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.