Deck Finish Options

Whether you use paint, stain, or sealer, your deck will last longer and look better if you understand the plusses and minuses of each option.
Your Options
Redwood deck overlooking a pond Apply a clear sealer to give
the deck a lustrous sheen and
to protect the wood from
scuffing and decay. Stain wood
the color you want, then brush
on the sealer.

The appearance and durability of a deck are affected by the finish you apply. Treated, rot-resistant, and synthetic deck materials don't require a finish, but a sealer, whether clear or colored, will extend the life of the wood.

The choice of a clear sealer or a colored stain is an aesthetic one. A clear sealer will preserve the natural coloration of redwood, cedar, and cypress. Because pressure-treated lumber usually has a greenish tint due to the chemical used in treating it, a clear sealer may not be desirable. These sealers are best applied with a brush but can also be applied with a sprayer. The advantage of a brush is that it tends to make better contact with the wood, filling any pores. A clear sealer protects against wear and tear on the wood and will prevent some scuff marks.

 
Redwood deck with benches and gazebo An opaque stain is a good way
to add natural-looking beauty
to less-than-perfect wood.
Stain can also help create
visual unity where several
different types of wood are
used.

Redwood and cedar are rarely stained, because they have such distinctive colors. Cypress and pressure-treated wood, with their lighter colors, can be stained to match your setting or house. Stain ranges from the palest sand color to the reddish orange of redwood. Stains are also applied with a brush or sprayer. Because stains are more fluid than paint, you can use stain-soaked cloth to rub it on the wood. This is helpful when staining thin members such as railings.

 
Wood deck with white curved railings Alternative to painting the
entire deck is to paint only
trim elements like railings and
skirting.

Paint is best reserved for railings or other areas that won't be subject to a lot of wear. If you paint the decking itself, plan to repaint it at least every other year, depending on the amount of foot traffic.

 
Painted pattern on wood deck This fanciful painted "rug" offers
a creative approach to enlivening
an old, worn deck.

Before applying a sealer, stain, or paint, be sure to allow the wood to dry out completely. Under normal spring or summer weather conditions, this should take about six weeks. Painting wet wood may result in blistering of the paint as moisture tries to escape.

Continued on page 2:  Cleaning a Deck