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How To Choose The Best Deck Stain

Deck stains come in various colors, opacities, and compositions. What’s the best choice for your deck? Well, that all depends! There are a number factors to consider when choosing that perfect stain.

To help answer the question “What is the best stain,” we picked the brains of our decking experts and came away with some excellent advice for all of you! Keep reading to learn all about finding that perfect stain for your deck.

What Kind of “Look” do You Want?

Do you like the look of natural wood?

If so, you’ll narrow your choices down to Arborcoat Translucent or Semi-transparent stains. They have pigmented wood tone colors that allow the wood grain to show through, along the lines of a “furniture” look.

Pros – These stains age gracefully, meaning if and when they do start to wear down they don’t peel up in big chips like paint or solid stain might. They just wear away like an old pair of jeans.

Cons – They have the least amount of UV protection due to the low levels of pigment needed to achieve a see-through look and also have lower volume solids. This means the coating will not last as long as a solid or semi-solid and will not withstand abrasion as easily. Now, if you’re dragging chairs across your deck neither coating will fare all that well. But regarding foot & pet traffic, the natural looking stains just don’t have the body to last more than a year or two.

Do you want a “painted” look, or need to hide some ugly wood?

If so, Arborcoat Solid or Semi-Solid is the way to go. These stains look more like paint. They are not see through, have higher solids and have near 100% UV protection to keep wood from graying out from the sun.

Pros – Best UV protection available. Better durability for foot traffic and abrasion. Longer lasting coating when appropriately applied and maintained.

Cons – They are very sensitive coatings that require meticulous prep work and maintenance. The wood must be absolutely dry, the painting conditions must be absolutely right (including avoiding direct sunlight to ensure proper curing), and the construction of the deck must allow for air flow to ensure moisture isn’t puddling on the surface or migrating into the coating at a high volume.

Waterborne VS Oil-based Coating

This is the trickiest decision of all. Oil-based stains penetrate deeply into the wood fibers and create a rich wood tone. But there are organic compounds in them that mold and mildew use as a food source if left unchecked. Waterborne coatings can’t penetrate as far into the wood because the acrylic resin particles are much bigger than oil. However, the coating is much more resistant to fading and does not serve as a food source for mold and mildew.

So the answer in short is, if you have a major mold/mildew/low sunlight deck, use waterborne. If you have a high traffic deck that gets lots of sunlight, use oil.

Best Waterborne Options – Arborcoat 623 Translucent, 638 Semi-Transparent, 639 Semi-Solid or 640 Solid Stains.

Best Oil-Based Options – Arborcoat 326 Translucent, 328 Semi-Transparent or 329 Semi-Solid Stains.

A Few More Considerations

The wood must be in good shape

Often times wood deteriorates due to the sun’s harmful UV rays and lack of attention or stain/sealer. Moisture moves in and out of the wood causing it to split and crack if left unprotected. Before you stain, you need to determine if the top layer of wood is truly wood or just dead remnants of what used to be wood. It should have a fresh raw wood look. You can achieve this by using Benjamin Moore’s REMOVE to strip away old stain/sealers, RESTORE to remove old dead wood fibers, and BRIGHTEN to bring the wood color back to its original state and restore proper pH levels.

Proper construction goes a long way

Be sure there is plenty of gap between floorboards. Construction standards dictate at least 1/8 of an inch to allow for contraction, expansion, and drying. Wet wood means peeling or underperforming stains. Also, check to see if you have enough clearance under the deck to allow for proper air flow. The dirt under your deck holds a lot of moisture, and when the temperatures rise that moisture starts to evaporate. If you don’t have ample room for that moisture to escape, it ends up in your wood deck floor boards. When the sun hits that deck, it draws the water out and many times the stain or paint with it. If you have a low deck, consider putting a piece of 10 mil plastic with crushed rock over the top to keep it in place and keep the moisture in the ground. Also, consider using a lighter body stain to avoid peeling due to moisture migration.

Application methods matter – A LOT!

If you can’t hold your hand on the surface being painted for more than 10 seconds, it’s too hot to paint. If you drop a few beads of water on the deck and it doesn’t penetrate into the wood right away, it’s too wet to paint. If your coating is puddling, dripping and making a general mess, you’re probably either applying it too thickly or not back-brushing properly. Remember, thin coats are always better than thick coats.

Painting a deck is a great 2 person job. Grab a friend, a spouse or a family member for a couple hours, and you’ll be primed (pun intended) to get that deck looking new in no time!

Wrap Up

In conclusion, while staining or painting a deck seems like an easy weekend job for the average homeowner, not following the proper guidelines can actually create MORE work in the long run. If you follow the steps outlined above, and consult your local Koopman Paint experts for the best product and applicators for your specific job, you’ll do the job right instead of twice!