Deck Sealing vs Staining- Solved for Easy Wood Finishing

There are several types of wood finishes. Each type of finish plays a given role in contributing to the overall protection and durability of the wooden substrate. Wood finishes include paints, fillers, sealants, stains, primers, varnishes, lacquers, etc. In this article, we’ll look at deck sealing vs staining.

Sealing and staining differ in the order of application, composition, functions, thickness/flow, opacity, water resistance, UV protection, etc. 

The comparison between sealants and stains isn’t exclusive to their differences only; they are similar in some aspects. Both are wood finishes, and they also serve protective roles. The similarities don’t need much explanation as they are fairly self-explanatory.

I’ll analyze the differences between stains and sealants and relate them to the article’s title.

The article also highlights the need for staining and sealing decks, how to stain and seal, the consequences of not staining and sealing, the best sealing and staining products, and their costs.


Image of kiln dried wood being painted but How Long Can I Wait to Paint After Priming?Wood sealing protects the wood against the penetration of water. Almost all the sealants you can find in the market today come with compounds that guard the wood against the harmful UltraViolet rays from the sun.

Ensuring a consistent application of the sealing is excellent for maintaining the wood’s natural look for many years.

What’s good comes with some limitations as well; most sealants have wax, which protects the water from penetrating the wood. As much as it offers some resistance to water, it also causes the beading up of water, preventing it from draining away. 

You must have seen some decks having standing water days after heavy rain; it’s because of the sealing. So that you maintain the protection, it’s indispensable to reduce the protectant by each passing year.

Advantages of Wood Sealing

Sealing has excellent benefits for your wooden structures. Some of the advantages that come with using sealers include:

  • Most of the sealers are friendly to the environmentally
  • Usually, it involves a one-time application procedure
  • Sealing will leave your wood with a bright, natural finish that has no surface membrane
  • Sealers help enhances the grain in the wood
  • Sealers will give your wood a surface for a perfect bonding of paints, adhesives, and varnish
  • Like their names, they seal, offer water resistance, preserves, and hardens your wooden structures
  • Sealers easily penetrate the wood to form an internal seal
  • They do not have effects on the physical aspects of the wood
  • Sealers are slow to seepage; they don’t dampen quickly; they resist mold, warping, and fungus.

 Disadvantages of Wood Sealing

  • Sealers are not very durable and continuously calls for recoating after a couple of years.
  • Constant recoating might prove expensive.


Deck staining, on the contrary, involves a change in the color of the wood. The best stain to use is an oil stain because of its high ability to penetrate the wood. The Oil-based stains are semi-transparent; they tend to make the color of the wood a little dark while showing the wood grain. A semi-transparent wood stain lasts longer compared to other sealants or the different stain types.

For the case of weathered wood, a solid stain is the best option. Solid stains help hide the flaws in the deck; it covers the grain of the wood, providing a semi-smooth finish. Solid stains have a tendency to show slight effects of weathering, which is why you should give it a new coat annually as a maintenance practice.

Advantages of Staining


  • It’s Simple to Use

If you compare paint and stain, which one will be simpler to apply as well as maintain? It’s pretty much evident that a stain carries the day. In fact, you can use a stain without a primer, and this can amount to halving the total amount of time you’d take to apply it. 

Maintainance practices extended to stains do not come so frequently, depending on the prevailing environmental conditions; usually, it takes at least a year before re-staining.

  • Stains are Cost-Effective in the case of Walking Surfaces 

Wood makes a great walking surface for outdoor areas; if used for this purpose, it undergoes a lot of strain due to foot traffic. You can use paints in this situation; however, it will be the wrong choice as paints have low durability in such a case. It doesn’t take long before the paint may start cracking, affecting the appearance of the surface. Instead, use stains which are cheaper and easy to apply and will take longer before adding another coat.

  • Staining helps Preserve the Aesthetics of the Wood 

The wood’s aesthetic appeal is in its natural look. Painting, for example, would completely cover the grain hence affecting the natural beauty. It, therefore, leaves you with staining, which allows the grain of the wood to show. Furthermore, the stain exists in a variety of tints and colors, which makes it easily customizable. 

  • Staining Prevents the Rotting of Wood

Wood rot is a common thing, especially for the ones that are outdoor and lack sealers. Rotting, as you would expect, will make your woodwork less pleasing, it can further cause the collapse of your structures. Staining your wood projects the right way can help prevents the occurrence of rot.

  • Offer Protection against Sun and Moist Conditions

The penetration of water or elements of moisture into wood can result in rotting. Wood can freeze and break after absorbing water. Sunlight also emits UltraViolet radiation that can discolor the wood; therefore, using a stain will preserve the appearance and structural integrity of the deck in the even of these threats.

Disadvantages of Staining

  • Some wood stains have harmful chemicals that can have a direct health effect on the user working with it.


There are products that do deck sealing and staining, for example, Ready Seal Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer.

What Are the Differences Between Wood Stains and Wood Sealers?

Both sealants and stains are wood finishes. Painting DIYers and professionals often confuse the two; it’s so frustrating that some people have resigned to using the two terms interchangeably. So what are the differences between wood stains and wood sealers?

I’ve already outlined the differences, so I’ll go ahead and expound on the points:

Order of Application

When prepping a surface for painting, you should apply the stain first, followed by the sealer. There are many differing accounts on this; my take is a sealant should go on top of a stain.

Well, I’ve seen cases where a client applies a sealer first, stain, and seal again; in short, sandwiching the stain between sealers. In this case, the two sealers are often different and serve disparate roles.

The first time I used stain before sealing, it worked perfectly, and it has remained so since then. The sealer protects the stain from physical damage, water damage, and fading. So, it’s only sensible when it goes on top of the stain.


Stains comprise three ingredients, i.e., solvent/vehicle, pigment, and binder. The predominant constituent is the solvent, followed by 

pigment or dye, then binder.

Pigment decorates the wood by coloring; the solvent is the vehicle in which other constituents are suspended, making the stain flow. The binder makes the stain molecules stick together after drying and curing; it also enhances attachment to the substrate.

Wood sealer comprises a waterborne polymeric binder, a hydrophobic filler, and a water-based siliconate salt. The binder has two parts. The first is a stretchy, soft polymer with a low glass-transition temperature enabling it to stretch with the wood. The second part has a high glass-transition temperature that improves binding properties.


These are the roles of wood stain:

  • It gives color to the wood to improve its aesthetics
  • Stains outline the wood grain/pattern
  • It protects the wooden substrate from rotting
  • Stains protect the wood from sunlight
  • It hides minor wood imperfections

Functions of a wood sealer include:

  • It makes wood water-proof
  • A sealer makes it easy to clean surfaces
  • It provides physical protection
  • A sealer precludes fungal and mildew growth on wood
  • The sealer evens out surfaces and makes them appear smooth


Opacity means the degree of being opaque.

Stains, from the name, are opaque or, at the very least, translucent. It’s because they contain pigments in their formula. The pigments come in different colors allowing you to pick your preferred choice. This attribute makes stains ideal for decorations. 

On the other hand, sealers don’t contain pigments or coloring agents. They are transparent, so they only form clear coats on surfaces. They are therefore not the best for decorating surfaces.

Do I Need to Stain and Seal My Deck?

Image of an outdoor deck. So, Will an Outdoor Rug Damage a Wood Deck?Decks are the quintessential substrates for both sealers and stains. In my opening encounters with the two wood finishes, I was so spellbound, and I used to ponder whether it was a case of either seal or stain regarding the painting of decks.

You may have found yourself in a similar situation and asked yourself, do I need to stain and seal my deck?

Yes! You can stain and seal the same deck or patio. However, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds; you have to sand first, clean, stain, and seal. That’s the proper order of activities that lead up to successful staining and sealing in one.

How to Stain Deck

Following the nod in the just-concluded paragraph, it behooves me to show you how to stain a deck. The staining may appear quite intimidating, especially for first-timers; believe you me, the procedure is quite simple.

You only have to use the required materials and the correct method, as I’ll show you below.

Step 1: Deck Inspection

First, examine and repair any defects on your deck. The most critical imperfections to look out for are:

  • Warped wood pieces
  • Broken wood planks
  • Protruding nails and screws
  • Old and loose boards

Replace the damaged and old boards accordingly before proceeding to the next step.

Step 2: Cleaning the Deck

Acquire an appropriate cleaning agent(s) and apply it to the deck. Detergent-based agents work well to remove waterborne dirt, grease, and oils.

I often use the Karcher Multipurpose Cleaner; it’s a wonderful product suited for outdoor surfaces. It’s not only meant for wood; it’s universal so that you can use it on other surfaces. 

Then, scrub the floor using a hard-bristled brush.

Next, rinse off the wood using clean water from a pressure washer. Decks are large surfaces; cleaning without the help of a pressure washer will tire you. Needless to say, we’re still at the primary stages of staining and sealing the deck. 

It’s advisable to apply the soap in smaller segments that you can scrub and pressure-wash within 15 minutes so that the soap does not dry up. I usually operate within 100-150 square feet at a time.

After cleaning the entire deck, let it dry undisturbed for at least 48 hours.

Cleaning is an integral step that you shouldn’t dismiss; it dramatically impacts your outcomes. If you stain and seal dirty and grease-filled decks, the agent won’t adhere ably, and the aesthetics won’t be as pleasing.

Step 3: Sanding

If the deck surface doesn’t have the necessary grip to accept the stain, I advise you to sand it. Sanding opens up the wood grain, giving it “teeth” that can bite or hold tight to the incoming stain.

Ensure you wear safety gear before you start sanding. The pack includes a face mask, goggles, and a pair of gloves.

Use a belt sander or an orbital sander and 60 to 80 grit sandpaper for the first round.

Follow up with 120-grit sandpaper.

Next, remove the accumulated debris using a vacuum cleaner.

Step 4: Stain Application

First, tape up the walls and areas you don’t want the stain to spill on; this is especially important if you plan to use a sprayer to stain.

Wear a full-face respirator and a pair of gloves before handling the stain and the accompanying agents.

Take a long brush stick or pole and attach a staining pad at its end. The staining pad is made of synthetic wool or similar material that takes up paint or stain quickly for convenient application.

Open the stain can or gallon and pour it into a paint tray. My best pick is the DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Wood Stain. It’s a premium product good for decks, fences, siding, wooden rails, outdoor furniture, and more. Some of its outstanding features include:

  • It’s water-based, therefore, easy to use and clean up.
  • The stain is environmentally-friendly and with no health risk to humans.
  • It has zinc nanoparticle technology: this reflects off harmful UV rays, much like sunscreen does to the body
  • This stain is highly durable: it contains first-grade resins that resist darkening and fading
  • The product is VOC-compliant
  • It gives a matte finish

When pouring the stain into the paint tray, do so with caution; remember, we’re dealing with stain here, not paint! It will definitely spill and cause a mess if you pour it aggressively. Stains are less viscous; therefore, they flow easily.

Dip the stain pad into the stain, wring it a little bit on the ridges on the paint tray and apply gently but firmly on the boards.

Stain along the wood grain to enable it to get deep into the substrate. Ensure you cut into cracks, crevices, and edges using a small, angled paintbrush.

The staining pad attached to a pole smoothes out the stain, just like brushing, so go over the stained areas with the pad to smooth it over.

Make sure you keep a wet edge throughout the staining process to avoid inconsistencies in absorbance and drying times.

Let the first stain coat dry for 3 hours before putting on a second coat.

The second coat is easier to apply because the first coat is already soaked up into the substrate.

Let the second coat dry before you move to the next step.

How to Seal Deck

After staining the deck and letting it dry, you can light-sand it, vacuum it, and follow the procedure below to seal the deck.


  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray
  • Water
  • Sealer
  • Safety gear (respirator, goggles, and a pair of gloves)


Now that this is a continuation of the staining part, I presume that you’ve already cleared your deck of all furniture, worn all the safety gear, and ventilated your working area.

Open the sealer can and mix it with a stirring stick to achieve homogeneity. The best deck sealer I’ve used over the years is the Wood Sealer by RAIN GUARD Water Sealers. It has the following distinguishing features:

  • It’s eco-friendly; therefore, there is no concern for environmental degradation
  • The sealer is water-based and therefore easy to use and wash off
  • It has a low odor for convenience of application
  • The concentrate version of the sealer covers up to 300 square feet
  • The manufacturing company makes the wood sealer in concentrate and ready-to-use solutions, giving you options
  • The product is 98.7% effective against wind-driven rain
  • It is 95% effective in protection from efflorescence
  • It provides a 100% breathable finish that lets the wood deck release trapped moisture

If you’ve purchased the concentrate version of the Rain Guard Wood Sealer, apportion some of it into another container and thin it with water.

Next, pour the RAIN GUARD Wood Sealer into a paint tray. Again, pour slowly to avoid accidental spillage to unwanted areas.

Clamp in the paint roller to the roller frame and roll it into the sealer in the tray. Wring off the excess sealer on the ridges of the tray.

Apply the sealer on the stained deck gently and along the wood grain.

Cut into hidden areas like crevices between wood planks and corners using an angled paintbrush.

Let the first sealer coat dry for 3 hours before applying a second coat. Follow the same procedure in the first coat to put on the second coat.

Let it dry once again for not less than a day before high foot traffic and furniture return.

Here’s How Seal Wood Deck:

What Happens If You Don’t Seal Your Deck?

Many DIYers and a few professional painters usually skip some wood finishing protocols like sealing, cleaning, sanding, and even the dictated drying times.

Whether you miss the steps due to innocence or deliberately to avoid “wasting time,” the consequences are the same. Let’s look at sealing; what happens if you don’t seal your deck?

Failing to seal is consequential in the following ways:

  • The wood stain or any other underlying coats will wash away in rainwater
  • The wood planks forming the deck will get damaged by excess UV rays
  • Deck color fades away faster than normal
  • The boards will create creases and warp
  • The deck becomes susceptible to mildew and mold growth
  • The wood will rot easily

The miseries that will befall your deck/patio when you avoid sealing are manifold; I can’t mention all of them. The cumulative effect of all the above will make you replace your patio every so often, and it becomes costly in the long run.

Therefore, it’s good to seal your deck and observe all the wood finishing protocols by extension.

How Much Does It Cost to Seal a Deck?

We’ve discussed just about everything there is to know about sealing decks; only the price part remains. In that respect, how much does it cost to seal a deck?

The cost of sealing is contingent on several factors. Such factors include the size of your patio or deck, the type of wood you’re sealing, the brand and quality of the sealer you’re using, the number of sealer coats you’re applying, etc.

Therefore, it’s tricky to tell what it would cost unless I have all the measurements of your deck and the sealer brand you’re planning to use.

All I can say is the Wood Sealer by Rain Guard Water Sealers contains 32 fluid ounces per bottle (the concentrated version). Each bottle of the concentrate costs around ﹩31.00.

You can dilute this concentrated version with water to produce two gallons of ready-to-use sealer. The two diluted versions can cover 300 square feet or 150 sq ft per gallon. So you can extrapolate the figures above to the size of your deck to calculate the exact cost.

You’ll realize that the cost is quite affordable relative to its work. Little wonder I’ve been using this sealer over the years.

How Do You Permanently Seal Wood?

Sealing wood comes with a host of benefits: improved durability, better water resistance, reduced weathering, low maintenance costs, and others.

What a great way to keep your deck in order? You surely would like to have the seal stay on your wood or deck forever. To cut the long story short, how do you permanently seal wood?

Unfortunately, wood sealers don’t last forever. Is there anything that ever lasts forever? But you can make it last longer. The best way to do this is by following all the manufacturer’s instructions, applying multiple thin coats instead of a single thick sealer coat, and allowing the drying times to run to completion between coats.

It’s also advisable to avoid frequent water cleaning, especially during the first few weeks after sealing. 

If you follow all of the above, your sealer will last for 3 to 4 years before resealing. All this while, the paint or stain underneath will remain intact, and the wood deck will appear as good as new.


A good number of people might think that a deck stain and a deck sealer are the same. That’s not true whatsoever; the two products are different. However, both deck sealing and staining have a common purpose, which is preserving and protecting the wood against different harsh conditions.

There are some aspects of sealers that are better than the stains and vice verse. Therefore, it’s crucial that you properly comprehend deck…

Deck Sealing vs Staining

before you settle on the one that best fits your project. It would be best to understand the difference between stain and sealer. In most cases, wood sealers acts as the final coats on different woodworking project. Usually, they have waterproofing properties making them suitable for exterior projects or structure around kitchen area.

Wood stains on the other hand also come with waterproofing qualities, semi transparent and transparent wood stains enhances the natural beauty of the wood by exposing the wood grain.

Wood stains also have UV blockers which plays a key role in the protection of wood color considering that prolonged exposer to ultraviolet radiation causes fading.

Finally, I hope you found this post resourceful to your quest of getting the best out of your wood stains and sealer. Do you have anything- suggestion, or opinion regarding this post? Kindly share it with me in the comment section below!

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