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Best decking stains: our 5 top buys to nourish your deck

The best decking stains will color, protect, and perfect your outside space. From solid colors to translucent glosses, we've found the top buys on the market

a lovely deck using one of the best decking stains, full of flowers, plants and garden furniture
(Image credit: Sadolin)

The best decking stains will enhance your deck with subtle color and give it the nourishment and protection it needs to withstand the elements – whether rain, sun, or heat. Decking stains are the easiest way to achieve your best ever deck without dramatically changing its look – so you can enjoy many a BBQ's on your best grill without worrying that your outdoor space looks a little dishevelled. 

A decking stain is the product you need if you want just a little bit of depth added to the color of your deck, although some stains will give a richer color than others. Decking stains also help protect and nourish your wood, prolonging its life span. And with some of our choices having a drying time of as little as one hour, staining your deck is the perfect weekend garden update. Keep reading for our top picks – or, take a look at the best decking paints if you want a bolder look.

The 5 best decking stains as chosen by our expert

Why you can trust Real Homes Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

a pot of Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain, the best water-based decking stain in our guide

1. Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain

Best water-based decking stain: this stain’s water base and low VOC content make it one of our friendliest options

Specifications

Best for: Hard and soft woods
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 90 minutes
Colors available: 13+

Reasons to buy

+
 Low-odor and -VOC formula 
+
 Suitable for use on hard and soft woods 

Reasons to avoid

-
Some found you needed extra coats for even color with darker shades

This water-based decking stain from Ronseal is designed to penetrate deeper into the wood than others, making for better adhesion and, as it says on the tin, ultimate protection. Its low-odor formula and low VOC content make it a good option if you’re worried about inhaling fumes, and reviewers found it was really easy to apply. So far, so user-friendly, but users also say it performs well once applied too, earning rave reviews for its elegant translucent finish and hardiness. So, that’s all the boxes ticked, ready for you to pop your best outdoor furniture onto your deck.

a pot of Sikkens Cetol HLS Plus Translucent Woodstain

2. Sikkens Cetol HLS Plus Translucent Woodstain

Best durable decking stain: beautifully glossy and lasting an age, this is our best deck stain for a durable finish

Specifications

Best for: Translucent gloss
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 4-6 hours
Colors available: 8+

Reasons to buy

+
 Use as a base or top coat 
+
 Extremely long lasting 

Reasons to avoid

-
Can't use knotting solution with the product

Whether used as a base stain or a top coat, users say this Sikkens wood stain more than earns its near-legendary status among decking devotees. They say it sinks in quickly and forms a solid foundation as a base, and leaves a wonderful glossy finish, as well as a water-repellent, anti-mold, anti-algae and UV-resistant protective layer as a top coat. Best of all, perhaps, reviewers found it lasted an age, with one homeowner who lived in an exposed location claiming it only needed re-coating an astounding seven years after the initial staining. For its proven hardiness, it looks to be a great bet for high-traffic areas and variable weather – the best decking stain for durability on our list. 

a pot of Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain

3. Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain

Best anti-slip decking stain: prevent sliding with this grippy, non-slippy deck stain

Specifications

Best for: Weather-resistant
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 2-6 hours
Colors available: 13+

Reasons to buy

+
 Anti-slip for safety 
+
 Durable weather protection 

Reasons to avoid

-
Can attract dust/sand due to non-slip finish

While the effect this semi-transparent deck stain gives is an undeniably elegant one, make no mistake – it’s made of tough stuff. The anti-slip formula is ideal for decking that sees a lot of foot traffic, especially from fast-moving children and pets who could get into scrapes. But it does double duty as a hard-as-nails durable layer too. The double-action formula of anti-slip microbeads and algicide keep things grippy while preventing the formation of unsightly mold, and protects against weathering and scuffs too. One of the best decking stains for busy gardens. 

a pot of Ronseal Decking Stain, the best all-in-one decking stain

(Image credit: Ronseal)

4. Ronseal Decking Stain

Best all-in-one decking stain: whether hardwood or softwood, get it all done in one with this Ronseal deck stain

Specifications

Best for: All kinds of decking
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 4 hours
Colors available: 6+

Reasons to buy

+
 Color and weatherproof in one 
+
 Rainproof in 90 minutes 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not cheap

This decking stain – another showing from big brand Ronseal – colors, waterproofs and protects decking in one step, making it a great choice for the time-starved DIYer. Just like our previous pick, it comes highly recommended for busy households that see a lot of foot traffic, thanks to its scuff-resistant finish and impressive 90-minute rainproofing. It's great in adverse weather with its UV filters and inbuilt resistance to cracking, peeling and blistering. Like all the best decking stains, it’s tough yet beautiful, with a matte finish that leaves decking looking even, bright and perfected.

a pot of the Johnstone's Woodcare Stain For Decking

5. Johnstone's Woodcare Stain For Decking

Best anti-mold decking stain: stop growing nasties in their tracks with this deck stain

Specifications

Best for: Anti-mold
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 1 hour
Colors available: 5+

Reasons to buy

+
 Great water repellent; anti-mold 
+
 Quick-drying formula

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as hard wearing as some others

Nothing looks worse on an otherwise beautiful deck than rapidly growing mold, algae or fungus. Luckily, this stain from Johnstone’s Woodcare sees them all off at the first sign of trouble, offering prevention in the form of a tough water-repellent formula, which means there won’t be an attractive place for micro organisms to settle. This clever formula is also said to resist peeling, blistering and cracking, and throws three years of protection and a quick dry time into the finish – so you can get to enjoying your deck sooner rather than later.

How to buy the best decking stain

There are a few things to consider before purchase a decking stain, to ensure you make the right choice for your home:

Quick links to buy the best decking stains

Amazon decking stains (opens in new tab)
UK Tool Centre decking stains (opens in new tab)
Tooled Up decking stains (opens in new tab)
B&Q decking stains (opens in new tab)
Wickes decking stains (opens in new tab)

The finished effect

Not all deck stains are created equal, and there are a few formulas and finishes to choose from based on the effect you’re after. In terms of looks, a translucent deck stain is an option for those who want to let the natural grain of the wood shine through – while those after a more deliberately painted look should opt for a solid finish.

Water- or oil-based?

The other choice is whether to go for a water-based or oil-based decking stain; both do a good job of locking out damaging water and UV rays, but water-based has the slight edge on eco-friendliness, so that’s something to consider. Our top water-based decking stain overall is (again) Ronseal’s Ultimate Protection Decking Stain, which testers found easy to apply, and which dried to a wonderful translucent finish that stood up to harsh weather and footfall.

How to apply a decking stain

Decking stain application is easy: 

1. Ensure the deck is dry and clean prior to application.

2. Apply the stain evenly with a decking applicator (opens in new tab) – these are made from wool or microfibre and work much like a mop.

3. Using a wide paint brush (opens in new tab), apply the stain in corners and difficult-to-reach areas. 

Decking stain or decking oil: which do I need?

There is quite a bit of an overlap between decking stains and decking oils: both give protection and enhancement to your deck, and – to add to the confusion – both can come as oil-based or water-based products. However, they are slightly different. Decking oils are traditionally used to nourish decking wood and prevent problems such as splitting and warping. Although some decking oils come with a tint, this is not their primary purpose, and many are clear.

A decking stain can be thought of as an option somewhere between a decking oil and a decking paint: it will usually change the look of your deck, but not quite as dramatically as a paint. Stains have lower opacity and are more for giving the deck a slightly different tint; as well as anti-slip properties, weatherproofing, and UV protection. 

What is the best decking stain?

To recap, the best decking stain you can buy is the Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain, in our opinion. It's available in over 13 different colors, dries within 90 minutes and the formula is low-odor and low-VOC. What more could you want?

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Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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