How to Choose a Deck Stain

The stain on your deck not only affects the overall appearance of the deck, but it also plays an important role in protecting the wood against the harsh weather elements throughout the year. Even if you add quality, protective stain when the deck is installed, eventually the wood needs to be treated again with additional applications of stain. When you are proactive with these maintenance steps, your deck will look great for years to come.

Which Deck Stain is Right for Your Project?

Every homeowner needs to understand that not all stains are created equal. You get what you pay for – choosing a cheap stain product often results in wear and tear sooner, requiring more time and money to restore the appearance of the deck once again. It’s better to choose a durable stain that holds up for years. 

As you are considering your options, you will need to decide between solid deck stain, semi-solid deck stain, and semi-transparent deck stain. These transparency levels affect how opaque the stain is, which means there are various levels of the natural wood grain showing through. Depending on how much you want to see the appearance of the original wood, you need to pick a transparency level to match.

On the transparency scale, you should choose a clear semi-transparent stain if you want to see as much of the wood grain as possible. A semi-solid stain is the next step on the transparency scale, with solid deck stain providing complete coverage and the most opaqueness.

All of these stains provide the benefit of repelling water to protect the wood. But not all stains provide protection against UV rays. When the sun beats down on the wood, it causes the wood to gray over time. The pigment added in the stain can act as a UV protection to prevent this discoloration. For example, a solid stain provides the most UV protection while a clear stain offers no UV protection.  

When you are choosing a deck stain product, there are a few other features you might consider. It is common for the wood to be treated with both a stain and sealer for the ultimate protection of the wood. The longevity of the surface will also be affected depending on the base ingredients of the stain. For example, an oil-based stain tends to be more durable than a water-based stain – which means you will have less maintenance in the long run.

Solid Color Deck Stain

Is a solid deck stain the right choice for your outdoor project? Solid color stains are a popular choice for homeowners who want to prioritize the appearance and durability of the deck. Solid deck stain is made of similar ingredients as a transparent deck stain. But the product is much thicker, which means that the solid coating sits on the wood surface instead of soaking into the wood. 

If you want to restore a deck, here are some of the reasons why you might choose a solid deck stain:

  • Color Options: Since the solid stain covers the wood surface completely, you have more variety when it is time to choose a color for your deck. If you are looking to create a bold statement so your deck “pops” with color, then a solid deck stain is the way to go. The thick covering makes it easier to create a contemporary appearance on the deck. Additionally, this deck stain can be used to cover up previous colors applied to the wood.
  • Hide Flaws: It’s normal and expected that wood will have small flaws and imperfections. If you are looking for a fast way to cover up these blemishes, then a solid color is a great choice. The thicker consistency of the stain helps to mask the minor damage on the wood. For example, if there are spots or grooves, then the stain can fill them in to create a smooth surface. 
  • Matching Boards: When an older deck needs repaired; the new boards don’t match the coloring of the older, faded wood. Cover up the wood differences by using a solid deck stain. As a result, you can extend the life of the deck without needing to replace the entire deck.
  • Easy Maintenance: If you feel that ongoing maintenance is a hassle, then choose a deck product that holds up for a long time. Solid deck stain is easy to clean – just sweep away the debris and dirt. Darker colors tend to hold up longer; the wear and tear show through more quickly with lighter colors.
  • Moisture and UV Protection: It’s inevitable that your deck will face a lot of moisture throughout the year. When it is raining or snowing outside, you need to be sure that the precipitation isn’t damaging the wood. Solid stain creates a strong coating that minimizes the exposure of moisture to the wood. This ongoing protection helps you avoid common issues like rot. It also helps to block the UV rays from the sun, helping to minimize fading.

One important thing to keep in mind: Once you use a solid stain product, there’s no turning back. It’s nearly impossible to switch back to a natural, transparent deck stain again. So, be sure that you want to commit to the solid color appearance in the future. 

Also, solid deck stain holds up in the weather conditions, but it can eventually blister, crack, and peel. Eventually, the deck will need to be recoated. 

Semi-Solid Options

The next option is a semi-solid deck stain, which provides many of the benefits listed above in the solid stain section. But a semi-solid product allows a bit of a “see-through” effect so the natural color and grain of the wood show through. If you like this grain texture on your exterior wood, then a semi-solid or semi-transparent product might be the way to go.

Like the solid deck stain, most of the natural wood color and grain are covered up on a semi-solid deck. This stain offers the UV protection you need to minimize damage from the sun’s rays. Additionally, you can be confident in the actual color you will achieve because of the pigmentation added in the stain. It stays on the surface of the wood, minimizing the color that seeps through from the wood below.

Semi-Transparent Stains

Semi-transparent deck stain is designed to soak into the wood surface you are refinishing, which means it doesn’t leave a thick coating layer on top of the wood as you get with a solid stain.

When you are finishing a semi-transparent deck, the results vary depending on the transparency you are using. For example, putting the same semi-transparent product on two different types of wood can cause a huge variation in the final results because of the natural wood color that shows through.

So, when you are looking at the color sample of a semi-transparent stain, it isn’t necessarily the exact same color results you will get on your deck. The wood’s natural color always affects the overall look of the deck stain.

Here are a few considerations if you are choosing a transparent deck stain:

  • Limited Colors: Only about 60 shades of transparent deck stains are available (compared to more than 3,000 options for solid deck stains). These shades all change depending on the wood base you are using.
  • Painted Surfaces: If the wood has already been painted or covered with a solid deck stain, then a transparent stain can’t be applied over the top of the previous layer.
  • Imperfections: Since the semi-transparent product soaks into the wood, you will still be able to see imperfections in the wood. If there are bigger aesthetic issues, then these areas of the deck need to be repaired first because the stain will not hide the blemishes.
  • Easy Maintenance: This deck stain soaks into the wood, which means that you don’t have to worry about peeling or cracking of the top layer of stain. It’s simple to reapply as needed if you would like to upgrade the surface of the deck again.
  • Texture of the Wood: When solid stain or painted decks get wet, the surface can be slippery since there isn’t much texture. On the other hand, a semi-transparent stain penetrates the wood, leaving the natural grain texture. So, semi-transparent stains are less slippery compared to other stain products.
  • Changes in the Future: You can always switch from a semi-transparent deck stain to a solid deck stain in the future if you want to create a different look.

As you are comparing the various levels of transparency, know that a semi-solid deck stain is the easiest to maintain. It’s simple to clean the deck, and they can be quickly recoated without spending time on stripping or sanding the wood before another application. If the wood should be stripped for the application of another product, then it is easy to do as needed.

Over time, a semi-transparent stain fades, so you can re-apply the stain as needed to protect the deck. On the other hand, solid stains build up after a few applications, requiring stripping and sanding to get back to the bare wood again (costing both labor and expense).

Is Staining the Only Option?

Deck staining is a popular choice for protecting the wood and making your deck look great. But sometimes homeowners like to explore other options for improving the surface of the deck. On an older deck, the surface can be restored using certain paint coatings. This paint is similar to a solid deck stain. If you want to paint the deck, then it is essential to pick an outdoor paint that will hold up in inclement weather.

If the wood is damaged and breaking down, then it might make sense to replace the deck completely. A new wood deck can be built, or you might cover the surface with a more durable product, like vinyl. 

Do I Need a Professional?

You can buy the products you need for DIY deck staining, but it’s important to consider the long-term results you will get from the project. Hiring a professional is essential if you want the best results in the future.

Not only does our professional team use the highest quality products, but we have all the tools and equipment for quality work. Most homeowners don’t have the right equipment, causing subpar results that break down over time.

Also, it’s important to note that wood preparation is just as important as the stain application. A stain can start to flake and break apart without proper application. The most common reason for accelerated deterioration of the deck is improper preparation before the stain is applied. This is where many homeowners make mistakes, which is why it is smart to hire a professional team for deck refinishing services.

A variety of factors need to be considered, such as:

  • When was the deck last exposed to water? (Rain, sprinklers, etc.)
  • What cleaning techniques should be used before staining the wood?
  • Is the deck completely dry before the stain is applied?
  • What is the age of the deck wood?

Asking these questions helps to determine the right strategy for the stain application. Plus, our team can offer personalized recommendations to overcome potential issues in the future.

Contact Tandem Contracting Today!

At Tandem Contracting, we are committed to the satisfaction of every customer. If you are looking at solutions to improve the quality of your deck, then talk to us about the ways we can help. We’re happy to answer your questions about the various stain products, helping you decide between a solid stain, semi-solid, and semi-transparent deck stain. 

Whether you are preparing for a new deck installation, or you’d like to upgrade your current deck, we invite you to contact us for more information. We promise custom results for every home, giving you a chance to design the perfect deck to compliment the overall appearance of your yard. Contact us to schedule a consultation and get a free estimate for the work that you need.

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