Choosing the right Deck Stains: Oil vs. Water

Benjamin Moore StainsChoosing the right deck stain

In this article, we’re going to talk about the different types of stains – which are the best deck stains and which are the worst deck stains to put on your wood. If you’ve been doing any research on how to stain a deck or patio, you’ve probably noticed that deck stains usually come in one of two categories: water-based deck sealers and oil based deck sealers. There’s some very important differences between the two that you need to be aware of.

Comparison of Deck Stains: Oil vs. Water

Traditionally, oil based deck stains have been the preferred method to stain a deck. They penetrate into the wood very well, they look good when you put them down and they have a decent lifespan. When you do some further investigating, you begin to notice some not-so-desirable characteristics of these stains.
The first problem is that they are made of natural resins, which is basically food for algae and mold. Ever notice the large black regions of mold growing on your deck? You guessed it, the mold is eating your stain right off your deck. And not only that, once it starts, it becomes a breeding ground for more mold and algae, and it begins to grow, eventually taking over your whole deck!

A Toxic Dilemma

To counteract this, manufacturers put a heavy amount of toxic algaecides and mildewcides in these products. Over time, with UV sunlight and rain, these chemicals are brought to the surface of the wood and eventually washed away. This presents a two-fold dilemma…one being the safety of barefoot children absorbing these toxic chemicals into their skin, and the second being that once these chemicals are washed away, it’s open season on your deck for mold and algae attacks.
The other problem with oil based stains has to do with new environmental laws. Oil based products typically are much more dangerous to the environment and are beginning to be outlawed by the EPA. So far, the following states have outlawed almost all oil based stains: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Washington DC, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
Aside from their negative environmental impact, oil based stains are more difficult to work with, only clean up with mineral spirits, and take much longer to cure than waterbase stains.
Up until recently, there hasn’t been a good alternative for oil based stains. Deck owners simply had to deal with the unsightly algae growth, environmental damage, and safety issues. There has recently been vast improvements in water-borne technologies that have allowed water-based stains to penetrate like an oil stain. There’s a newer product out called Epoxy Fortified Wood Stain that has this new water based technology. It resists mold and algae and it’s environmentally friendly.

Natural Resin and Synthetic Resin Deck Sealers

We’ve already talked about how oil based sealers contain “natural resins” that promote algae and mold growth. The alternative option is to use a stain with “synthetic resins”. These are man-made resins that imitate natural resins with one big advantage. They aren’t a food source for algae. That’s right, mold and algae would never think about eating this stuff! It performs just like the natural resins of the oil based stains, but is a synthetic material designed to work the same without the mold growth.
Because synthetic resin sealers aren’t going to be food for algae, it’s not necessary to add a bunch of mildewcides and algaecides to the stains, making them much more family-friendly and environmentally friendly.

Clear, Semi-Transparent or Solid Color Deck Stains

The next thing to consider when choosing a deck stain is whether to use a or a solid color deck stain. All three have their advantages and disadvantages, but the semi-transparent is usually the best choice for staining your deck. I’ll explain why.

Clear Deck Stains

Most clear products are not able to hold up to the UV rays well enough to give you a significant lifespan. Frequently, the clear stains vanish within a few short months of applying them. On top of that, most clear deck stains aren’t totally clear. They have an amber tint added to them to give them extra UV protection. If it weren’t for this amber tint, your deck would turn gray in a matter of weeks rather than months.

Solid Color Deck Stains

The solid color stains are great for vertical siding or posts, areas that don’t get as much direct UV damage from the sun. The problem occurs when you put a solid color stain down on the flat parts of your deck. This is the area that gets the most damage and direct sunlight. Add to that the fact that people and pets are walking on it, contributing to even more wear and tear. As solid color stains weather over time, they tend to peel rather than fade. You end up with a mess. Simply applying a is normally not enough to remove these stains. Frequently, the only option becomes using paint stripper, a highly dangerous and toxic substance that can cause burns and kill your surrounding vegetation upon contact.

Semi-transparent Deck Stains

Semi-transparent stains are far and away the best choice when it comes to staining your deck. They have a tint to give them added UV protection which extends their life to a year or more, and sometimes up to several years. The tint still allows you to see through to the wood grain below giving the wood a nice, rich finish without hiding the texture of the wood. Also, they are super easy to maintain. Usually, the maintenance process involves a simple cleaning, and then a re-application of the deck stain once every other year or two. No stripping involved!


When it comes to deck stains, these are the main issues that you need to be concerned with:

  • Water based stains are the way to go, ditch the oils – easier to clean up, more green friendly
  • Synthetic resins, not natural resins – no mold, and no toxic chemicals
  • Semi-transparent deck stains rather than clear or solid color deck stains – easier to maintain

Keeping in mind these points when buying a deck stain will save you a lot of time, money and labor. Remember that with deck stains, you get what you pay for. Cheap deck stains are made with cheap resins and inexpensive fillers that won’t last. Buy a more expensive deck stain with higher quality resins that will last and keep your wood beautiful over time while protecting it from the elements. One of the newer, more impressive stains on the market right now is the. It’s a water-based, synthetic resin, semi-transparent stain made with high quality resins that bond firmly to the wood. Check out this deck stain to save your self some time and effort. It’s a little more money than the cheaper ones you see advertised a lot, but worth it in the long run.The best Deck Stain in Chicago Aardvark Painting uses Flood Stains
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