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A Deck Stain That Sticks

cedar deck stainYou’ve spent time, money and energy designing your dream deck. Finally, after all the waiting, it’s done. But you’re not quite finished yet—once construction on your new deck has wrapped up, the next phase begins.

Protecting your deck with a high-quality deck stain is the easiest way to guarantee a lifetime of enjoyment. But not all deck stains are created equal. As you wade through the many options available, there are several important things to keep in mind to help you select a stain that will safeguard your deck for years to come.

The Top Two Causes of Deck Wear

Deck stain is a critical component to your deck, second only to the type of wood used. Applying the right kind of stain is necessary to avoid early signs of wear against the two main sources of weathering: direct sunlight and excessive moisture.

Sunlight. Because your deck is constantly exposed to the sun, the light can slowly bleach away the wood’s pigment over time and dull its natural luster. Using a deck stain treated with UV protectant can make a significant difference in guarding against the sun’s rays.

Moisture. If your deck is left unprotected, rain, sleet, and snow can penetrate the wood fibers and cause rot and decay. Unlike house siding or fences, decks are horizontal, which means excess water can pool on the surface and accelerate the effects of weathering. Stains that form a film on top of the wood provide somewhat decent protection until the film starts to break down, leaving your deck vulnerable. The best deck stains penetrate the wood fiber itself to create a strong, lasting bond.

So Many Stains, So Little Time

There are several options for choosing a deck stain, each with their own pros and cons. Appearance, protection, maintenance, and climate are the most important things to keep in mind, as each stain type offers distinct benefits.

  • Transparent: Because they accentuate the natural colors of the wood, transparent deck stains look great when applied properly. However, since there are no additional pigments added, this type of deck stain provides the least protection against the sun and will require frequent coatings to prevent the wood’s color from fading. Plan on reapplying transparent deck stain roughly once a year.
  • Semi-transparent: Semi-transparent deck stains offer great protection while letting the full grain of the wood shine through. The “semi” in semi-transparent refers to the UV-blocking tint that’s added, affording protection against sun exposure. These stains are easy to maintain and simple to clean, and they can go longer without re-application than transparent stains. Depending on the wear and tear you experience, these stains average about two years  before needing additional coats.
  • Solid or opaque: These deck stains can be compared to paint, meaning they’ll completely cover up the natural appearance of your wood. If you want your deck to match the color of your house, or if you’re going for a different look, this may be an option. Solid deck stains have good protection against UV rays, but because they form a paint-like film on the surface of the wood, they are also the most susceptible to peeling. When applied to a floor surface, solid stains also don’t handle foot traffic as well as transparent or semi-transparent stains, and they can require additional coats to even out early signs of wear.

The Secret is in the Base

Once you’ve chosen the transparency you want, you’ll also want to consider what the stain is made from.

  • Water-based stains: Water-based deck stains are environmentally sound, but they tend to have unpredictable rates of absorption into the wood. This can lead to uneven wear, possibly even requiring wood replacement after a few years.
  • Natural oil-based stains: It’s a widely known fact that deck stains based on natural oils have deeper rates of penetration into wood than any other kind of stain. Instead of forming a semi-protective surface film like paint, natural oil-based stains sink deep into the wood for increased bonding and strengthening. Because of the tough bond they create, natural oil-based stains can go longer between re-applications. Natural oil-based stains should be reapplied every two to four years .

Regionally Formulated Deck Stains

Where you live plays a big role in how to best protect your deck. If possible, try to find a deck stain that’s specially formulated to protect against the local climate.

  • The frequent rains and winds of the northwest call for a highly absorbent solution for superior moisture protection.
  • Moisture isn’t as prominent an issue in the drier climates of the southwest, but the intense sunlight makes UV exposure something to watch for.
  • The humid air and hot temperatures of the southeast can make for intense, high-pressure conditions, requiring thorough application of a heavy-duty stain.

Once you’ve figured out which deck stain best meets your needs, you can provide your deck with lasting protection to keep it healthy and beautiful for years.

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