Deck stains and sealers might seem interchangeable when talking about deck care and maintenance. Both are used for the same purpose — preserving the wood on your deck to help it last longer, protecting it from weathering and erosion, pests, and more. However, deck stains and deck sealers are very different products. Let’s break down the differences between a deck stain vs. seal and how to choose the right product for you.

Deck Stain vs. Seal: What’s the Difference?

Deck stains and deck sealers are very important for preserving wood used on your deck floor, railing, stairs and more — but they have different uses and capabilities to consider when choosing the best protection for your deck.

Deck Stains

A deck stain differs from a deck seal in that it has pigment, which colors your deck in addition to providing water resistance and other protections. Deck stains are typically more expensive than sealers, but they last longer and give your deck an even, professional look when applied correctly.

Types of Deck Stains

Deck stains come in a variety of tones and opacities — ranging from transparent to semi-transparent to solid stains. The darker the tone and opacity, the more UV protection the stain provides.

Deck Sealers

A deck seal is used to protect wood from moisture, weather, insects, mildew, and rot. Unlike deck stains, sealers have no pigment and dry clear. They let the natural wood grain show through but provide no extra UV protection. Deck sealers are the preferred protection for cedar, teak, and mahogany decks to preserve natural color and texture.

Types of Deck Sealers

There are three types of deck sealers: oil-based, water-based, and resin-based.

  • Oil-based deck sealers, such as tang oil, linseed oil, hemp oil, or natural/synthetic waxes, are absorbed into the wood and act as a defense against moisture.
  • Water-based deck sealers soak into the wood and then dry as an invisible barrier against moisture. Rain will form droplets on the surface and not penetrate deck boards.
  • Resin-based deck sealers bond with the top layer of wood fibers to block moisture and scratching. Shellac, lacquer, and varnish are all examples of resin-based sealers.

Pros and Cons of Deck Stain vs. Seal

If you’re not sure whether a deck stain vs. seal is better for you, let’s compare the pros and cons of each product.

Pros of Deck Sealers

  • Preserve the natural color of the deck wood
  • Repel water naturally
  • Protect wood from weather, pests, and mold.
  • Extend the life of your deck

Cons of Deck Sealers

  • Some deck sealers take a long time to dry
  • Wood may become dry or brittle and crack or split
  • Deck will continue to weather and gray over time

Pros of Deck Stains

  • Effective protection against UV rays, moisture, mold, and rot.
  • Long-lasting (up to 5 years)
  • Darker tones can hide wood discoloration or imperfections

Cons of Deck Stains

  • Hide natural wood grain
  • May require more than one coat for even coloring
  • Will fade over time and need to be reapplied every 2 to 5 years

Deck Stain vs. Seal: Which is Right for Me?

Both deck stains and deck sealers can protect your deck against the elements and extend the lifespan of the wood. While deck sealers are ideal for preserving the natural beauty of more expensive deck materials like mahogany or teak, deck stains can hide an imperfection, ideal for dressing up a deck made of less expensive wood or refreshing a tired-looking deck.

Zeeland Lumber & Supply is your complete decking resource. We have all the materials you need to build and touch up your deck, and the expert advice to help you do it right! Give us a call or contact us online today.

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