Deck & Fence Staining/Painting Guide (Toronto, 2022)

Our home painting professionals specialize in treating exterior wood such as decks, fences, porches and sidings. This guide will help you figure which process (painting, staining or sealing) you should go with to protect and beautify your exterior wood surface. We will also recommend products and help you with budget for your next staining or painting project.

 

In Toronto and the surrounding GTA area, homeowners will usually consider either painting or staining when looking to decorate or protect their deck, fence or other exterior wooden surface. The main difference between staining and painting is how both products adhere to the wood. Paints sit on top of the wood, providing a protective jacket which covers the wood. This means that as the paint weathers, it will start to peel and flake off. Stains on the other hand tend to penetrate the wood and prevent water and UV from entering and damaging the wood. As stains age, they fade or very lightly flake unlike paint.

 

The process for painting a deck/fence is just like that for any other exterior wooden surface. However, our guide will address the specific challenges and conditions associated with painting decks and fences. Staining a deck is a little bit more confusing since you also have the option of choosing a solid, semi-transparent or transparent stain. We will guide you through all of the options below.​

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Solid Stains

Solid stains do not usually come to most people's minds when they consider staining their deck/porch/fence. That is because solid stains hide most of the wood grain and can often be confused with paint. Some products still show some of the woodgrain whereas others pretty much hide all of it (similar to paints). However, solid stains are still stains and act by penetrating the wood. Below you can see some of the applications of solid-stains for homes in Toronto and the GTA.

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Junction, Toronto

Solid-Stained Fence

Solid stains can be tinted in almost any colour and give a painted look.

Solid stained siding on a Leaside home

Leaside, Toronto

Solid-Stained Siding

The entire exterior of this Leaside home was solid-stained instead of painted.

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Mississauga, Ontario

Solid-Stained Deck

This old worn out deck was solid stained. It hides most of the woodgrain and imperfections of old wood.

When to use solid stains?

 

Solid stains are best suited for when you want a specific colour (they can be tinted in many colours just like paint), when the wood is ugly, old or has previous coatings. Solid stains can go over top most other stains without looking stupid and do not require excessive prep-work. They can also be applied to bare wood surfaces without needing to be primed (unlike paint). Another reason that homeowners choose solid stains is because they do not peel as they weather; instead they fade or lightly flake like other stains.

 

Products & Price

Most of the solid stains sold in Toronto and the GTA are water-based products or a hybrid unlike their semi-transparent counterparts. This means that they are easy to clean up, dry quickly, do not have very strong smells and are easy to work with. The product that we typically use is called Dulux Professional Wood Finish - Solid Colour. Below you will find typical solid stains used by professional painters in Toronto. Prices marked with a star * , are based on an average of three stores. 

 

In terms of price, staining your deck or fence with a solid stain is the most cost-effective option out of all the options. Due to the wood grain not being very visible, solid stains requires the least amount of prep-work thus reducing labour costs. In comparison to a semi-transparent stain, you are saving labour on having to strip/thoroughly sand the surface prior to applying the stain. In comparison to painting, surfaces do not need to be primed prior to being stained. As such, you save on one coat of labour and materials. In addition, stains are generally cheaper than paint.

 

Maintenance & Application Process

Solid stains are very easy to maintain. They do not peel like paint and do not require intensive prep to recoat. When the product begins to weather, all you need to do is clean the surface, lightly sand it and then apply the solid stain. Below is how you would typically apply a solid-stain to your deck or fence.

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Step 1 - Cleaning

Dirty surfaces need to be cleaned prior to staining. For clean or bare wood, usually a quick sweep would suffice. For dirtier surfaces, a pressure wash along with deck cleaner or detergent may be required. Just because solid stains hide imperfections and dirt doesn't mean you should skip the cleaning step. Stains adhere better to clean wood. Don't stain dirt!

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Step 2 - Sanding

Lightly sand all of the areas to smoothen the surface and open the wood pores. Since the solid stain will be hiding the previous coating, it is not necessary to strip the old coating. However, there are some products which cannot be coated over top with solid stains. If that is the case, then you will have to remove the previous coating. If you have new pressure treated wood, you will either have to wait 6 months for the wood to dry out, or you will have to sand off the green coating. It is preferred that you wait it out.

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Step 3 - Clean (again) & Apply Stain

Vacuum or dust off all of the dust and debris from sanding. Leftover dust can cause texture or prevent the stain from absorbing to the wood (you might be staining dust instead of wood). Afterwards, apply two coats of solid stain. You can use a roller, but if you do, it is recommended that you go over it it with a brush while it is wet to work the stain into the wood pores.

If you have a previously coated surface, it is important to first test if the solid stain will adhere to the previous coat. In the case that it doesn't, you will need to go back to step 2 and full sand the previous coat off.

 

Semi-Transparent Stains

When people think of staining their decks or fences, semi-transparent stains usually come to mind. These products give wood a beautiful look by highlighting the grains of wood and can be tinted to give the wood a rich colour. Semi-transparent stains act by penetrating the wood and preventing water from entering. This results in water beading up on the surface. Semi-transparent stains come in hybrid, water based (acrylic) and oil based products (alkyd). In our experience, the oil based products are still superior in both protection and appearance. In general, our company doesn't use water-based deck stains. You can see some of the differences in the pictures below.

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Brampton, Ontario

Hybrid Semi-transparent Stained Deck

This deck was stained with a hybrid semi-transparent stain. The product gives the deck a rich colour while maintaining the natural wood look

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Mississauga, Ontario

Oil Semi-transparent Stained Deck

Oil based semi-transparent stains give decks a deeper colour than their hybrid/acrylic counterparts. The protection is also better. However, they are smelly and sticky to use.

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Leslieville, Toronto

Hybrid Semi-transparent Stained Deck

The woodgrain is still noticeable despite the rich colour added to the wood.

When to use semi-transparent stains?

 

Semi-transparent stains are best used when you have nice wood and would like to highlight the grain while providing water and UV protection. They can be tinted to several tones but not as many as their solid stain counter parts. They also do not peel, rather they fade as they weather. This makes them age more gracefully than paints. Depending on the product you use, maintenance and reapplication is also easy. However, certain products are more finicky and can be tough to maintain. The products we will be recommending are easy to reapply and maintain over the years.

 

Products & Price

​Semi-transparent stains are one of the more pricey ways of protecting your deck/fence/porch/siding.  Due to the wood grains being visible, a larger amount of prep-work is required to make the finish product look beautiful. This is especially true if there is an old coating which needs to be stripped. However, new surfaces that are bare and clean do not require a ton of prep.

In terms of materials, a gallon of semi-transparent stain is comparable to that of solid stain. However, higher end products such as Cutek Extreme can cost double.

In Toronto and the GTA, exterior semi-transparent stains are available in water-based (acrylic), oil-based (alkyd) and hybrid formulas. Our team of professional painters only use hybrid or oil-based stains. From our experience, the oil-based stains still have a superior appearance and protection compared to the other formulas.

 

Maintenance & Application Process

It is a bit tricky to maintain surfaces that have been stained with a semi-transparent product. Though the products do not peel (water-based ones do peel), recoating does not always look good because the colour can be patchy (different areas receive different amounts of wear and tear). Some semi-transparent stains such as Sikkens CANNOT be recoated and need to be stripped before applying anything else over top. However, products stained with Cutek Extreme or Dulux CWF-UV5 can simply be washed with a cleaner and then directly recoated. Below is the general process for applying semi-transparent stains.

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Step 1 - Cleaning/Stripping

Dirty surfaces need to be cleaned prior to staining. For clean or bare wood, usually a quick sweep would suffice. For dirtier surfaces, a pressure wash along with deck cleaner or detergent may be required. This is important because you will be able to see any imperfections and dirt on the wood once you stain it with a semi-transparent product. Surfaces that have been previously coated may need to be stripped. This would be done be applying a chemical stripper to the wood and then pressure washing off the coating. Afterwards, a deck brightener would be needed if the wood looks dark or discloured. The picture on the left for instance needs to be stripped. The pressure washer removed the dirt but the old coating left behind is patchy and will look ugly.

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Step 2 - Sanding

If the wood is bare, you can lightly sand all of the areas to smoothen the surface and open the wood pores. However, it is likely that you will have to do a thorough sand to remove any coating that was previously on the deck/fence. The picture on the left shows the leftover coating after the chemical stripper and pressure wash. In recent years, chemical strippers sold in Toronto and the GTA have become much weaker (a key component was banned). As such, you will probably have to sand even after you using the stripper. You want to sand it so that the wood is bare such as the bottom half of the picture on the left.

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Step 3 - Clean (again) & Apply Stain

Vacuum or dust off all of the dust and debris from sanding. Leftover dust can cause texture or prevent the stain from absorbing to the wood (you might be staining dust instead of wood). Afterwards, apply one coat of semi-transparent stain with a brush. Some products allow for a second coat, others require the first coat to still be wet while applying a second coat.

 

Transparent Stains

Transparent stains are sometimes also called natural stains or even called sealer. These stains protect decks and fences from water but do not to alter the natural colour and appearance of their wood. With that being said, most transparent or natural stains still add a slight pigment and give the wood a "wet" look. Transparent stains work by penetrating the wood and preventing water from absorbing into the wood.  However, due to the stain having minimal pigmentation, it does not protect the wood against UV rays. As such, you will notice that the wood will patina over time (the wood greys out from the UV).

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Banbury, Toronto

Deck Sealing

This deck was sealed. Notice that the grains are completely visible. Though the product is "transparent", the product still results in a "wet" rich look.

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Banbury, Toronto

Sealed Cedar Deck

This deck is made of beautiful cedar wood. The sealer adds minimal colour which allows the natural cedar to show while providing the deck with protection against water.

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Bridlepath, Toronto

Natural Stained Front Door

This front door was stained with a natural transparent stain. The stain allows the features of the wood to pop out while highlighting the natural tone of the wood.

 

When to use transparent stains?

Transparent stains are best used when you have nice wood and would like to highlight natural look of the wood grain while providing water and UV protection. Some instances where transparent stains are used are on cedar decks or exotic decks or on front doors with high grade wood. Transparent stains cannot be tinted as that defeats their purpose.

 

Products & Price

Using a transparent stain is a pricey way of protecting your deck/fence/door.  Due to the wood grains being visible, a larger amount of prep-work is required to make the finish product look beautiful. This is especially true if there is an old coating which needs to be stripped. However, new surfaces that are bare and clean do not require a ton of prep. Transparent stains need to be frequently recoated due to the lack of UV protection (lack of pigmentation). As such, they patina (grey) quickly and need to be recoated to restore their natural look.

In terms of materials, a gallon of transparent stain is comparable to other products. However, higher end products such as Cutek Extreme can cost double.

 

Maintenance & Application Process

Transparent stains patina (grey out) over time. As such, they need to be frequently recoated. The only product we recommend for transparent stains is Cutek Extreme be cause it can simply be washed with a cleaner and then directly recoated. If you use a different product, you may have to do more intensive prep just to maintain the surfaces. With that being said, the process for applying natural stains is the same as that for semi-transparent stains. The only difference is that you have to be even more thorough.

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Step 1 - Cleaning/Stripping

Dirty surfaces need to be cleaned prior to staining. For clean or bare wood, usually a quick sweep would suffice. For dirtier surfaces, a pressure wash along with deck cleaner or detergent may be required. This is important because you will be able to see any imperfections and dirt on the wood once you stain it with a semi-transparent product. Surfaces that have been previously coated may need to be stripped. This would be done be applying a chemical stripper to the wood and then pressure washing off the coating. Afterwards, a deck brightener would be needed if the wood looks dark or discloured. The picture on the left for instance needs to be stripped. The pressure washer removed the dirt but the old coating left behind is patchy and will look ugly.

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Step 2 - Sanding

If the wood is bare, you can lightly sand all of the areas to smoothen the surface and open the wood pores. However, it is likely that you will have to do a thorough sand to remove any coating that was previously on the deck/fence. The picture on the left shows the leftover coating after the chemical stripper and pressure wash. In recent years, chemical strippers sold in Toronto and the GTA have become much weaker (a key component was banned). As such, you will probably have to sand even after you using the stripper. You want to sand it so that the wood is bare such as the bottom half of the picture on the left.

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Step 3 - Clean (again) & Apply Stain

Vacuum or dust off all of the dust and debris from sanding. Leftover dust can cause texture or prevent the stain from absorbing to the wood (you might be staining dust instead of wood). Afterwards, apply one coat of transparent stain with a brush. Some products allow for a second coat, others require the first coat to still be wet while applying a second coat.