Paint vs stain for deck: Painting vs Staining a Deck: 7 Big Differences

Painting vs Staining a Deck: 7 Big Differences


Finishing a newly installed wooden deck or refinishing an older one will protect it from moisture- and weather-related damage and prolong its lifespan. While both exterior paint and wood stain can do the job, the two popular finishes differ in terms of appearance, applications, durability, maintenance, and cost. Read on for a comparison of painting vs. staining to learn which offers the best defense for your deck.


Stain is more budget-friendly. 

Stain runs between $20 and $35 per gallon, while exterior paint suitable for decking ranges from $30 to as much as $60 per gallon. Plus, if painting, you’ll have to factor in an extra $15 to $40 per gallon of wood preservative and $15 to $30 per gallon of primer. Most commercial wood stains already contain a preservative and therefore don’t require a primer to adhere.

Stain offers a natural look.

Wood stain, transparent to semi-solid in opacity, partially fills the pores of wood, forming a thin film over the deck that lets both the natural grain pattern and superficial cracks in the wood show through—ideal if you like a natural look. Paint, with its high percentage of pigments and resins, fully fills the pores of the wood and dries to an opaque surface that hides cracks and covers the distinct wood grain, resulting in a more refined, though more manufactured, look. If you aim to disguise imperfections yet still retain a rustic appearance, a solid wood stain, which is highly pigmented and virtually opaque, is a good choice.

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Pine Grove, CA

Paint affords more variety.

Paint is available in a host of hues, from neutrals like chocolate brown or forest green to eye-popping royal blue or crimson for a more contemporary vibe. Because wood stain is designed to accentuate the native qualities of wood, it’s typically limited to clear varieties or shades of brown.

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Stain is easier to apply. 

Either painting the deck or staining the deck will require preparing the surface by sweeping it clear, scrubbing it with a store-bought or homemade deck cleaner, repairing or replacing damaged boards, and then lightly sanding any surface ridges. Then, stain can be directly applied by brush or roller in a single coat. The rather runny consistency of stain prevents globs from pooling, and its transparency minimizes the appearance of lap marks in the finish. Furthermore, when you choose a two-in-one stain-and-sealer, like Behr Waterproofing Stain & Sealer (available from The Home Depot), there’s no need for an additional clear top coat.

Conversely, prior to painting, a deck should be treated with wood preservative and then coated with a quality primer. A minimum of two coats of latex or oil-based paint is usually needed, and the thick consistency of paint means that globs and lap marks commonly crop up in the finish. Once painted, the surface must be sealed with a clear polyurethane sealer.

Photo: Zillow Digs home in San Francisco, CA

Paint lasts longer. 

Both paint and stain deck finishes are prone to unique problems—paint to chipping or peeling, and stain to heat-related discoloration. But in a head-to-head of painting vs. staining the deck, paint generally comes out as the more durable and colorfast finish, lasting 10 years or longer before requiring re-application. Oil-based paints offer the best protection from moisture, whereas latex paints provide the best defense against UV-related fading. Stain finishes on decks are more short-lived, lasting from one to eight years before requiring re-application. Generally, the more pigmented the stain (i.e., the higher the opacity), the more resistant it is to moisture and UV damage. Transparent stains offer low moisture protection and virtually no UV protection, while solid stains offer high moisture and UV protection.


Paint is easier to maintain.

Even in low-gloss sheens, paint dries to a slick surface that makes sweeping away dust, dirt, and debris a cinch. Stain dries to a more matte finish that demands greater effort to sweep clean. This tempts some homeowners to take a pressure washer to their stained decks, but the sheer force of the washer can gouge the wood. The maximum washer setting shouldn’t exceed 600 psi for softwoods like cedar or 1500 psi for hardwoods like oak. At least once a year, you’ll need to deep-clean your deck, whether it’s painted or stained, to remove bacteria and mold. This involves applying a deck cleaner by sprayer or roller, scrubbing down any particularly dingy spots with a soft-bristle scrub brush, and then rinsing with a garden hose.

Stain can easily be painted.

A stained deck can be easily painted over or given a new shade of stain by dulling the old finish with sandpaper, wiping down the deck with de-glosser, and then priming and painting or topping with the new shade of stain. While it’s easy to paint over a painted deck, converting from a paint to a stain requires the effort-intensive process of completely stripping the old paint and primer with either commercial paint stripper or sandpaper, cleaning it with a deck cleaner, sanding deck imperfections, and then applying the stain.

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Which Is Right for Your Home?

Deck Paint vs Stain: Which Is Right for Your Home?

  1. Angi
  2. Solution Center
  3. Home Exteriors

Photo: Michal Urbanek / Shutterstock


  • Stain is easier to apply and less expensive than paint.

  • Your deck will have a more natural wood look if you stain it

  • Paint offers more color options and better UV protection.

  • Paint lasts up to 10 years, while stain lasts 2 to 3 years

  • Both stain and paint protect your deck from the outdoor elements.

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Wooden decks set the scene for outdoor gatherings like summer barbecues and hangouts, and peeling paint or washed-out stain can put a damper on the celebration. When debating deck paint vs. stain, the decision comes down to the look you want, what kind of protection you need, and how much time and energy you want to spend applying the paint or stain. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between painting and staining your deck.

Deck Staining Pros and Cons

Deck stain highlights the warmth and beauty of the wood’s natural graining. It’s ideal if you are looking for a more rustic or natural look. Plus, deck stain retains moisture and prevents future wood rot. Wondering how often to stain your deck? You can expect to restain every two to three years.

If you live in a rainy region, like the Pacific Northwest, staining is more beneficial than painting your deck because it will be less slippery than a glossy painted deck after a rainstorm. Stain is also the go-to choice for pressure-treated woods, as paint won’t adhere as well and peels easily. 

Types of Stains for Decks

When selecting a stain, you have three options:

  • Solid stain: More like paint, its opaque nature allows solid stains to cover the wood’s natural graining completely.

  • Semi-transparent stain: With its slight hue, semi-transparent stain allows some of the wood’s graining to show through.

  • Clear stain: This stain type is completely transparent, allowing the wood graining to shine through. If you have a beautiful wood you want to highlight, such as cedar, choose a clear stain.

Staining Pros

  • Stain is easy to apply and gives your deck a quick facelift.

  • A stain that includes a sealer cuts your workload and time, as you only have to apply one coat.

  • Staining is more affordable than painting, and you can expect to spend $1 to $2. 50 per square foot on deck staining.

Staining Cons

  • Its transparent nature doesn’t protect the wood from sun damage.

  • Stains with more pigment (like solid or semi-transparent stain) can hold up to moisture and UV damage, whereas transparent stains don’t.

  • Stain has a shorter shelf life than paint, and you’ll need to re-stain the wood every few years.

Deck Painting Pros and Cons

Whereas stain seeps into the wood, painting your deck covers the grain, giving it a clean, crisp look. If your deck is older, paint can hide its imperfections (think cracks and other flaws) much better than a stain—and give it the look of a brand-new deck.

Although you’re concealing the wood grain, you can still get a natural look with paint by choosing an organic color scheme, including taupes, browns, sandy hues, and shades of green that echo the great outdoors. 

For more modern homes, paint gives your deck a more streamlined, minimalist look because of its uniform application, whereas stains let a wood’s nuances and variations shine through. And with paints, you also have more color options—you can select a paint that complements your home’s siding and trim.

Types of Paint for Decks

When selecting paint, you have two options:

  • Oil-based paint: These types of paints protect from moisture and typically last for about one year. Their durable nature allows them to hold up against daily wear and tear better than latex. Oil-based paints typically adhere to surfaces easily and offer a smooth finish.

  • Latex paint: Latex paints hold up against UV fading and are best used in locations with higher temperatures. These types of paints resist cracking and chipping, emit less odor, and have a shorter dry time than oil-based paints.

  • Acrylic paint: When debating between oil and acrylic paint, keep in mind that acrylic paint works well in humid climates, lasts for three to five years, and lays on top of the wood.

Painting Pros

  • Deck paint typically lasts longer than stain and covers imperfections better.

  • It’s durable, lasting several years before you need to repaint your deck, depending on the paint type.

  • Paint protects against sun damage, which is something to consider if your deck is in full sun or you live in a sun-soaked region.

Painting Cons

  • Paint creates a slippery surface, which is something to consider if you live in a rainy location.

  • Wood decks expand and contract in the heat, causing paint to chip and peel over time.

  • More time- and labor-intensive, requiring extra steps as you need to treat your deck with a water-repellent wood preservative, add a layer of primer, a layer or two of paint, and then seal it with a clear polyurethane

  • Deck paint is more permanent than stain. When you stain your deck, you can always repaint later on down the road.

Deck Stain vs. Paint

Since stain and paint are great choices for a deck, focus on what’s most important to you. Here’s a breakdown of key factors with a clear winner in each category.


When you stain a deck, you don’t need a primer or sealer—only the stain. Stain tends to cost less per gallon, too. Most stains run between $20 and $60 per gallon, while exterior paint usually costs $55 to $75 per gallon. Plus you’ll need to purchase a paint primer and sealer.

If you hire a contractor, painting a deck is more expensive than stain because it’s a more time-intensive process, so labor costs more. Keep in mind that paint lasts about three times as long as stain does, so you won’t have to shell out money as often. 

Best for Budgets: Stain


Stain helps accentuate the wood grain in your deck, offering a beautiful, natural look. Paint offers a more sleek, modern appearance and can be great for hiding flaws in the wood. 

Best for Natural Look: Stain

Color Choices

Wood stains range from clear to solid in their opacity. Stains often have colorful undertones, too, such as red, brown, and gray. But paint gives you a much wider palette. You can match your home’s exterior and trim work or opt for a striking contrast that’ll get big reactions from guests. 

Best Variety of Colors: Paint

Ease of Application

Deck painting and stain require prepping the surface, including cleaning and sanding the deck. After that, you can apply a single coat of stain. With painting, you’ll need to prime the surface, apply two or three coats of paint, then apply a sealer.

Because painting is time-intensive, it can often make sense to hire a local exterior painter who can ensure a smooth surface and full lifespan.

Easiest to Apply: Stain


Deck paint lasts up to 10 years, while stain only lasts two to three years. Stain tends to be easier on the wood, allowing it to breathe and contract more. Both products help protect your deck from the elements, but paint provides more defense against UV rays.  

Best for Long-Lasting: Paint


Whether you paint or stain your deck, you need to clean it at least once a year, repair any boards and screws, and perform general deck maintenance

Paint covers flaws better, and can boost the appearance of an older deck. Due to its sheen, a painted deck is easier to sweep than a stained deck. And you only need to repaint your deck about once every 10 years, whereas you’ll need to restain once every two to three years. 

Easiest to Maintain: Paint

Marissa Hermanson contributed to this piece.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can paint over deck stain by sanding the surface, applying a deglosser, priming, and painting. Without prepping the surface first, the tannins from the stain can bleed into the fresh paint and cause a blotchy finish. You can also apply a new shade of stain over existing stain, but you should sand the deck first.

It is better to stain your deck if you want a natural look and paint your deck if you want to add color. Stain is easier to apply and easier on the wood, but painting gives a more protective barrier and lasts longer. Ultimately, it depends on the goals for your deck and the look you want.

You should not paint a deck if it’s going to rain or drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit within 48 hours of painting. It’s best to paint a deck when the weather is dry and between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You also shouldn’t paint a deck if you haven’t sanded and primed it first.

It is not okay to not stain or paint a deck, as the deck is likely to get damaged by the elements and UV rays. An unfinished deck also is a breeding ground for rot, mold, and insect infestations. Paint and stain help protect your deck from moisture damage, fading, and the elements. It helps your deck stay beautiful and structurally sound for far longer.

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Stain – types and properties

Stain is a very common impregnation used to coat wooden surfaces to enhance their protection from external factors. In addition, stains favorably emphasize the texture, give a beautiful shade or completely change the original color of the tree. They also have a second name – beyts. The pigments contained in the liquid medium of this impregnation penetrate deep into the material, while maintaining the characteristic woody texture. This article talks about what stains are and how to use them.

Wood stains can enhance the beauty of wood


Difference from paint

At first glance it might seem that stains and paints are one and the same. This statement is not true: they have a different principle of operation. Paint can only create a film on the surface of the wood. The stain is able to penetrate into the upper layers of the tree, thereby providing reliable protection against small pests, UV radiation, moisture and other external influences. In addition, it has good coloring properties – for example, it can be used to color furniture and wooden parts. There are several types of stains that differ in pigmentation and composition. The main properties of the impregnation and its purpose depend on the latter.

Types of stains

The basis for the composition of the stain can be alcohol, water, wax, oil, and oil-wax. To understand which of them is best suited for a particular case, it is necessary to understand the main properties of each of the foundations.

For example, water-based stain is the most common type. It can be in finished or powder form, as well as in the form of a concentrate. It should be borne in mind that powder stains must be filtered after dilution with water. This is necessary for uniform staining of wood. Water stains are quite economically consumed, have an attractive price and many shades to choose from, which helped them become so popular. The absence of a pungent odor and the ability to adjust the concentration of impregnation allow it to be used indoors. For outdoor use, water-based stain is not suitable. It should be borne in mind that it does not affect the deep layers of wood, since it is intended more for surface staining. It is better to apply them in several layers. A water-based stain is great for those who don’t have a lot of experience with wood staining.

Alcohol stains, like water stains, are available both in finished form and in powder or concentrated form. They need to be diluted with alcohol or acetone. It is easy to guess that such an impregnation has a pungent odor and is better suited for staining on the street or in well-ventilated areas. Although alcohol-based stain dries quickly, it’s best to wait a bit before applying the next coat. In this case, you should not use a brush or roller – there is a high probability of external defects. An airbrush is perfect for staining with an alcohol composition. Alcohol stain penetrates deeper than water stain.

Huge range of colors and shades available

Colored oil-based stains penetrate deeply into the layers of wood and provide protection against moisture and insects. They fit well on the surface without forming stains. This is a great option for furniture, flooring (for example, parquet), it can also be used outdoors. Oil stains are more expensive than alcohol or water stains and take much longer to dry. For example, at a temperature of 20 to 25 degrees, the drying time of the layer is about three hours. If you only need light toning, you can withstand the stain for no more than 10 minutes, and then wipe off the excess with a damp cloth along the wood fibers. To get a rich color, you should wait at least a couple of hours, and then apply a second layer.

Wax stains have appeared on the market not so long ago. Unlike previous analogues, they do not penetrate deep into the layers of wood, but they effectively protect against UV radiation, high humidity, and insects. Forming a thin film on the surface, they give the wood a beautiful sheen and shade, masking small irregularities. Thus, wax stains are suitable for outdoor work, decorative staining and increasing the protective properties of the surface.

There is also an oil-wax stain that combines the properties of the last two options. Such impregnations are significantly more expensive than water or alcohol, but they have many advantages. For example, they are suitable for staining surfaces with small irregularities, outdoor work and even restoration. Oil-wax stains are used to increase the moisture resistance of wood. After this treatment, there is no need for varnishing. For light tinting, you can use the color scheme with which the main composition is diluted. It should be borne in mind that such stains dry for a long time.

Applying the stain with a brush

Acrylic stains can be seen on the market in the form of emulsions. They are able to penetrate deep into the structure of the wood and thus provide its protection against mold, harmful microorganisms and insects. Acrylic resins in the composition give the impregnation good antiseptic properties. Since these stains are non-toxic and almost odorless, they can be used indoors. They can be used on almost any surface. Their other plus is a wide variety of colors and shades. The disadvantages include long drying and high cost, especially when it comes to proven and reliable manufacturers.

Gel stains can make soft woods stronger and more resistant. Due to the increased density, a special swab is required for their application. However, such a coating is uniform, without smudges and stains. Gel stains are quite versatile, they can be used both indoors and outdoors. They dry quickly enough, and give a saturated shade. Such impregnations are perfect for floors, furniture, walls. A good gel stain is expensive, but it has an economical consumption.

Stain can be used both indoors and outdoors

How to use stain

Before you start staining, you must first prepare the surface for this. It is worth carefully sanding the surface with fine or medium-grained paper, which will remove small irregularities. The previously applied coating (for example, paint) must be completely removed, and the wood itself must be degreased with white spirit. A sponge is suitable for application. At the same time, conifers must be removed from resins with the help of special means, since resins can significantly weaken the effect of the stain.

All areas that do not need to be treated and painted are covered with masking tape or film. Scotch tape is great for edges, and film for larger surfaces. It is more convenient to stain large areas with division into several zones. Do not forget about the color test in an inconspicuous area. It is better to do this in advance to evaluate the shade. If only light tinting is planned, one or two layers will suffice. More will be needed to enhance the tone. At the same time, the ends absorb the stain more actively, so they will have to increase the consumption. It must be applied in the direction of the wood fibers.

When the agent is completely dry, the surface is treated with a piece of coarse cloth. It is better to carry it out either diagonally, or in the same way as when applying stain, along the fibers.

How to apply wood stain

The most common stain application methods:

Brush. This is the most common application method and is most suitable for wax, oil or water stains. At the same time, natural pile is better suited for the first two options, but for a water base it is better to use synthetics. The brush for coloring should be of high quality and comfortable. Youne should apply alcohol and gel formulations. Don’t put too much stain on it.

The stain can be applied with a quality brush.

Roller. Due to its versatility and handiness, the roller is also often used for staining. It allows you to evenly paint over a flat surface without unnecessary waste. In order to prevent excess stain on the roller, it is advisable to use a special tray.

Roller for easy coverage of large areas

Airbrush. Excellent for spirit stains and uneven surfaces. To use it, you will need some skill, and the consumption of stain will be greater than when choosing a roller or brush.

Staining spray gun requires some skill

Rubbing. After application to the surface, the stain is quickly rubbed with either a foam rubber sponge or a rag. This method is great for porous woods.

Dipping/dipping. This method is suitable for hard-to-reach areas and parts. It is effective for water and not too viscous wood stains. This way you can reduce the consumption well and get an even coloring.

Swab. Plugging is used for acrylic and wax stains. As an alternative to a tampon, you can use a foam sponge. The main thing is that the material chosen for smearing the stain on the surface does not leave behind fibers.

Thus, stain is a fairly versatile and useful product for wooden surfaces. It is able to extend their service life, as well as improve external and protective properties. In our online store there is a large selection of stains of different shades for high-quality staining and processing.

Happy shopping!

Your Kuzmich.

Why stain is needed

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What is stain



11 April 2019

Sometimes even experts cannot accurately answer the question of whether stain is needed for wood processing or staining can be dispensed with, and what is stain in general? Compared to paint, stain has a lesser coloring effect, but greater light transmission and moisture resistance. The use of stain, like paint, gives coloration, but the pattern of the wood comes through clearly, since the stain only creates a shade. With the help of wood stain, the wood is protected from rotting, harmful insects, fungal mold, but the texture of the wood is clearly preserved.

Stain unequivocally protects the tree from many of the negative effects listed above, while the variety of compositions can confuse even experienced builders. In the online store TBM-Market Novosibirsk you can find stains for every taste. All delivery conditions are indicated on the store’s website, or you can personally check them with our consultants.

What to pay attention to?

The main factors to consider when choosing a stain:

  • Where exactly is it planned to stain the wood – indoors or outdoors. Depending on the composition of the stain, some types cannot be used indoors or are unacceptable due to low skill levels;
  • Depending on the condition of the wood: if the structure has defects or may have them, whether there are cracks or rotten parts, it is necessary to reduce the visibility of these defects or emphasize the advantages of wood with their help;
  • It is necessary to take into account the structure of wood, its density, since the softer the breed, the greater the consumption of stain. The choice should be based on the penetration coefficient of the stain, so for softwoods it is unwise to choose a water-based stain, consumption will more than double what is expected;
  • When working with some types of stain, the personal experience of the builder is important. For example, stains with a high level of absorption with insufficient experience of a person working with such compositions can stain or sag on the work surface due to insufficiently fast application of the composition;
  • The ability to work with a spray gun can play a decisive role in choosing a stain, because not every home has such a tool in their personal possession. In general, only professionals work with tampons, home craftsmen prefer the usual brush even when applying alcohol stain;
  • The choice of stain should be based on the design of the interior of the house. It is possible that paint will be the best solution, because the stain emphasizes the texture of the tree, and whether it will look beneficial in your home is another question.

Types of stains (stains)

If you are looking for a stain in the store, but do not see this name, pay attention to the wording “stain” – this is another name for this product. It should be borne in mind that stains are used not only for solid wood, but also for processing any wood-based building materials.

All stains are divided into groups according to the main substance from which they were produced:

  1. Water-based stains are deep-penetrating wood stains, since most of them are water-based. There are many shades of such stains, there is practically no such shade that would not be on the building materials market, which provides an excellent opportunity for tinting for any room. Water stains are environmentally friendly, do not have an unpleasant odor, they can be used indoors, they are not subject to evaporation when the temperature rises. If you don’t like the shade, you can slightly “dilute” it, wash it with water to change or even wash off the stain. Of course, water compositions dry for a long time, since they sink deep enough into the wood fibers, which gives excessive absorption of moisture if staining is carried out in a humid room. After applying the water stain, a protective layer of varnish will be required, which will reduce the breathability of the wood.
  2. Alcohol stains are quick impregnations with shallow penetration, which is especially true for outdoor work when the weather is unstable. They perfectly protect from sunlight and dampness, but during operation they give a specific smell of an alcohol-containing product, therefore, in the room it is possible to stain with alcohol stains only with cross-ventilation. Since the absorption is fast, it is necessary to work carefully and accurately, with insufficient staining experience, whitish spots or uneven appearance of the wood texture are obtained. When working with alcohol stains, it is better to use an airbrush, but again, they need to be able to work.
  3. Oil stains do not add moisture to the wood at all, the coating is light and uniform, like paint. It is easy even for an amateur to work with an oil stain, and the color of the stain easily changes when dyes are added. The coating does not require an additional protective layer of varnish, but the wood does not breathe, although it is not subject to fading or exposure to external moisture. The stain dries for a long time due to its consistency, and the smell remains for a long time even after complete drying.
  4. Acrylic and wax stains are quite similar in their characteristics, although there are some differences in application (read the instructions!). After applying stains of this type, the thinnest protective film appears on the wood, the wood is almost impervious to air, although some experts consider this issue controversial. Builders love to use these wood stains due to the absence of defects during work: the coating is even, thin, without spots, the wood pattern is very clearly visible. Unfortunately, without sufficient experience, it is difficult to work with such stains, they are absorbed very quickly, and it is impossible to redo the work.