KILZ L832111 Exterior Waterproof Stain

This exterior stain – emphasized, as you can get stains for interior use – combines a rich color and wood protection. Once applies, it has a uniform appearance and is semi-transparent. This means that any wood you apply it to is both preserved and protected at the same time. What’s more, you get a lot of it for the money you spend – 1 gallon is enough to stain 250 square feet. Even better? It is affordable, meaning that you won’t break the bank to get the work done.

[3] SaverSystems #1 Deck Premium Stain

This is a semi-transparent combination stain and sealant. This means that you don’t have to spend twice the money to get the same final result. It has a uniform finish after application and encourages and emphasizes the natural tone of the wood. This is definitely for those who want to keep that weathered wood look while also fighting mold and mildew. It has to give it that weathered look.

[4] Ready Seal 512 Exterior Stain and Sealant

This is another two-in-one product that combines a stain to bring out the natural grain of the wood and a sealant, to keep the color and protective qualities of the stain locked in and secure. It is an oil-based stain that is semi-transparent once it has dried. It also comes with UV blockers built-in and is mold-resistant. This means that your wood is safe from both damp damage and fading due to sunlight exposure.

Buy Ready Seal from Amazon.com

[5] DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain

This is a semi-transparent stain that results in a rich, uniform color that emphasizes the realistic and natural grain of the wood. Definitely one for those who want to preserve what they have rather than hiding it. Once applied, this stain lasts for 1 – 2 years which is a lot longer than many of its competitors and is particularly impressive for a stain product. Another advantage is that it comes with low VOCs. VOCs stand for Volatile Organic Compounds. This means that the stain itself is very eco-friendly and gives off a very low number of fumes. While it takes longer to dry, it is easier to clean up afterwards.

Buy Defy Extreme wood stain from Amazon.com


When it comes to choosing the best desk stain to get your exterior wood summer ready, we hope that this compiled list of the top 5 deck stains that we recommend can help. Another suggestion is to go to a physical store – if you can within the ongoing pandemic guidelines – and try out samples of the stains they have available. This will allow you to see what works on your wood and what doesn’t before you commit to making a purchase.

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