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deck stain guide

Deck Stain Guide - Everything You Need To Know

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
May 5, 2022

In the early moments of spring, the frozen ground and threat of frosts make it impossible to jump into the dozens of lawn and gardening projects you have been dreaming about during the long, cold winter. But those moments of warmer temperatures and sunny afternoons beg you to get outside and do something to the neglected landscape and outdoor living areas around your home that have been buried under snow and ice for the winter. But where do you begin, and how do you ensure the project is done right? In this guide, we'll cover what you need to know to stain your deck this season.

Improving the appearance of your deck is often one of the best spring projects for homeowners who are itching to get outside and get their hands dirty. Unfortunately, many of the deck stain products on the market are loaded with potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Also, some deck stain products will contain harmful biocides and insecticides that can leach into the surrounding environment, essentially filling your lawn or garden with toxic chemicals that can kill both animals and plants.

Several deck stain products reduce VOC emissions while limiting the adverse environmental effects. Below, we offer a complete guide to finding and using the healthiest and most environmentally friendly deck stain for your outdoor living spaces.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Deck Stain?
  2. Why Is It Important to Stain Your Deck?
  3. How Long Does It Take To Stain a Deck?
  4. Do You Need to Clean Your Deck Before Staining
  5. How Long Does It Take Deck Stain to Dry?
  6. How Do You Apply Deck Stain?
  7. How Much Stain Do I Need for My Deck?
  8. What Are the Pros and Cons of Staining Your Deck?
  9. What Are the Best Deck Stain Brands?

What is Deck Stain?

It is important to differentiate between deck stain and deck sealant. The main purpose of both deck stain and deck sealant is to protect the wood from the rain, sun, and other elements. Whereas deck sealant comes as a clear or transparent product that displays the natural grain and color of the wood, deck stain products have a pigment added that helps to block the UV rays from the sun that can dry out the wood, causing it to crack, split, or turn gray.

Both deck stains and sealants help to prevent water from being absorbed by the wood. This improves durability and increases the lifespan of your deck by preventing wood rot. Deck stain, then, can be defined as any product that uses a color pigment to change the natural color and appearance of the wood while also offering protection from the elements.

Compared to regular wood stains that you would use for furniture or other interior uses, deck stains tend to exhibit richer pigmentation. They are often formulated to protect from UV damage, water damage, and weathering. This gives increased protection for sun-exposed wood that is prone to fading due to constant exposure to the sun´s UV rays.

Why Is It Important to Stain Your Deck?

Of the roughly 850,000 single-family homes started in 2017, 23.8 percent included decks, according to NAHB tabulation of data from the Survey of Construction (SOC, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and partially funded by HUD). A small 12-foot by 12-foot deck would need around 144 lineal feet of lumber (not counting the structural beams below). Even if every new home construction only built a small 12-foot by 12-foot deck, we would need close to 30 million lineal feet of lumber just for those new deck construction projects. According to one forest extension service, a typical stand of mature pine trees may have 80 to 120 trees per acre, and the volume of saw timber can range from 5,000 to 15,000 board feet (BF) per acre. The number for decks we build just on new homes (not including renovation projects) amounts to almost 3,000 acres of forest felled each year.

The main environmental reason for regularly staining your deck is to reduce the demand for further deforestation. Decks that receive regular maintenance will last much longer than decks left exposed to the elements. In general, a wood deck will last for somewhere between 10 to 15 years, though the actual lifespan of your wood deck will depend on the type of wood you use and how often you seal and stain the deck.

Regularly staining your wood deck will improve the appearance of your deck and radically improve its lifespan by helping to prevent rot and insect infestation. A high-quality wood stain will seal your deck against both moisture penetration and infestation by pests. This inhibits the growth of mold, mildew, and wood rot, which directly causes sagging, cracking and even causing the deck to fail.

How Long Does It Take To Stain a Deck?

As we mentioned above, regularly staining your deck can help improve the wood´s resistance to unwanted moisture absorption. This can be especially important for homeowners who live in areas with long, cold winters as moisture that soaks into your wood can freeze during the colder months and cause damage to your boards as they cycle through the freezing and thawing cycles.

Protecting your deck with a coat of deck stain doesn’t take that long and is generally a DIY homeowner project that can be done every 2-3 years. The amount of time it takes will depend on the size of your deck. Most decks are built wider than they are deep. The longer portion is generally built alongside the house, with the average size somewhere between 300 and 400 square feet. Other factors that affect the total amount of time it will take to stain a deck include:

·         Whether you need to move heavy outdoor furniture, grills, and other items;

·         Decks that have multi-levels;

·         Decks with elaborate railings and lattice-work;

·         The climate during the day you do the staining.

In general, staining a deck is a weekend project that you can expect to take you somewhere between 10-15 hours of total labor.

Do You Need to Clean Your Deck Before Staining

A deck should always be cleaned before staining. Sweeping your deck to get rid of dust, dirt, and debris will be necessary before you begin staining. Also, moving all the furniture and other heavy items to a separate area will make the staining process much more efficient. If your deck has noticeable mold or mildew growth patches, you may want to purchase a non-toxic mold cleaner to neutralize and clean the patches. If you go this route, the first day is generally dedicated to moving all the furniture, sweeping the deck, power washing to remove mold, and drying the wood before painting.

Decks that have a significant amount of damage, or those that have been abandoned for several years, may require the use of a special deck cleaner product. These commercial deck cleaners can remove grease, stains, mold, mildew, etc. You can make your own deck cleaner by mixing two gallons of water, two cups of oxygen bleach, one cup of borax, and ¼ cup of regular dish soap. Apply the cleaning solution to the deck, let sit for 15 minutes, and then scrub thoroughly to remove all residue.

New wood decks or only a couple of years old will require minimal preparation. Older decks or decks that have signs of damaged wood or extensive mold growth will generally require extra steps to ensure that your decks' stain “takes” correctly.

How Long Does It Take Deck Stain to Dry?

One of the essential considerations when staining your deck is rigorously checking your weather conditions.  Choose a day or weekend where you can expect to have at least a 24-hour window without rain or precipitation. When temperatures stay above 50 degrees, oil-based deck stains will typically dry somewhere between 4 and 24 hours. Most deck stain products will stand up to rain after 12 hours of curing, though longer is better. If possible, wait at least 48 hours before walking on your deck and returning your outdoor furniture to its rightful place.

How Do You Apply Deck Stain?

When you are ready to apply the deck stain, three main options are available. Using a compressor or pump-up garden sprayer will be the quickest way to apply your deck stain. However, during windy days, you may lose some stain due to blowing. Also, this option generally doesn’t allow for the thickest applications and may require several coats. Using a paint roller is another option, though it may be difficult to properly coat areas around the posts and railings. A simple paintbrush will take more time but can work the stain deep into the pores of the board.

How Much Stain Do I Need for My Deck?

The total amount of deck stain you need for your deck will depend on the size of your deck and the condition of your wood. Older decks that have dried up and damaged wood will generally require thicker applications, thus using more stain. However, homeowners should expect to use one gallon of deck stain for every 150 square feet of deck space. Then, a typical 300 square foot deck might use two gallons of deck stain.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Staining Your Deck?

Staining your deck every two to three years will certainly help prolong the wood's lifespan. It can also keep your home´s outdoor living areas looking fresh and maintained. The longer a deck lasts, the better your return on investment. You will also be helping to reduce the demand for lumber, thus protecting our valuable forests.

On the downside, many deck stain products contain harmful VOCs. Even though the natural ventilation outside reduces the concentration of VOCs in the air, the process of applying wood stain can be dangerous to your health during the application and drying process. Besides containing hydrocarbons, many deck stain products also contain alkanes, cycloalkanes, glycol ether, and corrosives, such as sodium hydroxide (lye), which can contribute to wood stain poisoning. Also, many of the preservatives in deck stain can contaminate your garden plants and may stop plants from being able to absorb water, nutrients, or sun.

What Are the Best Deck Stain Brands?

If you are looking to avoid some of the drawbacks associated with staining your deck, you should look for deck stain products that are zero to low-VOC and non-toxic. A few of the best, non-toxic deck stain brands include:

Vermont Natural Coatings logo

Vermont Natural Coatings

Vermont Natural Coatings uses whey protein as the main bonding agent in their products. Whey is a renewable resource and a natural by-product of the dairy industry, leading to extremely low VOCs. Their coatings are water-based and made with up to 45% renewable ingredients, and the packaging is recyclable. Upwards of 50% of the power used to operate their business is sourced from renewable resources such as solar and hydro.

AFM Safecoat Logo

AFM Safecoat

Founded in 1983, AFM SafeCoat features natural mineral pigments instead of dyes and no formaldehyde or other toxic ingredients. Developed in consultation with environmental medicine physicians and their patients, Safecoat products are made not to irritate or be a concern for individuals with allergies or chemical sensitivities and not to introduce indoor air quality issues.

Rubio Monocoat Logo

Rubio Monocoat

Rubio Monocoat has been making wood protection products for over 60 years. Known for plant-based, hardwax oil wood finishes that are 0% VOC, durable, matte, and keep the natural look and feel of the wood, Rubio manufactures an extensive line of interior and exterior products.


For nearly 30 years, Bioshield has been developing and offering a wide variety of solvent-free, water-based, and zero VOC deck stains that are composed of natural pigments and resins. The products are excellent against weathering, high bondability, fast-drying, and UV resistant.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2022-06-17T17:59:02+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.

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