A well-maintained deck can increase your living space and add value to your home, but preserving a deck can be challenging. When not maintained correctly, decks can develop wood rot and become unsafe. One of the best ways to protect your patio’s wood is to paint or stain it, but which is the better option?

Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of each choice and whether paint or stain is the best choice for you.

What’s the Difference Between Paint and Stain?

In many ways, paint and stain serve the same essential function—both can be used to change the color and appearance of a surface. However, it’s helpful to understand the differences between the two if you hope to make a well-informed decision.

The most apparent difference between paint and stain is how each one interacts with a surface. Stain (as the name suggests) soaks into a surface and stains it, while paint is applied on top of a surface and doesn’t stain the wood beneath. However, this limits stain to absorbent materials.

Another big difference is coverage. When you use stain, the material beneath is still visible. For example, if you stain a wooden surface, you can still see the natural grain underneath. Alternatively, paint covers the material and shields it from view.

Now that you understand the difference between paint and stain let’s talk about which one you should use on your deck.

Is Stain the Better Choice?

There are times when staining your deck is the better choice. This is especially true if you want to preserve the natural beauty of the wood or plan to sell your home soon. Despite the limited color options, staining is a fantastic way to enhance your deck’s natural beauty. Stain is also easy to paint over, allowing future homeowners to change the color easily, which prevents buyers from getting hung up on paint colors.

Although residential painting companies handle both, staining is often the cheaper option. The price difference can be steep, especially if you have a large deck. Of course, this also depends on the type and brand of paint/stain you use and the painting company you employ to do the work.

Although there are times when staining is the better choice, it’s always a good idea to understand both the pros and cons of any decision.


  • Stained surfaces are often more slip-resistant than painted surfaces.
  • In addition to highlighting the beauty of wood, staining gives decks a natural, rustic appearance.
  • In most cases, only one coat of stain is needed, but if you want a darker look, you can add more.
  • Primer is not necessary before staining a deck.
  • The easy-to-work-with properties of stain make it a good choice for people with little or no experience. It won’t pool, drip, streak, or smudge as easily as paint.
  • In contrast to paint, stains rarely chip, peel, or flake.
  • Certain types of stains can protect wood against moisture, weather, and sunlight.
  • Stain allows you to control how dark or light the color will appear.
  • Stains can be painted over with minimal effort if you decide to paint in the future.
  • Staining is often cheaper than paint, whether you do the project yourself or hire a residential painting company.
  • Stain tends to hold up better in high-traffic areas.


  • The life of a stain might not be as long as that of a high-quality paint job.
  • It may be necessary to refinish it every two to three years, depending on the type of stain you use.
  • Small pores or tight grains prevent wood from absorbing stains well. You may need to use more expensive stains on exotic wood species.
  • Alternatively, woods that are highly absorbent may require more stain to get the desired look.
  • Compared to paint, there aren’t as many color options available.
  • You cannot find glossy stains, and extra steps are needed to get a sheen finish.
  • Stains cannot be applied over painted surfaces.
  • In contrast to paint, stains don’t cover up imperfections or seal gaps and cracks.

Is Paint the Better Choice?

Like staining, there are times when painting your deck is the better choice. This is especially true if the surface you’re staining is flawed or if you want more variety with color options. Unlike stain, paint offers a more thorough coverage, making painting the better choice when working with worn or damaged wood. Additionally, because you can apply it over existing coats of paint, it’s the easier choice for previously painted decks.

Again, it’s good to be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages before deciding whether painting is the best option for you.


  • While stains are often limited to wood, you can find paints for almost any surface.
  • You can apply paint to both stained and painted surfaces with ease.
  • Exterior paint is created to withstand the elements, and a quality paint job can last up to ten years before needing touch-ups.
  • Paint provides better coverage, making it the better choice for aged or damaged surfaces.
  • Unlike stain, paint comes in every color imaginable, and it’s possible to get custom colors mixed.
  • Most painted surfaces are easier to clean than stained ones.


  • Because wood doesn’t absorb the paint, water can enter places where the paint chips or flakes away.
  • High-traffic areas can wear quickly and become faded or damaged.
  • Since you cannot apply stain over paint without first sanding the entire deck, the decision to paint is often a permanent one.
  • Painted surfaces are often more slippery than stained surfaces because of the glossy finish.
  • Light-colored paint might become stained.
  • Deck furniture can cause paint to chip or flake away, exposing the wood underneath to the elements.
  • Paint hides the natural appearance of wood because it’s not as transparent as stain.
  • Multiple coats of paint may be needed to get the desired look.
  • It can be difficult to paint a deck yourself because paint can pool, drip, streak, and smudge.
  • Painting is often the more expensive choice.
  • You’ll need to prepare and prime your deck before painting to preserve the wood.

Should I Paint or Stain My Deck?

People frequently choose to stain their deck because it accentuates the natural appearance of the wood. Additionally, it provides exceptional protection against the elements, is easier to apply, and typically costs less than paint. Contrarily, those who choose to paint their deck often do so because they appreciate a more customized appearance. Plus, paint comes in various colors, lasts longer, and provides exceptional coverage for weather-beaten decks.

Selecting either paint or stain can be challenging because both options have unique advantages and drawbacks. Ultimately, your decision will depend on your personal preferences, the structure’s condition, and your reasons for finishing/refinishing your deck.