Choosing the Best Finish for Your Deck

Choosing the Best Finish for Your Deck

It is no longer uncommon for homeowners to know that a deck suffers from a wear and tear over time. Environmental exposure to factors like sunlight, moisture or water can affect its durability and appearance. That is why periodic staining and refinishing are needed to maintain your deck’s long-lasting strength and beauty. However, it is not easy to simply go inside a home depot or center and pick a deck finish or stain that you think is right for your outdoor space. More often, you will see labels or descriptions of products and brands that seem confusing, so you end up asking yourself, “which is which?”There isn’t any simple answer nor a rule of thumb in choosing the right deck finish. Bear in mind that each deck finish or stain is formulated for specific purposes. That means it offers great advantages and potential drawbacks at the same time. But, don’t fret. Though you can’t single out which deck finish stands out from the rest, you just need to identify the differences among these products and formulations. In this way, you can have a better idea of what to use for your outdoor space. Take these following clues to narrow down your options and navigate the right solution, so you can preserve the charm of your deck.

Pigment Density

Stains or finishes are your deck’s protection against the harmful and weathering effects of UV rays and moisture. There are several labels and products available in the market. However, you can classify them into four types of pigmented stains or finishes: clear or transparent, semi-transparent, semi-solid and solid. Let’s differentiate each type. 
  • Transparent or Clear

 This is the least pigmented type of deck finish or stain. In fact, it contains no oils or pigments. The idea of putting a clear or translucent stain is to allow the natural color and feel of the wood. Though it is quite appealing to see the natural look of a wood deck, this type of stain has limited choices. Be mindful of the clear stains you will choose. Low-end clear finishes normally offer low or no protection from UV rays. Some transparent finishes, however, have organic stabilizers or UV absorbers. If you aim for low maintenance, clear deck finish shouldn’t be your first option. This is because it requires refinishing every 12 to 18 months.   
  • Semi-transparent

 A semi-transparent stain is an upgrade of clear stains for a reason that it provides more color tinting and better protection. Although the underlying wood grains and texture remain visible, this type of deck finish allows longer lifespan and stronger protection to UV rays. It takes at least two years before you can have it reapplied.  
  • Semi-solid

 The good thing about semi-solid stain is that they are densely pigmented and has a longer lifespan than semi-transparent or clear stains. You can expect that this deck finish will last for more than two to three years, so it doesn’t need reapplication every time. The application of the first coating will show through the underlying wood grains. However, a second coating will create an opaque appearance closed enough to a solid color stain.   
  • Solid

 Solid deck stains provide an opaque finish and offer the best protection against UV rays. This type of deck finish has many options and colors, so you won’t run out of choices. Since it is densely pigmented, it is ideal to cover wood grains and weathered parts of the deck. Solid stains can last for at least five to ten years at normal conditions. However, keep in mind that these stains are susceptible to chipping and peeling. Though it is beneficial to create a uniform color and conceal discoloration, they rather rest on the top of the deck surface. So, increase foot traffic and furniture over the deck may cause the stain to peel and crack.  


In choosing the right deck finishes, you must also understand which products are water-based, oil-based, or combined. This is because every product has a specific formulation and performs differently from each other. Knowing its differences enables you to decide whether it will complement and suit the material of your deck.   
  • Oil-based

 Oil-based formulation achieves a glossy, natural timber look of the wood deck. This type of deck finish is good for deck surfaces because it doesn’t peel or crack easily. The oil normally penetrates deeper into the wood, so you can expect that it won’t form a protective film. Also, oil-based finishes are easier to apply or recoat and offer lower maintenance than its water-based counterpart. Typically, it will last for more than 2 to 4 years.  The major downside of oil-based formulation, however, is the cleanup process and its higher VOCs (or Volatile Organic Compound). Oil-based stains need solvents for cleaning instead of a soap solution.   
  • Water-based

 If you want to use an eco-friendlier product, then a water-based formulation is the ideal choice for you. This type of deck finish requires a much easier cleanup process as opposed to the oil-based formulation. Also, it produces lesser VOCs, so it is less dangerous to the environment and to your health. However, since water-based formulation creates a paint-like finish and is thicker, they tend to form a protective film. Thus, it is very prone to peeling and cracking. Not to mention that it needs refinishing every one or two years.   
  • Hybrid

 To counter-effect some of the disadvantages of oil- and water-based deck finishes, a hybrid formulation is made. The combination of water and oil produces a better effect on the deck. It penetrates deeper into the wood as what oil-based does while it releases lesser VOCs. Moreover, it achieves great color retention, but the cleanup process is much easier. That means a soap solution is enough for the cleaning process even if the deck stain has oil composition.  


Are you aiming to boost the charm of your deck while preserving its durability and strength? Why not add colors to it? Adding stain colors creates an inviting appearance to your outdoor space. It also enhances the curb appeal of your property. The color you need to incorporate may vary depending on the design and landscape of your deck as well. In most landscape design and color ideas, you can utilize the color wheel rules. Aside from picking the right formulation and pigments for finishing, it is important that the stain color blends well with your main house.  


If you are in the market to select for the best finishes and stains, you must always consider this vital factor: the price. When looking for a specific brand or company, the price is somehow an indicator of its quality. Compare one product to another. Check the label or formulation. Determine which products contain better quality components or ingredients. In this way, you won’t be paying for something less of a quality. 

Final Thoughts

We understand that you always want to have a better outdoor living space. That is basically the reason why you are looking for the best deck finish in the market. However, you need to consider the pros and cons of each product and deck finish before you use it. Another helpful approach is to determine what you truly need. Do you wish to have a natural, glossy appeal of your wood deck? Is the stain suitable to the deck material? Are you looking for a more pigmented appearance? How much is the price you are willing to pay? These questions would probably provide you with a better decision.  Now, if you feel that you’re not that confident in choosing the right stain or finish that will complement your deck, contact Deck Ready. With our expertise and experience in deck building and refinishing, we are confident that we can help you make better choices for a better outdoor living space. 

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