The Best Stain for a Deck

Determining the best type of deck stain to use depends mainly on whether your deck has been previously treated and its level of exposure to the sun.

Bare Wood

You’ll also have to take into consideration your budget and how often you are willing to recoat your deck. Contractors estimate that you get one year of attractiveness for every $10 per gallon spent on stain. Given the labor intensiveness and expense of staining a deck, you'll want to learn as much as possible about the best stain to use prior to application.

If your deck consists of bare wood, either new or old, the best deck stain is One Time Wood, an acrylic resin product with a piney scent. ??

“It works by soaking into the pores on the micro-porous level. It cures in sunlight and becomes part of the wood,” says Doug Wilson, owner of The product’s durability led its manufacturer to offer a limited seven-year warranty. ??

One Time Wood, which comes in natural, chestnut, red cedar, golden honey and clove brown colors, provides at least seven years of protection against water and fungus, Wilson says. However, you should clean the deck with Dawn dish soap and reapply the stain every five years to add additional pigment to the deck. In its fourth, fifth and sixth years, One Time Wood fades gradually, providing “double the longevity that any other product in same circumstance would offer,” he says.

“If you seek minimal maintenance over a 10-year period, One Time Wood is the best,” Wilson says.

Exotic Woods

If your deck is made of ipe, redwood or mahogany, wait three to four months to let the wood dry. If you have a cedar deck, allow it to dry for one year. Clean with oxalic wood brightener and apply One Time Wood.

Previously Stained Decks

In a previously stained deck, sand off the existing surface, especially if it is an acrylic stain. You can also strip off a water- or oil-based stain. Apply One Time Wood.

Special Situations

If you have a limited budget and are just looking for a stain that lasts one or two seasons, use a stain such as Cabot’s or Sikkens Cetol DEK finish, which comes in four natural colors. One Time Wood costs about $65-85 per gallon (2009 price range), while Sikkens costs $35-$60/gallon and Cabot’s ranges $12-$35.

Cabot’s products range from clear, translucent and semi-transparent for natural wood grain appearance through semi-solids and solid for more longevity. ??

Cabot’s and Sikkens may also work if you have a business or restaurant and can’t close your deck to allow the 48-hour cure time of One Time Wood, or if your house or commercial deck lacks enough sun exposure for curing its acrylic resin. ??


Many stain manufacturers offer small samples of about 4 ounces for sale. Test samples on pieces of cleaned, bare wood or older deck boards that have been stripped or sanded.

About the Author

An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.