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    Best Wood Stains of 2024 (and a Few of the Worst)

    The best wood stains aren't always the costliest. Here are test results from brands including Behr, Olympic, Valspar, and Cabot.

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    Hand brushing stain onto wood
    A new coat of stain will spruce up an old deck, and the best stains will protect it, too.
    Photo: iStock

    Staining a wood deck doesn’t just add to its beauty; it adds a layer of protection to the wood that will help it look great for years to come. The same holds true for staining fences, siding, or outdoor furniture. The best wood stains can help add years to the life of the wood. And while it’s never fun to prematurely replace rotting wood, that’s doubly true now because lumber prices remain very high by historical standards.

    There are nearly 30 wood stains in our ratings, including those still undergoing our three years of testing, and we’ve found significant differences from one formulation to another. The best wood stain in our ratings currently earns an Overall Score of 82 out of 100. The worst earns an abysmal score of 4 out of 100.

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    Bear in mind that manufacturers periodically reformulate their products, so we retest samples from time to time to make sure this article and our ratings reflect the most up-to-date information available.

    More on Stains, Paint & Decking

    The most durable stains should last three to five years on a deck and even longer if applied to siding or fences, which don’t get as much abuse. “The sun and water beat down on a deck, snow can pile up, and even dirt and mildew spores can settle on the flat surface,” says Rico de Paz, the engineer who led Consumer Reports’ wood stain testing program for more than a decade. “All those issues are minimized on a vertical surface.”

    To find the best wood stain for your needs, start with CR’s wood stain ratings and use the Ratings & Specs slider to see which ones are best at resisting cracking, fading, dirt, and mildew. Your priorities will vary depending on the climate you live in. Find a stain that resists mildew if you live in a humid area, for example. If you’re upgrading your home’s exterior, we also have test results on decking, replacement windows, roofing, siding, and paints.

    What's the Best Deck Stain?

    Decks take a bigger beating than any other outdoor wood surface. They withstand serious foot traffic and hold heavy items, like grills and outdoor furniture. Snow, salt, leaves, and rain can all easily collect on a deck, unlike a wooden fence, breaking down the protective layer of wood stain in the process. While any CR-recommended stain may do, it’s best to stick to those with particularly high ratings for their appearance after three years in our test. These tend to be solid stains as opposed to semi-transparent or clear ones.

    If your deck lies in direct sunlight, look for stains that resist color change over time. (You can check features and specs in our ratings charts.) If you have a covered deck or if your deck is in a shady spot, look for a stain that resists mildew, because it tends to grow in damp, shaded areas. And if you frequently move items like a grill, deck chairs, or a table from one spot to another, select a stain that resists cracking in our tests.

    If you’re curious about which brand makes the best deck stain, you should know that the bigger differences are actually between the different types of stains, not the companies that make them. Even big-name brands like Behr, Valspar, and Olympic, which make highly rated solid deck stains, also make some semi-transparent and clear options that don’t hold up in our tests.

    If you want your deck stain to last a long time, your best bet is to choose an option that fares well in our tests and to apply it correctly. And of course, if you’re tired of staining and restaining your deck, you can look into composite decks. They offer years of maintenance-free good looks, without you ever needing to apply a coat of stain.

    Below, CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of some of the best wood stains we’ve tested. You’ll find additional details and options in our comprehensive wood stain ratings.

    Best Solid Wood Stains

    Best Semi-Transparent Wood Stains

    Worst Wood Stains From CR's Tests

    As a category, transparent wood stains, or clear sealers, don’t fare well in our tests. The Olympic WaterGuard for Wood and Valspar’s One-Coat Clear are among the worst of the bunch, tying for the second lowest Overall Score in CR’s stain tests with a 5 out of 100. They don’t even provide a single year of effective protection in our testing.

    The Sherwin-Williams SuperDeck Clear Sealer receives an abysmal rating of 4 out of 100 and doesn’t resist cracking, dirt, mildew, or color changes.

    Even among solid stains, not all are up to the task. The Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Solid fails in the same four areas as the options above and earns an Overall Score of only 12 out of 100.

    Types of Wood Stains

    Solid wood stains: Just like regular paint, solid stains hide the grain of the wood, and the best should last three to five years on a deck, with the longest life of the three types of stains. But the paintlike qualities of solid stains have a drawback: They might build up a film, especially after several coats, which can peel, chip, and crack just like paint. The 11 stains in this category included in our comprehensive ratings chart earn Overall Scores of 12 to 82 (out of 100).

    Semi-transparent wood stains: These color the wood but let the grain peek through, making them a good choice for wood that you want to show off, such as Western Red Cedar. But even the best semi-transparent stains in our tests aren’t as tough as the top solid stains, and our data suggest that this type of stain will probably last only two to three years on a deck. The 10 stains in this category also vary widely in performance, garnering Overall Scores of 8 to 41 (out of 100).

    Clear sealer: This type of stain contains water repellents but little or no pigment. It’s ideal for accentuating the beauty of the natural grain of the wood. But without anything to deflect UV rays, the wood will turn gray over time, like a weathered cedar-shingled house. You’ll probably need to reapply annually. The seven clear sealers in our tests earn the lowest scores, with Overall Scores from 4 to 27 (out of 100).

    How CR Tests Wood Stains

    To test wood stains, CR’s engineers apply two coats to pine boards, then place them on the roof of our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y. They face the boards south and angled down, as on a roof, to intensify the effects of the sun and weather for up to three years.

    One year of testing tells you how a stain will do after a year on your deck or about three years of weathering on vertical surfaces (siding or fences).

    For more information on the best ways to assess and apply wood stains, see our wood stain buying guide.

    Paul Hope

    Paul Hope is a senior multimedia content creator at Consumer Reports and a trained chef. He covers ranges, cooktops, and wall ovens, as well as grills, drills, outdoor power tools, decking, and wood stains. Before joining CR in 2016, he tested kitchen products at Good Housekeeping and covered tools and remodeling for This Old House magazine. You’ll typically find him in his old fixer-upper, engrossed in a DIY project or trying out a new recipe.

    James K. Willcox

    James K. Willcox leads Consumer Reports’ coverage of TVs, streaming media services and devices, broadband internet service, and the digital divide. He's also a homeowner covering several home improvement categories, including power washers and decking. A veteran journalist, Willcox has written for Business Week, Cargo, Maxim, Men’s Journal, Popular Science, Rolling Stone, Sound & Vision, and others. At home, he’s often bent over his workbench building guitars or cranking out music on his 7.2-channel home theater sound system.