Best Exterior Wood Stains – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

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Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer


Best Exterior Wood Stain


Ready Seal Stain and Sealer is a great choice for any of your exterior wood such as fence, siding, decks and even more. Since it’s both stain and sealer in one, you don’t have to spend money on standalone sealer.

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Exterior stains can make any woodworking project look professional and stand out highlighting the natural grain of the wood. Furthermore, this kind of coating protects the wood from water and sunbeams. There are so many different formulas and types of exterior stains that you can become overwhelmed with all of the options available.

Here are the best exterior wood stains for various situations and an explanation of all the features so you can know exactly what you are looking for.


Best Exterior Wood Stains in April, 2021

 Wood stainCoverage (quart)Recoat dry time (hours)Colors 
1Ready Seal
Editor's Choice
50 sq ft247 Check Price
2Defy Extreme50 sq ft2-47 Check Price
3#1 Deck Premium50 sq ft24 Check Price
4Thompson's WaterSeal Stainup to 100 sq ft25 Check Price
5Old Masters75-125 sq ft6-818 Check Price
6Kilz Exterior Wood Stainup to 75 sq ft1-29 Check Price

1. Ready Seal – Top Exterior Stain for Wood Including Fences, Siding, Decks and More

The Ready Seal good proof application doesn’t require any primer before using. You can apply this stain at any temperature. It has a built sealer. This deal includes a one-gallon container. It is an oil-based all-in-one stain and sealant.

Ready Seal Has outdone themselves with this product. It features all of the best characteristics woodworkers are looking for in one product. It offers a streak-free and runs free-formula that’s great for beginner hobbyists.

The sealant is built-in and deeply penetrates the wood to provide exceptional water resistance. It has anti-mildew and anti-mold properties. This product even protects against harmful UV rays and reduces fading over time. You can apply it at any temperature with no difference in results.

It’s worth using on exterior projects, especially fences. It’s a medium-bodied formula with above-average coloring. There’s a lot of value for the price of this product. Sanding is optional but results in a more professional-looking finish.

It can’t be thinned at all. If you add mineral spirits you’ll degrade the sealer, and reduce performance against the elements. It’s also very hard to clean up, so try to be extremely careful when applying.

Anyone will see a lot of value in this product. It simplifies the process of wood staining with a professional quality end result. It’s perfect for exterior projects.

Application Video 2017

  • All-In-One Sealant And Stain
  • Above Average Coloring
  • Ideal for Wooden Fence
  • Professional-Grade Finish
  • No/Priming/Sanding Required
  • Anti-Mildew/Anti-Mold
  • UV Protection
  • Water-Proof
  • Deep Penetration
  • Great Value
  • Tough Cleanup
  • Not Suitable For Thinning

2. Defy Extreme – Perfect For Exterior Decks And Pressure Treated Wood

This product by Defy Extreme is a water-based exterior stain. It features an environmentally friendly formula that’s mainly intended for decks, pressure treated wood, and wooden patio furniture.

Wood grains show through a semi-transparent layer with a matte finish for a natural look. High-Quality Resins in this formula add durability against weather and scratching. The resin also fights against fading. It includes zinc nano-particles that reduce the growth of mold.

You’ll get a lot of value from this stain on outdoor projects that experience a lot of constant moisture. It will seal and protect against the elements exceptionally well. It’s best used on pressure-treated woods that are meant for exterior use. It has great features like added zinc particles that reduce mold and mildew.

The resin in the formula stops fading, so you’ll get a longer lifespan from this option on decking than most other brands on the market. Cleanup is easy because it’s water-based. You can use a standard brush to apply it. You don’t need to strip this stain when putting on a maintenance coat later on. No Sanding Is Required.

This one is somewhat more complicated to apply than others. You’ll need to make sure that you evenly coat your project a few times to get the best mildew-resistance. Striping isn’t necessary when maintaining, but you will have to purchase Defy Wood Brightener that needs to be applied before you do a maintenance coating. You can not apply this stain to an existing finish that isn’t of the same brand.

A new deck project would be ideal for this product. You’ll need to completely remove your previous stain or finish if it’s not Defy brand. Maintenance is simple and it lasts a very long time.

DEFY Wood Stain Video

  • Environmentally Friendly
  • Resin UV Resistance
  • Great For Pressure Treated Wood
  • Ideal For Decks
  • Low-Maintenance
  • Minimal Sanding
  • Easy Cleanup
  • Defy Wood Brightener Required For Maintenance
  • Complex Application
  • Not Suitable For Covering Other Stains

3. #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain – Choice For Exterior Siding and Floors

This #1 Deck product is an all-in-one stain and sealant. It is a semi-transparent finish with a flat and natural look. It’s water-based and environmentally friendly.

You should use this product with softwoods in exterior projects. It protects against moisture and UV light. It has a low odor and is easily cleaned up with soapy water. It’s an average product without any other features that stand out from other brands, but it doesn’t suffer from any great downsides either.

This is for exterior use only. You can’t thin it with mineral spirits or else the sealer mixture will be deteriorated.

This is just an average product. There aren’t any great advantages or extreme disadvantages to using it. It’s somewhere in the middle and will be best suited for quick outdoor projects.
How to Stain a Deck with #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain

  • Sealant And Stain
  • Uv Protection
  • Moisture Resistance
  • Exterior Use
  • Not Suitable For Thinning
  • Not Ideal For Interior Applications

4. Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain – All In One Application

The Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain is somewhat unusual as it is touted as a wood stain & sealer all in one. This presents both savings in cost and labor. The all in one formula negates the need to first stain the project and then a second product to seal and protect the stain. It is designed for use on all exterior wood projects.

Thompson’s WaterSeal Stain is offered in five different color choices and each of them is a natural wood grain hue. The product is an exterior wood stain and wood protector that allows some natural wood grain to show through while enhancing the appearance by adding subtle natural color to the surface of the wood.

Both Stain and Sealer

An obvious positive in choosing Thompson’s WaterSeal is that it is an all in one application. The customer avoids the cost and labor of needing to do to two steps of both staining and sealing the wood.

And it adds a measure of assurance to know that the product exceeds Industry Standard ASTM D-4446 for waterproofing wood. Additionally, the same advanced polymer that provides the waterproof feature also provides fade-resistant color Thompson’s WaterSeal is also mildew resistant and offers protection from UV damage. It also dries to the touch in 1-2 hours.

This product does not have any obvious negatives. The only attribute that has merit in mentioning as a downside is the stain’s coverage and appearance. While this product is categorized as transparent, manufacturers literature specifies that it will allow “some” natural wood grain and texture to show through. This could be no different from all stains – whereby they all add subtle color to the wood grain and could be viewed as slightly diminishing some of the wood grain to show through.

  • Prevents water damage
  • Advanced polymers provide fade-resistant color
  • Finish resists mildew and UV damage
  • Can Apply to Damp or Dry Wood
  • Exceeds Industry Standard for Waterproofing Wood
  • For best results, wood preparation is required prior to application

5. Old Masters  – Gel Wood Stain For Outdoor Use

Old Masters gel stains are highly pigmented and oil-based. The focus of this product is providing intense colors on virtually any surface. You can use it on interior or exterior projects. It’s suitable for woods, metals, fiberglass, and composite materials. A single coating is all that’s needed in most applications. This package contains one-quart of exceptionally-rich Dark Walnut stain.

The best quality of Old Masters products is their incredibly rich colors. This product is extremely thick which makes it perfect for exterior applications with minimal fading over long periods of time. You can simulate a realistic wood grain over painted surfaces using the Old Masters Woodgraining Tool. It’s easy to apply and isn’t likely to drip from your brush.

This option is not weather-resistant. The colors last a long time on outdoor projects, but you’ll absolutely need to add a protective sealer coating. You can’t add any thinning solutions to this mixture. Cleanup is tough. You’ll need to use a strong cleaning solvent or mineral spirits to clean up any spills if you make a mess. You’ll need to wait for a minimum of 24 hours of drying time before adding a top-coat. You have to sand the surface of any wood projects before you apply the first layer of stain.

Someone who wants very distinct coloring and doesn’t mind the extra work involved will find this stain really useful.

  • Thick Formula
  • Heavy/Rich Colors
  • Resistant To Fading
  • Great For Painted Surfaces
  • Use With Brushes, Rollers, Sponges, And Cloths
  • 24 Hour Dry Time Before Top-Coating
  • Not Weather Resistant
  • Sanding Required
  • Tough Cleanup
  • Not Suitable For Thinning

6. Kilz Exterior Wood Stain –  Semi-transparent Waterproofing Stain

Kilz Semi-transparent Waterproofing Exterior Wood Stain is designed to treat and protect outdoor wood products. The formula is 100% acrylic and provides protection from rain, snow and sun damage for decks, railings, siding, shingles, patio furniture, shakes and fences.

This stain is offered in 9 colors. Each of the color choices appear similar to traditional wood grain color hues. The listing of color choices available does not specifically state what wood type they are trying to emulate. They do not specifically designate what wood type the stain is reflecting; pine, oak, walnut or maple.

The colors are less specific and are given somewhat generic names; chocolate brown, Gray Wolf/Slate Gray, New Oxford/Dark Chocolate Brown or Red Fox/Dark Cherry. They still present a very traditional wood grain look. There are no unusual non-traditional colors offered.

Durable Exterior Protection

This Kilz exterior wood stain presents many positives. It offers a durable waterproof and mildew-resistant finish that can stand up to rugged outdoor conditions.

It protects exterior wood from rain, snow and UV damage and is warrantied for up to three years on decks and up to five years on fences and siding. The stain additionally provides waterproofing.

You should take heed that while this stain can be used on exterior wood surfaces that range from new to moderately weathered and unsealed for products that have anywhere from 0-10 years of exposure; however, unless the product is brand new and clean you can expect extra prep work before being ready to move ahead with the staining process.

  • Provides UV protection
  • Mildew resistant finish
  • Easy water clean-up
  • The acrylic formula protects from rain, snow and sun
  • Warrantied for up to 3 years on decks/ 5 years on fences and siding
  • Kilz brand has a 40-year history in the paint industry
  • Designated Paint Brand of the Year in 2015
  • For best results, wood preparation must be done prior to applying the stain

Buyer’s Guide

best wood stains buyers guide

There’s something about when you put an exterior stain on natural wood and you get to see that woodgrain pop, it just gives you goosebumps.

When it comes to stains you can honestly have the best qualities of both worlds. You can have a durable product that also looks professional with enough care taken during the application.

How to determine the type of your wood

The first thing you need to do is determine what type of wood you’ve got. Softwoods like pine will absorb a stain much easier than hardwood and thus could come off looking quite dark with even one coat of stain. Hardwood like oak and cherry, on the other hand, does not absorb stain as well and you may need to put several coats to actually get it to darken up to any significant extent.

So here is how you determine what type of wood you actually have whether it be hardwood or softwood. It’s easy to actually tell for the most part by just looking at the grain of the wood. With hardwood, you’ll notice the grain is rather consistent throughout whereas softwood frequently can be blotchy and the grain isn’t consistent throughout the length of the bore.

What level of protection to choose

For all outdoor applications, you should just pick the best looking exterior stain with the most protective features possible.

What type of exterior stain to purchase

There are two main factors that will help you decide what type of stain to purchase.

The first key point is the level of quality you want to see on your finished project. Fine woodworking projects like outdoor furniture are typically going to need to look amazingly finished. Outdoor decks and fences aren’t going to be seen as closely, so it really doesn’t matter.

The second key point is going to be how resilient you need your stain to be. An outdoor application should absolutely incorporate UV resistance, mold resistance, and water-proofing. Combination sealant and stain are usually going to be your most solid option for exterior products. Some brands that work for exterior applications might not look very great on finer quality woodworking projects. So I suggest you choose one of the wood sealers for your exterior wood to give it the protection it deserves.

How to prepare wood for staining

Because softwood can sometimes have an uneven grain or kind of a splotchy appearance it’s better to usually use some type of pre-stain conditioner on the wood itself prior to applying the stain. This will allow a more even look. Prior to actually stain the wood it’s important that it be sanded to the level that you’re looking for.

Sandpaper is going to allow for a more difficult time for the stain to absorb into the wood and thus you’ll have a lighter appearance. If you use a coarser grade the wood will have a better ability to absorb the stain but it will have a rougher surface so you have a darker surface but a rougher looking texture.

What you need to stain

For decks or fences, you’ll need a wide brush. For small exterior projects the supplies that you’re going to need: a foam brush or a regular brush, a pair of disposable gloves and lots of rags. Remember rags should not be too big because if you deal with a large one and you try to drag it and wipe the stain off you’ll find that the larger the rag some of it will get caught in the stain and then you’ll be dragging it all around the top of your piece so you’d like to have more control on the rags that you use. So cut them in smaller pieces that work for you.

Safety precautions before staining

You can use a kind of a sponge brush or a regular type of stain brush and rags. The sponge brush absorbs some of the stain so that you can spread it evenly over the wood. Because stain is difficult to get off your hands it’s better to use a pair of vinyl or latex gloves to protect your hands from getting a stain on. In addition, it’s better to work in an open area or a bit well-ventilated area as the fumes from the stain are quite strong.

How to apply an exterior stain on small projects

stained woodTo actually apply the exterior stain you have to soak up some of it on the brush and rub it along the line or grain of the wood. Apply a liberal amount on the surface and let it sit on for approximately 5 to 15 minutes. The longer you wait the more time the stain has to absorb into the wood. Particularly with hardwoods because of the difficulty in absorbing into the surface you may need to put several coats on.

So give 5 to 15 minutes of rest and then wipe it down with the rag. Use a clean rag and wipe down the stain in the direction of the grain of the wood. If you choose to put on a second coat to darken this up wait 4 to 6 hours and then apply a second coat again in the direction of the grain and let it dry for another 15 minutes and then again wipe off any excess stain. After you’ve got it darkened to the level that you’re interested in you can let this sit for approximately 8 hours.

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19 thoughts on “Best Exterior Wood Stains – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

  1. Hi, Rebeca. It’s better to use foam brush or rag to apply gel stain but some brands may be applied using fine bristle brush without problems. By the way, I applied Old Master last time using exactly bristle brush, finish went easily and evenly.

    I suppose Old Masters might have changed their formula so that consistency of the product got more sticky. But most likely your stain wasn’t warm enough for proper finishing. It’s spring but weather is still chilly so do not use finishes once you get them delivered, let them warm up at room temperature. If you do so, the finish will perform at its best.

    So, try to warm up the stain. If it doesn’t work, you need to switch the bristle brush with foam brushes and rags. You might have already seen my article on brushes for staining Please, take a look, you will find at least one foam brush option there. What about rags, so I think it isn’t a bit deal to get them 

  2. Great post, go on writing, William.

    I’ve got a quick question. My VERY old wooden fence was barely finished as a result it started rotting and fall apart. The best solution was to replace it with new fence completely which I did. Now I want to finish it properly to avoid the same problems in the future. What stain would be the best for staining a fence? Also I know that sealer is must have for exterior wood that’s subject to weather and moisture. Wait for your answer, thanks.

    1. Thanks, Jacob. Glad to see you on my blog. You made the right decision: when wood starts decaying because it wasn’t prepared the right way initially it’s better to do all from scratch again. But sometimes it’s possible to repair wood using putty and other material, but fence isn’t a subject in this case: too much work, you know.

      You’re right, it’s highly recommended to use sealants for exterior wooden projects. But many exterior stains can seal wood too. ‘Ready Seal Stain and Sealer’ seems to be made especially just for you. It’s great for exterior pieces like fence. Furthermore, it both stains and seals the wood so you won’t need to seek for good sealer. So pick up Ready Seal and you’re ready to go.

      Anyway, if you want to fint out more about sealant, you may read my article on them

  3. Hey William thanks for putting together some great resources. I am in a pickle. We have 3000sqft of new pressure treated pine fence. I want to take the steps to protect it. I would like to try and preserve its color along with protecting the fence but I am on a budget and if I can only do one I’d rather protect it from rotting. I know ready seal seems like the go to option for me but with the amount of coverage I need and how expensive/lack of coverage per gallon ready seal offers I’m looking at other options. Also if you buy stain and a clear sealant separate which one do you apply first?
    What do you recommend for me?
    Thank You!!

    1. Hi, Avery.

      For you I would recommend Agra-Life Lumber Seal . It’s a sealer which covers 2-3 times more than Ready Seal stain/sealer does. So if the coverage is your main concern then Agra-Life is the best choice, it’s great for fences.

      Apply sealer first, after that apply water-based wood stain.

  4. The stain on our 7 year old (covered) deck needs to be redone. The contractor used Behr product. Do we have to use the same product to redo it? The parts that are not covered like steps/railings have no stain left. We thought we would redo this ourselves. Thanks for your help.

    1. You don’t have to use the same stain brand to redo it but I would suggest it for the best results. Behr is a really good brand when it comes to stains and sealers but it can be a little expensive. If you are looking for another good brand for stain I would suggest anything from SaverSystems, Kilz or Thompson’s.

  5. IMG_8316.jpg IMG_8317.jpg IMG_8398.jpg
    I hope these pictures show up. These were taken a couple years ago and now the outside of my house needs to be done again.
    I would like a recommendation on a product to use to get a long lasting weather proofing, good in harsh Canadian winters and hot summer sun without fading and having to re apply all the time.

    1. I would suggest using a spar varnish for the best protection. Spar varnish is good for water resistants and UV protection. I would recommend a spar varnish by Man-O-War or Minwax. If you don’t want to use spar varnish, this weatherproofing transparent wood finish by Behr is a good option too.

  6. Hi William, my question is… we have a covered back porch with plexiglass windows, used Benjamin Moore paint to paint the inside walls and it looks great. But wood floor needs an update. It had previously been stained years ago so some stain is worn off in the high traffic area and around the sides is darker. I hate prepping. I just want to put a stain on that will last and look uniformed. Thanks

  7. We are putting up a Shed in our backyard. It is under trees and will get southwestern Ontario weather. We plan on finishing with board and batten on the outside but would like a red stain finish. We are not interested in refinishing every few years. What product would you recommend?

    1. Hi Jody.
      You can use the Thompson’s seal to accord color and protection, and for longer-lasting protection (without darkening the color) you can apply a transparent sealant.
      The thicker layer will give you a longer life. The shade of the trees will probably help too.
      Keep in mind, however, that the life of the coating depends on the correct application and how harsh the weather conditions are.

  8. I am building a shed with plywood siding with 1×2 batten boards nailed on. We would like to waterproof/ seal/ stain it a darker brown color. I have a airless sprayer also. Any advice would help , thank you


    1. Hello David.
      I think a stain with a sealant like this one by DEFY will work well for you, you can apply it with a sprayer.
      Keep in mind that applying with a sprayer will save you a lot of time and effort, but you must be careful and apply evenly. Uneven application leads to poor appearance and poor protection of the wood.
      If you have no experience in spraying you can try in a place where it is a little visible. In case you apply unevenly (drops are formed in some places and in others, it is almost dry) you can spread with a brush while the stain is still wet. That way you will have a plan B.

  9. Question – I have a pine log cabin style shed (6mx6m) finished with several coats of a water based clear matt varnish only a year ago which has weathered off with ‘bare’ patches now as well as wee grey bits and overall bleaching in colour. It is a sort of light golden overall now. I am keen to protect it from further damage this winter but would have great difficulty sanding the existing finish completely off. I am keen to keep the natural wood grain showing and a light colour but appreciate may need to stain and finish with something to protect better (in a sunny but windy spot in Scotland) and hopefully that will last a long time. Are there any stain and protection product (s) that would give a natural pine (ideally matt) look but last? I appreciate may need to go a bit darker than it is now but keen to keep a nice pine colour if possible (ie not too antique or red or orange etc). Finding internet search very confusing and companies I call always just recommend their own product so hope you can help!

    1. Hi Ian.
      You can use this stain by #1. It is especially suitable for conifers and gives good protection. In addition, for a better result (without sanding), a kit for removing the old coating and lightening the wood is available, so you will have a really good result.
      After applying the stain you can apply a transparent sealant to give additional protection and protect the color. This way you will be able to renew only the transparent coating without darkening the color or having to remove the stain. Of course, all this will happen if you renew the coating on time and it is not in a hellishly miserable condition.
      This sealant by Rain Guard can do the job for you.

  10. Great post William, if I was making bath boards from pine / reclaimed pine, what would you recommend to ensure waterproofing/ mould resistance


    1. Hi Tony.
      If you want to stain your board with a stain you can apply this sealant and for even better protection then cover with a transparent sealant use this one or if you do not want a stain you can only wear a transparent sealant.
      This sealant is intended for external use so that it has good resistance to water and mold. When applying, be in a ventilated place. Once dry, there are no harmful fumes (of course it is harmful if swallowed :))

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