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Should I Paint or Stain My Deck?

Colorful Painted Boards With Paint Brushes
By: Sara Cifani| Last Updated:03/28/2024
Time to Read: 2 min

Paint vs. Stain

Summertime means finding your Zen within the earthy grooves and grainy texture of your wooden deck. Maintaining the healthy luster of hardwood can be quite the struggle, especially in areas with harsh, fluctuating climates. Paints and stains are both used to maintain the beauty of wooden retreats aplenty, but which is really the best option?

Deciding between the two shouldn’t feel like walking the plank. We’ve weighed the pros and cons of painting vs. staining to help you preserve and prepare your deck for summer barbequing, afternoon sunbathing and the inevitable winter months to come.


Why You Should Paint or Stain

Depending on your area’s climate, leaving the wood au naturel could be an option. Although in most scenarios, an unfinished deck stunts your deck’s lifespan with premature warping, cracking, splitting or rotting. For even the toughest of woods, it is recommended that you apply some sort of finish, paint or stain, to guarantee longevity.

Now, without further ado:

Stain vs. Paint: The Ultimate Showdown

Knowing the difference between paint and stain is important to protect your deck. The strengths and weaknesses of each will help you determine the reigning champion, the fearless contender that will bring home a trophy-worthy deck space for you to enjoy for years to come.

Painting Your Deck

In one corner, we have the expansive color options, wood-protecting, gap-filling strength of paint. Known as the thicker finish, paint is often useful in covering already damaged wood.

Weaknesses of Paint:

  • Difficult to clean.
  • Slippery when wet.
  • Masks the wood’s natural beauty.

Staining Your Deck

In the opposing corner, we have the lighter of the two, stain. The wood grain shines through with this one, making it the finish of choice for those who enjoy the authentic, rustic look. Stain doesn’t create as slippery of a surface as paint and is also available in a large variety of colors.

Weaknesses of Stain:

  • Shorter lifespan depending on quality and number of coats.
  • Requires regular maintenance.
  • Won’t conceal cracks or repair damages.

Expert Paint or Stain Deck Recommendations

Don’t be afraid to ask your local paint shop for tips and advice. Depending on the type of wood, age and overall condition, the experts will recommend whether paint or stain will provide the best finished product.

Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services at Sherwin-Williams, suggests a product that can be used on damp surfaces, allowing surfaces to be prepared and stained in just one day.

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“Stains penetrate the bare wood and typically do not create a high film build like paint and primers. One of my favorite products is the SuperDeck Log Home & Deck Stain. It is a water-based satin semi-transparent stain.”
Rick Watson, Director of Product Information and Technical Services, Sherwin Williams


Watson suggests this product for its excellent penetration to protect vertical or horizontal exterior wood surfaces. It provides a slight satin sheen for enhanced weathering characteristics.

Looking for more tips on how to keep your deck looking nice?
Check out our Complete Deck Maintenance Guide!

Person Staining Deck With Paintbrush

Before Finishing Your Wood

After you decide which option is best for you, it is important to first make sure that the deck is clean and the water test is completed before applying the product.

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“Once cleaning is finished, we should still test the absorbency of the wood by sprinkling water on the surface. If the water penetrates into the wood quickly, the wood is ready to finish. If the water beads up or does not penetrate, allow the wood to weather one to two weeks and test for absorbency again.”
Rick Watson, Director of Product Information and Technical Services, Sherwin Williams


Have Ideas for the Rest of Your Yard?

Planning a large backyard landscaping project to accompany your deck space? Before you get started on your outdoor makeover, make sure you have a plan in place for disposing of the yard waste.

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