Published on August 15, 2021

The best deck paints don’t have to be brown, even if they’re covering wood. Though 95 percent of the decks the team at Connecticut-based ZK Painting works on are treated with timber-tinted stain, owner Zach Kenney swears by paint: A couple of colorful coats can prevent warped wood, signs of age, and even insect attacks for a decade or longer, while letting you infuse playfulness and personality into an often overlooked space.

“Paint always helps the deck aesthetic,” adds interior designer and blogger Breegan Jane. “But with the right paint, proper sanding, and excellent care, you will add layers of protection to your deck.” Although Kenney uses the same line for both front doors and kitchen cabinets, not every brand is as versatile. So to help you upgrade your outdoor oasis before summer’s end, we rounded up six of the best deck paints (and a few solid stains) recommended by designers and DIYers, including what they look for in an all-star product. 

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Material: Vinyl, composite, lumber—options today are plentiful, but wood remains the best blank canvas for a paint refresh. Whether your deck is cedar, ipe (a type of walnut), or mahogany (the most popular option, says Kenney), it’s imperative to start with a clean surface before breaking out the roller. “Assuming you have a raw wood deck, wash it down with a mixture of 25 percent bleach and dish detergent,” he recommends. “Spray it on the surface, let it sit, maybe agitate it with a brush, and rinse it off with a hose.” Then apply a preservative like C2 Guard to prevent moisture from seeping into the wood and causing rot, he adds. 

Opacity: Stains are denoted by levels of coverage: clear, semitransparent, semisolid, and solid. Although many homeowners appreciate the natural look of wood on a deck, a clear or semitransparent stain doesn’t offer a whole lot of protection and requires regular maintenance. “I like to say exterior stains are a luxury product,” says Kenney. “You get this beautiful result, but in many cases you’ll need a new coat every six months to a year.” In comparison, a solid stain should last five to eight years, he points out, but paint’s opaque high coverage typically lasts 10 years or more.

Texture: If your deck is relatively smooth, an outdoor latex paint would be a good option,” says DIYer Jodi Bond of House on a Sugar Hill. “But if it’s in rough shape, you may want to choose a solid deck stain instead,” she adds, because it’s easier to apply stains over irregular surfaces. And don’t let the smoothness of pressure-treated lumber fool you—be on the lookout for what’s known as mill glaze, a glossy film that flattens the cellular structure of wood during the milling process. It can make the surface too slick for paint to properly adhere to, which is why Kenney recommends roughing things up with a 120- or 150-grit sandpaper before getting started. 

Our Top Picks

For a Neutral Look: Glidden Porch & Floor Paint and Primer

Brown doesn’t have to be the default for wood decks. Jane suggests reaching for a less expected neutral like gray. “Gray is a clean, modern color that typically works because it’s a classic,” she says. She loves Glidden’s Porch & Floor line because it comes premixed and dries quickly—two hours on a hot day (although it’s best to wait eight hours before applying another coat). And the satin finish is just right for outdoor patios, porches, and decks. “Too much gloss can feel sticky, and matte finishes can sometimes leave footprints,” she adds. 

For a Luxurious Look: Fine Paints of Europe Eco Exterior Paint 

Kenney’s foolproof painting process always ends with Fine Paints of Europe’s Eco line. The water-based coating offers high durability against weather and moisture, ease of application (a sealant isn’t necessary), and 10,000 high-quality color options—not to mention an unlimited number of custom tints. His trade secret: He matches the deck hue to a home’s exterior paint, applying a similar color on the handrails in the same satin finish for a coordinated yet nuanced look. Even if Fine Paints of Europe is outside your budget, Kenney stresses using the most expensive exterior paint your wallet can handle. “That little bit of extra money is going to get you years of life,” he argues. 

For an Effortless Look: Behr Premium Porch & Patio Floor Paint 

If the floor of your outdoor lounge area isn’t just wood, Behr’s Premium Porch & Patio paint is for you. The line has a mildew-resistant finish that withstands scuffing, denting, fading, and peeling for a variety of materials, including stucco, vinyl, and concrete. The key to lasting durability, notes Rick Bautista, Behr’s director of product marketing, is applying the right number of coats: Too much or too little can lead to quick peeling. The brand’s most popular colors skew natural, he says, listing medium to dark browns as current favorites that fits the “new look” aesthetic currently trending, but custom shades are also available. For a stain, Bautista says you can’t go wrong with the company’s Premium Semi-Transparent Waterproofing Stain & Sealer.  

For a Layered Look: Rust-Oleum Rock Solid Solid Stain 

Consider this heavy-duty option for decks that need a little TLC rather than full-blown refinishing. Rust-Oleum’s Rock Solid line is two times thicker than your average paint, drying to a flat finish that still manages to hide pesky imperfections. And because it’s waterproof and UV-resistant, it’s designed to last, making it an excellent base for layering other paints, as Bond did on her own deck. Plus there’s one more reason to use it: Though it’s available in limited colorways (the 60 shades lean toward a woodlike palette), this water-based stain quickly covers 250 square feet per gallon, which means it’s a one-and-done time-saver. 

For a Natural Look: Benjamin Moore Arborcoat Exterior Stain

Nick Rochacewich of Canada’s NWR Painting says most clients prefer a semisolid appearance—a bit of color but not enough to completely cover the wood grain: “We usually do three coats, and it ends up providing a varnishlike look, by thinning the opacity out to 40 percent for the first coat, down to 20 percent for the second coat, and then just 5 percent for the last coat.” Benjamin Moore’s Arborcoat exterior stain is Rochacewich’s go-to for most exterior projects, even the wood sidings popular in Canada. Its main point of differentiation is color: The line offers 75 options, including trendy greens, blues, and purples. 

For a Colorful Look: Valspar One-Coat Exterior Stain & Sealer

With 500 customizable shades to choose from, Valspar’s One-Coat Exterior Stain line is the choice for creatives who don’t mind seeing more of a wood deck’s grain. Bond relied on it to add a pop of color to her deck, creating a playful, geometric design with Old Towne and Pink Cinnamon. Layering the stains hasn’t caused any trouble with wear and tear either. “So far it’s had excellent weather resistance,” shares Bond. “Here in Georgia we get a lot of extreme weather and experience a ton of moisture, as well as blistering hot sun—my deck stain has held up like a champ!” 

Ask Domino

What is the difference between deck paint and deck stain?

It comes down to pigment. “When we stain a deck, we’re using a very thin amount of pigment so that most of the wood shows through,” explains Kenney. Behr’s Bautista is a big fan of stains for this reason. “They are designed to have the flexibility and breathability for wood surfaces, the durability to hold up to horizontal foot traffic, and the formulation technology to withstand the external elements,” he explains. But Kenney argues that less pigmentation actually translates to a shorter life span when compared with paint, which is full pigment for high coverage, acting as a protective top layer.

How long does it take for a deck paint to dry?

That depends on the weather. “Warm days may not be the most fun conditions to work in, but they’re ideal for drying your deck paint more quickly,” says Jane, who notes that it should only take one to two hours for a deck to dry, although she doesn’t recommend walking on the surface for a full 24 hours. “If there is moisture in the air or if it’s cooler, it will take longer.”

How We Vetted These Products

Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria: 

  1. They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use. 
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  3. They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL. 

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