What Is the Difference Between Sealing and Staining a Deck? 

 June 23, 2023

By  Dale Keese

Both old and new wooden decks can benefit from the application of either a sealant or a stain. However, you should not think that sealants and stains are completely interchangeable.

Wood sealants offer protection without significantly altering the appearance of the deck. In contrast, stains penetrate deeper into the wood and, depending on the type used, can alter the deck’s appearance noticeably. Wood stains are known to offer better protection, but they also present more challenges during application.

After some time, you may find that your wooden deck could benefit from a bit of retouching. Consider your options carefully because deck sealers and stains can produce different results. Find out which product you should use for your wooden deck by reading on.

A wooden deck can be a real asset to your home. It can increase your home’s market value, add a new dimension to its design, and serve as a spot for entertaining. The wooden deck is a big investment, but it is well worth the money.

Getting good return on your investment will not happen without you putting in at least some kind of work. That’s where sealing and staining come in.

Both wood sealants and stains are formulated to protect wood. The benefits they offer have significant overlap, but they do have dissimilarities as well. Let’s discuss those dissimilarities first.

Probably the biggest difference between sealants and stains is how they affect the wood’s appearance. Depending on how much you like the current look of your wooden deck, you may find one option to be superior.

Deck or wood sealers in general will not change the appearance of the deck. These sealants often provide a transparent finish after they dry. That means the appearance of the deck will be preserved and protected.

Wood stains do things a bit differently. Since stains soak deeper into the wood, they also have an impact on the appearance of the deck.

The degree to which the appearance of the deck changes also depends on what type of stain is used. Some stains will slightly darken the color of the wood while others can change the color more drastically.

Sealants and stains also differ from one another in terms of how they deal with moisture. Stains keep the moisture out while also allowing the water to drain. The sealants do things a bit differently.

You’ll notice that some of the wood sealers available today feature wax. Because of that wax, water that hits the sealed deck may bead up and pool on top of the wood. You’ll have to get rid of the water yourself since it’s unlikely to drain on its own.

stained wooden deck

There’s also a notable difference in terms of how much UV protection sealants and stains provide. Just about any kind of wood stain is going to offer terrific UV protection. The added pigmentation in the stain contributes to its shielding capabilities.

Not all deck sealants offer good protection from sunlight. You’ll have to seek out those sealants that offer added UV protection if you want to form a stronger barrier over your deck. 

One more way in which sealants and stains differ is related to application. While the two products are actually applied in very similar ways, they still require different levels of caution.

Wood stains contain chemicals that could be hazardous to your health and damaging to your property. They need to be handed with plenty of caution. That’s why homeowners are usually urged to leave the application of wood stains to the professionals.

The sealants are safer to work with. You should still be able to work with it even if you don’t have a ton of experience.

When to Stain and When to Seal a Deck

Wood sealants and stains are not identical, but they still do share some similar qualities. For instance, both products are used to preserve the wooden deck.

Protecting a wooden deck can be a real challenge because it’s constantly exposed. Threats posed by excess moisture are particularly problematic.

When too much moisture pools over the wooden deck, it could compromise the strength of the material. The moisture could seep into the wood and eventually cause it to rot.

Rotting is not the only thing you have to worry about. Moist environments are also known for being conducive to the growth of fungi. Keep your wooden deck exposed long enough and you may find a thriving network of mold underneath it.

Since both sealants and stains form a barrier over the wood, they can prevent those aforementioned issues. You’ll have to clear away some standing water if you use a sealant, but it will still keep the water at bay effectively.

You’ll also have to do prep work regardless of whether you’re applying a sealant or a stain. Both substances will have a hard time creating a barrier if the surface is unclean.

At a minimum, you will need to clean the wooden surface thoroughly and clear all the debris away. Sanding the wooden surface prior to using either the sealant or stain is also a good idea.

What Is Better to Stain or Seal a Deck?

As you can see, there’s a case to be made for either sealing or staining your deck. Be sure to pick the right option by defining what you really need.

Applying wood stain is the right move if your old wooden deck is in rough shape in terms of appearance. The pigmentation coming from the stain can revitalize the wood and restore some of its former glory.

The effects of staining also tend to last longer. You won’t have to worry about your deck’s protection for a long time after the application of the wood stain.

Sealing the wooden deck makes more sense if you already like the look of your deck and would prefer not to change it. This is probably the case if your deck is still relatively new.

You can also save a bit more money by opting to seal your deck instead of staining it. After spending a significant amount of money to get the deck built, it may be smarter financially to seal the deck for now.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can You Tell if the Time Is Right to Seal or Stain Your Wooden Deck?

Checking if the time is right to seal or stain a wooden deck is pretty easy. What you’ll want to do is take some water and sprinkle that over your deck.

Let the water droplets sit for a while and then check what happened to them. A strong barrier should keep the water either on the surface or allow it to drain to the ground below.

If you notice that the wooden planks look wet, that means the water soaked through. Take that as a sign that you need to apply a new coating of either sealant or stain sometime soon.

Can You Use Both a Wood Sealant and a Stain on Your Deck?

While it is technically possible to use both the sealant and stain on your wooden deck, there is no reason to do that. As soon as you apply one of those substances, it will quickly form a barrier over the wood. Because of that, the other substance won’t be able to take effect any more.

Basically, you’ll just be wasting the second product. The protection won’t be enhanced even if you decide to use both the stain and the sealant. Just use the product you prefer and let it work its magic.

When Is the Best Time to Seal or Stain Your Wooden Deck?

You should avoid sealing or staining your wooden deck on a whim. It’s something that you should plan out at least a few days in advance.

Planning is necessary because you want to give the substance you’re looking to use enough time to dry and create a barrier. That may not happen fast enough if the weather’s too cold or there’s not enough sunlight hitting the deck.

Wait for dry weather before getting to work. Ideally, the temperature when you work should be somewhere in the range of 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit over two days. Those conditions will allow for the formation of a better barrier.

About the author

Hey, I'm Dale Keese.. thanks for reading.. hopefully this article can save you some time and trouble with your sealing job. I'm also in the process of making some video walk-throughs for youtube so check back soon! thanks

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