Top 7 Best Exterior Wood Stains (2021 Reviews)

Last Updated On September 17, 2021

Are you looking for an awesome stain to use on your exterior wood?

You've come to the right place!

In this ProPaintCorner.com Guide, you'll learn:

  • What types of stain to use for exterior wood
  • What you need to know about exterior stains
  • What supplies you'll need to stain wood outdoors

And much more!

Top 7 Best Exterior Wood Stains

So, if you want to make sure you can stain your exterior wood easily and get amazing coverage, keep reading our buying guide to learn everything you need to know before you start staining!

Image Product

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DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
  • UV-Resistant
  • Water-based
  • Eco-friendly and low-VOC
  • UV-Resistant
  • Water-based
  • Eco-friendly and low-VOC
View on Amazon

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Olympic Maximum Semi-Transparent Stain + Sealant
  • 6 year warranty on decks
  • Can apply on damp wood
  • Weather-ready application between temperatures of 35 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 6 year warranty on decks
  • Can apply on damp wood
  • Weather-ready application between temperatures of 35 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit
View on Amazon

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Ready Seal Exterior Stain And Sealer For Wood
  • No primer required
  • Easily applied with sprayer, paintbrush, or roller
  • No back brushing required
  • No primer required
  • Easily applied with sprayer, paintbrush, or roller
  • No back brushing required
View on Amazon

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KILZ Exterior Waterproofing Wood Stain
  • 100% acrylic formula
  • 3-year warranty
  • For use on all exterior wood surfaces
  • 100% acrylic formula
  • 3-year warranty
  • For use on all exterior wood surfaces
View on Amazon

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Storm System Penetrating Sealer And Stain Protector
  • 5 different color options
  • Semi-transparent stain and sealer
  • Prevents UV Damage
  • 5 different color options
  • Semi-transparent stain and sealer
  • Prevents UV Damage
View on Amazon

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#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
  • Stain and sealant all in one
  • Doesn’t hide the wood grain
  • Low VOC/more eco-friendly
  • Stain and sealant all in one
  • Doesn’t hide the wood grain
  • Low VOC/more eco-friendly
View on Amazon

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Cabot Wood Toned Deck And Siding Stain
  • 10 different color choices
  • Creates a translucent oil finish
  • Low VOC content
  • 10 different color choices
  • Creates a translucent oil finish
  • Low VOC content
View on Amazon

Our Overall #1 Rated Pick

Updated On September 17, 2021

Our favorite is Defy Extreme Semi-Transparent Stain because it is fortified with a zinc nano-particle technology that reflects UV rays and prevents loss of color in your deck or wood surface.

With quality that is designed to outlast other products, Defy Extreme Semi-Transparent Stain is made with high-quality resins that will give your deck a semi-transparent look. 

Grab this stain off of Amazon in 1 or 5-gallon sizes for the best possible price!

Our Top 7 Best Stains For Exterior Wood

If you're truly looking for the best stains to use for your exterior wood refinishing project, you're in the right place!

Below is a list of our top 7 stains, keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of each one:

What Types of Stain Should You Use For Staining Exterior Wood?

While there are tons of different staining solutions out there for staining outdoor furniture, decks, and fences, there are a few key things you should consider about your wood staining project before you get started!

Wood Types

One of the first things to think about when staining any exterior wood is what type of wood you're working with.

Is it pressure treated? A hardwood? A softwood? 

Different types of wood require different treatments in order to keep them protected and looking their best.

Staining Soft Woods

If you're working with a softwood like cedar or pine, you might want to consider using a pre-stain conditioning treatment.

That's because softwood grains can absorb stain unevenly, leaving your end result looking blotchy.

I recently built myself a wood desk using pine wood and I'm so glad I tested the stain on scrap wood first to see if it was worth using a pre-stain conditioner. 

I ended up seeing how blotchy the stain looked without the pre-treatment and decided to go for the conditioner and the end-result turned out beautifully!

So, if you're staining a fence that's made of softwood, I highly recommend using some sort of pre-stain treatment because blotchiness can be very obvious on a larger surface area like a fence.

That said, you can probably use either an oil-based or water-based stain when working with softwoods since the wood grain is easier to penetrate.

Staining Hardwoods

If you're working with hardwood, it's important to know that hardwood can be harder to penetrate with stain.

You'll often need to go with an oil-based stain in order for the wood fibers to fully absorb and take the stain properly so the pigment is saturated. 

Not only for aesthetic purposes but also for protecting the wood surface.

Staining wood can actually increase its lifespan. This is because the stain prevents splintering, rot, and rain from destroying the wood's surface.

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Stains

For most applications, you'll be okay using an oil-based or water-based (sometimes referred to as acrylic) stain.

That said, there are a few key differences to consider.

For one, oil-based stains tend to be more durable and deeper penetrating for certain wood grains.

There used to be a massive difference in durability between water-based and oil-based stains, but that's no longer truly the case.

Today, water-based products have improved in quality so much that it (almost) comes down to a preference.

The benefit of water-based products is that they're much easier to dispose of and are often less hazardous to your health because they have a much lower concentration of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are the chemicals that give stains and paints that toxic smell.

So, ultimately what stain you choose depends on your preference and the specific type of wood you're working with.

Make sure you do deeper research on the specific stain you're looking at and whether or not it's right for your needs.

Check out the video below to learn more about the differences between using an oil or water-based stain for staining exterior wood.

Semi-Transparent Stain vs. Solid Stain

When choosing the stain you want to use, it's important to decide what kind of finished look you're going for.

If you want a full-coverage on your wood boards, you'll want to opt for a solid stain.

This will prevent any of the natural grain from peeking through when you're done staining.

But, if you don't want to cover your wood with a solid color, semi-transparent stains or semi-solid stains can offer the opacity you're looking for.

They enhance the color of the natural wood which allows for all the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.

If you want to be able to see some of that beautiful wood color coming through even after you're done staining, semi-transparent stains are perfect for you.

Even a semi-solid stain can do the trick, it will just tend to have a higher opacity than a stain marketed as a "semi-transparent" stain.

The beauty of using wood stains though is that you can kind of determine the overall opacity as you go by putting down a lighter layer or only opting to put down one coat.

Stains are far more versatile that way than paints.

Read More >> What Are The Best Semi-Transparent Deck Stains?

What Do You Need To Know Before You Start Working With Exterior Wood Stain?

There are a few things you need to prepare before you're ready to start staining, even if you have the right stain for the job!

Prep Work

Prep work is especially important when staining a wood surface because it's going to prepare it to accept the stain properly.

If you're staining an existing wood deck, wood fence, or piece of outdoor furniture, I'd highly recommend taking a pressure washer to the surface first.

Even if the wood doesn't look dirty to the naked eye, I promise you there's plenty of grime to remove before you dive into staining. You want to make sure you're working with bare wood, not wood covered in hard water stains from rain, grime, and other dust or debris.

Luckily, you can rent a pressure washer from your local Home Depot or Lowe's if you don't have one handy.

Getting the boards completely clean before applying stain is essential when you're staining your fence.

If, however, you're working with previously painted or stained wood, make sure you do a great job sanding that existing paint off first so you can get down to the wood's natural color so the stain can do its job right.

Now, let's quickly go over some of the essential supplies you'll need to do a good job when staining exterior wood.

Obviously choosing the right stain is important, but you don't want to forget the other essential supplies and have to go back to the hardware store every 15 minutes when you find out you need something new.

Read More >> How Much Does It Cost To Paint/Stain A Deck?

Supplies You'll Need

  • Drop cloths
  • Paint roller (if rolling)
  • Paintbrush (for detailing)
  • Paint sprayer (if desired)
  • Paint tray or cup
  • Stain
  • Pre-conditioning treatment (if using)
  • Wood cleaner
  • Sealer (optional, some stains have sealant included)

Now that you know what you'll need to get the stain job done right, let's go over some of the best exterior wood stains out there.

Read More >> What Are The Best Airless Paint Sprayers?

Step-By-Step Guide To Staining Exterior Wood (5-Steps)

Before you dive into your wood stain project, here's a quick overview of the basic steps involved in staining any type of exterior wood.

(Psst! You can click on any of the links below to jump directly to that step.)

  1. Spray It Down With A Pressure Washer
  2. Cover Up Anything That You Don't Want To Get Stain On
  3. Apply The First Coat Of Stain Using The Best Method For You
  4. Evaluate The Results & Apply A Second Coat If Need Be
  5. Clean Up & Dispose Of The Stain

Step 1 - Spray It Down With A Pressure Washer

Cleaning the deck is the first step in the process.

First, spray it off with a pressure washer at low pressure---don't turn hit it too hard, as you could put a hole in it!

You may want to sand a bit, and then spray it off again to get rid of all the dust.

Step 2 - Cover Up Anything That You Don't Want To Get Stain On

Use your paint masker or simply cover up undesired surfaces with a plastic or 

Step 3 - Apply The First Coat Of Stain Using The Best Method For You

Applying stain is so easy. 

If you are using a paint sprayer, just load up some stain in the paint sprayer, and do your best at evenly applying the stain onto the surface.

Step 4 - Evaluate The Results & Apply A Second Coat If Need Be

When staining, you never know if the first coat is going to be sufficient to seal in the wood completely. 

You'll need to read the label on the specific product you are using to understand how long it takes for the stain to cure.

Chances are, with exterior wood surfaces reapplication is a good idea since it adds that extra layer of protection to the wood grain.

But, if you're looking to save time, apply the first coat liberally and that might do the job (depending on the look you're going for).

Step 5 - Clean Up & Dispose Of The Stain

Clean up consists of picking up drop cloths, removing tape, etc so that you can move on to the next paint job!

But beyond that, if you chose to use an oil-based stain, make sure you look up the proper disposal methods in your area.

Just like oil-based paints, oil-based stain contains caustic chemicals that usually need to be brought to a proper recycling facility.

Our Reviews Of The Top 7 Exterior Wood Stain

Defy is a super-formula environmentally friendly wood stain that is water-based, semi-transparent, and easy to apply for a natural matte finish on your next deck staining project.

Made using a zinc nanoparticle technology, these small zinc particles in the stain are designed to reflect UV rays and preserve the color of the wood.

Made with the highest quality resins, Defy is VOC compliant and ships to all states except for California.

Pros

  • Eco-friendly
  • Water-based
  • 7 different color choices

Cons

  • Doesn't ship to California
  • Not oil-based

Our next choice is the amazing Olympic Maximum Semi-Transparent Stain & Sealer.

This stuff is amazing for so many reasons!

If you're looking for incredible, high-quality protection of your exterior wood surfaces, this stuff takes the cake.

Not only is it a fantastic option for homeowners looking to protect their decking, siding, and fences, but it's also affordable, protects your wood grain from UV rays, and offers a 6-year warranty on decks!

If you're looking for a weather-ready stain and sealer to apply a rich color to your wood that is also water-repellent, the Olympic Maximum Semi-Transparent stain is for you.

Pros

  • 6-year warranty on decks
  • Can apply on damp wood
  • The weather-ready application between temperatures of 35 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit

Cons

  • Only comes in 7 different colors
  • Doesn't come with Amazon Prime shipping

Ready Seal is another exterior stain that works great on any exterior wood surface.

When reaching its true color within 14 days, Ready Seal Exterior Stain And Sealer can be applied with any method whether it be a paint sprayer, paintbrush, or paint roller. 

Forget about priming first, just apply Ready Seal directly to your exterior surface for the perfect weather-proofing solution in 8 different colors.

Pros

  • Made in the USA
  • Great for any exterior use
  • Sold in 1 and 5-gallon containers

Cons

  • Not sold in smaller than 1-gallon quantity
  • Takes longer to dry than other products (48-72 hours)
  • Takes 14 days for the color to cure

Our next stain is the renowned KILZ Exterior Waterproofing Semi-Transparent Wood Stain.

Not only is this stuff fantastic for waterproofing your wood, but it also comes with a 5-year warranty on fences and siding.

Plus, it's a more eco-friendly option because it's water-based, which also means it's easier to clean up.

As if this stuff couldn't get any better, it has a low drying time, excellent UV protection is water-repellent and mildew-resistant.

All of that is packed into this one-gallon can for just about $30, it's pretty hard to beat!

Pros

  • Mildew-resistant
  • 3-year warranty for decks, 5-year warranty on fences/siding
  • Trusted brand

Cons

  • Limited color choices
  • Only comes in a semi-transparent option on Amazon

This stuff is one of the best stains out there for staining a wood deck, wood fence, or wood siding, especially at this price point.

Not only does it come in several different stain colors, but it's incredibly versatile and can be used on all types of wood grains - softwoods and hardwoods alike.

This exterior wood stain is fantastic for homeowners or DIY fans who want to get that new wood look on their exterior wood without a ton of hassle.

If you want to prevent weathering on your wood and create some UV protection for the grain of the wood, this stuff will help prevent graying and keep your deck looking like new!

Pros

  • 5 different color options
  • Semi-transparent stain and sealer
  • Prevents UV Damage

Cons

  • Only comes with 6, lighter colors
  • Oil-based so it has higher VOC content and is less eco-friendly

#1 Deck Premium Wood Stain is a great option for a reasonably priced stain that has hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Do you want to protect your deck or fence from fading and graying? Try #1 Deck because it will protect woods like cedar, treated pine, fir, redwood and other softwoods. 

With 5 semi-transparent/semi-solid colors to choose from, #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain even works on damp wood, so all you have to do is give your exterior wood surface a quick power wash, and you can get to staining.

It's also available in 1 or 2.5-gallon quantities which means it's great for both small and large stain projects!

Pros

  • 5 different colors to choose from
  • Low VOC content/more eco-friendly
  • Creates a natural finish

Cons

  • More expensive than other options
  • Not sold in 5 gallon quantity

Cabot is a high-quality translucent oil stain that will give some extra color to your wood surface.

Cabot is water repellent and penetrates deep into the surface of the wood to create years of lasting color that beautifies any exterior wood surface you apply it to.

Pick up Cabot in 1-gallon quantities off of Amazon for the best possible price.

Pros

  • Choose from 10 different colors (5 wood-toned colors)
  • Low VOC content
  • Translucent oil finish

Cons

  • Slightly more expensive than other products
  • Vapor can be harmful if inhaled
  • Not sold in 5-gallon quantities

Our favorite choice is the Defy Extreme Semi-Transparent Stain because it provides the best quality at the best value plus it's environmentally friendly, and there is even a DEFY Extreme 40 version that is VOC compliant for the state of California. 

With a semi-transparent finish, Defy Extreme Semi-Transparent Stain is water-based, so it will be easy to clean up by just using water. 

By using zinc nanotechnology, Defy Extreme Semi-Transparent Stain uses the highest quality resins to create an attractive UV/weather resistant finish that will longer than other products listed. 

Pick up Defy Extreme off of Amazon in 1 or 5-gallon quantities, and have it shipped to your door step within a couple of days.

Other Things To Note Before You Start Staining Your Exterior Wood Surface

Now that you've gotten the lay of the land when it comes to choosing the right stain for your deck, it's important to note a few other things before you dive into your DIY project.

Safety First

When working with stains - especially if you're using a paint sprayer - it's important to remember to take proper health safety precautions.

Stains have a lot of toxic components to them which is why we always recommend using a paint respirator of some kind to protect your lungs.

We also recommend using safety goggles and gloves to keep the components from reaching your eyes and penetrating your skin.

Read More >> What Are The Best Respirators To Use With Paint Sprayers?

Ask For Help!

If you're new to the DIY game and you've never taken on a project like this, make sure you consult an expert about your particular project before you dive in.

Often times you can find a knowledgeable person at your local hardware store or big box home improvement store who will be able to answer any specific questions about your project.

Taking the time to do this can not only save you some headaches but potentially prevent you from making costly mistakes.

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, furniture...you name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

Got A Paint Question? Ask Your Pro Painter!

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Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, furniture...you name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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