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April 14, 2021 8 min read

A fresh coat of stain can revitalize and refresh your deck's overall look, and even your whole home. Beyond mere appearances, staining your deck will help protect the wood from the elements, adding years to its natural life. There are endless choices for deck stains, and it can be overwhelming to know how to choose the right deck stain for you. We've put together this wood staining guide for buyers so you can make the best decision for your deck. Read on to find out everything you need to know about choosing deck stain. 

Choosing Deck Stain

Most decks today use treated lumber or steel beams as the support system, but the decking — or the part of the deck you walk on — can consist of various building materials. PVC plastic decking and composite materials are gaining in popularity, but wood remains the most commonly used material for decking. 

Types of Wood Decking

Your wood deck can affect the stain type or color that is best for your situation, so you should learn about the different wood choices available. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common types of wood used for decking.


  • Redwood: Incredibly typical on the West Coast, where it grows and thrives, redwood decking is also available across the country, though it may be more expensive farther away from the coast. Redwood is stable, durable and long-lasting. It resists warping and does not contain resins, so it is better at holding on to added finishes for longer periods. However, the downside is that redwood may not be the most environmentally friendly choice, as it often comes from old-growth forests. 
  • Cedar: Another popular decking choice, cedar is a soft wood that is naturally resistant to rot and infestations from insects. However, it may be less sturdy than some other decking surfaces, and could be better for vertical elements and accents like railings, side walls, trellises, fencing and planters. The best cedar also comes from old-growth forests, so it's also not the most eco-friendly choice for decking materials. 
  • Pressure-treated lumber: Pressure-treated lumber is standard for decks' structure and surface. The benefits to using this wood include that it is relatively cheap, compared to other wood varieties, and it is pest- and rot-resistant. However, as it is more affordable than other, more durable, woods, this lumber is less stable, meaning it is more prone to warping and shrinking. Higher grades of pressure-treated lumber, especially those treated with water-resistant materials, will help mitigate some of this. Staining the lumber decking will also extend its life and help protect it. 
  • Other wooden materials: A few other hardwoods round out our list of commonly used woods for decking — teak, mahogany and ipe. All three of these woods are more expensive than most other options and might be slightly less typical for an average deck, but some people prefer them. These hardwoods create gorgeous decks, but all grow outside the U.S., and it's a good idea to do some research before choosing these woods for your deck. Ipe is one of the strongest hardwoods available, making durable decking, but it usually incurs more labor fees because it can be challenging to work with. 


Types of Deck Stain and Considerations

The wood species used for your deck can help determine which stain is best for the job. Various woods will look better with specific stains, and each offers different protection, too. If you have chosen a more expensive hardwood for your deck, you want to make it shine and show off the wood's gorgeous grain and other details. In this case, it's best to use a more translucent or semi-transparent stain to not cover up the beautiful details.

If your decking consists of softer woods like pine or cedar, the wood grain showing through is less of a factor than the protection it needs from the elements. For these woods, a solid or semi-solid stain works better. These stains offer better weather protection, while being slightly less transparent. 

Many wood decks consist of composite materials. These decks are incredibly durable and low maintenance. However, occasional painting or staining will help protect the deck and ensure a longer lifespan. For composite decks, a solid stain is the best bet, as it offers beautiful colors and protection from the elements. 


When you're choosing the right wood deck stain for your decking, understanding opacity is crucial. Knowing what wood your deck consists of can help inform the level of opacity you should choose. In general terms, opacity refers to an object's transparency. When referring to deck stain, the opacity level determines how much of the wood's natural details, like its grain, will show through the finished stain. Most wood stains fall under the following opacity categories.


  • Clear: To highlight all the details and wood grain of your beautiful deck, choose clear, colorless stains. The wood's natural colors will shine through without any added colors getting in the way. 
  • Translucent: One step up from completely clear, translucent stains still allow the wood grain to show through, but adds the slightest hint of color to the mix. 
  • Semi-transparent: An excellent middle ground between showing off wood grain and adding in the color you want, semi-transparent stains are prevalent. They still let many details shine through, but add in more color. 
  • Semi-solid: The next step up in opacity is a semi-solid stain. These stains allow for some natural wood grain to show, but offer heartier color coverage. Semi-solids are great if you want to highlight some details while covering up a few imperfections. They have more color, so you can change your deck's appearance, much like selecting a paint color. 
  • Solid: The stain with the most opacity is a solid stain. These solid wood stains allow only the slightest hint of wood grain and details to show through, while providing a thicker, paint-like coverage. Solid stains offer extensive color coverage and intensity and cover a vast majority of imperfections. They are ideal for older decks or those built with less expensive materials. 


Choosing the Best Color Stain for Your Deck

The next step in finding the best exterior wood stain for your deck is to choose the right color. Your home already has a primary color and at least one trim color, if not several, and you want your deck to fit in naturally with your home's overall color scheme and architectural style. And while most stains allow the wood's natural grain to show, they still offer a range of color options, designed to match any home color palette. There are a few different ways to approach color choice for deck stain.


  • Match the primary home color: Your home's primary color is the color of the siding, brick, stucco or other building materials that make up the most significant part of your home. Choosing a stain that matches this color will give a monochromatic look and, in many cases, provide a modern, sophisticated appearance. This choice may look best with specific home styles or colors, so do some research beforehand to envision what your home might look like. 
  • Match the home's trim color: Perhaps the most popular method of choosing a deck stain is to match the deck to the home's trim color. This technique ensures that your deck matches the house's overall color scheme, but also stands out. It's a classic, unified look that will draw attention to your home's architectural elements. 
  • Choose a different coordinating color: For the boldest look, you can choose a completely different color from your home's primary and trim colors. However, for best results, select a color that coordinates or fits in with your home's color palette. Picking a color that's too dissimilar will not look cohesive and at worst, may clash with the rest of your house. 


Popular Deck Stain Colors

Now that you know how to choose a good deck stain color, let's take a look at some of the most in-demand color choices available today.


  • Brown: Perhaps the all-time most popular color choices for deck stains are shades of brown. These brown tones are a natural fit for wooden decks and range from light tans to deep ebony. No matter the tone, all brown shades lend a natural warmth to any home and fit in well with the natural surroundings. Darker browns tend to look more modern and sleek and work well in urban surroundings, while lighter browns give a slightly more casual vibe. 
  • Gray: In the past, gray decks signaled aging, unkempt wood. But that is no longer the case. Today, a gray deck can look chic and sophisticated, especially with a black-and-white home palette. A gray deck is also an ideal neutral backdrop for fun, brightly colored patio furniture and accessories. There's a wide range of gray tones available too. 
  • Red: Another perpetual favorite for deck stain is the red family of colors. From lighter terra cotta tones to richer red-browns like mahogany, red-toned decks are a popular choice for a reason. A red-stained deck hints at culture and looks like it's ready to be the life of the party. These warm tones work well with many home color schemes, and are bright and inviting. 
  • Blue: Blue deck stain is a favorite, especially in coastal areas. This color matches lakes and oceans and reflects some of the nearby waters. It's also a common choice for colonial-style homes. Muted gray-blues work exceptionally well with many home color schemes and add a sense of calm and serenity. 
  • Natural transparents: Naturally tinted transparent stains bring out your wood deck's beauty while offering some protection and durability. Transparent stains are excellent if you have a quality wood for your deck, like cedar, and want a more natural, rustic look. 


Test Your Paint or Stain Choices

Choosing the right stain for your deck is a significant undertaking, and you want to be sure to make the best choice. Considering all the above information, you should narrow down your selections to a few different shades. But before you go buying gallons of stain and covering the whole deck, it's a good idea to give a few colors a test run. 

Most stain companies and home improvement stores will offer small sample sizes of paints and stains, so you can choose a couple of favorites and try them out at a much lower cost. Bring these sample cans home and try them out on pieces of leftover scrap wood, if you have any. Try to ensure that your samples or scraps are the same wood as your decking, so you'll know what it looks like. If you don't have any leftover scraps available, choose a piece of scrap wood that closely resembles the type and tone of wood you have on your deck. 

Let your samples dry and hold them up next to your home, taking in the primary and trim colors to see if the stain would be a good match. Hold it next to any existing patio furniture, too, to get a good idea of your deck's overall color scheme. You may also consider looking at the samples in different light conditions, such as morning light vs. evening light or a sunny day vs. a cloudy or overcast one. Once you've chosen your favorite shade, it's time to stain the whole deck and enjoy the new look! 

Shop Deck Stains at Aboff's Paints

For decades, Aboff's Paints has been the No. 1 retailer for Benjamin Moore paints, stains and more on Long Island. With 32 locations, we service the entire Long Island area, providing top-quality paints, stains and all painting supplies and sundries you need to get the job done. Browse our selection of deck stains online to find the best colors. Our expert, experienced staff can also help you choose the right deck stain and supplies for your project, so contact us today or find a store near you and get started. 

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