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Semi-Transparent Stain Vs Solid Color Stain

Semi-Transparent Stain vs Solid Color Stain

Whether you are looking to stain a large deck or a small project, there is a suitable exterior wood stain for your needs. Choosing the right type of stain can seem overwhelming, there are a number of different brands of wood stain and different staining methods for different projects. The most common types of exterior wood stain are semi-transparent wood stain (known as penetrating stain) and the solid color stain (which is non-penetrating). The requirements of your projects should influence which of these stains you use on your exterior woods.

Semi-Transparent Stain

Semi-Transparent stains are often suitable for decks, chairs and tables that will be outside permanently; as they also contain an anti-fungal element which prevents mold and algae. These stains will penetrate the wood and form a bond with the wood fibers, protecting the wood against the weathering elements. Semitransparent products let some of the wood grain show through, making them a good choice for cedar, redwood, and other costly woods that you want to show off. Wooden furniture, doors, window frames, and external wood features are suitable for semi-transparent stains.

Solid Color Stain

Solid color stains are non-penetrating, meaning they lay upon the surface of the wood, rather than bonding with it. Solid color stains hide wood grain, the same way paint would. Solid stain will also build up a film, especially after several coats, which can peel, chip, and crack. In addition, solid color stains do not usually contain an anti-fungal agent, and may not protect your wood against water as effectively as the penetrative stains. You should not use solid color stains on your decking area, because they will not protect it against weathering and wood rot.

Choosing between Semi-Transparent Stain & Solid Color Stain is a matter of preference, but if you are unsure which option is best for you, determine what strengths you would like your deck to have, and choose accordingly.

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Great information you definitely talked me into staying with a penetrating semi transparent stain. We have a barn style shed I sealed over some water damage. I will preasure wash it if that don’t work I’ll look for a chemical that Will.

  2. I am restraining an old pressure treated deck that has stain and bare spots. Should I use a solid stain or a semi transparent stain

    1. Carol, if you want a semi-transparent stain, it’s best to remove the previous stain with stain stripper. That way the old finish won’t show through the new semi-transparent finish. If you can’t get the old finish off or you like the look of a solid stain, you can use the solid stain directly over top of it without worrying about removing it.

  3. My painter just used a solid stain on my deck floor! I so wish I had done my research!! Is there something he can use to protect the deck!

    1. Kat, it depends on which solid stain he used. If he used our #1 Deck Solid Stain, that product will actually hold up to foot traffic and is fine for use on deck floors. If it’s another product, you’ll just have to watch and see how it performs. If it doesn’t hold up, you can restain it with #1 Deck Solid Stain later. To my knowledge, there’s not a coating that you can put over it that will significantly improve the performance.

  4. we are going to stain our exterior deck that is primarily shaded by numerous tree limbs for the first time. The wood is weathered from 7 years of use, but still good.
    We are trying to decide on a Semi-transparent over a semi-solid/solid stain.I don’t care too much for the solid stain colors. I prefer to have some of the natural work to show through. We are looking at Cabot company, is it a good company for this? I read that semi-transparent is best because it penetrates the work and has an antifugus ingredient in it over the solid. Also, which one lasts the longest?

    1. Mary, solid stains will actually give you the longest lifespan, but they’re more similar to paint. They completely hide the wood grain. If you want more of a natural look, then a semi-transparent is best. Cabot is ok, but in our testing it didn’t perform as well as #1 Deck Stain, and Cabot is more expensive. It’s really up to you. Most stains have ingredients that inhibit mold/mildew including the solid stains.

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