The 9 Best Deck Stains to Protect and Revive Your Deck

Our favorite deck stain is ArborCoat by Benjamin Moore.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

person applying deck stain to wooden deck railing
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Your backyard deck is the prime spot for outdoor fun, whether you're on your own relaxing with a good book and a cool drink or hosting a casual get-together with family and friends. You can enjoy your deck for many years to come when you maintain your deck's wood finish and protect it from the elements with a coat of deck stain.

"Wood stain acts as a sealer for your deck, helping to keep out both moisture and pests, such as termites, which can lead to damage like mold, mildew, and wood rot," says Michael Clarke, founder of Pulled, a digital platform that helps homeowners find and hire service providers for home projects.

The winter can be an especially brutal time for your deck—snow and rain sinks deep into the wood and freezes, causing the planks to split. Leave a deck untreated and it could crack and even collapse if the damage has progressed, Clarke says. "Regular staining also enhances the appearance of your wooden deck and ensures it maintains its beauty and character," Clarke explains.

Our overall choice for the best deck stain is Arborcoat Exterior Stain by Benjamin Moore, a stain that has excellent protective properties for exterior wood surfaces. It comes in thousands of colors, unlike other stains that have a more limited range of color, and is easily accessible in most areas.

Choosing the right deck stain can make all the difference in your backyard, whether you want to let the grain and texture of the wood stand on its own or if you'd prefer to add some color.

We've researched the top brands on the market and compiled a list based on opacity, temperature rating, stain type, color, and more.

Best Overall: Benjamin Moore ARBORCOAT Exterior Stain

 ARBORCOAT Exterior Stain

Benjamin Moore

Why You Should Get It: There's a wide selection of opacities and colors, so you'll be able to find the exact look you want for your deck.

Keep in Mind: The manufacturer recommends 14 days for the stain to fully cure, meaning the stain has seeped into the wood to dry and fully achieve its color.

The best deck stain for most homeowners is Arborcoat by Benjamin Moore, which is easy to apply and provides excellent protection against the elements. The brand is known for its high-quality paint, so it's not too surprising that you'd rely on its products for your wood staining needs, too. Unlike other stains that have a limited range of colors and finishes, Arborcoat comes in thousands of colors in translucent, semi-transparent, semi-solid, and solid finishes.

This water-based stain gives your deck's exterior an outstanding defense against UV rays, so whatever color stain you choose will keep its rich looks season after season. The stain keeps mildew at bay when moisture starts to seep into the wood and will also help your wood deck stand up to peeling, scuffing, and staining, making it a great choice for high-traffic backyards. It's worth noting that it takes up to 14 days for the stain to fully cure and show its true color.

If you do need a touch-up, it's easy to do with this stain without your deck's finish looking uneven or streaky, so be sure to keep any excess on hand for when you need it. It's also simple to re-treat your deck when you use Arborcoat as your base because it covers older, previously stained wood to create a smooth finish. You'll likely come back to Arborcoat through the years to keep your deck looking great.

Price at time of publish: $70

Product Details:

  • Base: Water
  • Coverage: 300 to 400 square foot per gallon
  • Dry Time: One hour to touch

Best Budget: Preserva Wood Oil-Based Clear Penetrating Exterior Stain and Sealer

Preserva Wood Oil-Based Clear Penetrating Exterior Stain and Sealer

Home Depot

Why You Should Get It: It's made from a natural blend of oils.

Keep in Mind: You'll need to wipe away excess stain with a cloth to create an even finish.

When you're looking for superior protection for your wood deck that won't break the bank, this Preserva Wood stain and sealer is a great choice for both new decks and older ones. If your deck is made from porous wood like cedar, fir, or redwood, this organic oil-based stain will settle deep into the grain to protect it. You'll be able to enjoy the look of that natural grain with this clear stain for many years, thanks to its solid shield against damage from moisture and UV rays.

It's not just for decks, either; get an extra gallon or two to finish and protect fences and unpainted wood siding as well. This stain goes a long way—a gallon can cover 400 square feet of smooth boards or 200 square feet of rough fencing slats. As you apply the stain, you'll want to wipe off an excess with a cloth to create a smooth finish. The blend of natural oils in this product results in a durable exterior that offers rich color and a superior defense against moisture.

Price at time of publish: $43

Product Details:

  • Base: Organic oil
  • Coverage: 200–400 square feet, depending on smoothness of wood
  • Dry Time: 12 hours to touch

Best Solid: Behr Solid Color Waterproofing Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer

Behr Solid Color Waterproofing Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer

Home Depot

Why You Should Get It: If you have an older wood deck, Behr's solid stain can hide imperfections and make it look like new. It's also good for composite decks.

Keep in Mind: Although it's an all-in-one stain and sealer, the manufacturer recommends two coats for optimal weatherproofing capability.

This all-in-one solid stain and sealer from Behr can transform the look of both new and older wood decks while also providing advanced weatherproof protection. UV rays, rain, and snow are no match against the 100%-acrylic formula. In fact, two coats of this solid stain can protect your deck for up to 10 years—and up to 25 years if you use it on fences and siding.

No primer is needed when you choose from one of the hundreds of colors of Behr's solid stain. It covers imperfections beautifully, making it a great choice for reviving the look of older decks. It's even perfect for sprucing up composite decks. It's simple to apply, and because it's made from an acrylic base rather than oil, all you need is soap and water to clean up. You can even apply it in lower temperatures—the temp just needs to stay about 35 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 hours after application. The stain dries to the touch in two hours and is ready to resist rain in four hours. Behr recommends applying two coats for the best protection from the elements.

Price at time of publish: $50

Product Details:

  • Base: Acrylic
  • Coverage: 400 square feet per gallon (two coats recommended)
  • Dry Time: Two hours to the touch

Best Semi-Solid: Olympic Elite Semi-Solid Stain and Sealant in One

Olympic Elite Semi-Solid Stain and Sealant in One

Home Depot

Why You Should Get It: All-in-one products like this one are like striking gold for the DIY homeowner because they cut down on the work and the drying time.

Keep in Mind: A thin coat must be applied for best results. Make sure to have mineral spirits on hand for cleanup.

This semi-solid stain by Olympic deserves a medal for providing your deck with tough waterproof protection that lasts year-round. It's made from a urethane-strengthened formula that protects the wood from cracking and peeling during the colder months. The stain can be used on a variety of wood types, including less common types like ipe. In addition to decks, this stain is also a great treatment for other exterior wood structures, including siding, fences, stair railings, and even wood patio furniture.

This oil-based premium finish provides the rich color and texture you want with the resistance to mold, mildew, and algae that your deck needs. The best part? All it takes is one thin coat applied to new or previously treated wood to get great results—and it's backed by a lifetime guarantee. The manufacturer recommends back brushing if you're using a roller or sprayer to apply the stain, so DIYers might want to test their staining skills on an out-of-the-way spot first to ensure they're applying a thin layer of the stain. You can use mineral spirits to clean brushes and tools during cleanup.

Price at time of publish: $50

Product Details:

  • Base: Oil
  • Coverage: 300 square feet per gallon
  • Dry Time: Two hours to the touch

Best Semi-Transparent: Valspar One-Coat Semi-Transparent Stain and Sealer

Valspar One-Coat Semi-Transparent Stain and Sealer

Lowes

Why You Should Get It: One coat provides a protective shield that still allows you to enjoy the natural wood grain of your deck.

Keep in Mind: Semi-transparent is just that—it will only add subtle color to your deck.

A single coat of Valspar Semi-Transparent Exterior Stain and Sealer is all it takes to build up your wood deck's defense against the elements. This semi-transparent stain lets the beauty of the natural wood stand out while also protecting it from harmful UV rays. It provides lasting color that won't fade in the sun, and it protects the wood from cracking and peeling in the cold weather. In fact, you can apply this product when the temperature gets as low as 35 degrees.

This two-in-one stain and sealer creates a finish that keeps mold and mildew at bay, making this all-in-one choice perfect for siding, furniture, and fences, too. The manufacturer offers a four-year guarantee on this product for decks and six years for fences and siding. It's easy to apply and cleanup is even easier—all you need is soap and water. Although it says it's "rain ready" in just four hours, allow it to dry longer for optimal results.

Price at time of publish: $46

Product Details:

  • Base: Water
  • Coverage: 400 square feet per gallon
  • Dry Time: Dry to the touch in four hours; ready for furniture and foot traffic in 24 hours

Best Clear: Cabot Wood Protector Clear Exterior Wood Stain

Cabot Clear Wood Protector

Lowes

Why You Should Get It: This clear stain enhances the beauty of the natural wood while also providing a sturdy defense against the elements.

Keep in Mind: The stain is truly clear, so it's not a good choice if you're trying to cover up any imperfections in the wood planks.

Cabot Clear Wood Protector won't change the look of your wood deck at all, keeping the wood natural. What it will do is penetrate deep into those planks to build a superior waterproof defense. Mold, mildew, and algae don't stand a chance with Cabot. While other wax-based clear stains simply coat the outside of a wood plank, this clear exterior wood stain is water based, so the wood absorbs it easily for better protection.

This clear stain from Cabot is a good option for DIYers looking to finish a deck for the first time. Cleanup is easy with a little soap and water. This is also a good way to protect other hard porous surfaces in your yard, such as brick, concrete, and stone.

Price at time of publish: $46

Product Details:

  • Base: Water
  • Coverage: 250 square feet per gallon
  • Dry Time: Dry to the touch in one hour, but wait 24 hours to walk across the surface.

Best Oil-Based: Ready Seal 1-Gallon Can Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer

Ready-Seal-Exterior-Wood-Stain-Sealer

Amazon

Why You Should Get It: You can apply this stain to your deck no matter what type of wood it's made from.

Keep in Mind: The manufacturer says the wood can't have more than 12% moisture content, so make sure your deck is good and dry before applying.

This two-in-one sealer and stain seeps into the wood fibers of your deck or other exterior wood surfaces to prevent cracking, peeling, and chipping over time. The product is easy to apply because it absorbs quickly into the wood so you don't have to worry about streaky coverage. Its oil base is free from linseed or vegetable oils, which are known algae and fungus starters in wood. The drying time is quick—it's ready for rain in just minutes—and the result is an attractive flat finish.

Don't be concerned about the temperature rising or falling when you're staining your deck; you can apply the stain from 0 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. No need to worry about what type of wood you have either—Ready Seal is appropriate to use on all soft and hard woods. Just make sure the wood has completely dried after washing or a rainstorm since the stain shouldn't be used on wood that has more than a 12% moisture content. When it's time to apply a fresh coat, there's no sanding or stripping needed, making deck maintenance a breeze.

Price at time of publish: $58

Product Details:

  • Base: Oil
  • Coverage: 125 square feet per gallon
  • Dry Time: One hour to the touch

Best Water-Based: DEFY Extreme 1 Gallon Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain

 DEFY-Extreme-Exterior-Wood-Stain

Courtesy of Amazon

Why You Should Get It: The water-based formula makes it environmentally friendly.

Keep in Mind: You can't apply this stain over existing stain; you'll have to strip any existing stain first. The wood really soaks this stain up, so coverage is not as extensive as you will get with other stains, particularly oil-based products.

If you're looking for an environmentally friendly product with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the Defy Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain fits the bill. This water-based stain is 250 VOC compliant, and it settles into the wood to create a protective shield, making it a great option for fences, siding, furniture, and other outdoor surfaces aside from your deck. Two coats of Defy create a beautiful matte finish that puts the natural wood grain on display—just prep the wood by cleaning it before you apply. If your deck has an existing layer of stain, you'll have to strip it before applying a layer of Defy.

This water-based stain is made with zinc, which protects your deck from sun and UV ray damage. You'll keep the color of your deck longer (no premature fading), and you can go for at least one or two additional seasons without adding another coat of this stain. When it's time to apply that maintenance coat, the manufacturer recommends using Defy Wood Brightener first to improve the wood's absorption of the stain and restore the deck's surface.

Price at time of publish: $50

Product Details:

  • Base: Water
  • Coverage: 100–150 square feet per gallon
  • Dry Time: Two to four hours to the touch; wait 24 hours before using the deck

Best for Cold Weather: Olympic Maximum Solid Color Exterior Stain and Sealant in One

Maximum Solid Color Exterior Stain and Sealant in One

Home Depot

Why You Should Get It: No more worrying about drying out wood before staining or rain in the forecast; you can apply this stain even if the wood is damp.

Keep in Mind: If you're staining over a previously stained deck, test an area first to see if the stain soaks in and dries. If not, you'll have to strip it first.

Staining a deck isn't the most difficult of home projects, but timing it with the weather forecast can be a real chore. That issue is solved when you choose Olympic Maximum for your next exterior wood finishing project, be it your deck, siding, fence, or furniture. Its weather-ready formulation can be applied when the temperature drops to 35 degrees and when it goes as high as 120 (though we can't imagine doing anything but plopping in a deck chair under an umbrella in that heat). This semi-transparent stain can be used on all types of wood, whether old or new, treated or untreated. Just apply one layer and your deck or other wood surfaces are rain-ready in only eight hours.

This two-in-one stain and sealant has plenty of UV protection and stands up to heavy foot traffic. It also offers waterproofing, forming a seal that resists mold, mildew, and water damage. Plus, cleanup is easy—simply use soap and water. You'll feel confident with the long-lasting results, especially with Olympic's six-year warranty for decks and eight-year warranty for fences and siding.

Price at time of publish: $44

  • Base: Various, depending on opacity
  • Coverage: 350 square feet
  • Dry Time: One hour to the touch; rain ready in 8 hours

The Bottom Line

The best deck stain for most homeowners is Arborcoat Exterior Stain by Benjamin Moore, which is easy to apply and provides excellent protection against the elements. If you're looking for something that's more low maintenance where you don't have to refinish your deck for nearly a decade, go with Behr Solid Color Waterproofing Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer, which is an option for composite decks, too.

While all of these deck stains provide ample protection against UV rays and wet weather, it all comes down to your personal preference with how you want your deck to look. If you want to see more of the natural wood, go with a clear or semi-transparent stain. Want bolder color or something that can revitalize an aging deck? Opt for a solid or semi-solid. Read the manufacturer's label for application tips, and wait for a dry spell in the weather forecast so you can let the stain settle into your deck.

What to Know About Deck Stains Before Shopping

Opacity

Unlike paint, stain allows you to see the natural grain and texture of the wood. How much or little coverage the stain provides is referred to as its opacity.

Clear stain has no color, making it a good choice if you want to reveal the wood in its full, natural beauty while also protecting it. Clarke says that transparent stains work well for pricier hardwoods like ipe and mahogany, which have a rich grain and texture that you wouldn't want to cover up with a more opaque stain. If you want to add a tint to your deck, you can opt for a semi-transparent stain that offers some color but plenty of grain to be seen, too.

Semi-solid stains offer more color with less wood grain peeking through. This is a good option for older decks or if there are imperfections in the wood that you'd rather cover up. Solid stain is the most opaque of the stains. You'll get a deep, rich color, but none of the natural grain will come through.

Color

Aside from clear, stains come in a variety of colors, depending on the brand."It's best to consider a deck color that is the same shade as your home's trim," Clarke says. "This will highlight your deck's structure and character while making it stand out against the color of your house for a unified look and feel."

Type

When shopping for exterior stains, you'll need to know the age and current condition of your deck, along with what type of stain was used previously. "Choosing a more expensive stain is better if your deck is old and you won't have the time to reapply new stain often," Clarke says.

While personal preference plays a role in the opacity and color you want for your wood deck, the type of deck stain you need depends on the type of wood that was used to construct it. Semi-solid and solid stains are better for pine, cedar, and other softer woods that are more budget-friendly.

Temperature Restrictions

When the weather is too hot (above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) or too cold (below 40 degrees), it can affect the drying time of deck stain. Between 40 and 90 degrees is a wide range, but even more important than temperature is the humidity level. The lower the humidity, the better your stain coat will dry and cure.

Dry Time vs. Cure Time

Be sure to read the label on whichever deck stain you choose to see what the manufacturer suggests for dry time. Keep in mind that a deck that is dry to the touch is likely not ready to be walked on. A deck that is fully dry and ready for foot traffic may not have fully cured, which means the stain has fully seeped into the fibers of the wood to display its true color.

Your Questions, Answered

What is the best way to stain a deck?

You can use a paint brush, foam brush, stain applicator pad, or paint roller to apply stain. Thin coats are best, and a little stain can go a long way. Be sure to work in small sections—a few feet at a time—so that you can go back and brush the stain to avoid drip marks and uneven coverage.

What's the best temperature for staining a deck?

It shouldn't be too hot or too cold when you're staining a deck, otherwise it will delay the stain's drying and curing time. An ideal range would be between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Cabot website, though some stain manufacturers say you can stain your deck even when the mercury climbs to 90 degrees.

Plan to stain your deck when there's no rain in the forecast for at least a few days and the humidity is low. Clarke says to allow 72 hours for a deck to fully cure, even if the stain can's label states a quicker timeline (some say it'll be ready in around four hours) for the best results.

Timing is "critical" for staining a deck, Clarke says, especially because some deck stains on the market have a longer drying period. Unlike paint, which might be fine when dry to the touch, deck stain needs to cure before the deck is ready for foot traffic. Clarke recommends that homeowners in regions where frequent rain and high levels of humidity are in the forecast pick a stain that promises a quick curing time—this info should feature prominently on the label.

Should I use an oil-based or water-based stain?

If your deck is already treated with an oil-based stain, you should use another one for the newest coat. If you use a water-based stain on top of an oil-based stain, it is likely to peel off as water-based stains don't have the same density as their oil-based counterparts. Should you decide to switch the type of stain, you would have to sand down the entire deck, which adds a good deal of work to the project.

You might not be able to purchase oil-based stains in your area, as oil-based paints and stains are banned in some regions because their ingredients may release high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they dry. California is especially strict on these standards, Clarke says, so you won't find oil-based stains there.

Who We Are

Barbara Bellesi Zito writes about home and garden topics for various lifestyle publications. Having teamed up with her husband to stain their own wooden deck, she can confirm it's a DIY-friendly project when the weather is right. To compile this list, she researched a wide range of deck stains from top brands based on their color and opacity selection, ease of application, and ability to withstand the elements. She also consulted Michael Clarke, a landscape architecture and horticulture expert and the founder of Pulled, an online platform that makes it quick and easy to hire contractors for home projects.

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