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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 – these are made from wool or microfibre and work much like a mop.
3. Using a wide paint brush, 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?
More ways to makeover your garden:
- In need of inspiration? Get 15 amazing decking ideas
- Top off your decking with our pick of the best wooden outdoor furniture
- Why not treat that just-stained decking to a new gas BBQ just in time for summer?
- For more garden ideas, go to our ultimate gallery.
- Best deck cleaner: 6 top buys for a spotless deck