Deck renovation: should I stain or oil my deck?

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3 min readVisual appeal is the main benefit of building a deck with timber rather than composite material. Although composite can replicate the look of wood, it does not compare to the pleasing natural aesthetic of a timber deck.

Timber decking requires a regular maintenance schedule to keep it looking its best. An essential stage of any maintenance program should be staining or oiling.

When deciding whether to stain or oil your timber deck, many deck owners are simply at a loss because they don’t know enough to make an informed decision. Here is some advice to help you decide which option is right for you and your outdoor area.

 17 Driver Street, Portsea, VIC. 17 Driver Street, Portsea, VIC.

The case for oiling the deck

What differentiates oil from stain is that it’s a preventative measure. Oil penetrates deep into the pores of the wood, protecting it from water damage. Some oils are manufactured with UV blockers, which help reduce the damage from the harmful rays of the sun. They are often also resistant to mould and fungus.

There are two types of decking oils available, water based and non-water based. Choosing the best decking oil can be the difference between an average looking or mint condition decking. It’s really that important.

Decking oils are generally not designed to change the colour of the wood, but some (particularly non-water based oils) can darken the wood. A natural pigment or light oak oil is recommended for dark-coloured timbers like Merbau to prevent it turning even darker.

The case for staining the deck

Staining your deck can enhance the appearance of the timber by changing the existing colour. Doing this revitalises the deck and helps highlight the natural grain.

Staining can also help preserve the wood if the stain is carried in an oil. If it is a water based stain it will only provide UV protection.

How long before you can stain a deck?

If the wood you are using has been pressure treated, it is often delivered wet with preservative. For the stain to properly absorb, the wood needs time to dry out.

How long you should wait will vary on the climate and weather conditions in your area and whether the deck is in the sun or shade, but a rough estimate is between 4-8 weeks after installation.

How often should you oil or stain?

Oils– Depending on whether you’re using a water based or non-water based oil, you will need to apply it every six to 18 months.

Stains– Home improvement site Homeguides say that you will need to re-stain the wood once a year if you are using a transparent stain, but will only need to do it every 5 years if you’re using a solid pigmented stain. However, excess amounts of weathering or usage will cause the stain to wear out faster. Meaning shorter time between treatments.

Decking oil vs. stain

Whether you should oil or stain will come down to what you want from your deck. A stain will improve the appearance of the deck, but oil will better help preserve its condition.

I think oil is preferable because timber decking is such a significant investment that you will want to get as much life out of it before you need to replace it. Also preserving the condition of the wood will help maintain its appearance.

One of the major drawbacks of oil is that the wood may turn a silver colour due to exposure to the sun. However, you can bring back the natural look of the wood by using a pressure washer or choosing a decking oil with UV inhibitors.

Before you start

Regardless of whether you decide to oil or stain, you should ensure the deck is clean before you start. Take everything off the deck, like furniture, plants and decorations. If you cannot do this, neatly place the items in a corner.

After sweeping, use a safe product to clean the deck. You could also use a pressure washer.

Follow instructions and retailer suggestions

Decking oil and stain will come with instructions on the tin. It will tell you how to apply it, how long it will take to dry and when you should apply a second coat. It’s always prudent to test it in an inconspicuous area before putting on the first coat to make sure it doesn’t dramatically change the colour of the wood.

It’s also important to follow the retailer suggestions about which products will be safe for your particular timber species.

If you are still unsure whether to use a decking oil or stain, your timber supplier or a hardware specialist will be able to give you a recommendation.

For more DIY decking improvement tips have a read of our step by step guide to decking restoration and composite vs timber decking.

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Michael Rowney

Michael Rowney is Managing Director of Austim, timber decking specialists based in Perth, Western Australia.

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  1. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that stain will help improve the look of your deck. My husband and I installed our deck a few years ago, and the wood is starting too look a little bit faded. We’ll definitely look into having it stained to bring the color out again. Thanks for the great post!

  2. I didn’t know that staining and oiling were so different. I’m looking to get a deck soon and I’ll have it professionally installed, but I want to be able to take care of it myself. I think I would prefer oiling since I like the color of timber I’m using already.

    • Is it OK to apply a water based oil coat to my mahogany stained, cleaned , scrubbed decking before I apply more mahogany stain coats

  3. Help, we have 2 areas with decking that need to be addressed, the front porch, the previous owners installed the decking upside down, we have just flipped them over, gave them a light sand, now to stain or oil?
    The 2nd part is the decking around the pool- I have no idea how I can even keep people off it

  4. Thanks for the useful advise.
    I just stained my Merbo deck and its come out beautiful.
    Wondering if i should now apply a coat of oil? or not necessary?

  5. Great post. I think this is what I was exactly looking for. I would definitely try to follow these advice in order to maintain and renovation of duck. It’s very useful information. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  6. I’m so confused!!!! We have a merbau deck that was orginally oiled in a natural merbau colour, but I found it so slippery when it became wet, that it was too dangerous. It’s looking patchy and in need of a spruce up. I purchased a Cabot’s product which is a water based exterior stain in a lighter colour, (a beach grey)and to ensure its slip resistant, we are putting the non slip sealant on top which is actually water based, called slip resistant ‘oil’ but it’s actually water based. I’m not sure now I’ve made the right decision to ensure longevity of the timber by staining and with minimal maintenance AND if I need to sand the existing deck first, or if a cleaner will suffice as I have plants near the deck that may be affected by the chemicals in the cleaner. Grrrrrr!

  7. Hi, have been reading this blog to try and work out what to do about my decking. I wonder if you or anyone can help. After a year in my new house, I decided to oil my lovely silvery-coloured oak decking in the garden because it was looking parched and in need of tlc. (May I add that i’ve realised it was "silver" due to the comment you made in the article about sunlight fading oak to a silvery colour). Anyway it was a perfect faded "beach house" colour. I bought a decking oil that I thought that was for "Natural Oak" because that is what it said on the tin, but having put it on my decking it has now turned a dark brown colour, closest in my view to dog poo brown. I didn’t realise it was a STAIN as well. I’m devastated with the result. Is there is anything i can do to get rid of the dark colour out of the pressure washering it out, for example? The oil has a UV protectant in it btw. I want it to go back to the silvery colour it was before, and should have really purchased a clear oil but, to be frank, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Btw I live in England and it is late Spring here. Please help..thanks!

    • Hi Dominique, thank you for the comment. It sounds to me as though you’ll have to invest in a quality stain stripper to dissolve away the coloured stain you’ve applied to the timber.
      It will probably take a bit of elbow grease to scrape and scrub away the old stain if it is a dark colour. Once you’ve stripped the stain back you’ll need to pressure wash the deck to clean away all the debris before allowing the deck to completely dry off (for about 24hrs). Then lightly sand the surface before coating it with a clear oil to protect your newly stripped deck and to maintain the original colour you want.

      I hope that helps!

    • Omg I think you have stuffed your deck! Glad I read what you did I have a silver deck and now I know what not to do! Thanks! 😂👍

  8. Whether you should oil or stain will come down to what you want from your deck. A stain will improve the appearance of the deck, but oil will better help preserve its condition. … However, you can bring back the natural look of the wood by using a pressure washer or choosing a decking oil with UV inhibitors.

  9. is a common question.

    Whether the desired look is matt, glossy, dark or natural, an essential part of any deck maintenance is staining or oiling. The problem people normally face is understanding the difference between these two types of products. By choosing the right product this will ensure your outdoor area is finished to the way you want.

  10. Extreme heat or sun can work against you when you are staining your deck. The direct sunlight can cause the deck to dry too quickly which will leave water marks. If the weather is forecasting for no rain, and you can expect the temperatures to be below 80 or 85 degrees Fahrenheit, make a plan to stain your deck.

  11. Which one of these Stain or Oiling my deck will be easier for me to keep clean we had a Water Based Solid Stain before and I couldn’t even get the dog paw prints off while using a soapy brush or pressure washing it off please help make the right decision, Oil or Stain ? Thanks


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