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Choosing the Right Stain Finishes for Your Deck

Daliah Okoro
November 27, 2013

Choosing the finish for your deck is an important part of maintenance, as well as keeping up the aesthetic appeal. The choices are clear: wood stain or paint. If you don’t know how to stain your deck yourself then it is recommended that you hire a professional to do the job. Paint lasts longer, needing less regular refinishing, but disguises the natural beauty of its color and grain and is not suitable for a decking that sees regular use. Wood stain needs more regular reapplication but does not hide the natural appearance of the material.

When wood is unprotected and exposed to rain and weather effects, it can warp, discolor and deteriorate. UV in the sun’s rays affects the lignin in wood, which is the ‘glue’ holding its structure together. When these bonds are broken, access points for fungal infections and moisture are created. As the wood shrinks and swells in response to the changing moisture levels, cracks are formed. After a season exposed to the elements, all decks and railings will begin to show wear. 

Paint will protect wood for the longest time. Water based and latex paints are flexible when dry, meaning they are not susceptible to cracking when the wood naturally flexes. Oil based paints are not flexible in this way. Paint will hide imperfections and prevent damage from UV light rays. On the other hand, painting can be messy and needs thorough preparation before being applied. Wood must be coated with preservative and primed before paint is applied. Paints are generally the best option for hand railings and other wooden features, but not the deck floor itself. 

Stains do not have as long a lifetime as paint, but will protect similarly. A wood stain soaks into the grain of the wood, filling the small gaps into which water and fungus can enter. They also usually have a degree of preservative in their formula, stopping mold becoming problematic. The lighter the color of the stain, the less it will be able to protect from damage caused by exposure to sunlight. There are a range of solid-color wood stains which can solve this issue, and are available in a number of shades to enhance almost every kind of wood.