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Decking Oil vs Stain – Which is Best?

Posted by Greg Parkins on

Whether your deck is brand new or a number of years old, you’re eventually going to have to consider what you can do to maintain its visual appeal.

The wood used for your decking will require regular maintenance to remain in good condition, and some of the best ways to achieve this can be by using decking oil or stains.

But, a common question many people ask is, what is the difference between decking oil and stain?

We’ve outlined the main differences below, sharing our advice on the products you’ll need depending on the type of decking you have.

decking next to countryside

What is decking oil?

Decking oils help bring out the natural features in the wood, and can protect your decking from warping, splitting, or the formation of any cracks.

Easily maintained and quick to apply, decking oils are available in both clear and coloured variations.

The oil will help your outdoor decking stay resistant to UV rays and water damage, as well as nourishing your decking by replenishing the wood with natural oils.

One of the main benefits of using decking oils is that a little can go a long way, and you’ll get plenty of coverage from multiple thin layers.

If applied correctly using a paintbrush, the oil will also set quickly and should be dry in four to eight hours.

Decking oil is perfect for repairing any small areas of damage to your decking, and won’t crack or peel away from the wood’s surface. It will also add more traction to the wood, meaning your deck will be less slippery when the winter months arrive.

For more information on looking after your decking during the winter months, take a look at our blog post here.

The negatives to decking oil

A potential downside with decking oils is that it isn’t great for exotic hardwood decking, therefore it’s recommended to check the compatibility of the oil before application.

Another issue is if you’re looking to replace the oil with decking stain, you would need to strip the oil from the wood first, as the oil will prevent the stain from sticking to the wood.

You also shouldn’t mix different types of decking oil as they come in two varieties, water-based and solvent-based. Mixing the two types of oil could result in an uneven or patchy finish.

An easy way to tell the difference is by reading the instructions on the label. If the instructions mention cleaning your brushes with water, it’s a water-based oil and if it mentions cleaning the brushes with a white spirit, it’s solvent-based.

What is decking stain?

Decking stain will varnish your outdoor decking and coat the wood to give it a fresh new look. It's widely available in a variety of colours and easy to apply using a paintbrush.  

The stain acts as an extra protective layer between the wood and any debris that can cause damage to your deck. The stain is particularly good for making sure mould or algae doesn’t form on the surface of the wood.

It will also give you plenty of options in terms of colour, which can quickly revitalise your outdoor space and give it a completely new look. The colour pigments in the stain will also help protect the wood from sun damage or grey discolouration.

Similar to decking oils, many stains are quick to dry and it won’t take long to apply the stain to your deck – after it's application, you’ll able to use your outdoor space again in a matter of hours!

The negatives to decking stain

One potential issue with decking stain is that it may crack or peel if the stain itself has been damaged.

This normally happens when water has found it’s way underneath the layer of stain, or if some furniture on your deck has damaged it.

If you’re looking to remove existing stain from your decking, you’ll need to strip the wood of the original coating, something that may require a lot of elbow grease.

Similar to decking oil, decking stain can also be problematic if applied to dark exotic hardwood due to the natural oils that occur in the wood. By leaving the decking to weather naturally for three to six months, the decking should have lost its natural oils, allowing the stain to soak in to the wood.

cat on decking in sunshine

Top Tips Before You Start

Before you begin to apply decking oil or stains to your deck, it’s important to do your homework on what type of finish you’d like for your decking.

Do some research into what product is the best fit for your desired outcome, as choosing the wrong product may lead to some complications down the line and only create more work for yourself.

1. Make sure that your outdoor decking is clean. Sweep away any dirt, wash it down with soapy water or a multi-purpose cleaner, and move any furniture or plants out of the way.

2. Read the instructions on the packaging of your product. This will tell you how to apply the product correctly, how much you should be using, and how long it will take to dry.

3. Make sure to stir the product in the tin to mix the ingredients that may have settled at the bottom of the container.

4. Test your chosen decking oil or stain on a small part of wood before committing to a full coat. Both decking oil and stain will alter the appearance of the wood, and a small test will show you how your decking will eventually look.

5. For best results, apply your decking oil or stain on a mild or dry day. Not only will this give you a better finish, it will also dry quicker too.

6. Applying the product in cold or rainy conditions could affect the final finish of your decking, as the product may not dry evenly or combine with the wood.

For more advice on maintaining your decking, why not check out our blog post on how to maintain your decking here, or take a look at some decking boards from our latest range here.


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