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

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

Included in this guide:

Best decking stain: Decking with built in planting
(Image credit: Sadolin)

The best decking stain will enhance your deck with subtle colour 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.

A decking stain is the product you need if you want just a little bit of depth added to the colour of your deck, although some stains will give a richer colour 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, it is the perfect weekend garden update. Keep reading for our top picks.

Find the the best decking paints if you want a bolder look.

The best decking stains

Best water-based decking stain: Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain

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

Best for: Hard and soft woods
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 90 minutes
Colours available: 13+
Reasons to buy
+ Low-odour and -VOC formula + Suitable for use on hard and soft woods 
Reasons to avoid
-Some found you needed extra coats for even colour 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-odour 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. 

  • Buy the Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain

Best durable decking stain: 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

Best for: Translucent gloss
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 4-6 hours
Colours 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-mould, 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. 

  • Buy the Sikkens Cetol HLS Plus Translucent Woodstain

Best anti-slip decking stain: Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain

3. Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain

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

Best for: Weather-resistant
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 2-6 hours
Colours 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 mould, and protects against weathering and scuffs too. A great choice for busy gardens. 

  • Buy the Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain

Best all-in-one decking stain: Ronseal 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

Best for: All kinds of decking
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 4 hours
Colours available: 6+
Reasons to buy
+ Colour and weatherproof in one + Rainproof in 90 minutes 
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

This decking stain, another showing from big brand Ronseal, colours, 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. As well as surviving adverse weather with its UV filters and inbuilt resistance to cracking, peeling and blistering, like all the best stains, it’s tough yet beautiful, with a matte finish that leaves decking looking even, bright and perfected.

  • Buy the Ronseal Decking Stain

Best anti-mould decking stain: Johnstone's Woodcare Stain For Decking

5. Johnstone's Woodcare Stain For Decking

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

Best for: Anti-mould
Volume: 2.5ltrs
Drying time: 1 hour
Colours available: 5+
Reasons to buy
+ Great water repellent; anti-mould + Quick-drying formula 
Reasons to avoid
-Not as hard wearing as some others

Nothing looks worse on an otherwise beautiful deck than rapidly growing mould, 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.

  • Buy the  Johnstone's Woodcare Stain For Decking

How to buy the best decking stain

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 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 a 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?

The best decking stain you can buy is the Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain, in our opinion. It's available in over 13 different colours, dries within 90 minutes and the formula is low-odour and low-VOC. What more could you want? Read on to find out more.

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Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. 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.