When Should I Paint or Stain My Deck?

when to paint or stain your deck

The weather on the East Coast can wear down decking in just a few years, so your deck will regularly need refinishing. But when is the best time of the year to schedule your deck for painting or staining? We can stain or paint your deck almost all year-round as weather conditions directly correlate to getting the best results. Here’s what to consider when choosing a time to get your deck refinished.

Necessary Conditions for Refinishing Your Deck

we have successfully refinished decking throughout the spring, summer, and fall

Painting and staining require specific conditions for the best application and curing, but the parameters are not as narrow as you might think. In fact, in eastern Maryland, Virginia and D.C., weather conditions can allow for painting or staining throughout the non-winter months. At Klappenberger & Son, we have successfully refinished decking throughout the spring, summer and fall.

So, what are those conditions?

1. Proper Temperature

Both stain and paint require the right temperature conditions to cure properly. If it’s too cold, the paint or stain won’t dry at all and could crack and split, and if it is too hot, it can evaporate too quickly. The ideal temperature range for stain is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, though you can typically stain as long as the temperature is above 37 degrees.

Paint requires similar temperatures for drying properly. For oil-based exterior paint, shoot for temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Latex-based exterior paints have a narrower window of 50 to 85 degrees.

2. Dry Surfaces

All paint requires a dry surface before application. This means your deck boards must that your wood must have a moisture reading below 16%.  Just because it’s dry outside doesn’t mean your new deck is ready to be stained or painted. Pressure-treated wood will need 60 to 90 days to dry out.

Most stains also require a dry surface, especially more solid stains. There are some transparent and semi-transparent wood preservatives, however, that work while the wood is still damp, as long as there are no puddles on the deck. This can be helpful if you want to power-wash your deck before using a semi-transparent or clear preservative on it.

3. Low Humidity

it isn't enough just to have dry surfaces. You also don't want too much moisture in the air

It isn’t enough just to have dry surfaces. You also don’t want too much moisture in the air. Muggy weather can make for stifling conditions that keep retard the drying and curing process. Although your paint or stain will dry eventually, the humidity will slow it down.

Humid conditions allow more time for children or pets to step on the surface or for leaves or twigs to land on the surface, smudging the finish before it has had a chance to cure fully. Humidity isn’t as much of an issue with faster-drying products like a wood preservative.

4. Dry Forecast

Depending on the length of time your paint or stain product needs to dry, you’ll want to make sure the forecast will accommodate that timeframe. In other words, if it’s dry right now, but it’s supposed to rain within the next 24 hours, you probably want to hold off on staining or painting your deck until you have a longer dry spell in the forecast.

Again, though, if it’s warm outside, and you’re applying a product that dries quickly, you may only need a few hours of low humidity and no precipitation for the product to cure.

Painting and Staining in the Spring

After the snow melts, and you start wanting to enjoy time outside, you may notice your deck needs refinishing. Fortunately, spring can be a fine time to refinish your deck, as long as you choose dry days. This can be a bit tricky in spring, due to frequent rain showers.

Rainfall after application of either paint or stain will prevent it from properly drying. If surfaces are already wet before staining or painting, you’ll be limited mainly to wood preservatives and semi-transparent stains that can be applied to damp surfaces. If you want to use a semi-solid or solid stain or paint, you’ll need to wait for dry conditions.  The required moisture content levels can be found on the can or you can request data sheets from the manufacture or search the web.

As long as you have a window that is free of rain, spring temperatures, with lows well above freezing and highs that remain temperate, tend to work well for both painting and staining. This makes late spring, in particular, a great time for scheduling refinishing, but it is not the only time you can finish your deck with stain or paint.

Painting and Staining in the Summer

summer tends to be the best time of year to refinish a deck

Summer is also a preferred time to stain or paint a deck. That’s because warm and dry conditions allow paint and stain to dry quickly so you can achieve a professional, durable finish quickly.

While summer is one of the driest times of the year, you still have to watch the forecast to make sure you avoid rain. Humidity can also be an issue. Choose days with low or average humidity levels for greater success with the finish drying.

transparent wood preservative that can dry in just an hour in summer conditions

Luckily, the warmer temperatures of the summer will allow paint and stain to dry faster, so you can quickly move on to additional coats or can start enjoying your finished deck sooner. We use a type of transparent wood preservative that can dry in just an hour in summer conditions. Keep in mind that especially hot days may cause a stain to dry too quickly for ideal penetration into the wood.

Painting and Staining in the Fall

If you don’t get the job done during the summer, should you stain your deck in the fall? Fall can be a great time to refinish your deck. Fall returns cooler temperatures to Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. During the day, temperatures remain mild through November, and nighttime lows stay above 37 degrees on average until December. Early fall, especially, should offer ideal temperature conditions. You don’t need to wait for summer to come back around. We can get your wood surfaces looking great during the fall months.

Even on colder days, if your deck receives full sun, the surface temperature may be warm enough for finishing. Conversely, if you have a fully shaded porch, the low temperatures of the fall combined with the shade will result in cooler surface temperatures. Note that the sun’s lower position in the sky can cause your deck to be shaded for more hours of the day during this season. We will consider the surface temperature before starting the project to ensure you get long-lasting results.

In addition to good temperatures for staining and painting, autumn also tends to have fairly low levels of precipitation. Even with the longer drying time required by cooler temperatures, fewer days of precipitation ensure that you should have a long enough span for the surface to cure appropriately. If you want to prepare your home for the winter months, refinishing your porch or other outdoor wood surfaces during the fall is a wise choice.

The Best Time of Year to Stain or Paint a Deck

some homeowners may plan to refinish their deck at the same time every few years

Considering all the factors we’ve looked at, let’s boil it down to answer the main question most homeowners have: What time of year is optimal for staining or painting a deck? Generally, summer is the best time of year to paint or stain a deck, with late spring and early fall as close seconds.

Some homeowners may plan to refinish their deck at the same time every few years. However, you may need to move up your plans for painting or staining if your deck needs to be refinished, even if it means completing the project during a different time of year than you usually do. Worn, chipped paint and fading stain are indications that you need to refresh the surface. Worn paint or stain doesn’t look good, and it exposes the wood to damage from the sun and rain. Schedule refinishing as soon as you notice a problem to protect the wood from the elements.

We have extensive experience in identifying the conditions that enable us to get the best results from the products that we use. Give us a call, and we’ll find a time to restore your wood decking that will allow for optimal outcomes. Even during times of year that are less than ideal, the forecast may include unseasonably good weather to allow for staining or painting outside.

Common Questions About the Best Time to Paint or Stain a Deck

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at some common questions homeowners have when they’re looking to paint or stain a deck and want to make sure they plan their project for the right time. If you have a question we don’t answer here, we would be happy to answer all your questions when we plan your refinishing project.

1. What Is the Best Temperature for Painting a Deck?

warm, dry conditions are ideal for painting a deck, with temperatures around 75 degrees

Warm, dry conditions are ideal for painting a deck, with temperatures around 75 degrees. Although 75 degrees is ideal, we can paint your deck as long as surface temperatures are above 38 degrees.

Temperatures determine how quickly the finish dries. When temperatures are above 90 degrees, as may occur during summer heatwaves in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia, the paint may dry too soon. If you are refinishing your deck during a heatwave or if the temperature unexpectedly climbs above 90 degrees, your best option is to work in a shaded area during the hottest time of day.

When temperatures drop too low, below the mid-30s, the finish takes too long to dry. If the low is 38 degrees or below, we will hold off on painting a deck, as the temperature is too cold. The paint could freeze on the surface of the deck when the temperature is too cold.

2. What Temperature Should It Be to Stain a Deck?

for staining, temperatures need to be in the same range required for painting

For staining, temperatures need to be in the same range required for painting. A stain will dry faster than paint because the former tends to be thinner than the latter, but you don’t want the stain to dry so quickly that the wood does not gain the sealing and protective properties of the preservative. If you stain a deck during a frost, you are asking for trouble.

3. When Is the Best Time to Stain a Deck?

stain treatment doesn't last forever. You will need to refresh the surface every few years in most cases

If your deck is due for refinishing, the best time to do it is during the day when there’s very little or no chance of rain. How long the weather needs to stay dry after the stain is applied depends on the product we use. Each type of stain dries at a different rate. Wood preservatives dry the quickest, often within a few hours, while semi-solid or solid stains need more time to dry.

Stain treatment doesn’t last forever. You will need to refresh the surface every few years in most cases. The timing for applying a new stain typically is at least once every three years, but your deck use and the product on the surface will affect this timing. Wood preservatives are typically gone by the third year. Other stains with more color may begin to look faded after two years. Look for these signs that your old coating has worn off:

  • Water no longer beads
  • Surface appears dull
  • Walking paths across the wood visually stand out

When you notice any of these problems, give us a call. We’ll take a look at your deck and let you know what your options are.

look for these signs that your old coating has worn off

4. Can I Paint or Stain My Deck in the Winter?

Your best bet is to avoid trying to paint or stain your deck in the winter, for a few reasons. The days are too short, and winter brings frigid temperatures to many parts of the country, including Maryland and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic. Even when it’s warmer during the day, the temperature dips below 38 degrees most nights.

your best bet is to avoid trying to paint or stain your deck in the winter, for a few reasons

Winter also tends to be wet, and conditions aren’t dry enough to allow for staining or painting. If the product you’re going to use requires the surface of your deck to be dry, don’t even think about refinishing it in the winter. The only exception would be if you were to use a wood preservative. You can put a wood preservative or a semi-transparent stain made for damp surfaces, and you likely won’t have any problems. However, the other challenges of winter mean that you’re better off waiting until spring to work on your deck.

5. Can You Paint or Stain a Deck in Cold Weather?

Colder temperatures require longer drying time, which is especially problematic when you’re painting and need to apply multiple coats. If the temperatures throughout the day stay closer to 50 degrees, you will need six hours before applying a second coat. For warmer temperatures of 75 degrees, the time until the next layer shrinks to four hours. Some types of oil-based paint may require as long as 48 hours to dry in cold weather.

Cold temperatures affect more than just the drying time. If the temperature falls below 38 degrees, there is also the risk of frost. You don’t want the stain or paint to freeze on the surface you’re painting. We recommend not doing anything to your deck when it’s cold outside.

6. What Are Wood Preservatives?

A wood preservative is a type of stain. There are several types of deck stain:

  • Transparent
  • Semi-transparent
  • Semi-solid
  • Solid stain

a big difference between a wood preservative or toner and other types of stain is that wood preservatives show off the natural look of the wood more.

Wood preservatives are available in a range of colors and tones, including clear. They are sometimes called wood toners. A big difference between a wood preservative or toner and other types of stain is that wood preservatives show off the natural look of the wood more.

Compared to other types of deck stain, wood preservatives offer a few advantages. When your deck is due to be refinished, the process of applying a new coat of wood preservative is simple. The stain won’t peel, so all you need to do is power-wash your deck and apply a new coat of wood preservative. Usually, the deck only needs a few hours to dry between power-washing and staining.

wood preservatives typically have a life span of three years

Wood preservatives typically have a life span of three years. The first year we apply them, they look great! In the second year the wood preservative looks good.   During the third year, you will need reapplication because the preservative will typically have worn off. Railing tend to last about 5 years because they don’t get the harsh wear and tear that horizontal surfaces do.

When we stain a deck with clear or semi-transparent wood preservatives, we prefer to use the Olympic brand. If we apply it on a warm summer day, the stain will dry in just one hour, letting you enjoy your deck the same summer day we treat it.

if you put another semi-solid coat on a deck that has become blotchy, you will still see the unevenness even after adding a new coat

Although wood preservatives can be the right choice for your deck, there are some disadvantages to using one. If you don’t maintain your deck, the stain can wear unevenly. If your deck is in a sunny spot, damage from ultraviolet rays can cause excessive wear on the stain, leading to an uneven appearance. Usually, decks that are in shaded spots, such as beneath tree cover, are best suited for wood preservatives and won’t become uneven.The best solution maybe to apply a solid stain on the deck to eliminate the discrepancy in wear.  If you are not sure what to do, power wash the surface with bleach and water, than apply a wood brightener and wait a day or two for the deck to dry.  This treatment has worked wonders for reducing the unevenness of wood preservatives.

Professional Staining and Painting Services From Klappenberger & Son

our comprehensive options include making repairs of the wood, power-washing and staining to restore your deck and protect it in all weather

Knowing the best time to paint or stain is just one piece of the puzzle when you want a professional, durable finish on your deck. When you trust professionals to handle the job, they can ensure it’s done at the right time and done right.

Trust your home to the trained and tested painters at Klappenberger & Son. Through our knowledge of the best products and application methods to use, we can help protect your wood deck from weather damage and needing premature replacement. Our comprehensive options include making repairs of the wood, power-washing, applying wood brightener,  and staining or painting to restore your deck and protect it in all weather.

At Klappenberger & Son, we even have experience in restoring historic properties, including interior work in the White House. Ask us about the best option for refreshing the exterior of your historic home with a finish that will preserve the wood and help it last for years. Contact us today to book our painting or staining services for your wood deck.

Painting vs. Staining a Deck

painting vs staining a deck

Decks can be both stained and painted. Understanding the pros and cons of using a deck stain and the pros and cons of using a deck paint when you finish your deck will help you choose the one that best meets your needs.

What Kind of Stain Do You Use on a Deck?

Several types of deck stain exist:

  • Wood preservatives and toner
  • Transparent stain
  • Semi-transparent stain
  • Semi-solid stain
  • Solid stain

Each type of stain differs in the amount of coverage it provides. For example, wood preservatives and toners typically provide the lightest amount of coverage. Some of them are clear while others have a small amount of pigment. Depending on the color of wood preservative or toner you choose, it might provide coverage for a year or for up to three years. Clear toners typically have the shortest lifespan.

On the other end of the coverage spectrum are solid deck stains. Solid stains are typically best suited for older decks that have some signs of aging and wear or other imperfections.

The age of your deck and the last product applied to it help you determine which type of stain you can use to refinish your deck. If your deck is completely new, you can use wood preservatives or toners on it. Wood preservative and toners are ideal for younger decks, while a semi-solid stain is better suited for middle-aged decks, such as those that are around 10-years-old. An old deck, one that’s more than 15-years-old, is likely to benefit most from a solid stain.

what stain to use on a deck

Another thing to note is that as your deck ages and you begin to apply more opaque stains to it, you can’t go in the reverse direction. If you use a wood toner on your deck for several years, then start to use a semi-transparent stain, you can’t go back to using the wood toner. You can begin to use a semi-solid or solid stain on the deck, however.

It’s also important to understand that not all brands of deck stain are created equally. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid stains you’d find at a big box store. Some of the brands we recommend using include Deck Scapes, Cabots, Olympic and Sansin.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on a Deck?

If you are going to finish your deck by painting it, it is important to choose a paint designed specifically for use on decks. Deck or porch paint is thicker than other types of exterior paint. It also often includes mold and mildew inhibitors and has Teflon in it to provide scruff-resistance.

Two primary types of deck paint are available: oil-based and water-based. Each type has its pros and cons when used on a deck. For example, oil-based paint tends to last longer than water-based and can also provide superior moisture protection. Water-based paints, such as acrylic and latex, have greater flexibility over oil-based paints, and they are a better option if your deck is likely to experience high temperatures fairly regularly. Water-based paints emit lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which also makes them a greener option.

primary types of deck paint

The best type of paint to use on a deck is a hybrid deck paint. A hybrid product is a mix of oil-based and water-based paint. One of the hybrid products we recommend is PPG Proluxe (formerly Sikkens) Rubbol, which has an oil and acrylic formulation.

Is Deck Paint or Stain Better?

Staining your deck is almost always better than painting it. Stains are more flexible and can better withstand the wear and tear decks experience. Paint, on the other hand, doesn’t have the flexibility of a stain. When the horizontal surface of a deck is painted, water can get under the paint more easily. As the water evaporates, it separates the paint from the surface of the wood, which leads to peeling and cracking. As time goes on, the painted surface develops more cracks, which leads to even more peeling.

When a deck is stained, water evaporates from the surface, rather than beneath the deck. There is less cracking when you stain a deck, particularly if you use a wood preservative, semi-transparent stain or semi-solid stain.

The only instance when we would consider using paint on the horizontal surface of a deck is if the deck had significant protection from the rain and sun. Although paint isn’t ideal for the horizontal surface of a deck, it can be appropriate for handrails and vertical surfaces. If you want the deck’s handrails to be glossy, paint can be the right choice. Since the handrails are upright and moisture won’t cling to them, a paint will hold up well on those surfaces.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Stain?

pros of using deck stain

There are several advantages to using a stain to finish your deck:

  • Keeps wood from drying out: Wood dries out as it ages, and as it dries, it can begin to crack. Applying a coat of stain to the wood helps to slow down the drying process and reduce cracking.
  • Protects your deck from UV rays: Just as the sun’s ultraviolet rays cause your skin to age and wrinkle, they also cause wood to age. You can think of deck stain as a sort of sunscreen for your deck.
  • Tends to provide more traction: Stain on the horizontal surface of a deck tends to be less slippery than paint.  It is worth pointing out that sand can sometimes be added to paint to improve its traction.

Using a stain also has some disadvantages, such as:

  • Requires ongoing maintenance: Stain on a deck will typically start to wear off within the span of a few years. A semi-transparent stain will look fantastic during year one, will look good during year two and will be gone by year three. The more UV protection in the stain ( the more pigment), the longer it will last. Some products, such as Canyon Brown, can last up to five years because of the amount of UV protection they contain.
  • Certain woods need specific types of stain: Some types of wood, such as tropical hardwoods, are too dense to hold certain types of stain well. That said, some products are designed specifically for use with tropical hardwoods. It’s important to know what type of wood your deck is made from — whether hardwood or softwood — and to choose a stain that works for it.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Paint?

pros of using deck paint

Although staining your deck is usually the way to go, if you decide to use deck paint instead, it helps to understand the pros and cons of doing so. Some of the potential advantages of high-quality deck paint are:

  • Many color choices are available: You have a wide variety of color and finish options to choose from with deck paint, whether you want your deck to match the color of your home, or you want it to stand out with a pop of color. It’s worth noting that you have a wide range of color choices if you choose to stain your deck, too.
  • Creates a uniform look: Evenly applied coats of paint can give your deck a more uniform look. Some of the best paints to use for your deck if you want uniform coverage are Super Deck by Sherwin Williams and PPG Proluxe Rubbol.
  • Has a long life: Paint typically lasts for many years, but will usually require a considerable amount of maintenance. Paint peels more than deck stain, which can be a particular problem as the deck gets older and the wood begins to crack. Paint will cover up small cracks in the wood, but can’t conceal large chips and cracks.
  • Provides UV protection: Paint is opaque and provides better UV protection than a transparent or semi-transparent wood preservative. Protection from the sun’s UV rays can help your deck look better over time.

Deck paint has many disadvantages, which you should carefully consider before deciding to use it. Some of the cons of painting a deck include:

  1. Peels more than stain: Painting the horizontal surface of a wooden deck can lead to more chipping and peeling compared to using a stain. Water can seep underneath the surface of the paint, between the paint and the wood. As the water dries, a gap opens up between the paint and wood, which can cause the paint to peel.
  2. Covers the wood grain: While the coverage paint provides can be an advantage if you’re trying to revitalize an old, weathered deck, it’s a disadvantage if you want to show off the natural wood grain of a new deck. Wood preservative with some pigment is usually a better choice for new decks, as it offers some UV protection without obscuring the wood’s natural grain. Unless you are willing to do annual maintenance, it is usually best to avoid using a clear sealant, which will wear off after a year and require continual upkeep.
  3. Can be slippery: The higher the sheen of the paint, the more slippery it can be. There is a type of sand you can add to paint to increase traction, but if you are using a paint formulated for a deck, you shouldn’t need to add sand.
  4. Is a bigger commitment: If you decide to paint your deck, you should think of it as a long-term commitment. Once you’ve painted your deck, it’s nearly impossible to switch to stain. You’re usually better off re-painting. If you stain your deck, you have the option to either re-stain it or paint it in the future.

Is Solid Stain Better Than Paint?

Solid stain and deck paint have a few similarities, and some products, such as PPG Proluxe Rubbol, are hybrids of the two. One of the things paint and solid stain have in common is that they are typically recommended for use with decks over 15 years old. Another similarity between the two products is that they should only be applied to dry surfaces, with a moisture content below 16%. Once you start using a solid stain or a deck paint on your deck, you need to keep using it until you replace the deck.

Typically, a solid stain is the better pick for use on a deck, particularly if you are covering the horizontal surface of the deck. Deck paint tends to have a harder finish compared to stain, which means it will peel more quickly. Another reason to choose a solid stain or hybrid product like PPG Proluxe Rubbol is that they are self-priming, which saves time and effort when applying the stain. Even though there are paints that claim to include a primer or to be self-priming, it’s usually a good idea to add a coat of primer before beginning to paint.

What Lasts Longer, Paint or Stain?

Whether stain or paint will last longer depends on a variety of factors. Stains with the lightest amount of coverage, such as a clear toner, will also have the shortest lifespan. A clear sealant will typically be gone after about a year. If you use a wood preservative that has some pigment in it, you can expect it to last for at least a couple of years. If you choose a semi-transparent stain, it might last for about three years on the horizontal surface of your deck.

The area of the deck you’re painting or staining also affects the lifespan of the product. Since people run, walk and generally move across the horizontal surface of a deck, it gets a lot more wear and tear than the vertical surfaces and handrails. For example, although you might need to refinish the horizontal surface of a deck with a semi-transparent stain after three years, you can most likely wait up to five years before you need to refinish the handrails.

since people run, walk and generally move across the horizontal surface of a deck, it gets a lot more wear and tear than the vertical surfaces and handrails

Although many people assume that paint will last a long time, it typically has a short lifespan when used on the horizontal surface of a deck. If you paint your deck, you might notice significant peeling, requiring a new coat, after just a year or so.

Is It Better to Paint or Stain Pressure-Treated Wood?

Pressure-treated wood is a great option for outdoor projects like decks since it contains chemicals that help it withstand the elements much better than standard lumber. While pressurized wood is more durable than untreated wood, it has a greenish hue that you’ll likely want to cover with a stain or paint. Although you can paint or stain pressure-treated wood, your best option is to stain it.

When you can stain pressure-treated wood depends in large part on the type of stain you’re using. You can apply wood preservatives or toners to new pressure-treated wood or to wood that is damp, meaning it has a moisture content over 16%. If you power-wash your deck, you can typically stain it with a wood preservative or toner the same day. The same is true for semi-transparent stains.

If you are using a semi-solid or solid stain on pressure-treated wood, it’s vital that the wood be dry, with a moisture content under 16%, before you apply the stain. The one exception is Super Deck by Sherwin Williams, which is a solid stain that’s safe to use on wood with a moisture content up to 25%.

When Should I Stain or Paint My Deck?

when to stain or paint your deck

The best time to schedule a staining or painting project for your deck is when the weather is relatively warm and dry. If you can complete your project during the spring or summer, do it. Fall might also be an acceptable time to stain or paint, but since the days are getting shorter, there may not be enough time to finish the job during daylight hours. There’s also more of a risk of frost in the fall, which is bad news for stain or paint.

Unless weather conditions are very unusual, avoid painting or staining your deck in the winter, especially if you’re in the Mid-Atlantic region. Winter weather is just too wet and cold. The wood on the deck won’t be dry enough, and the stain or paint won’t perform properly in temperatures under 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Can You Stain Over Paint on a Deck?

Once you paint a deck, there is generally no going back to using a stain. The same is true when you start to use more opaque stains on the surface. You can’t apply a solid stain one year, then switch back to a semi-transparent stain a few years later.

If you painted your deck and no longer like it, your best option is to contact a painting services company to discuss the available options for your deck. Klappenberger & Son will examine your deck and help you decide what to do next, such as replace the deck and start fresh or apply a different paint or stain color.

can you stain over paint on a deck

Can You Paint Over Stain Without Sanding?

Generally speaking, we don’t recommend sanding a deck to remove stain from the surface. The only time when it might be acceptable to sand your deck is if it is brand new and has a solid stain on it, but you prefer to see more wood grain. In that case, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to sand the deck to remove the solid stain and start fresh with a wood preservative or semi-transparent stain.

can you paint over stain without sanding

If you do want to paint a deck that was previously stained, you can skip sanding by priming the surface first. You can also hire professional painters to do the work for you.

Deck Painting and Staining From Klappenberger & Son

deck painting and staining from klappenberger & son

When it is time to give your deck a new look or to perform maintenance, work with a team of experienced professionals to get the best results. Klappenberger & Son offers deck services to homeowners in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. We can recommend stain and paint products for your deck that will meet your needs. We treat your home with the level of care and respect we would want for our own homes. If it’s time to refresh your deck, contact us online to schedule your project today.

Knowing What Paint Stain is Right for Your Fence or Deck

Fence & Deck Staining

Since 1989 I have been power washing and sealing decks for hundreds of customers throughout Maryland and I have learned from my mistakes and others mistakes. There are a lot of misconceptions, and mistakes people have made on treating their deck and fence. Deck and Fence staining are extremely similar in basic practice, but they vary in how they respond to the elements simply because water can sit on a deck while it runs off of a fence. Knowing how to manage and treat your deck and knowing how to best treat and service your fence is important for any homeowner.

I thought it would be helpful if I shared my experiences and guidance in our property management services. For many of us, the deck is a place to retreat from life for a little bit and have dinner, relax and enjoy the changing seasons. So it’s important to have the deck being in proper condition and not a distracting honeydew project. Decks are also one of the most frequently improperly maintained areas I run across. Wrong stains, poorly applied, with bad results again turns your oasis into a mess. And to be fair, if your deck is a mess, and you did it, you might be able to shed some of the blame. Decks are not simple. There is room for error and this article can hopefully navigate you through the process of picking the right stain or paint to best suit you and your deck.

side of a burnt orange colored wooden fence

Want to leave it to the professionals? Contact us for a free quote!

Differentiating between different deck & fence stains & paints

different deck & fence stains & paints

Before we get started let’s define a few terms:

Damp – means a moisture content above 16%. New Pressure treated wood is considered damp and can take a full season to dry out. If the rained last night, the wood is damp. Some toners/wood preservatives and semi-transparent stains can be applied the same day a fence or deck was power washed providing there are no puddles.
One coat products – One coat products seal themselves up when they dry. If the deck boards are sealed, and you apply a second coat and can dry to a glossy finish, and or also stay tacky for weeks!
Yes, I learned this lesson the hard way. Years ago a customer insisted we apply a second coat on her deck and the deck boards didn’t dry for about 2 weeks. Unfortunately, her party was one week out!

When to apply a second coat:

  • Prior to the first coat drying
  • If the wood is old and porous
  • If the surface is scuffed up with sandpaper or scrubbed with TSP. These two methods will break the sealant which would be blocking the second coat from absorbing.

Water test – drop a couple drops of water on areas that you desire to apply a second coat. If the deck wood absorbs in 10 seconds, it is safe to assume that your wood will accept a second coat of the one coat product. But I still would try a couple sample areas as well.

olympic wood preservative cedar tone on pressure treated wood

Wood Preservative or Toners

When you see the words “Wood preservative” or “Toner” they mean the same thing. Think of a toner as a clear solution with a “tone” of cedar or redwood pigment added to it to give the wood some added color and protection. Wood preservatives will show the more of the natural look of the wood than the other stains and paints. They come in several different tones as well as a clear. Stay away from the clear unless you don’t mind redoing your deck next year, and they after that too. The pigment or lack thereof is what protects the deck. With clear wood preservatives, there is no pigment and very little UV protection. The darker the toner the better the production and the longer it will last and protect your wood. Wood toners and wood preservatives for the purpose of this article will mean the same thing.

Advantages of a wood preservatives/toners

  • Wood preservatives and toner do not peel, they simply fade over time.
  • Many wood preservatives are one coat products as well.
  • They are very easy to apply. Meaning wet drips and runs can be easily wiped off and blended in.
  • Can be applied over brand new pressure treated wood.
  • Future maintenance is easy. Just clean and reapply.
  • As the deck ages over the years, more opaque stains can be applied over wood preservatives.

Deck railing.

Negatives of wood preservatives/toners

  • Deck and Fence wood preservatives and toners cannot be applied over anything darker or opaquer than what is currently present.
  • Decks over 15 years old that have cracking and obvious age only look marginally better.
  • If not applied properly, it will certainly leave lap marks. Boards need to be done from one end to the other.
  • Clear toners with little or no pigment need to be treated more often than semi-transparent and semi-solid stains. Most toners last 2 ½ years on decks and 4 years on fences. Areas with significant shade can last at least a year longer. The reason decks last a shorter amount of time is because of the constant wear.

Semi-transparent Stains

Semi-transparent deck and fence stains come in a larger sample of colors than wood preservatives/ toners. Semi-transparent stains will allow you to see plenty of the wood grain on your deck or fence, but typically less than a wood preservative. Like toners, they also don’t peel, and some of them can be applied on damp surfaces. This will allow you to power wash and seal on the same day! Many semi-transparent deck stains are one coat products as well. If so, do not put a second coat on unless you try the water test.

How long will it last? Not as long as the can says. It depends the short answer is 3-5 years. For fences, railings and vertical surfaces expect 4 to 5 years. For horizontal surfaces 3 years max. This means if you are sealing your deck and handrail in 2018, in 2021 you will only need to seal the deck! Besides the very top of the handrail which can easily be re-stained all the spindles can skip a re-coat.

semi transparent deck toner on gray deck

Advantages of semi-transparent stains

  • The darker semi-solids will give slightly more protection and longevity than a toner.
  • It never chips or peels.
  • Some products such as Olympic and Woodscapes can be applied on damp surfaces.
  • Recommended for decks less than 10 years old.
  • Can be applied with brush roller or sprayer

Disadvantages of semi-transparent stain

  • The pigment in semi-transparent settles quickly making it difficult to apply evenly and get even coverage. To avoid the settling of pigment it is necessary to stir every ten minutes or so. Many semi-solids are one coat products. If a second coat is needed, it should be applied before the first coat dries (about 15 minutes). This is a common problem.
  • Apply a second coat before the second coat seals. Within 15 minutes or so.
  • Should not go over decks that have had semi-solid stains or opaque stains or paints.
  • Should not go on decks with uneven areas where the deck is 15 years old or older. It will still likely look blotchy, less blotchy but not still blotchy.

Semi-Solid Stain

The stain shows a little of the grain and gives you the best possible protection that will not peel. It will chip over time but very little. Some grain of the wood will still be visible but not much. If you apply 2 or 3 coats of semi-solids over the years it will look like a solid, but it won’t peel. If you want to see some hint of the natural grain of the wood, a semi-solid is the most pigment you can have prior to having a totally opaque finish like a solid stain or paint.

wooden deck and stairs painted with semi solid deck stain

Advantages of a semi-solid stain

  • It won’t peel but it will chip.
  • It has the best UV protection from any product that won’t peel.
  • Can be brushed rolled or sprayed.
  • Semi-solid deck stain comes in many colors.

Disadvantages of a semi-solid

  • After 2 or 3 applications of a semi-solid, it looks like a solid stain application.
  • Because it seals so well after several applications vertical surfaces can get stay glossy. If you don’t mind this look than it’s no problem. What the product is basically saying is “This surface was sealed, and the last application was unable to penetrate.” It’s like a sponge that can’t absorb any more water.
  • It will not fill in cracks in wood as decks start to age at the end of its lifespan.
  • The pigment also settles quickly and must be stirred frequently, or it can have an uneven finish.
  • Most be applied on the wood below 16% moisture content. Cannot clean and seal on the same day. Also, it cannot be applied to new pressure treated wood for 90 days.

Solid Deck Stains

Solid Stains – Experts say that solid stains provide maximum protection but I disagree. It peels too easily, and water gets trapped underneath the solid stain which provides more opportunity for peeling. Solid stains do not penetrate, so the heaviest traffic areas where you want the most protection are the first to go. Plus, they peel, which adds to the future prep work down the road.

wooden deck painted with solid stain paint

When to use a solid deck or fence stain

I start recommending solid stains when the deck is around 15 or 18 years old. By this time the wood has typically had areas that look okay and areas where the wood is getting near the end and apply something other than a solid probably won’t hide the discrepancies and variations in the deck floor. Solid stains will solve this problem.
Solid stains will fill in minor cracks and can get multiple applications. In fact, most recommend two coats which I 100% agree with. I would strongly recommend always applying two coats on all surfaces because it greatly increases the longevity. You might not be able to see the difference right away, but you will down the road. Solid stains are also good choices to use if the deck is uneven with past wood preservatives.

The only practical solution to this deck is to replace it or apply a solid stain.

Advantages of a solid stain

  • Hides unevenness in deck wood.
  • Solid deck stains will fill in minor cracks.
  • You can make older decks look reasonable better.
  • You can pick any deck color you like.
  • Your deck wood can be brushed rolled or sprayed.
  • Your deck or fence can be touched up without flashing or getting glossy.
  • If you deck stain is maintained every 2-3 years, it will give maximum protection to the wood.

Disadvantages of a solid stain

  • Deck stain chips and peels over time.
  • Displays dirt and mildew faster than toners, semi-transparent and semi-solid stains.
  • Requires more prep work to apply future recoats if it is peeling.
  • Flat surfaces that are exposed to the elements rarely last more than 3-4 years.
  • The deck must be below 16%.
  • Applying two coats of solid deck stain results in more labor and materials.

Deck & Fence Age & Condition

Knowing what product to put on a deck or fence is no easy task. You will need to consider the age and condition of the wood. The age of a deck or fence can be divided up into 3 stages

Stage 1: Deck/fence is 1-6 years old (young)
Stage 2: Deck/fence is 7-15 years old, (middle aged)
Stage 3: Deck/fence 15 old? (seasoned)

What was the last product applied? Wood preservative, semi-transparent, semi-solid, solid stain, or paint
As we go through each product you will notice as the wood ages and becomes uneven appearance the options become more limited. It is safe to say though that unless you strip or sand a surface back down to bare wood you cannot switch to a less opaque look.

Pressure treated, PT, wood that is between 1-7 years old has the most options:
If the deck wood is untreated you can apply any of the four options:

  • Wood preservative
  • Semi-transparent
  • Semi-solid
  • Solid stain, or paint

Here is my recommendation for new or untreated decks under 15 years old: Use anything except a solid stain and paint on the deck because the deck stain or paint will start to peel. The other products fade over time. In my 30-year experience, I found when properly applied all products look great for the first year and good for the second year but start to fade and disappear in the third year. If you choose a solid deck stain and it just starts to peel, the others fade away leaving you with far less prep work. In fact, the only prep work is to clean the surface again with bleach and possible wood brightener and apply the product again. Some wood preservatives like Olympic and Deck Scapes can be applied on a damp surface. This means your deck can be cleaned and sealed in the same day saving money and time.

Solid Deck Stain vs. Paint

Semi-solids, solid stains and paint do not have that flexibility. Their moisture content needs to be 16% or less.
If your deck already has a semi-solid or solid stain or paint you will have to continue with that type of product or go all o
Paint vs Solid Stain. People often ask me what’s the difference between a solid stain or paint. There are several.

stripped paint on wooden deck

Solid Deck Stain & Paint

  • Paints have a harder finish and on flat surfaces will lead to quicker peeling.
  • Paints come in different sheens, from flat to glossy. Stains are mostly flat, and some stains have a low luster finish.
  • Paints can look fantastic, but I do not recommend using them on flat surfaces. Fences and handrails are a different story. Because they are vertical they don’t get the rain, snow, sun, and foot traffic that horizontal services do.
  • Solid deck stains are self-priming. Most paints that even claim to be self-priming would be better served to have a true primer applied first.

Advantages of Paint

  • Paint provides a classic look on fences, especially on historic homes.
  • Comes in thousands of colors and several sheens.
  • Paints with a sheen wash much better than flat solid stains and paints. Making periodic cleanings worth the effort.

Disadvantages of paint

  • It is the highest maintenance of all products. Especially on flat surfaces.
  • Paint on flat surfaces does not hold up well to the harsh elements and will generally peel in a year or so.
  • The fence wood needs to have a moisture content below 16 percent.
  • The fence wood should also be primed.
Solid Stain on Deck and Handrail

Solid Stain on Deck and Handrail

Thick Deck Paint

This is one last product that I have not mentioned yet but certainly needs to be discussed. Those super thick paints like that are supposed to fill in cracks on old decks. The paint state that they are 10 x thicker than normal paint. Unfortunately, I have used this product twice and both times it failed. I don’t think that they expand and contrast with the wood and they seem to come off in sheets. There are thousands of bad reviews and some lawsuits have caused me to come to one conclusion. These products have no advantages and should not be applied under any circumstances.

Advantages of thick deck paint

  • None – not even joking

Disadvantages of thick deck paint

  • Thick paint peels quickly.
  • Thick paint looks ugly.
  • Thick paint takes two coats.
  • Thick paint is expensive.
  • Thick paint is hard to apply (you could have 18 holes of golf played golf!).
  • Thick paint has horrible square ft coverage so you’ll purchase a lot of it.
  • Thick paint is uncomfortable to walk on.
  • If your deck is screwed on, good luck finding the screws after you apply this stuff. Repairs will become a nuisance that leaves the deck looking worse off afterwards.
  • Your oasis will be a bad memory.

Choosing the Right Product For You Deck or Fence

When considering the best product ask yourself a few questions. What is the purpose of maintaining your deck?

Are you:

  • Selling
  • Buying
  • Renting
  • Maintaining

Other circumstances that will dictate the proper wood material will be the use of the deck. If you have a lot of children and the deck is older a solid stain will help reduce the chance of splinters. If you have an active dog that will scratch the decking than something other than a solid stain or paint would be best.

Let Klappenberger & Sons take a look at your deck or fence situation. Our professional handymen and painters will help to make your home’s paints and stains look beautiful and last longer. Contact us at 410-647-5700. We perform deck and fence staining for commercial buildings, local homes, and government buildings. We also perform historical restoration projects. Contact for all of your interior or exterior painting needs.get a free quote button