How to Pick Deck Stain Colors to Transform Your Outdoor Space

A fresh coat of stain can revive your deck. Learn how to choose the right shade of stain, including the right opacity, for a look you'll love.

There's something about a deck that makes a backyard feel complete. It provides an oasis for relaxing after a long day or for enjoying a family dinner outside. But factors like rain, snow, pets, sunlight, and foot traffic can take a toll on your deck, making it age visually and become dull in color. Luckily, deck stain can transform almost any aging outdoor structure (including arbors and fences) from ragged to remarkable. It's common to have to restain a deck every two to three years, but if you follow the proper steps, you can strengthen the bond between the wood and the protective coating, and your stain will last longer. Stains can also protect your deck against pesky problems like rot and mold. Learn how to pick the perfect shade of stain and the right opacity with these tips from the pros.

multi-level back deck with outdoor dining, kitchen and lounge areas
Aniko Levai

How to Choose a Deck Stain Color

Whether you're looking for a light tint or a solid-color deck stain, here are a few tips for concealing your deck's age with stain.

1. Return to Color Basics

"Remember the color wheel from grade school," says Jeff Wilson, renowned deck builder and former host of HGTV's Restore America. Find the most dominant, unchanging color in your backyard (likely this will be your home's exterior) and choose its complement for a stain. For example, tan siding begs for a smoky blue counterpoint.

2. Know Your Deck's Wood Type

Every wood has a natural cast to it. For example, pressed pine, commonly used for decks, is green when unfinished. If a wood's natural color bothers you, try a semi-transparent or solid stain to cover it, Wilson says. You can also match the stain to the wood—for example, a green-tinted stain for pine.

3. Test It Out

Once you've selected a deck stain shade or two, test them as you would paint. Try the each on a few inconspicuous square feet of your deck. If you don't like it, use a deck stripper ($22, The Home Depot) rather than sanding, which creates unevenness in the wood. Clean your deck thoroughly (including power washing it) before reapplying stain.

back deck eating area remodeled
Anthony Masterson

Deck Stain Color Ideas

Deck stain colors range from natural taupes and grays to bold reds and blues. Start your color search with these options.

Gray Stain Colors: A wash of cool gray gives a contemporary by-the-sea look. Try this subtle color for a deck that recedes, rather than steals the spotlight.

Blue Stain Colors: Make a deck modern or a garden bench fabulous with a dose of blue. Blue deck stain colors range from tinted powder blues to rich shades of navy.

Red Stain Colors: This strong color makes an impact against a brick exterior. Try it in smaller doses for a look that doesn't overwhelm.

  • Barn Red #SC-112 by Behr gives farmhouse flair to a wood deck. The bold red solid exterior wood stain is also self-priming.
  • Redwood L832211 by Kilz is a semi-transparent deck stain with a burgundy tint.
  • Navajo Red by Rust-Oleum RockSolid is a solid red deck stain with a clay-colored shade that adds southwestern style.

Taupe Stain Colors: Pair this fuss-free deck stain color with patio furniture in rich hues: deep red, navy, or turquoise. Because it works well with other colors, it also works well in broad strokes.

  • Taupe #SC-153 by Behr is an acrylic solid deck stain in a soft brown shade.
  • Briarwood HC-175 by Benjamin Moore is a classic shade of beige.
  • Taupe by Olympic Stains is a solid exterior wood stain in a light tan color.

Green Stain Colors: Many green deck colors have enough gray to complement rather than compete with garden foliage, and they work well for large areas.

  • Orchard SW3036 by Sherwin-Williams is a light green solid deck stain with a warm undertone.
  • Avocado by Olympic Stains comes in both semi-transparent and solid finishes.
  • Foliage SW 3535 by Sherwin-Williams is a semi-transparent deck stain that offers a slight green pigmentation.
  • Salamander 2050-10 by Benjamin Moore comes in semi-transparent, semi-solid, and solid options.
horizontal wood deck railing
Laurie Black

Deck Stain Color Opacities

Alter the appearance of a deck with specially formulated stains; oil-base and water-base color the wood and protect it from moisture and sun. Stains come in four opacities. The one you choose depends on your color preference and your deck's age.

Clear or natural: This level of opacity barely changes the wood color. "If you have new or expensive wood, you probably want to see the grain, so use a clear stain," Wilson says. The lifespan of a clear coat or natural deck stain is about one to two years.

Tinted: Tinted stains give just a hint of color, so expect the natural tone of the wood to come through. This subtle hue shift is the best option for outdoor color newbies. The average life span of tinted deck stains is two to three years.

Semitransparent: This level of opacity shows the wood grain, but has heavier pigmentation. "If your deck is older and you've replaced a board or two, use this to make it more uniform," Wilson says. The life span of semitransparent decks stains is about three to five years.

Solid: Solid stain completely hides your deck's wood grain. If your deck has stains, or other aesthetic damage, try a stain with solid opacity. It will cover most blemishes and offers higher UV protection for the wood. The life span of solid deck stains is at least five years.

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