With any exterior wood project, there is always the age old question of “should I use paint or stain for my deck?”. To answer the question it is mainly up to personal preference, both materials have pros and cons. However, protecting the wood is essential.
Either way, finishing is critical, because unprotected wood left to the elements gets ugly fast. Moisture is absorbed by wood, causing it to twist, warp, and crack as it swells and shrinks. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun discolors wood and breaks down its lignin, the natural glue that holds the fibers together. This invites more moisture and, worse, wood-decay fungi, which secrete enzymes that rot wood fibers. Even cedar, which contains weather-resistant oils, can look pretty rough after a few seasons.
When using paint there are a lot of pros. It is more durable to the elements than stain, and it can last up to 10 years before you need to refinish if done right. However, once you paint your deck you can only paint your deck, you cannot strip the paint off and then stain the wood.
With stains, you can paint later if you do not like the look of it (after a good sanding and proper prep), and with stain, you can keep the natural look of wood. However, stain doesn’t last as long as paint and it normally requires more upkeep than paint.
If you stain don’t expect the same longevity you get with paint. Stains soak deep into the wood, filling in microscopic gaps that would otherwise absorb moisture. This helps keep the wood stable, but it’s not as effective as a paint’s protective coating. On the upside, most stains are formulated with a wood preservative, so mold and rot shouldn’t be a problem. However, stains don’t do a good job blocking UV, and that could be a major factor if your railing gets a lot of sun. “Transparent and semitransparent stains contain some pigment and offer a bit of UV resistance, but the clearer the stain, the less protection you’ll get. The wood will gray after a few years,” says Ryan Coffey, a product specialist for paint manufacturer Rust-Oleum.
So whatever material you choose it really is up to your personal preference! Choose what you want for the look of your home.