Can I leave my deck unstained?
June 24, 2013 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a beautiful new treated pine deck and I'm confused about the finish. I've read that it is very important to stain the deck for protection and preservation. I've also read that stain is primarily for looks, and if you have no objection to the grayish color that comes with aging (I don't, I rather like it) there is no need to stain. Which is it? Details: Deck is in mid-Michigan. Will get the full brunt of the elements (sun and rain/snow), but since it is raised a good four feet off the ground, it is well ventilated against mildew and mold and should dry quickly. Any wisdom to offer?
posted by dzot to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have to stain it, but you may want to seal it. Thompson's Water Seal is the type of product, but talk to whomever build your deck and see what they recommend. I do know that you won't want to do anything to it for 45 days (that's what we were told about our deck.)

You'll do this once per year, usually in the spring. First, clean it, then seal it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think this may be for different woods. I have hardwood (ipe) deck and we are choosing to not stain/oil/seal it.

However, pine is a softwood and should probably be sealed/stained/treated to make sure it doesn't soak up water and rot.
posted by ethidda at 2:13 PM on June 24, 2013

If you don't seal it, it will wear significantly faster than if you do. You do not need to stain it, stain is for changing its color.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:15 PM on June 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seal it! No stain is needed unless you want a color change. Also, be aware that you'll need to periodically clean and reseal the deck.
posted by quince at 2:17 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is no need to seal or stain it. There are 22 miles of untreated boardwalk on Fire Island, none of it treated, and we just replace the odd board on occassion. Our deck has stood for oh, 60 years at this point.

(Although I suppose it's possible we've replaced every board twice over in that time...)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:18 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are products used for decks now that are not wood, or not entirely wood. The advice to check with the builder or lumber yard is good. There might be no need for treatment of any kind.
posted by Cranberry at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2013

You'll want to apply some sort of sealant, which for decks typically means a water repellant rather than a topical film finish. Some of these water repellants are tinted, and thus can be thought of as stains, but color change isn't their primary purpose.

If you don't seal it, the surface will absorb moisture and wood fibers will expand and crush each other a little when it rains, and then when the sun comes out the fibers will shrink and pull away from each other a bit. The cycle of wetting and drying will create cracks and roughen the surface. It would take a loooooong time for the deck to be structurally compromised this way, but splinters are no fun if you like walking on your deck in bare feet.
posted by jon1270 at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you seal it, it will last longer. Wood lasts pretty well, but unprotected wood, in sun, rain, sun, snow, sun, will get splinter-y and wear out faster.
posted by theora55 at 2:28 PM on June 24, 2013

Pine is a very soft wood, so ideally you want to use something. Highly recommend Eco Wood Treatment. It is a natural preservative that will also give your deck the silvery aged look you like. It's pretty unique and used to be a bit hard to find, but it looks like Home Depot, Lowes and Amazon carry it now among others. NAYY.
posted by vers at 4:23 PM on June 24, 2013

It's a good idea to stain and/or seal your deck for it to last as long as possible. Since pressure-treated pine is often shipped very wet, you should give it at least a few weeks to acclimate and dry before treating.

If you seal it, I would recommend using Cabots over Thompson's. Thompson's is paraffin-based. Paraffin evaporates rather quickly, meaning you need to reapply it fairly often to remain effective. Cabot is silicone-based. Much better.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:18 PM on June 24, 2013

Also, ethidda:

You are right - not all woods need the same treatment. Ipe is a marketing term used as a catchall to describe various species of tropical ironwoods. They are very heavy and dense, bug resistant, and weather well. But even ipe will last longer if you seal the cut ends. There are products made especially for that.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:29 PM on June 24, 2013

We didn't seal ours (pine) and ended up with loads of splinters. Couldn't go out on the deck barefoot.
posted by michellenoel at 6:25 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you get the message, but just Nthing you should absolutely seal (but no stain if you don't want it) wood that is exposed to the elements. Times a billion for pine which is not very durable in the scheme of things. It is an investment in your equipment that is well worth making.
posted by smoke at 3:49 AM on June 25, 2013

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