Water Vs. Oil Deck Stain

The choice of a stain type for your deck is likely to be influenced by a number of variables and by your personal taste as well.

The Type of Wood Influences the Type of Stain

Choosing the Best Look For Your DeckChoosing the Best Look For Your Deck
Neither oil nor water based stains are likely satisfy all the needs of every type of deck, in any climate, and with any level of use. The information below is separated by some of the major considerations you will face when making that choice.

Because of differences in the penetrating quality of oil vs. water stains, the type of wood to be stained needs to be taken into account. Some woods have more open grain and accept a finish readily, but some woods have a tighter grain and an oil-based stain will be needed to give a deeper finish.

Climate Considerations

Wet weather is traditionally the enemy of wood. It will cause more mildew and fungus that drier climates. Oil stains can provide a breeding ground for these problems unless they contain chemical to prevent the rotting. Water-based stains, however, do not attract molds.

Opaque or Transparent Stains.

The opacity of the stain is important both to appearance and to durability, and there is a difference between the finished look of oil and water based stains. Oil-based stains allow the appearance of the wood grain to come through, even if you have chosen a dark stain, whereas water based stains need to use a pigment that is more opaque, to some extent masking the beauty of the natural grain. The advantage of the opacity, however, is that it tends to block the destructive action of the sun’s rays.

Pluses and Minuses of Oil Stains

Oil based stains penetrate deeper into the wood better than water based types. However, oil based stains by their nature are susceptible to algae and molds. This means that to keep the deck from rotting, toxic chemicals have to be included in the stain The disadvantages to using these chemicals range from annoying to dangerously toxic. If you have children who like to run around barefoot, the chemicals in the stains could be absorbed by the skin, so research the ingredients in the stain you decide to try. If you live in a rainy climate, these toxins can be leached away and need replacing by more toxic chemicals in order to preserve your wood, adding toxins to the environment. Many states are starting to outlaw these stains because of environmental concerns.

Water Based Stains

The traditional objection to water based stains has been that they don’t penetrate the wood as well as oil-based. Nowadays, however, with the green revolution in full swing, new products are being developed that will help the stain penetrate the wood. It’s easier to clean up your brushes and equipment when you’ve used a water based stain. But there are other advantages that are even more important – they are environmentally friendly. They dry faster than oil stains, they smell better, and they can be applied safely on wood that is not completely dry.

Which is Best When You Need to Refinish Your Deck?

Oil based stains can be refinished after moderate sanding. However, they are is less durable that water-based, and to keep their appearance, they will need to be refinished in about three or four years. Water based stain, however, usually lasts longer, but when you need to refinis, a thorough stripping to bare wood is often necessary.

About the Author

Mary Bennett has been writing since 1984. She started as a tech writer in Silicon Valley, where she wrote for "Microwave Systems News." Bennett earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Jose State.