The Best Exterior Wood Stains

Add an attractive protective finish to the wood surfaces around your home from these top exterior wood stains.

Best Overall

Best Exterior Wood Stain Options: Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain for Decks

SaverSystems #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Stain

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Best Bang For the Buck

The Best Exterior Wood Stain Option: Storm System Stain Protector

Storm System Stain Protector

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Best For Decks

The Best Exterior Wood Stain Option: Ready Seal 512 5-Gallon Pail Natural Cedar Stain

Ready Seal 512 5-Gallon Pail Natural Cedar Stain

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Outdoor wood furniture and structures look great when they’re brand new, but if you don’t take care of them, the sun, rain, snow, and wind will wear them down in a hurry. The best exterior wood stain is the cure for what ails your surfaces.

The best exterior wood stain will protect your wood structures, siding, or furniture while also achieving your ideal color and transparency. However, choosing the best exterior wood stain isn’t always so see-through. This guide will help, so keep reading to learn more.

  1. BEST OVERALL: SaverSystems #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Stain
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Storm System Stain Protector
  3. BEST FOR DECKS: Ready Seal 512 5-Gallon Pail Natural Cedar Stain
  4. BEST FOR FENCES: Defy Extreme Wood Stain
  5. BEST FOR SIDING: Flood CWF-UV Penetrating Wood Finish
  6. BEST FOR FURNITURE: Thompson’s WaterSeal Transparent Waterproofing Stain
  7. BEST FOR COLD TEMPERATURES: Behr Premium Waterproofing Wood Stain and Sealer
  8. BEST FOR HOT TEMPERATURES: Olympic Stain Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer
Best Exterior Wood Stain Options
Photo: amazon.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Exterior Wood Stain

Before shoppers start searching for the best exterior wood stain, there are a few factors to consider, including the intended use and the transparency of the stain. The following section breaks down the most important points to keep in mind while hunting for the best exterior wood stain.

Intended Use

How buyers intend to use the stain will have a lot to do with choosing the best exterior wood stain. For one, any outdoor wood surface, whether it be a fence, chair, deck, or siding, requires an exterior-grade stain. These stains help preserve the wood in rougher environments, whereas interior-grade stains won’t provide the same protection.

Also, some stains are better for use on decks than others. Since decks lay flat, they’re more susceptible to standing water and the sun’s baking UV rays than other wood surfaces around the property. The foot traffic is also a concern. For these applications, a penetrating stain is often the best bet.

Outdoor furniture frequently uses wood with attractive grain patterns. For this reason, a transparent stain would protect the wood without blocking out the grain.

Stain Type

Exterior wood stains come in a few varieties: water-based or acrylic, oil-based, and a hybrid stain. These names refer to the liquid that the manufacturer uses to mix the pigments and protective particles.

  • Water-based or acrylic stains use water as the base liquid. These stains are relatively easy to apply, and they clean up with a bit of soap and water. They’re also less likely to cause any respiratory issues as they typically have a low volatile organic compound (VOC) content. The downside is that they don’t penetrate wood quite as deeply as oil-based stains, so they might not last as long.
  • Oil-based stains really penetrate the wood, which makes them longer lasting. Once they soak into the wood grain, they protect from within and strengthen the bonds of the wood fibers (this is also true for some penetrating water-based stains). Oil-based stains also really showcase the wood grain. Cleanup can be a hassle, however, as it usually requires mineral spirits. Also, keep in mind that oil-based stains can be very irritating to the respiratory system, so wear a respirator mask.

Film-Forming vs. Penetrating Stain

Various products will protect wood surfaces in different ways. For instance, some products penetrate the wood grain and protect it from the sun’s UV rays and moisture from within. Other products create a protective barrier, or film, that encapsulates the wood to protect it. There are pros and cons to each.

  • Penetrating stains seep into the pores of the wood, strengthening the bonds in the material and protecting it from within. They’re long lasting and durable, and they can highlight the grain. However, they don’t do a great job of hiding unsightly blemished or mismatched grain—even if they’re solid.
  • Film-forming products encapsulate the wood and protect it like a shell. They do a better job of hiding irregularities between wood planks and less attractive areas. However, their bond to the wood breaks down over time, requiring more frequent reapplication. This depends on factors like hours in the sun each day, foot traffic, and the condition of the deck boards.

Transparency

Not only do the best exterior wood stains come in a variety of colors with varying degrees of penetration, but they also come in different transparencies. This is an important consideration to keep in mind.

  • Transparent stains are entirely see-through, and they rarely change the color of the wood below it by more than a shade or two. They don’t hide any of the wood grain, and they’re excellent for expensive exotic exterior woods, though they work equally well on more common wood types. They’re often not entirely long lasting.
  • Semitransparent stains will hide more of the grain, but they’re also longer lasting. They do a better job of blending in blemishes than transparent stains.
    Semisolid stains are the next step up in transparency, and they do a nice job of blending the grains of various woods without removing the texture entirely. They’re also longer lasting.
  • Solid stains hide the wood grain almost entirely. They’re excellent for using after replacing deck boards, shingles, or furniture. They also last the longest of the exterior wood stains.

Color

Many of the best exterior wood stains come in different colors, allowing users to choose whichever hue best fits their aesthetic. Keep in mind, however, that there may be other reasons to choose one color over another.

If shoppers are considering a deck stain, they should remember that a deck will bake in the sun all day. A dark color will absorb a lot of heat, but dark colors are easier on the eyes than a lighter color. Light colors reflect more light, which can make them uncomfortable to look at in bright sunlight, but they often stay much cooler.

Likewise, a lighter color fence stain will brighten a backyard, while a darker stain might make a bright yard feel cozier.

Our Top Picks

With a bit of background on the subject, shopping for the best exterior wood stain doesn’t have to be so difficult. The following list includes some of the best products on the market to make it even easier. Shoppers will want to keep the top considerations in mind when comparing these products to choose the best exterior wood stain for any application.

Best Overall

SaverSystems #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Stain

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Protecting outdoor wood surfaces like decks, siding, furniture, and fences doesn’t get much easier than with SaverSystems #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Stain. This water-based stain features a low-VOC formula that’s easy to apply, clean up, and maintain. It works on pressure-treated pine, cedar, fir, redwood, and most other softwoods. It can work on hardwoods like teak and mahogany but will require more applications (like most stains). A 1-gallon bottle will cover up to 100 square feet with two coats.

This semitransparent formula penetrates the wood surface and protects it from within. It protects against graying from sun exposure and moisture penetration from rain and snow. There are also five colors to choose from, including cedar, dark walnut, driftwood gray, light walnut, and natural.

Product Specs

  • Type: Water-based
  • Transparency: Semitransparent
  • Color(s): Cedar, dark walnut, driftwood gray, light walnut, natural
  • Drying time: 24 hours

Pros

  • Stylish stain color options
  • Applies easily
  • Great at transforming old wood exteriors

Cons

  • Quite runny and can drip if not careful

Get the SaverSystems exterior wood stain on Amazon.

Best Bang For the Buck

Storm System Stain Protector

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When it comes to getting the most out of a gallon of stain as possible, there’s plenty of value in Storm System’s Stain Protector. Its budget-friendly price tag aside, this 1-gallon can of stain can cover up to 175 square feet of smooth-surface deck space, fencing, or siding, as well as several pieces of furniture with multiple coats. Note that porous surfaces will result in less coverage—around 150 square feet per gallon.

The Storm System Stain Protector is a two-in-one product, both staining and sealing the wood to protect it from water as well as color fading from sun damage. This stain comes in four different semitransparent wood tones to help the wood grain shine through for an enhanced textured look.

Product Specs

  • Type: Oil-based
  • Transparency: Semitransparent
  • Color(s): Hickory, cedar, redwood, sienna
  • Drying time: 24 hours

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Good coverage per gallon
  • Suitable for various wood substrates

Cons

  • Good results require a lot of prep work

Get the Storm System exterior wood stain on Amazon.

Best For Decks

Ready Seal 512 5-Gallon Pail Natural Cedar Stain

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Between lap marks and brush strokes, staining a large deck can be a hassle. With Ready Seal’s 5-gallon pail of exterior stain, that’s not an issue. Its “Goof Proof” formula eliminates the need for back brushing to reduce lap marks for a high-quality finish, and with at least a 625-square-foot coverage area, 5 gallons is enough for most large decks.

This oil-based stain has a low-VOC formula that penetrates deeply into both soft and hardwoods, protecting decks and railings from within. The semitransparent finish will hide some of the grain without removing all of its beauty, so it will work well for both treating newer decks and reinvigorating older surfaces. Do keep in mind that the deck must be dry before application.

Product Specs

  • Type: Oil-based
  • Transparency: Semitransparent
  • Color(s): 10 varied wood tones
  • Drying time: 48 to 72 hours (depending on weather conditions)

Pros

  • Multiple color options to choose from
  • Produces minimal runs or streaks
  • Colors can be mixed to create custom tones

Cons

  • Pricey

Get the Ready Seal exterior wood stain at Amazon, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Northern Tool + Equipment.

Best For Fences

Defy Extreme Wood Stain

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Though rain and snow can damage a fence, the most harmful element is typically sunlight. Defy’s Extreme Exterior Wood Stain fights back against UV rays with its specially designed formula. This stain contains the same zinc found in sunscreen to reflect the harmful rays before they can damage the wood. The formula is also water-based and low in VOCs.

This semitransparent stain will hide just a bit of the wood grain while still allowing its natural characteristics to show. It’s available in 13 colors, including cedar tone, natural pine, light walnut, butternut, and gray. And, since it’s water-based, it cleans up with soap and water.

Product Specs

  • Type: Water-based with acrylic resin
  • Transparency: Semitransparent
  • Color(s): 13, including cedar tone, natural pine, light walnut, butternut, and gray
  • Drying time: 2 to 4 hours (24 hours to fully cure)

Pros

  • Fast drying
  • Reduced color fading with UV protection
  • No sanding required for maintenance recoats

Cons

  • Some users report weak coloring

Get the Defy exterior wood stain on Amazon.

Best For Siding

Flood CWF-UV Penetrating Wood Finish

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Whether it’s a new siding installation or reinvigorating old siding, Flood’s CWF-UV Penetrating Wood Finish gets the job done. This 1-gallon can of stain can cover up to 250 feet and is suitable for both pressure-treated and unfinished wood surfaces.

This stain is acrylic-oil resin-based, and it penetrates deeply into the wood surface to restore a rich, warm look of natural wood while protecting against UV damage from the sun. It also forms a mildew-resistant and water-repellant finish to help users ensure their siding is protected from potentially devastating issues. Application is also a breeze with simple soap-and-water cleanup afterwards.

Product Specs

  • Type: Oil-based
  • Transparency: Transparent
  • Color(s): Clear, cedar, redwood, honey gold
  • Drying time: 4 hours (touch), 24 to 48 hours (foot traffic), 30 days (cure)

Pros

  • Suitable for most wood surfaces
  • Prevents mildew and moisture damage
  • Easy soap-and-water cleanup

Cons

  • Longer drying times to cure fully

Get the Flood exterior wood stain at The Home Depot.

Best For Furniture

Thompson’s WaterSeal Transparent Waterproofing Stain

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Covering the grain of beautiful natural wood furniture is a no-no for some outdoor furniture fans, but protection is a universal necessity. For those grain-loving folks, Thompson’s Waterseal Stain has what it takes to protect a high-end piece of outdoor furniture without taking the grain out of the picture.

Users can apply this stain to both damp or dry wood, removing some of the waiting time common after a rain. While this product is transparent, it does come in five colors, including acorn brown, harvest gold, maple brown, sequoia red, and woodland cedar. Be aware that this product isn’t low VOC, so a respirator will be necessary.

Product Specs

  • Type: Unspecified
  • Transparency: Transparent
  • Color(s): Acorn brown, harvest gold, maple brown, sequoia red, woodland cedar
  • Drying time: Unspecified

Pros

  • All-in-one wood stain and protector
  • Transparent product allows wood grain to shine
  • Can be applied in both wet and dry conditions

Cons

  • Pricier than other options
  • Respirator recommended when applying

Get the Thompson’s exterior wood stain on Amazon.

Best for Cold Temperatures

Behr Premium Waterproofing Wood Stain and Sealer

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While water-based wood stains can be less effective when applied in colder temperatures, this 100 percent acrylic stain from Behr Premium provides waterproof protection in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This 1-gallon container can provide up to 300 square feet of coverage area on the first coat and as much as 600 square feet on the second coat. Note that Behr recommends two thin coats for best results.

It can resist rain in as little as 4 hours after application, and when fully dried, provides a mildew-resistant finish that also protects against sun damage. The waterproofing properties of Behr Premium Wood Stain and Sealer means it is suitable for protecting against a wide range of weather conditions.

Product Specs

  • Type: Acrylic
  • Transparency: Semitransparent
  • Color(s): 60 varied wood tones
  • Drying time: 1 to 2 hours (recoat), 72 hours (cure)

Pros

  • Ideal for areas that experience varying weather
  • Popular, reputable brand
  • Massive color selection

Cons

  • May not protect for a full 6 to 8 years as stated

Get the Behr Premium exterior wood stain at The Home Depot.

Best for Hot Temperatures

Olympic Stain Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer

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Shoppers looking to apply their exterior wood stain on their schedule, not when the weather dictates, will want to consider Olympic Stain’s Maximum Wood Stain and Sealer. Although not recommended, this acrylic oil-based formula can be applied in extreme heats of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Note that extra care may need to be taken when applying stain in hot weather to avoid uneven color absorption and brushstrokes.

Luckily, this stain does not require the wood to be completely dry before applying, so a light mist of water can be sprayed to cool down hot surfaces to help achieve better results. This wood-stain formula also features UV-blocking and scuff-guard technology. Besides the redwood tone, Olympic Maximum Stain and Sealer can be found in up to 22 stain colors, so there’s plenty to choose from.

Product Specs

  • Type: Oil-based
  • Transparency: Semitransparent
  • Color(s): 22 varied wood tones
  • Drying time: Around 24 hours (varies with temperature and humidity)

Pros

  • Can be applied in wet or dry conditions
  • Provides a mold- and mildew-resistant coating
  • UV blocking prevents fading
  • Includes scuff-guard technology

Cons

  • Lighter colors can appear a little unnatural

Get the Olympic exterior wood stain at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Tractor Supply Co.

Our Verdict

For a low-VOC wood stain that features easy application, maintenance, and cleanup, consider the SaverSystems exterior wood stain, available in five striking wood colors.

Shoppers looking for a budget-friendly solution to take care of their exterior wood structures should consider the Storm System exterior wood stain, which covers up to 175 square foot per gallon for smooth, nonporous wood surfaces.

How We Chose the Best Exterior Wood Stains

When gathering our top picks in exterior-stain options, we took care to research the most important aspects that shoppers take into consideration when choosing their wood stain and sealer. Our list of recommendations includes a variety of both oil-based stains and water-based stains to provide the best of both worlds in terms of the specific properties featured by each type. We also went a step further to select multiple picks across the range of transparencies, mostly featuring popular clear and semitransparent stains. While we do not directly include a solid stain option in our list, many of our picks can be selected in a range of colors and transparencies.

Finally, our top picks feature the best brands for particular use in categories such as siding, fencing, and deck stains. All of our suggestions are easy to clean with either soap and water or mineral spirits depending on the type, and they are sure to protect and enhance the natural wood grain of exterior wood surfaces.

FAQs

Now that you know a bit more about the best exterior wood stains and what goes into choosing one, you might have some additional questions. This section contains some of the most frequently asked questions about the best exterior wood stains. Be sure to check for an answer to your question below.

Q. Will stain protect wood outside?

Exterior-grade wood stains will protect wood outside. These stains protect against moisture and UV rays.

Q. Is there a difference between interior and exterior wood stain?

Interior stains simply change the color of wood. They don’t offer much protection. Exterior wood stain protects against the sun’s UV rays and moisture.

Q. What type of stain do I need for exterior wood?

You need an exterior wood stain. Once you find a product, you’ll have a choice between colors, transparencies, and liquid bases.

Q. How do you prepare exterior wood for staining?

It’s best to remove any loose paint or finish with a scraper or by sanding. Then, pressure-washing the surface of say, a deck, followed by another quick sanding will free the surface from any additional contaminants. Once the deck is dry (unless the chosen product specifies otherwise), you’ll be able to stain it.

Q. How do you apply exterior wood stain?

Applying exterior wood stain is usually done with a brush, roller, or sprayer. It’s essentially the same process as painting:

  • Avoid lap marks by maintaining a wet edge.
  • Avoid pooling or running.
  • Work in one small area at a time.
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Tom Scalisi

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Tom Scalisi is a freelance writer, author, and blogger with a passion for building. Whether it’s a DIY project or an entire website, Tom loves creating something from the ground up, stepping back, and admiring a job well done.

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