Deck Painting vs. Staining: Which Is the Right Finish?

A deck finish needs to protect the wood from moisture, UV rays, snow, and other outdoor elements. Deck paint and deck stain both offer these benefits but provide very different looks.

Deck painting vs staining

Painting Your Deck

By using deck paint, you can change the color of your deck from a wood-tone to anything you like. Don’t use just any can of paint, though, you need one specifically designed for outdoor wooden surfaces.

Painting Your Deck

Types of Paints for Decks

1. Acrylic-Based Paint

Acrylic deck paint is made up of acrylic resin. It’s a quick-drying water-based paint containing low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This type of deck paint suits homeowners looking for environmentally friendly paint. While not as durable as oil-based paint, acrylic paint is cheaper.

2. Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based deck paint is popular for its durability and protection against weather elements. It’s resistant to UV rays, moisture, and mildew, making it suitable for exposed decks. Oil-based paints retain their color for many years, so you don’t have to repaint your deck often.

But, oil-based paints take longer to dry and have a strong odor that lingers for days. They also release more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than water-based options.

3. Latex Paint

Latex paint is water-based, low-VOC, and quick drying. It protects against UV rays and resists cracking and chipping in hot climates. Choose latex paint if you want non-toxic and DIY-friendly paint. Its major drawback is poor color retention, so you may have to repaint it often.

Pros and Cons of Deck Painting


  • Lasts longer: A good quality paint job lasts up to 10 years without reapplication. Latex paints are most durable in hot climates, while oil-based paints offer the best protection against moisture.
  • More color choices: Deck paints are available in various colors and finishes. From bold to neutral shades, you can choose a deck color that complements your home’s exterior.
  • Smooth, uniform appearance: A fresh coat of paint will seal any cracks and imperfections on the deck. Deck painting is more suitable for a modern aesthetic than it is for rustic homes.
  • UV protection: Paint forms a protective barrier on the deck’s surface, shielding it from the sun’s rays. 


  • Slippery surface: Glossy deck paints create a smooth surface that may become slippery when wet. Opt for other finishes for rainy locations and near swimming pools.
  • Labor intensive: To paint your deck, you’ll need to prepare the surface, treat it with a wood preservative, and prime it. You also need to add two coats of paint and may need to seal with clear polyurethane (depending on the paint type.)
  • Costly installation: High-quality deck paints are more expensive than stains. 
  • Prone to cracking and staining: Harsh weather conditions and poor application of deck paint cause peeling and chipping. High foot traffic and accidental spills can cause discoloration, which ruins the deck’s appearance.

Staining Your Deck

Deck staining can protect your wood from moisture damage, UV rays, and other elements. Unlike deck painting, which creates a solid color barrier on the surface, deck stains enhance the natural beauty of the wood.

Staining Your Deck

Types of Stains for Decks

1. Transparent Stains

Transparent stains provide minimal color change, allowing the wood grain and texture to show through clearly. These types of transparent wood stains are best for new or well-maintained decks with minor surface damage.

2. Semi-Transparent Stains

These stains offer more color than transparent ones but allow the wood grain to show through. Semi-transparent stains offer better UV protection and water repellency, which protects the deck from mold and mildew. They’re suitable for decks with some imperfections and aging but still want to preserve the wood’s natural look.

3. Solid-Color Stains

Solid-color or opaque stains contain a lot of pigment, which hides the wood’s natural grain and texture. They’re available in natural colors that effectively hide imperfections in the deck. Choose this type of deck or porch stain if you want a new, bold look for your home’s exterior.

4. Epoxy Stains

Epoxy stains have a deep sheen similar to traditional oil-based finishes. They’re suitable for decks exposed to heavy foot traffic or harsh weather.

Pros and Cons of Deck Staining


  1. Enhances the natural aesthetics of the wood: Deck staining is an excellent way to maintain the natural appearance of the wood while protecting it from damage.
  2. Better protection from moisture: Stains penetrate the wood and form a protective film, which prevents water from soaking into the deck.
  3. Requires less frequent application than paint: Deck stains are less prone to peeling and cracking, unlike paint. Deck staining is generally more cost-effective than other deck finishing options.


  1. Less effective in concealing imperfections: Unlike paint, staining doesn’t conceal cracks or holes on wooden decks.
  2. Limited color options: Most stains match the natural color of wood. The standard wood stain colors are cherry, mahogany, walnut, ebony, and cedar.

Painting vs. Staining: Key Differences to Consider

Deck finishing is usually the last step in building a deck. It’s advisable to wait 30 days after installation of the deck before you paint or stain. 

Natural Aesthetics

Staining showcases the natural beauty of the wood grain and provides a rustic look. Painting gives a smooth and uniform finish that can help hide inconsistencies in the wood. Stain works for all styles, while painting a deck works best for modern design styles.


Deck staining is cheaper than painting, with most stain brands costing between $20 and $90 per gallon. You can estimate how much stain you need on our deck stain calculator. Pre-stain treatment is simple and inexpensive, depending on your deck’s state.

Expect to pay between $30 to $60 per gallon of deck paint and $15-$30 per gallon of primer. You must also factor in other costs such as labor, deck repairs and replacement, and wood preservative.

Availability of Color Choices

While deck paints are available in bold red, green, yellow, and blue shades, most stain brands come in natural wood tones. Nonetheless, modern decks incorporate gray, white, black, green, and blue wood stains. Custom color matching is more common with paints.

Ease of Application

Deck stain’s thinner consistency and reduced surface preparation make it easier to apply than paint. Unlike paints, staining does not require a primer; most transparent types provide enough coverage with one coat. Solid-color stains also dry faster than paint, allowing you to apply multiple coats on the same day.


Deck paint and stains offer great durability and protection from the elements. But, if you’re comparing deck paint vs. stain, paint comes out as a more durable and colorfast finish. Good quality deck paint lasts for ten years or more. Stains fade over time and may need re-application every 1-3 years.

Ease of Maintenance

Paint forms a uniform layer that’s easy to dust or sweep clean. Stained decks, however, need more effort to clean and may get damaged by heavy scrubbing. Touch-ups are usually more straightforward for stained decks that show signs of wear or minor damage. Unlike paint, you can reapply the stain to affected areas without extensive preparation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Can I apply stain over existing paint or vice versa?

You can apply paint over stained wood if you sand the surface. Priming the surface is also necessary for better adhesion. To stain a previously painted deck, you must remove the paint completely through sanding or stripping.

What’s the best time to apply paint or stain to my deck?

Summer and late spring are the best seasons to apply paint or stain on a deck. Warm, dry conditions allow paint and deck stains to dry quickly, giving a uniform finish. Choose a period when rain or snow isn’t expected for the next 24 hours.

How do I prepare my deck for painting or staining?

Use a deck cleaner and scrubbing brush to remove dirt, mold, and existing paint or stain from the deck surface. Sand the surface and wash down the dust and debris for better adherence. For deck paint, you’ll need to apply a primer before painting.

How can I protect my painted or stained deck from weather damage?

The best way to protect a painted or stained deck from damage is to seal it. A clear polyurethane finish protects wood from scratches and keeps it from fading. Two-in-one stains/sealants are also effective in waterproofing the deck.