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Wood Stain Quality is Essential for Best Long-Term Results

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Ipe deck stained with ExoShield Premium Wood Stain

(guest post by Keaton Smith)

American homeowners annually spend anywhere from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands to build new decks, fix older ones and enhance the livability of outdoor areas.

However, all the renovations have at least one thing in common despite the price tag—the desire for long-lasting, quality results.

For some, this means working with contractors to specify the latest low-maintenance composite deck boards from the wide selection of colors and wood-grain patterns. In other instances, real hardwood decking is the preference among homeowners who relish the natural beauty, durability and hardness of Ipe, Cumaru and Batu decking, as well as the natural resistance to decay, rotting, termites and bugs.

But, no matter the material, nearly every deck requires some form of maintenance to prevent algae and fungus growth, as well as the inevitable discoloring that accompanies age.

As a result, hardwood decks that are exposed to a year-long assault of sunlight and humidity should be stained every year or two depending on the wear, tear and discoloration. One simple test that can easily be performed by just about anyone involves splashing water onto the decking surface. If the water beads up, it can probably go another year without staining. But, if the water soaks into the wood, then it’s definitely time to add another coat.

Now, the real challenge—selecting the right stain from the hundreds of oil- and water-based mixtures delineated by the seemingly unending variety of transparent, semitransparent, semisolid, and solid options. This is on top of the protective, longevity, application and coverage qualities that vary among all the different products.

While many water-based stains claim to last for years and often dry quicker with less odor, most just don’t offer the UV protection provided by many high-quality, oil-based stains.

Additional considerations surround the numerous quality and performance differences that exist among leading oil-based stain brands. In most cases, this starts with the very composition of the stain itself and then extends to the multiple assortment of UV blockers, pigments, dyes, fungicide, and oils included in today’s products.

For example, many of the oils commonly used in wood stains tend to change color over time. Some even harbor mildew and mold, such as linseed oil, which can lead to the wood turning black or discolored. In fact, the only reason these oils are used by some companies is because they lower the product’s cost, no matter the inferior results.

When it comes to the choice of oils, Polymerized Tung Oil has proven its ability to preserve wood and outperform other products, although many users are turned off by the lengthy amount of time it takes to dry. However, some manufacturers have actually overcome this problem through the addition of high-quality drying and hardening agents that have drastically reduced the time to dry from weeks to days. Plus, another advantage that makes Polymerized Tung Oil worth the wait involves the long-lasting capacity to retain color over time, while naturally resisting mildew and mold.

As for the dyes and pigments used in most stains, trans-oxide pigments are commonly viewed as the more color-stable of the two, which results in the stain maintaining its original color longer than those that contain dyes or solid pigments. Builders should note that stains containing trans-oxide pigments are not cheap and often bear a higher price.

In addition, builders should never purchase a wood stain without considering the wide range of ingredients. American-made fungicides, UV blockers and trans-oxide pigments generally combine to better resist water, acid and fading, while also actively increasing the wood’s ability to resist cracking or warping, enhance stability, and showcase the wood’s natural luster and beauty. It should also be noted that the highest quality stains use the same UV blockers found in automotive paints, which is another reason these higher-end products tend to cost more, but produce higher-quality results.

Another advantage of certain high-end stain/sealers are their ease of use. That’s because there’s no need to strip or sand the previous coat before their application, and the best products produce lower amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) to ensure user- and environmentally-friendly results.

There’s far more to the selection of wood stain than price. In most cases, the components and ingredients vary significantly, while playing an integral role in the wood’s weathering and the homeowner’s long-term satisfaction—all extremely important considerations throughout the buying process.

Overlooking a stunning view of Lake Tahoe, this 1080 sq. ft. Batu deck is preserved with ExoShield Premium Wood stain, which uses a proprietary blend of Tung oil, UV blockers, fungicide, and trans-oxide pigments.

Author bio: Keaton Smith is Nova USA Wood Products’ ExoShield Product Manager. For more information, visit

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