If you have just installed a new deck or your existing deck is in need of a facelift, you may be considering using a solid stain or paint for the deck’s surface.

Your deck boards are under a lot of pressure. If they’re not draining, they’re at risk of fungal growth and rot. If you live in the desert, they may be damaged by UV light. No matter where you live, wooden boards can be damaged by fire.

This article will discuss the differences between solid stain and paint for deck boards helping you decide which one is best for you.

solid stain vs paint infographic


Key takeaways

  • Paint does not allow for wood grain to be visible.
  • Stain is cheaper than paint.
  • Paint takes longer to dry.
  • Stain is more sensitive to temperature.
  • Stain is better for pressure-treated wood.
  • Paint offers better protection from weather.
  • Paint is a better option for an off-color not available in a stain.

Solid Stain

A solid stain allows some of the wood grain to be visible but creates a solid field of color. Because stain soaks into the wood, you’re not going to be face peeling as you might with paint.

If you know that your deck is made of pressure-treated lumber, you will want to use stain rather than paint.

Stain is cheaper than paint but has a longer dry time. Stain is also more sensitive to temperature.

Because the finish can be badly damaged by rain, finding the right time window to clean, brighten and stain your deck may be a challenge.

putting stain on a deck with brush

Do be aware that the stain that is currently on your deck boards will have an impact on your next coat.

If you don’t know what was previously put on your deck, the first step may be to fully clean the deck.

The first step in cleaning is to remove everything and brush it down with a stiff bristled broom to loosen any existing dirt.

As you brush the deck, note any loose nails or rotten boards. Make sure you also take a look under the deck; if the deck members are rotting, protecting the boards above will not be a good use of your time.

If you need to remove all the boards to rebuild the structure under the deck, make sure you stack your deck boards with gaps and stringers between the layers so the boards don’t end up stained, wet, or moldy.

If the under-structure is in good shape and you’re working with new lumber that is not pressure-treated, it’s still a good idea to clean it prior to staining. Many commercial cleaners will open or raise the grain of even new lumber and allow the solid stain to penetrate even more deeply.

Two coats of solid stain should be plenty. If your boards are showing any signs of splitting, shredding or splintering apart after the cleaner, do make sure to repair them as you go.

It is possible to patch a deck board as long by cutting away the damaged portion and filling the hole with a new length of board, balanced over and attached to the underlying structure.

If you find cracks that don’t get fixed until after that first coat of stain, do be sure to re-stain the new lumber before you put the final coat on.

The sheen of solid color stain will be fairly matte. Because there is so much pigment in solid color stain, adding a gloss or polish on it is nearly impossible. If you want a single color with a bit more shine to it, you may have to switch over to paint.

applying stain to deck boards with brush

Paint

While stain sinks into the wood of your deck, paint wraps around to create a barrier against weather. Your painted deck will be easier to clean because the grain can’t capture dirt, pollen, and mold. However, the grain will no longer be visible.

applying paint to a deck with brush

The ideal time to paint your deck is when you’re trying to get a bit more time out of the wood.

If your deck boards have started to crack along the nail holes, you will want to thoroughly chemically and pressure wash the boards to get the dirt cleared away.

Consider patching long cracks and nail holes with an epoxy prior to painting.

Just as when you stain a deck, the dry time on your deck painting project is critical. Your deck needs to fully dry out before you patch it, then the patches need to fully cure. Once the patches are completely dry, you can start with a primer coat of paint.

In addition to trying to find the best drying time windows, you will also want to take a look at upcoming temperatures. Most decking projects need to be done once the outside temperature is over 50 and below 90.

If your spring season doesn’t allow for that, you may struggle to find the ideal time to add your stain or paint before it gets too hot.

Consider putting down at least two coats of paint. Either oil or latex will work, but if you can come up with a drying window for oil, use it.

Consider putting down a coat of primer in the shade you want that has a matte or flat finish. Once this dries, cover it with at least one and preferably 2 coats of a low-gloss top layer in the same color.

Once your deck painting project is done, be aware that the grain texture will be mostly gone. The surface may be slippery after rain or when the dew is heavy.

It’s also important to point out that your freshly painted deck will need painting again; going back to wood may be possible but it will take a lot of sanding.

applying paint to a deck with padded brush

Painting a deck can also be a good choice if you want a particular shade that is not included in the wood staining color options. While you may be able to find a solid stain in a deep green or a charcoal gray, if you want a purple deck you’re going to need to use paint.

If you are fully committed to just one deck color and are financially ready to replace the boards or the entire deck, it may be time to look into composite lumber.

Composite lumbers are a blend of lumber and plastics that will not rot or degrade over time. Unlike lumber, they can be a bit fiddly to work with; you can cut them and drill through them but they may need a carbide-tipped blade and you cannot use a nail gun on most of them. Composite woods also will not tolerate sanding.

For those who choose to go with composite, do be aware that you will need real wood for the structural components. Another option is to get a metal structure put in place to hold your composite decking boards in place.

Composite lumber is an ideal choice if you live somewhere that is very wet. Cleaning, repairing, and applying color to your deck will take a lot of drying time between steps.

If you can’t get that long a window before the next bout of rain hits, composite lumber can lower your to-do list in the spring.

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