Your deck is the heart of backyard family gatherings. If it is starting to look a little dull, it’s time to stain it. Staining your deck will not only make it look better, but it will also protect it against rain, snow, and UV rays. While you’re in a DIY mood, stain the fence too! Matching your deck and fence will upgrade the overall look of your backyard and landscaping.

Deck stains are available in solid and semi-transparent formulas. If your deck or fence is really old, solid stains will hide imperfections by covering your deck in rich, opaque color. If you want your backyard to have a more rustic charm, go for a semi-transparent stain that celebrates the natural grain and color of your decking and fencing.

Solid vs. semi-transparent: What’s the Difference?

Staining your deck is a great way to protect it against sun, water, mold, mildew, and general wear. Deck stains are available in solid and semi-transparent finishes. Both offer different styles and visual appeal. However, their most differentiating aspects are their protective qualities.

Semi-transparent stains penetrate the wood. It seeps into the pores in the wood and binds the wood fibers. This creates a strong protective barrier. semi-transparent stains are resistant to mold, mildew, and fungus. They are also relatively water-resistant. Dark shades will protect against UV damage.

Semi-transparent stains are the most natural-looking protective deck stain. It has a slight tint, but allows most of the wood grain to come through. Due to their neutrality, semi-transparent stains are extremely versatile. It best complements homes that are rustic, mid-century, and craftsman-style. It is also much more affordable to stain your deck with a semi-transparent stain as it requires fewer coats and less material than a solid stain. 

In comparison, solid deck stains act much more like paint. They sit on the top of the wood surface and are non-penetrating. Solid deck stains create a solid barrier by sealing the top of the wood and blocking out the elements like rain, snow, and UV rays. It can be very difficult to distinguish solid deck stains from paint. The main difference is that solid stains do not have a sheen and do not reflect light.

Solid deck stains have thousands of color options. You can stain your deck any color from magenta to black. The shade variety of solid deck stains is much more vast than semi-transparent stains and makes it a popular choice for contemporary, farmhouse, and eclectic-style homes. Solid deck stains’ true claim to fame is its ability to hide imperfections. The thick formula glides over minor cracks, divots, and knots, giving your deck a perfectly smooth surface.

Benefits of a Solid Deck Stain

There are several benefits to using a solid deck stain. They are available in a wide variety of colors and dry down to a hard, smooth surface. Wood treated with solid deck stain is easy to clean and moisture-resistant.

Wide Variety of Stain Color Options

There are thousands of different shades of solid deck stains available. This allows you to get creative with your deck coloring! It is popular to match the color of your deck to the trim of your house. Another option is to give your backyard a pop of color with a bright blue, pink, or orange. These colors are especially fun if you have a pool. Contemporary deck color combinations are black and gray or forest green and cream.

The top solid deck stain brands with the best color variety are:

  • Valspar Solid Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer – This formula applies rich, opaque color in just one coat. It is available in over 2,000 colors. Valspar offers a 10-year warranty on deck applications and a 25-year warranty on fencing. It is $48 for 1 gallon.
  • BEHR Premium Solid Color Waterproofing Stain and Sealer – This formula offers extreme protection against rain, snow, and UV rays. It is available in 1,600 colors. BEHR claims this solid deck stain will last up to 10 years on decks. It is 100% acrylic latex. 1 gallon sells for $50 at Home Depot.

Tip: Staining your deck and fence a solid, bright color like white will make them larger and taller!

Masks Imperfections

Solid deck stains are fairly thick. It will fill in any minor imperfections in the wood on your deck. For example, if some of your deck boards have small cracks or splits, applying solid deck stain will smooth out the unevenness. That is why solid deck stains are popular for use on older decks and fences. Solid deck stains also cover over knots in wood well. If your fence or deck is made from knotty pine, a solid deck stain is a good choice.

Easy to Clean

Solid deck stains harden to a smooth, slick surface. The minor imperfections and bumps in the wood on your deck are covered, so it is easy to sweep. You can use mild, environmentally-friendly cleaners on solid deck stains. 

Did you know the most effective deck cleaner is water, vinegar, and baking soda? Sprinkle baking soda on mold, mildew, or other built-up grime. Rinse with white vinegar diluted in water. Use a rag or floor mop to gently scrub. Your deck will be shiny and clean in no time!


Solid deck stains are more like a top coat than a true stain. It stays on the top of the wood’s surface and dries down to a hard barrier. Water easily slides off the slick surface instead of pooling in the porous wood.

Blocks UV Rays

If you want your deck stain to protect against UV rays buy a latex formula. There are several latex solid deck stains on the market that contain UV-blocking pigments. These pigments will prevent your deck from fading. This is especially important if you do not have a deck covering or awning. Untreated wood is highly susceptible to cracking and splitting when frequently exposed to sunlight.

Can Be Applied Over Paint

Since solid deck stain is essentially a top coat, it can be applied over most finished surfaces. Solid deck stain is more durable than paint, so if you have previously painted your deck, you might want to switch to solid deck stain. Luckily, solid deck paint is easily applied over paint in most cases. 

Benefits of a Semi-Transparent Deck Stain

There are several benefits to using semi-transparent deck stains. It is the most natural-looking deck finish. Semi-Transparent deck stain penetrates wood and bonds with its fibers to form a protective barrier against water and UV rays.

Offers a Natural Look

The semi-transparent deck stain is lightly tinted but still allows most of the natural grain of the wood to come through. If you prefer rustic and craftsman-style furniture, a semi-transparent stain is a better choice than a solid deck stain. There are just over 50 shade options of semi-transparent stains. You can match the color to your patio furniture, house siding, or house trim.

Protects Wood from Weather Damage

Semi-transparent deck stain penetrates wood and bonds its fibers. This creates a highly protective barrier over the wood. semi-transparent stains prevent the growth of fungus, mold, and mildew, making it a great choice if you live in a humid climate.

Semi-transparent stains are also UV-resistant. The darker the stain, the better it will protect against sun damage. If your deck gets a lot of sun, go with a deep java or espresso shade. If your deck is mostly in shade, you can choose moderate tones like honey, cherry, and acajou.

Economical to Maintain

Wood treated with semi-transparent stain is unlikely to crack, peel, or blister. This makes maintenance very simple. If you notice the stain starting to chip, it is time to apply another coat of semi-transparent stain. Deck flooring treated with semi-transparent stains will last up to 3 years. Handrails and posts will last up to 8 years.

Semi-transparent stains do not show wear and tear easily. If you are always on your deck or grill often, a semi-transparent stain is a good choice. You will not have to do touch-ups to cover damage from food prints or furniture legs.

Semi-transparent stains are also extremely affordable to purchase. Some of the popular semi-transparent deck stains are:

  • Valspar One-Coat semi-transparent All Weather Stain – This formula boasts a 6-year warranty on fences and a 4-year warranty on decks. The Valspar stain is dry enough to be exposed to rain within 4 hours. A 1-quart can is $20.
  • Cabot semi-transparent Stain and Sealer – This formula is extremely lightweight and emphasizes the natural grain and coloring of wood. Despite its transparency, this deck stain only requires one coat. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty. A 1-quart can is $22.

Can be Stained Over with a Solid Stain

If you decide you want your deck to be a solid color, you can apply a solid stain right over a semi-transparent stain. It is the least damaging finish option and can easily be covered if your taste changes or if the exterior of your home changes. For example, if you have your home siding painted, you might want your deck to match. Adding a solid stain over a semi-transparent deck stain is quick and easy.

What Considerations Should I Take When Choosing a Stain?

Choose which type of stain to use based on your style, taste, deck usage, and future goals. If you want your backyard to transport you to a rustic villa in Italy, choose a semi-transparent stain for your deck and fence. But if you want contemporary-chic vibes with high contrast and pops of color, solid stains will help you achieve that. 

Solid Deck Stain Considerations

Once you paint your deck with solid deck stain you cannot go back to semi-transparent stain. In order to do so you would need to completely strip the deck which is expensive and can damage the integrity of the wood. Solid deck stain is not permanent. It will eventually crack, blister, and peel. If your deck is relatively colored and if you live in a mild climate, you will need to stain your deck every 4-5 years. Homes in areas with heavy snow or rainfall may need to stain every year. 

However, solid deck stain is a great choice for older homes and decks. It hides imperfections in woods and covers up staining and large knots. It completely changes the color of your deck and is a great way to give your backyard a refresh. Color options are limitless for solid deck stains. 

Solid deck stains are more expensive than semi-transparent stains because the formula is thicker and does not go as far. You also usually need to apply two coats of solid stain. However, its durability and longevity usually make up for the higher up-front cost!

Semi-transparent Deck Stain Considerations

Semi-transparent deck stains are a great option for homeowners that prefer a natural wood look. However, semi-transparent stains emphasize imperfections. If your deck wood has cracks or significant pockmarks, semi-transparent stains make those marrings more visible. You will need to repair the damage to the wood before applying the stain.

If your deck gets a lot of sunlight, you have to choose a dark stain color, which severely limits your color options. However, the natural wood look is the most versatile. If you are going to sell your home soon or are unsure what you want the overall aesthetic of your backyard to be, choosing a semi-transparent stain is the way to go. If you end up changing your mind, solid deck stains can easily be applied over semi-transparent ones.


There are several options when it comes to refinishing your deck. Staining is a much more durable and longer-lasting option than paint. Before you decide between semi-transparent and solid deck stains, consider your climate, how much you use the deck, and how much sunlight it is exposed to. 

If it is very humid where you live and the deck is exposed to the sun, choose a semi-transparent stain in a dark shade. It will protect against the growth of mold and mildew that is prevalent in areas with moist air. However, if you live somewhere with a lot of rain and snow, the moisture-resistant properties of solid deck stain are the better choice. 

Backyards are fun and a family-centric area of a home. Taking the time to choose the best stain and color for your deck and fencing will save you time and money on touch-ups and repairs in the future.

Resources & Related Articles

Solid Deck Stain vs Transparent Stain: Which is Best for Your Home?

How to Choose Stain Color and Transparency – All Your Wood Staining Questions Answered

Semi-Transparent Stains vs. Solid Stains – Kennedy Painting

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