Staining your deck or fence is typically a do-it-yourself job that isn’t that hard and should keep your wood looking good for years. And if you're planning to stain siding or shingles, you'll want a stain that's long lasting so that you're not back on the ladder any time soon. Consumer Reports tested 35 solid, semi-transparent, and clear wood stains to find which ones last the longest. 

The worst stains look ratty in less than a year. The best remain close to their original color after three years, protecting the wood from cracking, and from picking up mildew and dirt. They should last three to five years on a deck, and even longer if applied to siding or fences, which don't get as much abuse.

Our wood stain ratings tell you how well the stains hold up over time on a deck, the more common application, and a tougher situation than siding or fences. "The sun and water beat down on the deck, snow can pile up, and even dirt and mildew spores can settle on the flat surface," says Rico de Paz, who oversees Consumer Reports tests of stains and paints.

The Results of Our Tests

Solid stains. They hide the wood grain the way paint does. The best should last three to five years on a deck. Olympic Elite Advanced Stain+Sealant in One tops our ratings of 13 solid wood stains. It's $44 a gallon at Lowe's. See our wood stain ratings for details, including a CR Best Buy from Behr that combines impressive performance and value, and two stains that scored poor overall. 

Semi-transparent stains. These allow some of the wood grain to show through so they're a good choice for wood that you want to show off. But the best semi-transparent stain in our tests isn't as tough as the top solid stains, and is expected to last only two to three years on a deck. The 13 stains in this category varied widely in performance with Thompson's WaterSeal Waterproofing scoring only a 12 out of a possible 100. So compare before you shop.

Clear sealer stains. Containing little or no pigment, clear sealers are ideal for showing off the natural grain of the wood, although it will turn gray over time. And you’ll probably have to re-stain annually. As a group, clear sealers scored the lowest, with overall scores ranging from 5 to 28 (out of 100). 

Shopping for a stain? Check our wood stain buying guide to learn more about stains, and then take a look at our wood stain ratings. Click the Features & Specs tab to find out whether the stain was good at resisting cracking, fading, dirt, and mildew. That makes a difference depending on the climate you live in. For example, look for resistance to mildew in humid regions and resistant to dirt in dry, desert areas.