Painting vs. Staining a Deck

Updated on April 4, 2019
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Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

Painting vs. Staining a Deck: Which One's Best?

Wood decks need to be stained every few years to protect the surface from the elements, but what about paint? Can you paint a deck? Of course you can, but it isn't always the best option. Paint forms a thick layer on the surface that's more prone to peeling from the expansion and swelling of deck boards.

Paint doesn't respond well to water puddling on deck floors and railing tops. Those areas are usually the first to start peeling. The thick coating of paint can also trap moisture inside wood, leading to wood rot in some cases.

Removing peeling paint from a deck often involves more scraping and sanding than stain, and if you decide to switch from paint to deck stain later, it would be necessary to remove all of the peeling paint before staining.

The thickness of paint also hides wood texture. This might be a positive for older decks in poor condition, where you'd want to hide imperfections, but stain is usually thin enough to preserve the natural look of wood grain that many people prefer.

Most deck stain is thinner than paint and seeps into the wood grain instead of layering on top, allowing the wood to expand without compromising the coating.

In the right conditions, it's possible for a painted deck to last many years, but this all depends on how the deck was prepped, sun exposure, climate, moisture, and other factors. Deck stain typically needs to be redone every three to four years, but the prep work is usually easier than having to deal with peeling paint.

Solid Deck Stain vs. Paint

Solid stain forms a film on the surface like paint does, but the two are not the same, even though both coatings look similar. The consistency of solid deck stain is thicker than all other stain finishes. Solid stain peels, but not as bad as paint.

In my experience, solid stain lasts longer than all other stain finishes I've used because the thicker coating provides better UV protection, and the stain doesn't trap moisture underneath.

Another difference is solid stain won't completely hide the natural beauty of your deck boards like two coats of paint would. You can also go with semi-solid, or semi-transparent stain, to reveal more of the natural grain through the stain. One advantage of using paint over stain is there are far more color options available. Deck stain, including solid, are often limited to a small color brochure.

Best Deck Stain and Paint

Sherwin Williams Super Deck, formerly Deckscapes, is the stain I've used successfully for many years. I use the waterborne version in the solid finish. The stain is very thin and brushes into wood really well. Most colors cover in two coats.

I've used the Super Deck semi-transparent stain too, but the solid finish lasts the longest. My main complaint with this product is the stain colors in the brochure tend to be far off from what the color actually looks like. Unfortunately, there are no stain samples.

If you must paint your deck, Duration from Sherwin Williams is probably one of the better options. I've been very satisfied using this product on exterior trim and siding. The paint expands with wood to prevent blistering and peeling. The satin finish is also very glossy and easier to maintain.

Before painting a deck, the surface needs to be carefully power washed and allowed to dry for several days. The surface should also be sanded. Applying a bonding primer first is also a must, followed by two coats of paint.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • Do you have to wait 6 months to paint or stain treated lumber?

    Yes, you should wait six months and allow the treated lumber to go through a full winter so it can dry out. Staining treated lumber, or painting it, before the wood's had a chance to fully dry, is more likely to lead to failure of the coating.

  • Is it ok to use my deck paint by Behr for my concrete porch?

    You have to find the application specs on the Internet for the Behr paint you're using to see if it can be used on concrete or not. It's likely meant for wood only, but look it up and see, or call Behr. I don't use Behr products and don't know anything about the product you're referring to.

© 2018 Matt G.


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