Painting a Deck vs Staining – Differences + Which to Choose

Painting or staining a deck is a great way of prolonging its life. Both coatings protects the wood against elements including rain and moisture damage, UV fading and growth of mold and mildew. Let’s compare painting a deck vs staining, to understand their differences so that you can make a wise choice for one.

Painting a Deck vs Staining – Differences

Decks are great outdoor installations where you can relax to unwind or gather with family and friends. While new or old, a wooden deck requires painting or staining to protect the material from water damage, fading and rotting. The following are key differences between staining and painting a deck:

Painting a DeckStaining a Deck
Paint coats the surface of the wood to forms an opaque layer that fully hides its beauty (natural grain patterns and color)Stain penetrates the wood to form a transparent coating which makes wood grain and other superficial characters  to show through
Paint is available in numerous colors thus easy task in getting a color to match any outdoor decorStains are only available in clear varieties or shades of brown thus limited to few decors
Paint coating on deck provides lasting protection and it will take more years before you reapply itStain is short lived and needs periodic re-coating to continue offering adequate protection to the wood
It is very difficult to convert from paint to stain. Paint peeling requires extensive scrappingIt is easy to paint over stain, you only need to slightly sand the wood and prime it for paint
Painting a deck is expensive as you will need a preservative, premier and polyurethane sealer to apply over the paintStaining a deck is cheaper as there is no need for using a wood preservative and  primer or a polyurethane sealer
Painted deck becomes slippery especially when wet and you may want to add outdoor rugs for some traction.Staining a deck gives a safe surface to walk on without people sliding and falling.


Staining a deck offers a more natural look of the wood. The transparent treatment allows wood grain and other superficial characters of the wood like cracks and knots to show through. This is because a stain penetrates the wood once applied to form a transparent layer through which you can have a view.

Painting a deck makes the outdoor structure to look too artificial. Paint dries to form a thick opaque coating that hides all the interesting beautiful features of the wood.


Paint is available in a number of hues from neutral tones to more striking ones. This gives you an easy task when planning to match your deck color with the rest of outdoor décor. Stain on the other hand is typically limited to clear versions or brown tinge which favors specific decors.


Paint on a deck offers a more durable and colorfast finish. The coating provides a lasting protection against water damages and fading as a result of UV radiations. It can typically last for 10 years for a reapplication. You can also paint a deck with peeling paint to look new again.

Stain on the other hand provides a short lived protection against elements. Further the transparent versions may not offer adequate protection against UV fading. You will therefore need to reapply the stain more often as a way of reinforcing wood protection.


Staining a deck is less expensive as the stain doesn’t need premier to adhere to the wood. The price of stain ranges between $20 and $35 per gallon. Painting a deck on the other hand is quite expensive as you will need to purchase paint, a wood preservative, premier and a clear polyurethane sealer that is usually applied over the paint for added protection against moisture.

The cost of exterior paint ranges from $40 to $ 60 per gallon and $20 to $40 per gallon for wood preservative. Primer runs between $20 to $30 per gallon and $15 to $30 per gallon of clear polyurethane sealer.


While both finishes requires adequate wood preparation before applying, stain is easier to apply. Once the wood has been cleaned and all the damaged boards are repaired, stain is directly applied by brush or roller in a single coat. This can be done without any skill.

Painting a deck on the other hand is very complex process that may need a skill. Apart from fixing any dents and cracks in the wood, you will need to apply a premier which helps the wood accept the paint. Once the paint dries out, you also have to apply a clear coating of polyurethane sealer.


Both paint and stain dries to a smooth slick surface that makes sweeping and cleaning of a deck very easy. Deep cleaning a wooden deck prolongs its life and also makes the surface safe to everyone. You can pressure wash your stained or painted deck or damp mop with a homemade cleaning solution of vinegar.


It is hard to remove paint on a wood if at all you want to switch to stain, to do so you will need to undertake an extensive paint scrapping. You will need to use a sandpaper or a commercial paint stripper and a recommended deck cleaner to get a paint off the wood.

Stain on the other hand can easily be painted over or changed to a different shade. All you need is scrubbing the old finish with sandpaper, wiping down the surface with de-glosser, and priming it before painting or topping it with new shade of stain.

Is it better to paint or stain a deck?

While staining a deck may cost less and cut the work time, painting a deck is typically better as it provides lasting protection, disguise imperfections and comes in wide range of colors. Stain doesn’t fully protect the wood against sun damage and you will always have to reapply it after every few years.

Whether you have chosen to paint or stain your deck, always use the recommended products that will perform well in elements. You’ll also want to prepare your deck before finishing or refinishing. For great outcome, thoroughly clean the deck, remove mold and mildew and let it dry before you apply paint or stain.

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