How to Decide the Best Approach between Deck Paint vs Stain

Painting or staining are two options to protect and beautify your outdoor deck. Both methods can be effective in preserving the life and natural beauty of your deck while reducing maintenance costs at the same time.

The answer may not be as straightforward as it seems. Painting deck boards or staining them has advantages and disadvantages. For example, a quality stain brings out the natural grain of the wood. However, a coat of paint on a wooden deck can preserve it for many years. 

We discuss the pros and cons of deck paint vs stain. At the end of the article, you will have the necessary information to make an informed decision about whether to paint or stain your deck.

What is Deck Stain?

Deck Paint vs Stain

Decking stain is a type of waterproof coating used to protect and preserve the wood on outdoor decks. The varnish-like liquid absorbs into the wood and forms a protective layer to protect wood decking from algae, UV damage, and excessive moisture damage. The stain can be clear, natural, or have color options. 

How deck stain protects wooden boards

You apply deck stain the same way as paint with a brush or paint roller. The stain soaks into the wood, and chemicals in the stain help protect the decking. Wood stains for the deck protect the wood from wood-boring insects, fungus, UV damage, mold, and algae. 

There are five types of stains you can apply to a wooden deck. 

1/ Solid color stain: This is an opaque protective liquid that can be almost any color of your choice. This type of solid stain doesn’t allow the wood grain to show through. 

2/ Semi-transparent stains: This type of oil stain has some color pigment but not enough to hide the natural appearance of the wooden decking boards. 

3/ Transparent stains: A clear stain is useful for protecting wooden deck boards without changing the natural wood color.  

4/ Water-based stains: These stains are popular because they are more environmentally friendly than oil stains because they are solvent-free. 

5/ Oil-based stains: Oil stains are the most popular because they provide good protection from moisture and other damage. Tung oil is a good option if you want an Eco-friendly stain for decking.

What is Deck Paint?

Deck paint is a specialized exterior paint designed to protect your decking from the elements and make it look great. It can be acrylic or oil-based paint and provides a protective layer on the wood. In addition, the paint provides UV protection and prevents water damage, mildew growth, and rotting.

Deck Paint vs Stain — What’s The Difference?

The main differences between paint and stain on a deck are the type of protection and color choice. Deck stain gives a more natural look and allows the natural grain pattern to shine through. On the other hand, paint provides a protective film over wood and comes in many colors. 

Head to Head — The Features of Deck Paint vs Stain

When deciding between deck paint vs stain, there are a few key features to consider.

Preparing a deck for painting or staining

Before applying stain or paint to a deck, wood preparation is vital. Regardless of your method, you must prepare the deck for staining or painting. This means removing debris and thoroughly washing it to remove any grease or grime buildup. 

To apply stain, it is a good idea to use a stiff brush to get rid of residue and open up the grain. However, most stains can be safely applied to existing stains without much prep work. 

Painting a deck takes more work than staining because you must remove old and chipped paint before applying paint. It is also necessary to sand the surfaces with 80-grit sandpaper on a new, unfinished surface.

Apply deck stain or paint

Staining a deck with a paint brush

Staining a deck is more straightforward and quicker than painting. All you need to do is prepare the surface and apply the stain directly to the wood deck with a roller or paintbrush. You can apply two or three coats this way. Additionally, the drying time between stain coats is relatively short.

On the other hand, a quality paint job on a deck takes several steps. First, after preparing the wood surface, you must protect the wood with a wood preservative and then one or two coats of primer. In this respect, painting is longer than staining. 

Color options — deck paint vs stain

Outdoor decking paints have many color options — many more than deck stains offer. This allows you to match your home’s exterior. Several options are also available to paint a deck floor in natural tones. 

On the other hand, the color options of deck stains are somewhat limited. As its name suggests, this method stains the wood, making it darker, but retaining its beautiful grain. However, it’s impossible to find wood stains in bright, vibrant colors.

Maintenance — deck paint vs stain

Comparing the finished surface of a painted or stained deck, it’s easy to see that paint is the superior option. Paint creates a slightly slippery surface, making it easy to clean, wash, and sweep away debris. On the contrary, stain creates a rougher surface and is more difficult to clean and maintain. 

Durability — deck paint vs stain

Both deck paint and stain provide a protective layer on the wood that helps protect it from the outdoor elements. But, regarding durability, deck paint is more resistant to fading. However, deck stain is more resistant to cracking and peeling than paint. 

Another consideration is maintaining a deck so that it always looks good. It’s good to note that a painted deck needs only repainting every ten years or so. However, it may be necessary to re-stain a deck every two or three years, depending on the weather conditions.

The finished deck surface — is staining or painting better?

Do you want a stunning backyard deck where the beautiful wood grain shows through? If so, staining is the best option. However, painting is the better choice if you want a colorful finish that is easy to maintain.  

Cost — deck paint vs stain

Cost is a vital consideration regarding home maintenance. So how do the figures stack up regarding the cost of deck paint versus stain? Comparing prices, deck stain is significantly cheaper. First, it is about half the price of quality exterior paint, and you don’t need to buy primer or clear wood preservatives.

Deck Paint vs Stain — Pros and Cons

Deck paint and deck stain are popular options for adding color to your outdoor space. And both products provide good long-term protection as long as you pick a product designed for outdoor use and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and maintenance.

To help you choose between the two products, here is a list of the pro and cons of staining or painting a deck.  

The Benefits of Deck Painting

  • A wide range of colors is available
  • More durable than staining
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Long lifespan
  • Hides flaws, imperfections, and cracks in the decking
  • Superior weather resistance
  • Excellent protection from sun damage and stops mold from forming

The Benefits of Deck Staining

  • Enhance the beautiful elements of natural wood
  • Quality stain seals wood but allows moisture to escape
  • Not as slippery as paint
  • Applying oils with pigments protects from UV damage
  • Easy to apply additional coats with minimal prep work

The Disadvantages of Deck Painting

  • Requires extensive wood preparation before applying
  • Hides the natural beauty of wood texture
  • More expensive to apply than deck stain
  • Deck paint tends to crack and peel over time

The Disadvantages of Deck Staining

  • It doesn’t offer as longer-lasting protection as paint
  • Deck stain doesn’t cover cracks or flaws
  • Requires re-staining every one to two years, depending 
  • Certain types of wooden decking don’t hold wood deck stain well (for example, tropical hardwoods)

Deck Paint vs Stain — Pros and Cons at a Glance


 Deck PaintDeck Stain
Easy to applyNoYes
Unlimited color optionsYesNo
Keeps wood’s original color Yes
Excellent weather protectionYesYes
Covers flaws in the woodYesNo
Easy to cleanYesNo
Suitable for all wood typesYes 
Easy to reapply on finished surfacesNoYes
Reapply finish every two yearsNoYes
Reapply finish every ten yearsYesNo
Painted Deck

Deck Paint vs Stain — FAQs

Should I paint or stain my deck?

The answer to this question depends on a few factors. These factors include the type of wood you have, your budget, and the look you want to achieve. For example, staining is the best option if you want a more natural look that shows off the beauty of the wood grain.

However, painting is the better choice if you want a more colorful finish that is easy to maintain. 

Is it better to paint or stain a deck?

When deciding whether to paint or stain a deck, there are several factors to consider. Painting is more durable and offers better protection from the elements. But, unfortunately, it hides the natural beauty of the wood grain.

Staining, on the other hand, enhances the natural beauty of wood grain while providing some protection from UV damage and moisture. It is also easier to apply and is cheaper.

Which lasts longer — deck stain or deck paint?

When it comes to longevity, deck paint is the clear winner. Deck paint offers superior protection from the elements and can last up to 10 years with proper maintenance.

On the other hand, deck stain typically needs to be reapplied every one to two years, depending on the wood type and sunlight exposure. 

Which is easier to apply deck paint vs stain

Regarding ease of application, deck stain is the clear winner. Deck stain is easier to apply than paint and requires minimal preparation before applying. All you need to do is clean the surface and then apply the stain to bare wood or existing stain with a brush or roller.

Deck paint, in contrast, requires more extensive wood preparation before applying, including sanding, applying the wood sealer, and priming. Additionally, you cannot apply deck paint to stained surfaces. 

Deck Paint vs Stain — In Conclusion

Deciding between paint or stain deck finishes comes down to several factors.

If you want to enjoy the natural beauty of wood, applying a coat of stain to the wooden deck is the best choice. However, you are limited with color options and relatively poorer weather resistance. 

However, painting provides longer-lasting protection and comes in a wide array of colors. Additionally, paint creates a thicker coating than staining, providing more protection from moisture, UV rays, and wear and tear.