Oil Based vs. Water Based Decking Stains

Whether you want a deck stain that is more natural looking or one with a bit more color it's important to protect the wood with some type of water repellant wood stain. All types of wood decking are subjected to harsh weather conditions that can cause UV fading, water damage, and mold/mildew issues. One of the main choices you will have to make when choosing a decking stain is whether to go with an oil based or water based stain.

Oil Based Decking Stains
Oil based stains are used for all types of wood projects such as decks, fences, gazebos, and outdoor furniture. Both synthetic and natural oils are used in oil based stains. The more common oils used are Linseed, Tung, Paraffin, and Rosewood Oil.

Oil decking stains penetrate wood very well and provide excellent protection. Oil molecules are smaller than water molecules so it penetrates better in comparison. The better a wood decking stain penetrates the better it performs and lasts.

By nature, oil based deck stains are easier to apply than water based. They are perfect for the do-it-yourselfer because they are user-friendly and can give you professional looking results. Oils stains are normally more natural looking than water based stains. They enhance the beauty of the wood by allowing more of the wood grain to show through.

Most oil based stains have a strong odor and can expect to have longer drying and curing times compared to water based deck stains. Though a longer drying time can be inconvenient it actually assists the stain to accomplish a more even finish.

Water Based Decking Stains
Water based decking stains have become increasingly popular in recent years due to stricter VOC laws in many states. Water-based stains can retain their color better than oil based but they are not as user-friendly.

Water based deck stains also dry much quicker and have far less odor. In comparison to oil based, they do not penetrate as well and lack in performance but there are some exceptions.

Where an oil based stain will fade over time and be easier to maintain, a water based decking stain will normally peel or flake off once it fails and is considerably harder to maintain. Water-based wood stains clean up easily with warm water and soap and they are also environmentally friendly.

Select a wood decking stain that fits your needs best. Consider factors such as stain longevity, ease of application, appearance, and maximum protection.

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  • We will reply to your comment shortly
    Bev young · 08/22/2022
    We stained our deck 2 years ago. It needs another coat since the sun has really been harsh on it. Do I have to do anything other than power washing, if I’m using the same stain?
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    Kevin · 09/25/2020
    How long after a deck is rained on can you apply stain? Is it better to use an oil or water based stain on wood that may have internal moisture?
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    Krystal H · 09/12/2020
    We just had our deck stained yesterday and I am concerned by the amount of oil/sticky spots. I hope that the sun will dry it, but the application looks a bit sloppy to me. The painter said it ‘should’ dry. I am in north Georgia and the humidity levels have been very high the last few days.

    The decking was installed in March 2020, but we have some extreme sun exposure on it. So much that it was starting to dry and crack. The stain was an oil based semi-transparent stain from Sherwin Williams.

    Any advice?
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      Sonny · 03/18/2022
      Should choose a brown color for dyeing like Cedar. It will cover the defects of the wood. Australia Timber oil base at the Lowes is more better and cheaper than William. 
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      The Sealer Store · 09/12/2020
      If ti does not dry correctly in the next few days it will most like have to be stripped and redone.
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    Larry Burk · 08/25/2020
    Can you use oil based stain on pressure treated wood such as plywood?
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    Michelle M · 08/17/2020
    I just had my decks done and they are very slick still and it has been 72 hours since it was done. It is extremely hot here and humid. Will it eventually seep in or is there some way to clean it off so that it is not so slippery anymore?
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      The Sealer Store · 08/17/2020
      Depends on the brand and type of stain you have? Pictures would help.
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    DreaD · 08/05/2020
    What do you recommend in Phoenix, Arizona, USA? We are building a deck that is basically on the ground. It is on boards that are laid on the ground, not stilts or legs of any sort. Several months out of the year we stay above 100 F, and even though it doesn't rain often, when it does, it rains a lot
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    Gina · 07/23/2020
    What type of stain would you recommend for ACQ lumber? It’s a brand new outdoor deck. I live on Long Island where we have all types of weather. Should I go with water based or oil based?
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    TG · 06/29/2020
    What product do you recommend to seal a pressure treated plywood floor in a shed? The shed will contain tractor equipment which can drip oil, hydraulic fluid, and snow/slush onto the floor.
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    meredith · 03/31/2019
    my deck has been stained with oil based stains for years. This year i was hoping to just put a "clear" coat of something on the deck this year to take away some of the dullness. what clear finishing product could i use over the oil based stain?
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      The Sealer Store · 04/01/2019
      You cannot add a clear coat over a deck stain. It will not soak in and it will peel.
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    The Sealer Store · 06/29/2017
    mike wright:
    how do I removed an oil based stain from my deck before applying a fresh stain

    Do you know the brand and the type of stain that it was? Solid, semi-transparent, etc?
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    mike wright · 06/28/2017
    how do I removed an oil based stain from my deck before applying a fresh stain
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    marla osgood · 10/13/2016
    It is raining here so my new outdoor porch cover wood is wet. The wood was kiln dried, but has been in the rain for 3 or so weeks. Before they put the cover on it I would like to stain it. Will the stain adhere to the wood and stay on? Would you recommend an oil based stain rather then the water base? We live in Washington so the winters and springs are pretty wet. One more, do you have a product you recommend?
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    The Sealer Store · 09/11/2013
    Bill, there is a link on the top of the left hand column for samples. There are many colors in the Honey range. You should strip off the old stain. Apply a stripper and pressure wash off. Use a wood brightener when done.
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    Bill Morey · 09/11/2013
    I need to restain and seal my log home. I don't see any samples on your web page. Presently my logs aea honey color. Do you offer something in that color? I have a True North Log Home stain on the logs now. I believe it to be a oil base stain. Do I need to power wash the logs and allow them to dry then restain?
    This is the second time I have sent your an email and was never answered with the first email.
    Help, time is a wasting!
    Bill Morey.
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    The Sealer Store · 07/25/2013
    kathy, we are an online dealer for deck stains. Not sure about local availability of products.
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    kathy drescher · 07/25/2013
    I am stripping my deck at this time and wonder what stain to use. I live in the foothills outside Seattle and we get a lot of rain. Sun too in the summer. I used Sikkens CRD cedar before but thinking about TWP or Defy. I don't think many places sell Defy out here so I'd have to have it sent. Do you know why that is?