Best and Worst Wood Stains From Consumer Reports' Tests

There are big differences in quality among the stains we review

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Hand brushing stain onto wood Photo: iStock

Staining a deck or fence is a perfectly doable DIY project. That doesn't mean you want to do it more than necessary. If you want to avoid repeating the chore every year, you're going to want a long-lasting stain.

Consumer Reports tested 28 solid, semi-transparent, and clear wood stains to find which ones last the longest. Overall Scores range from 5 to 80 (out of 100), which means there are big differences in quality among wood stains.

The best stains 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. "The sun and water beat down on a deck, snow can pile up, and even dirt and mildew spores can settle on the flat surface," says Rico de Paz, Consumer Reports' wood stain tester. "All those issues are minimized on a vertical surface."


To test wood stains, CR's test engineers apply two coats of stain to pine boards, then place them on the roof of our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y. They face the boards south and angled down, like a roof, to intensify the effects of the sun and weather for up to three years.

One year of testing tells you how a stain will do after a year on your deck or about three years of weathering on vertical surfaces (siding or fences), as you'll see in our wood stain ratings.

Below, you'll find ratings and reviews for the best solid and semi-transparent stains from our tests. First, a look at the different types.

Types of Stains

Solid. Just like regular paint, solid stains hide the grain of wood, and the best should last three to five years on a deck, the longest of the three types of stains. But the paintlike qualities of solid stains have a drawback: They might build up a film, especially after several coats, which can peel, chip, and crack, just like paint. The 11 stains in this category earn Overall Scores of 12 to 80 (out of a possible 100).

Semi-transparent. These color the wood but let the grain peek through, making them a good choice for wood that you want to show off, such as western red cedar, for instance. But even the best semi-transparent stains in our tests aren't as tough as the top solid stains, and our data suggest that this type of stain will probably last only two to three years on a deck. The 11 stains in this category also vary widely in performance, garnering Overall Scores of 12 to 65.

Clear sealer. This type of stain contains water repellents but little or no pigment. They're ideal for accentuating the beauty of the natural grain of wood. But without anything to reflect off UV rays, the wood itself will turn gray over time; picture a weathered cedar-shingled house. Typically, you'll need to restain annually. The six clear sealers in our tests score the lowest, with Overall Scores from 5 to 28 (out of 100).

Shopping for a Stain?

See our wood stain ratings and check the Features & Specs tab to see which stains are best at resisting cracking, fading, dirt, and mildew. That makes a difference depending on the climate you live in. Look for a stain that resists mildew if you live in a humid area, for example, or one that resists dirt if you live in a desert.

Upgrading your home's exterior? We also test replacement window, roofing, siding, and wood stains. Below, CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of some of the best wood stains in our rankings (listed here by type in alphabetical order, not in rank order).

Best Solid Wood Stains From CR's Tests

Best Semi-Transparent Wood Stain From CR's Tests

The Worst Wood Stains From CR's Tests

As a category, transparent wood stains, or clear sealers, don't fare well in our tests. The Olympic WaterGuard for Wood is the worst of the bunch, earning the lowest Overall Score in CR's stain tests—a 5 out of 100. It also earns a Poor for its appearance after one year in our simulated weathering test for decks, meaning this stain didn't take to the wood at all.

But even among solid stains, not all are up to the task. The Thompson's WaterSeal Advanced Waterproofer earns an Overall Score of 12 out of 100, as well as a Poor rating for its appearance after one year of simulated weathering. It also doesn't resist cracking, color change, dirt or mildew.

Home Content Creator Haniya Rae

Haniya Rae

I​’m interested in the intersection between design and technology​—whether for ​drywall or robotic vacuums—and how the resulting combination affects consumers. I’ve written about consumer advocacy issues for publications like The Atlantic, PC Magazine, and Popular Science, and now I’m happy to be tackling the topic for CR. For updates, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@haniyarae).