Deck Stain or Deck Sealer. What is the difference?

Protecting a wooden deck with a water repellent coating can certainly enhance the wood's beauty while protecting it from the elements which can cause water damage and graying. Choosing a deck coating can be a little tricky and a lot of people can get confused. One such issue begins with deciding between a deck stain or a deck sealer and what the differences and similarities are.

Deck Sealers
Both deck stains and deck sealers will repel water and moisture which is definitely a good thing because water can cause mold/mildew problems and wood rot. But most deck sealers are not know for blocking out harsh UV rays that cause graying of the wood fibers. Most deck sealers are a clear finish and lack the needed pigment to protect from sun damage.

Deck sealers go on clear and dry clear and allow the wood to look natural. It can be hard to tell if a deck is coated with a deck sealer until the wood gets wet and water beading is noticeable.

Most deck sealers will hold up for a couple of years before failing. To check if a wood deck may need another coat of sealer you can do a water test. Sprinkle a few drops of water onto the deck and if it absorbs quickly into the wood you know there is not much sealer left.

Deck Stains
A deck stain is similar to a deck sealer in the ability to repel water and moisture. The major difference between the two is that a deck stain will have a color or tone added to it. Basically a deck stain is a deck sealer with a little color.

Most deck stains are semi-transparent and still allow the wood grain to show through but can actually enhance the wood's beauty with some added tone. The most common tones of deck stains are Natural tones, Browns, Cedars, and Redwoods.

The added color pigment in a deck stain does offer some sun protection unlike a clear deck sealer. Thus a deck coated with deck stain will not gray as quickly as one coated with a deck sealer. Deck stains will also just fade over time and can be recoated as needed.

Knowing the differences between deck stains and deck sealers can be a huge advantage when you go shopping for a deck coating. Weigh the differences and similarities to learn which one best suit your deck coating needs.

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  • We will reply to your comment shortly
    The Sealer Store · 04/11/2015
    No need nor can you seal then stain on top. Just use the Armstrong, TWP or TO now this Spring after prep.
  • We will reply to your comment shortly
    Diane · 04/11/2015
    Can I use a wood sealer on a brand new pressure treated deck that was built in NW PA in December to help the deck dry properly and then treat with a stain once the deck dries out? It will rain until July! Deck is in shade. face south.
    Cuprinol Clear Deck & Wood Seal:
    Olympic Clear Wood Preservative:
    Penofin Blue Label:
    Weatherscreen Clear Wood Preservative (available at Menard’s stores)
    Woodlife Classic:
    Woodlife CopperCoat:

    and then use TWP or armstrong or defy or Timber Oil?
  • We will reply to your comment shortly
    The Sealer Store · 03/18/2015
    Look at the Armstrong Clark in the Natural or Cedar color for this. thanks!
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    Bob Nelson · 03/17/2015
    Hi , I have a one year old cedar fence that is board on board design, I would like to keep it it looking natural (new) for a couple years before the gray gets ahold of it. My question is what is the best thing I can do? Whatever I do I would like to use a garden sprayer application as the fence is long and feel this would be easiest with the style of fence I have. I am not opposed to stains or any other products that are out there, I like the natural look but would be open to anything.
    Thanks Bob