What is the best kind of product to protect my deck?

Many homeowners here in suburban Maryland and northern Virginia have beautiful outdoor decks, and understandably, they want to protect them. While the natural aging of wood products cannot be completely halted, it can be significantly slowed by with proper care and attention.

There are two categories of preservatives used by house painters and homeowners alike: sealers and stains. Sealers come in clear and tinted varieties, and are available from many different companies. Clear sealers have no colorant, but they soak deeply into the wood as a waterproofing agent. While clear sealers are useful in preventing cracking, they do not block UV rays, so your wood deck will still turn gray. For effective protection, professional painters recommend reapplying this product once each year. This type of protection will also build up over time with multiple applications.

Tinted sealers (also called translucent or transparent stain) are like a clear sealer with some colorant added. This is the most common product used on most decks, since it provides good protection against graying and cracking while allowing the natural grain of the wood to show through. The darker the color of the tint, the more protection against graying the product provides. Tinted sealers usually last 2 years on decks, but on vertical surfaces such as railings and posts, it can last up to 4.

Stains are more similar to a paint than a sealer; while they do penetrate somewhat into the wood, they remain closer to the surface and create a film barrier. All stains have water-repelling properties built in, but they also provide more coloration to outdoor woodwork. Semi-transparent stains are the lightest in color, allowing much wood grain to be seen. They can come in nearly any color, and they typically last 3-4 years. After numerous recoats, this type of stain will become more like a semi-solid.

Semi-solid stains are much like semi-transparent stains, except that they have a deeper color and show less of the natural wood grain. They provide longer protection and can also be tinted in nearly any color.

Solid stains are nearly indistinguishable from paint. They provide a thick, colored film that can be made to match or coordinate with the colors of your home siding. Just like paint, they must be applied in two coats, and they typically retain their strength and color for 4-5 years. The main visual difference between paint and solid stain is that the latter has no sheen, but is ultra-flat and reflects no light.

The final consideration in choosing a deck preservative is whether to use oil or latex/water-based products. Since oil-products are tightly restricted in some states, you might not have a choice, but if your local paint store has both, here are some characteristics to consider:

Oil-based stains and sealers are more water repellant by nature, providing tougher protection against moisture and cracking/cupping. Unfortunately, they are also difficult to clean up, and the resins they contain are a natural food to certain fungi, like mildew.

Latex or water-based products are less likely to grow mildew, and they are easier to apply and to clean. In addition, there are not as many environmental concerns associated with latex products as there are with their oil-based cousins.

Please note: before any preservative product is applied to your deck, be sure that it is properly cleaned (link to other blog about cleaning).

Manor Works offers professional painting services throughout northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. As an experienced painting contractor, we have the knowledge and skills to protect your deck and home exterior. We gladly service the whole Washington D.C. region, including Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Prince William County.

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