What is Better for Your Deck: Decking Stain or Oil?

decking stain or oil

One of the more popular questions that come from those who own a deck is whether stains or oils are the better choice.

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 deck.

Deck Stain vs Deck Oil

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 advantages and disadvantages of both these products.

By the end of article, it will hopefully let you decide which one you should be using on your deck and why.

Decking Oils

A decking oil is designed to protect the natural color of the wood 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 wax as well which fill in the gaps and make the wood water and dirt resistant.

This means that a deck which is properly covered in oil is easier to maintain while being far more difficult for water, dirt, and the elements to penetrate.

Decking Stains

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 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.

Fast Application:

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 the 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.

UV Protection:

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.

Water Resistant:

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.

Quick Drying:

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.

Top Layer:

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 stain.

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.

Tips for Oiling or Staining Your Decking Area

For the best results, here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of the stain or oil that you will apply to your deck.

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.

Stir Thoroughly:

Before applying the stain or 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.

Test Before Application:

Find a small part of the deck that is not well seen and apply the stain or oil.

Let it fully dry and see the results. If it looks good, start covering the rest of your deck.

If it does not look good, at least its in a place that few people will see it. And you can purchase another stain or oil and try that.

A little care will help you apply the right stain or oil to your deck for the best results.

Be sure to take enough time to make the best-informed decision about what you want and then follow the instructions to get the results that will last for a long time.

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