One of the more popular questions that come from those who own a deck is whether stains or oils are the better choices.
The question is not that easy to answer because the differences between stain and oils are relatively slight but significant.
Plus, they can sometimes mean the same thing.
What is important is to understand the differences both in substance and terminology, so that you get the right product to protect your wooden deck boards.
Deck Oil vs. Stains
When choosing between decking stain and oil, it’s actually about your personal preferences and how appealing you would like to get the surface.
While a deck stain is good enough to provide you a marvelous colored look by changing the color of timber, deck oil is good at offering you some extra shine.
Plus, it also enhances the wood color which is good for those who prefer natural wood color.
Below we will take a detailed look at what these products are along with the advantages and disadvantages of both these products.
By the end of the article, it will hopefully let you decide which one you should be using on your deck and why.
Decking oil is designed to protect the natural color of the wood boards by replacing the oils found in the timber, which can evaporate or fade over time.
In addition, the goal of decking oils is not to change the color of the wood, although it may darken the tone depending on the exact type and brand of oil that is used.
The oil is designed to penetrate the porous surface and protect the timber from within.
Most decking oils contain the wax as well which fills in the gaps and makes the wood water and dirt resistant.
This means that a deck that is properly covered in oil is easier to maintain while being far more difficult for water, dirt, and the elements to penetrate.
Stains are designed primarily to change the color of the wood.
A stain is an enhancement that brings out the features and grains to make the timber appear more natural, colorful, and can also protect the wood itself.
It may seem that from the descriptions that decking oils and stains are significantly different.
But where the confusion comes in is the decking oil products that have color built into their formulas.
Because it can change the color of the wood much like stains, it may seem like oils and stains do exactly the same thing.
But that is not really the case despite the similarities.
Decking Oil – Pros and Cons
There are positives and negatives associated with most decking oils.
Understanding the pros and cons will help you make the best-informed decision.
Algae and Mold Protection:
Because the oil fills in the small, porous areas of the wood, algae and mold have no place to root and grow.
You will need to maintain the deck by washing and brushing it off regularly to keep the oil in place.
Easy to Apply:
You do not need to strip the existing wood. Simply open the can, stir it a little, and apply it to the deck.
You only need to brush off the deck before applying the oil or add additional coats once the oil has covered the deck area.
Once you apply the oil to the surface, it is ready for light foot traffic in as little as four to eight hours depending on the type and brand.
This means that you can apply it in the evening, let it sit overnight, and it should be ready in the morning for you to walk on your deck.
Replenishment of Natural Oil:
The oils that are used fill in the areas that have evaporated or have been lost over time. This keeps the wood in its natural state.
The result is that the wood is less likely to splinter, crack, or warp over time.
One advantage of oils is that they tend to be less slippery compared to stains.
This is because they do not cover the wood with a film, but they penetrate the surface and allow the natural grains to stand out.
This means better footing when walking on the deck.
The ultraviolet or UV rays of the sun can break down wood over time.
Many decking oils contain protection from UV rays which considerably slows down the damage that otherwise would happen.
As a general rule, oils that darken the deck offer more UV protection compared to light color or those that do not darken the wood.
This is particularly true when it comes to rain as the water tends to roll off the surface rather than penetrate the wood.
Of course, there are some disadvantages of using natural oils as well.
You should know these issues before making your purchase.
- Exotic wood may need special deck oil
- Cannot have decking stain applied on top unless stripping occurs
- Color may be different than shown on the can
Exotic woods such as teak, Iroko, Cumaru, Balau, and Massaranduba may require special oils to properly cover and protect.
Decking Stain – Pros and Cons
A decking stain is much like varnish in terms of its function.
You can find stains in several different colors or shades.
Just remember that some decking oils may be labeled as stains, so know what to look for when purchasing this product.
Algae and Mold Protection:
Just like decking oils, algae and mold have a tough time taking root.
But this is because of the strong surface layer provided by the stain.
The pigments included in stains not only change the color of the wood.
They also provide UV protection as well which keeps the timber intact.
Stains not only provide a wide range of colors they can be used to cover the deck and any accessories such as spindles or handrails for a more complete look.
A good stain can dry within a couple of hours depending on the outdoor conditions.
This means that you can use your deck faster compared to decking oils.
The main difference between stains and oils is that the stain provides a strong top layer that resists the elements, sunlight, and other forms of damage.
This also includes erosion and foot traffic.
In some ways, decking stain is superior to decking oil, but it is not without its issues.
- Reduces visibility of the grain
- Must be fully removed if you want to re-coat the wood
- Difficult to stick to wood that has decking oil applied
- Exotic woods are difficult to stain
You need to be careful when applying the stain as the wood needs to be dry.
Otherwise, moisture from underneath can crack or peel away the stain over time.
What is Better for Deck – Stain or Oil?
It should be noted that neither is better so much as one type is better suited than the other depending on the conditions and what you want out of the product.
Both stains and oils are easy to apply and will last a considerable amount of time with the proper maintenance.
If you want to keep the natural color and texture of the wood, then oils are better.
Because they bring out the surface, the deck offers better traction for footing as well.
However, they are arguably not quite as water-resistant compared to stains.
Stains provide a strong top layer that resists the elements to an arguably greater degree.
They can also be purchased in different colors and shades to change the color of the wood to your liking.
However, many people want to keep the natural color of the wood which makes stains not the best choice.
Plus, since stains sit atop the timber, the surface is slicker which means less traction when you walk.
Keep in mind that some stains only minimally change the color of the wood while some oils will change the color or tone significantly.
You will need to shop around for the right brand and ingredients you want before covering the deck.
How to Oil Your Decking Area Correctly?
But if you want to get the oiling done, and need to know how to oil your deck, I will let you know here for achieving the best results.
The steps below will help you get the most out of the oil that you will apply to your deck.
Step 1 – Clean
Assuming that you have already cleaned up all the dirt and mess from your decking area, the first step is to give your deck a good wash.
You can use water and detergent or can even make use of a good commercial deck cleaning solution.
I recommend using a high-pressure sprayer or a garden hose, especially if your deck is very dirty.
Step 2 – Dry Deck
Check the can for instructions on how long the deck needs to be dry before the application can occur.
Plus, check to see when the next rainfall event will happen. You need the deck to be fully dry both before and after applying the product.
Step 3 – Stir Thoroughly
Before applying the oil, be sure that it has not broken down in the can.
This means using a stick to stir it for a few minutes so that the color pigments and compounds are remixed to their proper condition.
This will mean an even application when the product is properly stirred.
Step 4 – Test Before Application
Find a small part of the deck that is not well seen and apply the oil.
Let it fully dry and see the results. If it looks good, start covering the rest of your timber deck.
If it does not look good, at least it’s in a place that few people will see it.
And you can purchase another oil and try that.
Step 5 – Coat the deck – starting with the edges
Using a quality paintbrush and decking oil you should start oiling the edge of your deck first.
Once you are done with the edges, start applying the oil coat on the boards in the direction of the grains.
You should work on 2-3 boards at a time and complete oiling along the whole length without stopping.
Since the oil will penetrate very quickly into the wood, this will avoid forming the patches.
Step 6 – Let it dry and apply the second coat
After you have oiled your deck completely, let the oil dry naturally.
It may take around 2-3 hours for decking oil to dry depending on the type of oil you have used and the temperature you are working in.
After making sure that the oil is completely dry, apply the second coat of oil to the deck.
Remember, this time you will need to apply lesser oil as the wood has already absorbed enough oil in the first coating.
I recommend applying at least two coats of oil as this will offer better UV protection and enhanced durability.
After about 2-3 hours of oil coating, your decking area is not ready to put the furniture back and enjoy.
Step 7 – Deck maintenance
Remember, maintaining your decking area is important once you have oiled it.
This means that to ensure longevity it’s best to oil and seal the area at least every eight to twelve months.
This will keep your deck looking fresh and shining all year round.
What is the Best Timber Oil to Pick and Use?
Choosing the right oil is the key to success when you want to get the top finishing on your deck.
Before picking any make sure you analyze your requirements carefully and check whether you need to get a clear or colored finishing.
Also, check your budget and maintenance expectations before you buy any specific product.
If you are planning for a refinish and want to buy the best decking oil with UV protection, here are a few popular brands and options you can try:
- Manns premier
- Cuprinol UV guard
I have already worked with Ronseal decking oil and it works brilliantly to enhance the natural look and texture of wood.
The good thing I liked about it is its easy application, quick drying time, and availability in different colors.
Many other decking oils out there are formulated with ingredients that offer low odor.
Some of them are also Eco-friendly and will help to nourish the wood in the most environmentally friendly way.
So, if you want you can look out for these options, too.
Can You Make Your Own DIY Decking Oil at Home?
Yes, you can and it’s great to save good money too.
Making a DIY oil for your timber deck is easy by using a homemade recipe the includes raw linseed oil, mineral turps, and an oil drying agent like Terebene or Terebine Driers.
You can use all these in a ratio of 4:11:1 respectively.
Remember that you should not use less than 11 parts of turps. It can make the oil too thick and sticky once it’s applied and dried on the surface.
Making this decking oil at home can save you around 40 to 50 percent than what you will need to spend on buying a commercial deck oil available on the markets.
The Bottom Line
Maintaining the decking area best is a popular choice for many homeowners.
A little care will help you apply the right oil to your deck for the best results.
Be sure to take enough time to make the best-informed decision about what you want between staining and oiling and then follow the instructions to get the results that will last for a long time.
IMO, if your deck is made from an expensive hardwood material (like teak) it’s good to use premium quality oil like Ronseal decking oil.
However, if it is made with some other cheaper wood materials, any kind of decking paint or a stain can work for you.
Keep in mind, not to apply oil over a deck stain as it won’t work very well.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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