If your deck is looking tired and worn down, a fresh coat of wood stain can improve its appearance and protect it from moisture and the sun’s UV rays. The best solid deck stains can also hide some of your deck’s imperfections and visible wear—and it’ll even make the deck last longer.
This guide will explain how to choose the best solid deck stain and suggest some top products.
Before Buying Solid Deck Stain
Solid deck stains cover the wood grain and texture with an opaque layer of color. To protect the deck but still see the wood’s character, a semisolid or semitransparent deck stain might be preferable.
Solid stains are different from deck paint, too. Paints encapsulate the surface of the wood. Solid deck stains penetrate the wood, creating a stronger bond. This is why deck paint is more likely to peel off, while the best solid deck stains stay put.
An important note: If the decking isn’t structurally sound, no stain or paint will solve the problem. That requires replacing the decking boards—and possibly the deck’s framing—before applying a finish.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Solid Deck Stain
Below are the most important considerations to keep in mind while shopping for the best solid deck stain.
Stains come in two varieties: water/acrylic-based and oil-based. These designations refer to the liquid in which the manufacturer mixes the pigments and treatment chemicals.
Acrylic-based stains use water as the base. These stains are easy to apply, and they clean up with soap and water. They’re also less noxious, thanks to the low volatile organic compound (VOC) content. But they don’t penetrate the wood much, so they aren’t as long-lasting as oil-based stains.
Oil-based stains are all about longevity, because the oil soaks into the wood and protects it from within. However, cleanup is more difficult, requiring mineral spirits, and the fumes can be potent, so wearing a respirator while working with the stain may be necessary.
When using a clear, semitransparent, or semisolid stain, the wood species and color will affect the color and finish of the stain. Red hues from redwood and cedar will shine through the stain, while the yellows from pressure-treated pine boards will brighten the stain.
That’s not the case with solid deck stains. The species and color of the wood will have no bearing on the end result. The stain will cover everything with a uniform finish that hides knots, discolorations, and wood hues.
Be sure to keep in mind the stain or paint that’s already on the deck when choosing a stain for the new coat. If the deck has an existing coat of oil-based stain, putting an acrylic-based solid stain on top of it will probably result in the stain blistering and peeling. The oil in the existing stain will prevent the new layer of stain from adhering to the surface. It’s likely to separate in the sun or after heavy rain.
An existing layer of acrylic-based stain will block the wood pores and keep oil-based stains from penetrating it. This can cause the new stain to peel off. To prevent this, strip, clean, and sand the wood surface to remove the acrylic paint before applying the oil-based stain.
Whatever type of stain is on the deck beforehand, it’s essential to do some prep work. Remove any loose or peeling finish, then use a deck cleaner to wash the surface. Allow the deck to dry for at least 48 hours after cleaning.
The best solid deck stains protect decking from the elements and extend its life. They repel water, preventing rain and snow from soaking into the decking and causing the wood to swell and buckle. Water-soaked wood decking also corrodes the metal fasteners that hold the structure together. Good-quality stains also provide protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays that bake the wood and cause drying and cracking.
The best solid deck stains contain mildewcides that prevent powdery mildew and mold from growing on the wood surface. Not only do mildewcides increase your deck’s longevity, but they also make it safer by keeping the surface from getting slippery underfoot.
Oil-based stains often take up to 48 hours before they’re dry enough to walk on. Water-based acrylics can dry within a few hours. While a fast-drying stain means being able to use the deck sooner, there’s value in stains with a slower drying time. Slower drying stains are less likely to develop lap marks from brushes in the finish, for example.
Here are the basics on staining a wood deck:
Our Top Picks
Here are some of the best solid deck stains with a range of features to make it easy to pick the right one for your needs.1Photo: lowes.com Check Latest Price
For all-around deck protection, check out Valspar’s Tintable Solid Exterior Stain. This stain is suitable for use on decks as well as fences, siding, and outdoor furniture. It repels water and protects against mold and mildew. Its UV-defense formula prevents fading and increases the stain’s longevity. It goes on with a roller, brush, or sprayer, and it’s rain-ready in just four hours.
This stain has an acrylic base that can be tinted a range of colors and hues. It covers almost all of the wood grain, leaving behind just a bit of texture while blending imperfections and mismatched wood species or repairs in just one coat.2Photo: homedepot.com Check Latest Price
Behr’s Premium Solid Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer might be the product to go for to stretch a budget. One gallon can cover up to 400 square feet with one coat, providing more coverage than many competitors. It’s self-priming, so no need to buy a separate can of primer, and comes in several colors.
This stain and sealer has an acrylic base with a penetrating formula that soaks into the wood. It seals against water, prevents fading, and prohibits the growth of mold and mildew. It’s ready for rain in four hours and applies with a roller, brush, or sprayer. Cleanup requires a simple soap-and-water combination.3Photo: lowes.com Check Latest Price
Cabot’s Tintable Solid Exterior Stain and Sealer features a scuff-resistant formula that holds up to heavy foot traffic longer than many of its competitors, so it’s a good choice for those who spend a lot of time on the deck. This stain and sealer combo can be tinted with color pigments to get just the right color, and the acrylic-based formula can be applied with a brush, roller, or paint sprayer.
Cleanup is easy; soap and water will do the trick. It dries to both the touch and foot traffic in just four hours. Once dry, it will protect the deck from UV-induced fading as well as water, mold, and mildew.4Photo: amazon.com Check Latest Price
DIYers who are sensitive to eye, nose, and throat irritation caused by volatile organic compounds (VOC) or who are concerned about the environmental impact of VOCs should consider using SaverSystem’s Advanced Solid Color Deck Stain. This product has a low-VOC formula but still provides maximum protection against fading, graying, and drying caused by the sun’s rays. It also protects against water penetration.
The Advanced Solid Color Deck Stain has an opaque finish that hides wood grain entirely, and it’s an acrylic-based formula so it cleans up with soap and water. It’s available in six premixed colors, including taupe, dark cocoa, dark walnut, driftwood gray, light walnut, and simply white.5Photo: amazon.com Check Latest Price
The Thompson’s WaterSeal Solid Waterproofing Stain uses a polymer formula that exceeds industry standards for waterproofing wood. This stain creates a uniform coat of color that hides most of the wood grain and imperfections. It can be used on damp or dry wood. It also protects against mold, mildew, and UV rays.
The stain comes in several premixed colors and can be applied with a brush, roller, or sprayer. It dries in just two hours, allowing for using the deck again sooner than with many other stains.6Photo: amazon.com Check Latest Price
For an acrylic deck stain that protects from the inside out, consider Olympic Stain Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer. This formula strengthens and conditions the wood fibers, protecting the deck from within, resulting in a longer-lasting deck with a high-quality finish.
This stain goes on with a brush, roller, or sprayer and dries within eight hours. It cleans up with soap and water. The formula protects against fading caused by the sun as well as water damage from rain and snow. It also prevents the growth of mold or mildew and is available in premixed colors.
The Advantages of Using a Solid Deck Stain
Solid deck stains create a uniform, rejuvenated look without replacing battered deck boards. They’re a good pick for older decks with repaired boards and rougher grain. The solid stain creates a clean, uniform-color appearance, blending rough areas seamlessly. The user gets a rejuvenated look for the deck without needing to replace unattractive deck boards.
They protect better against water, UV damage, mold, and mildew than clear treatments. Solid deck stains offer more protection against the elements than a clear or transparent stain. They shield the deck from UV rays and prevent water penetration as well as mildew and mold growth.
Solid deck stains can last up to 10 years after application. Many of the best solid deck stains can last for a decade, while some clear treatments need annual reapplication. Needing to stain less often saves money in the long run.
FAQs About Solid Deck Stains
For any further questions about choosing the best solid deck stain, here are some answers to help make the decision easier.
No. Deck stains penetrate the wood to create a better bond and limit peeling and blistering. Paint sits on the surface of the wood and isn’t as durable.
Before applying an acrylic-based stain on top of an existing oil-based stain, yes, be sure to remove the oil-based stain first. When putting an oil-based stain on top of an existing oil-based stain, there’s no need to remove it.
Use a paint roller, brush, sprayer, or even a flat paint pad.
Many of the best solid deck stains can last up to 10 years, which is 10 times longer than a clear sealer that requires annual treatment.