A fresh coat of stain can revive your deck and add a burst of color to your backyard. Learn how to choose deck stain colors, including the right opacity, for a look you love.

By Nicole Bradley
Updated July 07, 2020
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There’s something about a deck that makes a backyard feel cozy and complete. A backyard deck provides an oasis in which to relax after a long day or enjoy a family dinner outside. But factors like rain, snow, pets, sunlight, and foot traffic can take a toll on your deck, making it visually age and 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 to stain your deck, you can strengthen the bond between the wood and the protective coating, making your stain last longer. Deck stain can also help protect your deck against pesky problems like rot and mold. Learn how to pick the perfect stain color and opacity for your outdoor space with these tips from the pros. 

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

How to Choose a Deck Stain Color

Whether you’re looking for a light tint or a solid color deck stain for your structure, here are a few tips for staining a deck to conceal its age.

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. Or match the stain to the wood: a green-tinted stain for pine, for example.

3. Test It Out

Once you've selected a colored deck stain or two, test it as you would paint. Try the stain on a few inconspicuous square feet of your deck. If you don't like it, use a deck stripper ($20, The Home Depot) to remove it rather than sanding, which creates unevenness in the deck. Clean your deck thoroughly (including power washing it) before reapplying stain.

back deck eating area remodeled
Credit: Anthony Masterson

Deck Stain Color Ideas

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

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

  • Driftwood SW3027 by Sherwin-Williams is a solid deck stain in a light shade of gray.
  • Slate ST-228 by PPG Paints is a semi-transparent gray wood stain.
  • Cape Cod Gray by Olympic Stains is a semi-transparent gray deck stain that can be applied to damp wood.
  • Light Lead SC-149 by Behr is a gray all-in-one stain and sealer.

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 idea 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 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
Credit: Laurie Black

Deck Stain Color Opacities

Alter the appearance of a deck with specially formulated stains. Oil-base and water-base stains color the wood and protect it from moisture and sun. Deck 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 life span of a clear coat or natural deck stain is about 1-2 years.

Tinted: Tinted stains give just a hint of color, so expect the natural tone of the wood to come through and alter the stain. This subtle hue shift is the best option for outdoor color newbies. The average life span of tinted deck stains is 2-3 years.

Semitransparent: This 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 3-5 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 5 years.

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