Last Updated on August 17, 2023 by Ernest Godia
Your deck is a major investment, and you want to ensure it looks its best for years to come. But with so many different finishing options on the market, you may wonder, is it better to paint or stain deck?
Both staining and painting can protect your deck from the sun, rain, snow, and other forms of wear and tear. But there are some key differences between the two that you’ll need to consider before deciding how to move forward.
This blog post discusses the key differences between painting vs. staining a deck. We’ll also explore their pros and cons and other related topics to help you make an informed decision on treating and protecting your decking boards.
Let’s dive right in.
Is it better to stain or paint your wooden deck?
Staining your deck is better if you prefer a more natural look and don’t mind spending a little more time on maintenance. However, if you’re looking for a long-lasting, protective finish with a variety of color options, then it’s better to paint your deck.
Deck paint vs. stain: What’s the difference?
Paints and stains are fantastic options for their practicality and aesthetic value. At the core, they’re polar opposites with various strengths and a fair share of drawbacks. Take a look.
Deck paint is a thick coating that offers full opacity, hiding any wood imperfections. It’s excellent for outdoor woods like decks, providing a durable protective layer. However, it may chip or peel, necessitating touch-ups over time.
Some deck paints contain non-slip additives that create a slip-resistant surface, making them safer for walking even when wet.
Benefits of Deck Paint vs. Stain
- It offers a wider range of color options for customization, unlike stains that are limited to natural wood tones.
- Deck paint is generally more durable than stain. This is because paint forms a film on top of the wood, which protects it from the elements.
- Paint provides a solid and more uniform appearance, unlike stains that show wood grain and texture.
- It may require less frequent maintenance compared to stains.
- It can cover imperfections and blemishes on the wood, whereas stains may not fully conceal them.
- Paint is more challenging to apply than stains.
- Paint can chip or peel over time, especially if it’s applied incorrectly.
Deck stain has a thin consistency that penetrates the wood, highlighting its natural grain. Offering transparency to solid opacity, it’s perfect for quality timber decks. Though less durable than paint, it doesn’t chip or peel but may require reapplication every few years.
Benefits of Deck Stain vs. Paint
- Enhances the wood’s natural beauty, allowing the grain and texture to shine through, unlike paint that can obscure them.
- Stain is easier to apply because it requires less extensive prep work compared to paint.
- Stain is less likely to chip or peel than paint. This is because the stain is absorbed into the wood rather than sitting on the surface.
- It can be easier to reapply or touch up than paint.
- Stains are more affordable compared to paint.
- Stain offers a limited range of colors and finishes.
- A stain may not be as durable as paint.
Deck Stain vs. Paint: Should You Paint or Stain Deck Boards?
Now that you know how stains and paints differ, it’s time to establish which treatment option is most suitable for your deck boards. Remember that your preferred choice will determine your deck’s aesthetic appeal, lifespan, and long-term maintenance requirements.
Read along for more details on the deck stain vs. paint debate.
1) Staining offers a natural appearance.
Stains penetrate the wood, enhancing its natural grains and tones while preserving the deck’s texture and overall rustic charm. This option is ideal for anyone who appreciates the organic aesthetics of wood and prefers a more subtle color variation.
The paint is heavily pigmented and is perfect for concealing weathered wood decks. Unfortunately, its opacity also hides the wood’s beautiful grain and natural tones.
Still, solid stains can offer a perfect balance of hiding surface flaws while showing the wood’s textural charm. These stains have an opaque finish but still maintain a natural appearance.
2) Paint has more color variety.
When considering deck paint vs. stain, paint’s primary advantage lies in its color diversity. Paint is available in a broad spectrum of colors, ranging from neutral shades to striking, contemporary hues.
You can paint your deck to blend in with the existing color scheme of your home or opt for a contrasting shade for a statement look.
In contrast, stain colors are limited to clear or brown shades, given their purpose to accentuate the wood’s inherent features.
3) Deck stain is more affordable.
In the cost evaluation of staining vs. painting the deck, stain tends to be the more budget-friendly choice, given that a gallon goes for $20 to $35. Unlike paint, stain often requires fewer coats, reducing labor costs if you’re hiring professionals or time if you’re doing it yourself.
On the other hand, painting decks is more costly. This conclusion is based on the fact that a gallon of deck paint is priced between $30 and $60. You’ll also need to account for wood preservatives and primer per gallon, ranging from $30 to $70.
While stain might initially appear to be the more affordable option, its cost-effectiveness will ultimately depend on the specific look and longevity you aim to achieve for your wood deck.
4) Deck paint is more durable.
From a durability perspective, paint generally has the upper hand in the deck stain vs. paint debate. Paint forms a robust, protective layer on your deck, shielding it from elements like moisture and UV rays.
A professionally painted deck can last up to a decade before needing a recoat. On the other hand, stains have a shorter lifespan and need recoating every 2-3 years. This is because they’re prone to heat-related discoloration.
Even though solid stains fare well on decks, they aren’t as long-lasting as deck paints.
5) Stain is easier to apply than paint.
As a rule of thumb, always do a thorough surface prep before staining or painting your project.
With that out of the way, staining wood decks presents fewer application challenges than painting. The process involves applying fewer stain coats without the need for a primer.
In addition, the stain’s runny consistency and transparent finish eliminate the possibility of an uneven finish. Furthermore, using 2-in-1 stain and sealer products like Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer reduces the time and effort required in the application process.
In contrast, painting a deck involves multiple steps, starting with a wood preservative, applying primer, painting, and then finishing with a sealer. In addition, its thick consistency risks leaving brush and lap marks on the painted wood deck.
6) The stained wood deck is easier to maintain
Both painted and stained wood decks will require regular sweeping and occasional thorough cleaning.
However, maintenance considerations often favor staining. While paint may initially be more durable, a stained deck is easier to maintain in the long run.
As a stained deck begins to fade over time, you can apply a fresh coat of stain with minimal prep work. However, a painted deck requires stripping or extensive sanding when the paint starts peeling or chipping before you can repaint.
Stain’s ease of maintenance makes staining decks a no-brainer among homeowners seeking a low-maintenance deck finish.
7) Stains can easily be painted over.
Stains offer a considerable advantage in flexibility compared to paint. If you stain your deck and later decide to change the look, you can easily paint over it.
The reverse is not as straightforward. Transitioning from paint to stain is cumbersome, involving stripping the old paint and primer completely.
This makes stain a versatile option, particularly for those who may want to alter their deck’s appearance down the line.
Factors to consider before deciding on paint or stain for your wooden deck
In addition to the factors discussed above, there are a few other things to consider before deciding to paint or stain your deck.
Consider Your Decking Material
If your deck is made of pressure-treated wood, you’ll need to use a wood stain designed for pressure-treated wood. This is because pressure-treated wood contains chemicals that can react with some paints, causing them to discolor or peel.
Recommended read: Does pressure-treated wood need to be sealed?
The deck’s physical condition
Various aspects of the wood deck’s physical state significantly influence your decision to stain or paint.
For example, if you have a newer, well-maintained deck, staining it sounds like a good idea. On the contrary, if the deck is older and weathered, it might benefit from a fresh coat of paint to hide the imperfections.
Another determinant is the existing finish on your wood deck. If the surface was previously painted, it’s more convenient to continue painting it. On the other hand, if the wood was previously stained or is bare, staining it is a viable option.
Level of exposure to the elements
If your deck is exposed to a lot of moisture or sunlight, then painting it is a practical option thanks to its superior protection against the elements. On the other hand, a sheltered deck will do well with a stain’s weatherproofing capacity.
Aesthetics and Personal Preference
Ultimately, the best way to decide whether to paint or stain your deck is to consider your aesthetic preferences.
Painting might be the ideal choice if you want a classic white deck or a boldly colored contemporary one. However, staining is a better fit if you appreciate the natural beauty of wood and prefer a traditional and rustic vibe.
Choosing the right paint for your wood deck
Painting is the easiest way to breathe new life into any surface by adding cool colors and paint textures. With a ton of paint options available for different surfaces, it’s important to choose one specifically tailored for decks.
Paints are broadly categorized into water-based and oil-based types, each with unique characteristics and applications.
Water-based paints, also known as latex or acrylic paints, are a popular choice for many painting projects. These paints utilize water as a solvent instead of harsh chemicals, making them easier to clean up with just soap and water.
They have a low odor and dry relatively quickly, allowing for faster project completion. Water-based paints are also known for their durability, flexibility, and resistance to cracking or peeling. Additionally, they are less likely to yellow over time compared to oil-based paints.
When choosing the best water-based paint for wood decks, one highly recommended option is the INSL-X Sure Step Acrylic Anti-Slip Coating Paint. Its impressive quality, long-lasting protection, and added safety features make it ideal for achieving aesthetic appeal and peace of mind.
These paints utilize oils, such as linseed or alkyd, as the solvent and would require mineral spirits during cleanup.
Oil-based paints form a durable protective coating that helps shield the wood deck from moisture, UV rays, and general wear and tear. They also offer a smooth and glossy finish that enhances the aesthetic appeal of your deck.
Their downside is that they have a longer drying time compared to water-based paints.
One of the best oil-based paints for decks is Rust-Oleum Marine Coatings Topside Paint, renowned for its durability, weather resistance, and elegant finish.See on Amazon
Choosing the right stain for your wooden deck
If you decide that deck stain is your poison, that’s a foot on the road. The rest of the decision-making comes from deciding which stain type will work for your wood deck.
Stains fall into two broad categories: water-based and oil-based stains.
- Water-based stains are easier to apply, less toxic, and dry faster than oil-based ones. However, they are not traditionally as durable and may not offer as much protection against the elements.
- Oil-based stains are the most durable type of stain and offer superior protection against the elements. However, they are highly toxic, dry slowly, and are challenging to apply.
Further into the categorization of stains is their degree of opacity. They include transparent, semi-transparent, and solid stains.
Transparent wood stain
This stain type is completely transparent, allowing the wood grain to shine through. If you have beautiful wood you want to highlight; a clear stain will do that for you. If you’re wondering which stain brand to trust, try the SuperDeck Transparent Stain.
This is a top choice for those wanting to enhance their wood deck’s natural grain and beauty. This stain allows the wood grain to show through. It is available in a variety of colors, including clear, redwood, and cedar.
With its slight hue, a semi-transparent stain provides more color than a transparent stain without obscuring the natural beauty of the wood. It balances color and transparency well, enhancing the wood grain while providing decent protection.
One of the reliable brands in this category is Benjamin Moore ARBORCOAT Semi-Transparent Deck and Siding Stain, which balances color and wood grain visibility, making it a versatile choice.
Like paint, its opaque nature allows solid stains to completely cover the wood’s natural graining. It is a good choice for people who want to change the color of their deck completely or hide any imperfections in the wood.
If solid stain sounds exactly like what your deck needs, try Cabot Solid Color Decking Stain. This is a popular solid stain that is available in a variety of colors. It is also known for its durability and UV protection.See on Amazon
Maintenance and care tips for painted or stained decks
Whether you paint or stain your deck, it’s important to maintain it properly to keep it looking its best. Here are some maintenance tips:
- Seal your deck to help protect it from the elements and extend its lifespan
- Clean your deck regularly. Sweep or hose down your deck every few weeks to remove dirt, debris, and mildew.
- Reapply stain every 2-3 years and paint every 5-10 years. This helps protect your deck from the elements.
- Inspect your deck for damage regularly. If you see any cracks, loose nails, rotting, or loose boards, repair them immediately.
While you protect your deck space, don’t forget your deck furniture. Read our review article to help you choose the best stain for outdoor furniture.
How often should a wooden deck be painted or stained?
You can get away without repainting your deck for up to 10 years with a good paint job. On the other hand, a stained deck will require recoating every 2-3 years. Keep in mind that the lifespan of deck paint vs. stain depends on wood type, amount of exposure to the elements, and the traffic it gets.
When should you not paint a deck?
You shouldn’t paint a deck if the wood is wet, too old, or weathered. Also, avoid painting your deck if it’s made of pressure-treated wood or if you live in an area with extreme weather conditions. Painting a deck in these conditions won’t protect the wood and will peel off quickly.
What lasts longer on a deck, paint, or stain?
Paint usually lasts longer on a deck than stain. This is because paint creates a barrier that protects the wood from outdoor weather and wear and tear. While stain penetrates the wood, it doesn’t provide as much of a barrier against the harsh elements and foot traffic.
Why stain a deck instead of paint?
Staining a deck accentuates the natural beauty of the wood and allows the grain to pop. Opt for stains because they’re more affordable and easier to apply than paint. It also penetrates the wood, offering protection without the risk of peeling or chipping.
Related read: How long does deck stain need to dry before it rains?
Should you paint or stain the deck? Final thoughts
We hope our discussion helps you settle on the best treatment for your outdoor living space, whether that’s to paint or stain it.
Basically, if you want a deck that makes a statement and is easy to maintain, then painting is the way to go. But if you’re keen on showcasing the deck’s natural wood grain and shielding it from the elements, staining is a solid option.
So, what’s it going to be? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.