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Paint or Stain for Decking

decking brush

A beautiful outdoor space adds to your home’s overall appeal. Living space is expanded when you have a great, open deck perfect for relaxing, dining, or even entertaining. But as enjoyable as a deck is, it does require some maintenance. Wood, left untreated, can absorb moisture and begin to warp and rot making it both unattractive and also dangerous.

Painting or staining your deck not only adds to its overall appearance, but it also adds protection from sun and water and strengthens the wood, making it last longer so you can enjoy it for many years.

But which option is best for your deck; painting or staining?

We’ve compared these options for decking, and listed out several pros and cons for each to help you make the right decision for your new outdoor space.

Staining Your Deck

Staining your deck is a popular choice as it enhances the look of the wood while still protecting it from the elements. Depending on the stain you choose, it not only will brighten the look of the wood, but it can also prevent water damage and offers UV-protection from sun damage.

When selecting a stain, there are three main types to choose from.

  1. Clear wood stains or wood preserves are wonderful for decks constructed with nice looking wood like cedar because they don’t hide any of the wood’s natural beauty. While some clear wood stains come with added UV-protection, they don’t protect as well as other options due to their high transparency.
  2. Semi-transparent stains, as the name suggests, offer some colour but are still transparent enough to let much of the wood’s grain shine through. These semi-transparent stains offer more UV-protection than clear wood preserves.
  3. Offering the most UV-protection for your wood deck are solid stains. Similar to paint, solid stains are more opaque, and instead of tinting and highlighting your natural wood, they actually cover your deck with a layer of color.

Pros to Staining Your Deck Wood:

  • It’s more cost-effective – Stains, in general, are less expensive than paints. On average around $10 to $20 less expensive per gallon. Also, consider that painting requires primer and a wood preservative to ensure proper application and the price of painting your deck is significantly higher than staining.
  • It’s easy to apply – As mentioned above, you won’t need to prime your deck before applying a wood stain and most stains already contain wood preservatives. One application and your deck is beautiful and ready for use.
  • You’ll keep the natural wood finish – Unlike paint, stain highlights your wood’s natural grain and beauty. You can choose a stain color to enhance its grain or to tint the color to match your home’s exterior. Staining also allows you to control the saturation, offering either a hint of color or a full deep stain, depending on your preference.
  • It’s easy to update – If you do decide to stain your deck, you or the next homeowner of your house still have the option of painting it in the future. Paint requires stripping the old paint and primer which is time-consuming and labor-intensive.
  • It limits water damage – A high-quality stain will provide extra protection against water damage. Unlike paint, staining can penetrate your deck’s wood and prevent water absorption and rot in the future.

Painting Your Deck

Painting your deck allows you to choose the exact color from a wide variety of options to best suit your outdoor space. It also provides a full layer of protection from the outdoor elements like water and sun. Oil-based paints are ideal for protecting your deck against water damage and latex paints will provide the best UV-protection. While it will hide your deck’s natural wood appearance, some deck owners may prefer that as it also hides any of the flaws and imperfections the wood may have.

Keep in mind that if you decide to paint your deck, you may have to do some additional work to prepare the wood for the paint to make the paint adhere to the wood to last longer and look better overall.

Pros to Painting Your Wood Deck:

  • It lasts longer – Because paint, especially oil-based, offers higher UV-protection for your wood, you likely won’t need to re-paint it for nearly 10 years. Stain requires re-application every 5 years. Paint offers more protection from the elements than a more transparent stain would.
  • There are more colour options – Since you’re covering the wood completely with an opaque colour, the options are endless. Stains offer a minimum number of hues, but exterior wood paint comes in a wide variety of colours (grey being very popular at the moment) to match your home’s exterior.
  • It’s easy to maintain – Paint provides a smoother surface than stain which makes cleaning it a breeze. A quick sweep or quick spray with the hose will remove most dirt and debris from a painted deck. Stained decks have a matte surface, collecting dirt and making it harder to clean.
  • It covers imperfections – What if you aren’t a fan of your deck’s natural grain? Or the wood used isn’t as high quality as you’d like? Paint can hide the flaws in a less-than-perfect deck and cover it completely so all you see is the beautiful colour you chose for your outdoor space.

So, which is best for your deck – Paint or Stain?

If you’ve got a gorgeously constructed decking that sits in a fair amount of shade throughout the day, staining is an ideal choice. Highlighting the wood’s natural beauty and providing a bit of UV-protection will keep your deck looking brand new. Remember that you’ll need to reapply the stain every few years to keep it protected and looking its best.

For a lower maintenance choice, and if your deck sees a lot of wear and tear and sits in the sun most days, painting is the best option. It will provide added protection from UV-damage and water absorption which can lead to warping and rot. Keep in mind that if you paint, you’ll need to first seal with a primer, but the final finish will last you for years to come, and both kinds offer non slip formulas, for safety.