From "Clear" to Eternity: Choosing Deck Stain Opacity and Color

If you're sick of being ambushed by snow, battered by winds, blinded by ice and dazed by unrelenting cold, take heart: the long, bitter winter really is coming to a close. As hard as it may be to believe, spring is approaching, bringing gentle breezes, warm sun, green grass and the songs of birds to winter-weary Toronto.

And what better way to view a beautiful spring day than from the comfort and privacy of your own deck ?

spring dayOf course, your deck may have had a harder time weathering the winter than you did, and have the scars to show for it — instead of glossy, attractive hardwood planks, your deck might be displaying discolored wood, worn and faded finish, and a general look of disrepair.

If your deck needs staining or refinishing in order to look its best for spring, don't stress - professionals can quickly restore it to its original glory. If you're a committed DIYer, you may even want to take on the task yourself.

Whichever option you choose, however, you will first need to select the appropriate stain color and opacity. Make sure to choose a stain formulated especially for decks; these are specially designed to withstand foot traffic, sun and rain.

Opacity: Now You See It, Now You Don't

The opacity of a stain — how well you can see through it to the wood below - is a product of the amount of pigment in the stain. Stains range in opacity from translucent to completely opaque. The more pigment there is in a stain, the better it will protect against weather, and the longer it will last.

Translucent Stains: All Is Revealed

Natural stain, sometimes called translucent, is crystal clear, and allows every detail of the wood to shine through. If your deck features attractive new hardwood with distinctive, intricate graining that gives the wood character, this stain allows it to be viewed in its all its beauty. The downside of natural stain, however, is that it generally only lasts between one and two years.

Transparent Stains: Flatter and Enhance With a Tint

The somewhat confusingly-named "transparent" stains are next in line on the opacity scale; they differ from translucent stains in that they have a hint of color. This blush of color can do a beautiful job accenting the wood's grain and texture; in fact, transparent stain is sometimes referred to as "lightly tinted." A transparent stain is an ideal choice for high-quality wood in good condition, and will usually last between two and three years.

Semi-Solid Stains: The Cosmetic Treatment

Next in line are the semi-solid stains. These mask much of the wood's grain — along with imperfections such as knotholes and blemishes — while still allowing some visibility and showing off the natural texture of the wood. These easy-going "middlemen" are a good choice for wood that is not picture-perfect. Because they can contain more pigment, they are available in a wider range of colors than translucent and transparent stains. They are also more weather-resistant and durable than clearer stains, often lasting up to five years.

Solid Stains: The Big Cover-Up

Solid stains completely cover up the wood grain, along with any cosmetic flaws. However, they still reveal texture, and it will still be apparent that your deck is made of solid wood. If your deck consists of previously painted wood, or wood that is badly blemished or discolored, a solid stain is the way to go. Solid stains are also used to cover a substrate such as concrete or aluminum. As solid stains can be custom-tinted, they offer by far the widest choice of colors. Well-applied, good-quality solid stains can last for six years and upwards.

Getting Colorful

Your next choice, of course, is the color. In order to choose a stain color that enhances your exterior design, you need to look closely at the significant elements of your house, including roof, siding or façade, and landscaping.

If your home has majestic brickwork or a stately stone façade, natural organic tones such as beige, taupe, fawn or cocoa can work well.

The landscaping around your home and deck can provide cues as well. If you want your deck to harmonize with the lovely gray and brown tones of the bark of surrounding hardwood trees, the soft brown of Sherwin William's Mountain Ash could be a good pick. If your Japanese maples blaze red and gold in the fall, the rich gray of Harbor Mist could provide a dramatic backdrop. Luxurious stands of ornamental grasses flanking your deck could be effectively complemented by a beachy, casual silver gray, while healthy, thriving greenery could be set off with teak or mahogany for a rain-forest look.

If you're unable to decide on a deck color, try using a color wheel. Simply identify the single most dominant color in your exterior décor, then locate its complement on the wheel.

Experts say that neutrals and secondary colors such as taupe, green and gray are a natural for covering large areas; primary colors such as reds and blues are best used to accent railings and other features.
Now that you've taken a look at some options in deck stain colors and opacities, you're ready to give your deck a little TLC and prepare it for the advent of spring.
Time is of the essence, because summer — and barbecue season - follows not far behind.


Molly Hilton is the owner of Renaissance Painters in Toronto and has devoted more than 30 years to home renovation, painting, and custom home building. Her unique design concepts bring homes to life with colours and unique pieces that are artfully placed to draw attention to the most powerful and distinctive features of a home.

If you have any questions, please ask below!