Deck StainingDeck Painting vs. Staining – What’s the Difference?

When warmer weather starts creeping upon us, there’s no better place to take in the fresh air at home than on the deck. Decks offer the perfect venue for backyard get-togethers, afternoon breaks, and quiet evenings spent reflecting on the day.  But as any homeowner knows, keeping your deck in tip-top shape and looking great takes time and effort.

That’s where deck staining and painting come in. Besides offering a finish that’s pleasing to the eye, coating your deck with a layer of stain or paint also protects the underlying wood from breaking down due to moisture and UV-related damage or fading.

However, each finish comes with its own pros and cons.

So, how do you decide which is right for you when juggling deck painting vs. staining?

That’s exactly what this guide examines. Inside, we’ll weigh deck painting vs. staining according to five factors.

Let’s jump in.

Table of Contents

Is Staining the Same as Painting?

Before getting to the different factors when deciding how to paint your deck, let’s first tackle the most obvious question, “Is staining the same as painting?”

The short answer here is “no,” while the long answer is “sort of.”

For instance, both staining and painting are made from a pigment and a vehicle used to transfer those pigments (usually acrylic or oil). Both color the wood that they’re applied to, and both can help prevent degradation due to moisture or UV radiation.

However, the similarities tend to stop here.

From the first instant, you open the can, you can tell the difference between stain and paint. As professional deck stainers, we can tell you that stain tends to be quite a bit runnier, while paint is much thicker.

Upon applying each, you’ll notice stain tends to “soak in” to the pores and fibers of the wood, giving it a natural look where the grains and knots are visible. Paint, on the other hand, will usually just coat the wood, covering these details and making it harder to see the texture of the material.

What Lasts Longer on a Deck, Stain, or Paint?

The winner here is clear: paint lasts longer than deck stain.

With a quality paint job from a professional deck painter, a new paint job can end up lasting as long as 10 years before needing to be repainted.

Latex-based paints will usually offer more UV protection, while oil-based ones tend to protect the best against moisture.

With stain, however, a deck will need a new coat every 1 to 3 years.

As far as protection goes, the darker the stain, the more it will protect against both moisture and UV-related fading.

5 Things to Consider When Deciding on Deck Painting vs. Staining

Now that you understand a bit about the core differences of deck painting vs. staining, let’s examine the five different factors you need to take into account when deciding which deck protection material is right for your home project.

Stain Is Easier to Apply

HBP Painting Contractors uses SuperDeck® Stain by Sherwin-Williams
HBP Painting Contractors uses SuperDeck® Stain by Sherwin-Williams

While there is still a detailed process that needs to be followed when applying stains, doing so tends to be far easier than painting your deck.

First comes deck cleaning and preparation. This step includes sweeping off all materials and using a deck cleaner to really get rid of any dirt or grime that’s accumulated on the boards. After that, light sanding helps open up the wood fibers so the stain can better penetrate.

And then, all that’s left is applying the stain and a sealer. The runny nature of stain makes it easy to apply an even coat along all surfaces, too.

With paint, you’ll need to clean and prep similarly. But then comes treating the wood, adding a primer, adding at least two coats, and finally finishing it off with a sealer.

Paint Is Pricier

Paint also tends to be a bit pricier than stain.

For example, Home Advisor reports that you can expect to pay about $30 to $40 per gallon on stain.

However, you can expect to pay around $40 to $60 per gallon when it comes to paint.

It’s also worth remembering that staining will usually only take a single coat, while painting will typically require two coats at the very least.

Stain Is Harder to Maintain

Maintenance is one area where stain tends to lack compared to paint.

As we touched on earlier, paint lasts quite a bit longer in Missouri’s seasonal weather, about 1-3 years.

But beyond that, stained decks are never as “glossy” as painted decks, even compared to those with low-gloss sheens. Instead, they have a more matte-like finish.

This added texture makes it harder to simply sweep debris off your deck as dirt, grime, and other annoyances can get trapped between the tiny bumps and divots. With painted decks, sweeping off debris is a breeze.

Paint Requires a Long-Term Commitment

Deck Painted by HBP Painting Contractors
Deck Painting by HBP Painting Contractors

If you are going to paint your deck, you should prepare for a long-term commitment to paint rather than stain. If you do end up changing your mind, switching to stain from a painted deck is a labor-intensive process.

For instance, you’ll need to:

  • Scrape the sealer, paint, and primer as much as you can
  • Use a chemical paint stripper to clean it up more
  • Finish it off with hand sanding
  • Cleaning the deck
  • Re-sanding
  • Applying the stain

Moving from stain to paint, however, is much easier.

And while you can paint right over deck stain, it’s often best to go through all the necessary preparation steps to clean the deck first and remove as much stain as possible.

Stain Offers Less Variety

Last but certainly not least, there are looks.

This one comes down to preference—whether you like the natural look of stain or the solid pop of paints.

But either way, it’s undeniable that in the battle of deck painting vs. staining, paint has far more variety.

There are a few different varieties of deck stain to choose from, like clear, toner, semi-transparent, and solid color stains. However, the extent of the variety generally ends there.

For paints, the color variety spans the entire rainbow. For example, Sherwin-Williams’s solid deck stains (a.k.a. paint) offers over 1,200 color variations.

Is It Better to Paint or Stain a Deck?

There’s no easy answer to this question.

As we’ve seen, there are clear pros and cons of both options.

Deck Staining


  • Easier to apply
  • More affordable
  • More flexible


  • Shorter lifespan
  • Harder to maintain
  • Less variety of styles

Deck Painting


  • Longer lifespan
  • Easier to maintain
  • Plenty of style varieties


  • Harder to apply
  • Pricier
  • Less flexible

In the end, it comes down to which benefits you prefer and which detriments you’d rather avoid.

Looking for Deck Stainers Near St. Charles?

The HBP Promise
The HBP Promise

As you can see, a lot of work goes into giving your deck a new splash of color. And no matter which option you choose (deck painting vs. staining), getting the job done right takes time, skill, and a commitment to quality.

That’s why most homeowners decide to hire our deck stainers. And if you’re looking for the best painters or deck stainers near St. Charles, look no further than HBP Painting Contractors.

For nearly 40 years, our family-owned business has been providing exceptional residential painting and staining services for the entire St. Charles and greater St. Louis area.

Our talented professionals provide only the highest degree of workmanship, and our comprehensive 5-step deck painting/staining process ensures the job gets done right the first time, every time.

If you’re looking to add new life to your deck with a fresh coat of stain or paint, get in touch today for your free project consultation and estimate.

And let us take care of the hard work for you.

HBP Painting Contractors

HBP Painting Contractors offers interior and exterior painting for both residential and commercial clients, cabinet painting, and deck staining near O’Fallon and surrounding cities and counties, including St. Charles County, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, and Franklin County.

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