Blog Stain Comparison by Opacity

Published on November 1st, 2015 | by Grant Barnard


Cheapest Stain Option – Semi Transparent – Solid Color – Deck Staining

What is the cheapest deck stain option, is a difficult question that we get ALL the time. This depends on many factors, mostly relative to your expectations of appearance and lasting longevity of the stained wood.  Also, your tolerance for maintenance on your deck plays a huge factor in this decision. Are you doing the maintenance yourself, or paying for a professional?

Who Is Doing The Deck Staining

Paying a professional deck staining company or doing the work DIY is the biggest determining factor in cost. Unfortunately, this may also cause some discomfort in the final appearance  expectations of your deck staining. Nobody but you can determine how much time you are willing to reallocate and what that time is worth.

Expectations of Deck Stain

It’s unfortunate that so many deck stain companies have claimed all kinds of impossible capabilities of their deck stain. This has caused a big gap between the actual possibilities and the customers expectations of longevity.

Not everybody sees a failure in the same light.  Some will consider a slight fading a failure and some will consider the stain to be not failing even when there is significant graying.

Your weather pattern will have a large bearing on the results that you will achieve. Extreme weather patterns often require a specialty solution that may not be applicable in other regions.

Type of Wood

Pressure Treated Greenwood – Greenwood is a general term that applies to many woods used throughout the United States using a copper based preservative usually combined with another product to assist with protection against insects. Originally greenwood was only  copper arsenate treated lumber, which is now voluntary not used in residential except for special circumstances. Now there are many different “greenwood” types of wood treatment including much safer copper solution not involving arsenic.  Generally greenwood decks and fences can be stained right away after a good deck washing from a professional deck staining company.

Cedar – Cedar is a soft wood that has natural oils that protect the deck naturally. Cedar is generally too soft for decks and therefore is rarely used for decks.

Pressure Treated Pine (other than greenwood) – Other treatments that are both oil based and water based can mess up the deck stain appearance when the extra chemicals seep back out of the wood. This is why you let the wood season.

Solid Color Deck Stain Costs

If done properly, solid color deck stain can be a pretty cheap way to go. Properly is that the stain receives a single maintenance coat every two years. Once the film is allowed to build too thick there will be issues with adhesion as with any coating on a horizontal surface.

Thick “Repairing” Deck Coatings

These are the wrong type of coatings for a deck. Everybody in the coating industry will tell you that a thick film forming waterborne coating on a horizontal wood surface is fundamentally flawed. We have done quotes for hundreds of decks that were absolutely ruined by the product that they used. Most of them could not afford the price to strip the deck back down and reapply the deck stain correctly.

Enamel Deck Finishes

Enamel deck finishes are great long lasting finishes. This is the only coating that will last longer than two years if applied correctly. Correctly applied means that an appropriate alkyd primer is used with a VERY high quality enamel over the top. Oil based and water based formulation will both work and last a good long time. Enamels should not be applied directly to wood regardless of the claims for adhesion.

Waterborne and Oil Based Semi Transparent Stain

Water Based Semi Transparent stains are cheap to do but are also much harder to apply than oil based stains. Water based stains hold their color longer but do not protect against water damage as well. The per gallon cost is lower with water based stains of the same quality caliber.  However, in the long term the water based stain will build on top of one another causing a thick coating that will cause constant issues and is almost impossible to strip with a very uneven appearance.  Most people that get a quote for stripping water based stain deem the service to be too expensive to be worth it and never find a contractor to complete the work at an agreed price. Oil based stains are cheaper in the long run due to the fact that they do not have the heavy build problems AND are easily able to be stripped by a professional deck staining company.

Pricing For Deck Staining

Common deck staining project

This is a common deck staining project that we commonly see. Usually before deck staining, the deck would need to be cleaned thoroughly. The examples below do not include these cleaning costs. Below, we will give the price of each option as we apply it and our price for the maintenance coats and when they should be applied. This will include all costs to finish the job, like all companies should do. While we cannot do your individual math this will give you a good idea of what you are getting into.  THESE PRICES ARE RELATIVE TO OUR AREA AND ARE TO ONLY GIVE A GENERAL IDEA ON PRICE POINT. Allow for your regions normal pricing.

Solid Color Stain

  • Double coat initial application via mask, spray and backbrush – $1988
  • Maintenance coats on horizontal surfaces after two years – $594
  • Full maintenance coat – $760


  • Original Application with oil primer and double coats – $2130
  • Maintenance coats on horizontal surfaces after 3-4 years – $594
  • Full Maintenance coat – $ 760

Semi Transparent

  • Original Application with thick single coat (Oil OR Water) – $1262
  • Maintenance coats on horizontal surfaces after two years – $594
  • Full Maintenance coat – $650
  • Cost to strip stain after numerous coats on water based stain – $ 3700

In conclusion, the short term and long term costs associated with having a wooden deck depend largely on your overall appearance expectations of the deck and how much work you plan to do yourself.  Some of our customers have us back every year to freshen up their deck stain. Trees and which way your deck faces play hugely into total costs too.

About the Author

Grant Barnard started painting in 2000 and started Grants Painting in 2008. Originally doing business in northern Indiana, the business was moved to Indianapolis and Greenwood shortly after. Today the Grants Painting has blossomed into a reputable painting contracting company with an ever growing extensive website including our How To DIY Articles. Grants Painting covers all aspects of coatings and specialized in epoxy flooring, interior painting, exterior painting and cabinet painting.

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