Preparing Your Wood Deck for Spring: Stain vs. Sealant

Deck Stain vs Sealant Deck Builders Madison WIIn April of 2023, we shared Six Tips to Prep Your Deck for Spring. This year, we’ve decided to do an entire series of spring prep tips for the exterior of your home, and we’re starting off with a deeper dive into one of the six tips we spoke about last year … protecting your deck with stain and sealer.

Both stains and sealers are crafted to protect wood decks, and this protection is critical if you want to keep your deck looking good — and in tip-top shape for years to come. Wood decks need maintenance, there’s just no two ways about it.

That said, let’s define the difference between sealants and stains, and why you might want to highly consider using BOTH on your wood deck, or at least use a product that is a combination of the two.

These two terms are often confused with each other, which makes sense since they are both used to protect wood. But as you’ll see, it comes down to thinking about these products as, “stain and sealant,” as opposed to “stain vs. sealant.” Here’s why …

Aesthetic Differences:
– Sealant can have pigment that will affect the color of the wood when applied, but it can also be clear.
– Stain always contains pigment, and will cause the wood to change color when applied.

Protection Differences:
– Clear sealants typically provide very little (at best) UV resistance.
– The pigment in most quality stains provides very good UV resistance.
– Sealant provides an abundance of moisture protection.
– Stain offers virtually no protection from moisture.

Sealing the Deal …
Since many wooden decks are made of pine, or a similar “softwood,” they are not proficient in keeping out moisture, nor are they very good at withstanding UV rays. Hardwood does a better job of keeping out moisture than softwood, and virtually maintenance-free composite materials are made to withstand the elements. Just something to keep in mind if you are thinking about replacing your deck.

Softwood decks need to be sealed with a quality sealant, which is not permanent, to protect the wood against rotting.

Stain it First!
OK, so before you lay down that coat of sealant, you’ll want to stain the deck first. Here’s a brief overview of how it works.

In addition to adding color, stain is water-repellant and will protect your wood deck from UV rays. This makes sense, even from an aesthetic POV. Stain your wood deck the color you desire and then “seal in the goodness” with a quality sealant.

On that note, there are products on the market that do stain and seal all at once. This one-step application is nice if you prefer to lower the time it takes to complete the maintenance of your deck. If you go this route, be sure to choose a staining sealant that is made for both UV and moisture protection.

Tips of the Trade …
Although this article does not cover all the steps involved in staining and sealing your wood deck, we do want to share a handful of tips to consider as you acquire all the information you need to do the job.

  1. Give your deck a good sanding. Although some may see this step as “optional,” we see it as doing the job right. The result will be a better-looking deck, plus sanding promotes deeper penetration of the sealant for better protection. You’ll need a pole sander for this, along with 120-grit sandpaper. Once you’re done, make sure to remove any dust or debris with a leaf blower.
  2. Deep clean your deck! Pressure wash, and then apply an “all-in-one deck cleaner” to the wood. And make sure you read the instructions on the all-in-one cleaner to make sure you apply as per the manufacturer’s standards. When the deep clean is done, be sure to wash away the cleaner (usually with a garden hose), and allow it to dry for however long is recommended in the instructions for the all-in-one cleaner.
  3. Remove stains before you stain. If there are remaining blemishes on your deck after all of the cleaning is done, you may want to remove these with non-chlorine bleach. NOTE: Test the non-chlorine bleach out on an inconspicuous piece of decking before applying to the blemishes on your deck. Then apply the bleach, use a stiff brush to scrub, and rinse well with water.
  4. Be timely with resealing. As mentioned, sealants are not permanent, so be sure to read the sealant’s instructions to determine when the next reseal needs to happen. Notating the date on your phone or computer’s calendar is a good way to ensure it gets done when your wood deck needs the attention.

Note: please keep in mind that these are only a handful of tips, and there is a lot more that goes into sealing and staining your wood deck.

Have questions, or need help with your deck? Feel free to contact us anytime. You can also learn more tips on how to prepare your deck for spring here.