Exterior solid stain v. paint - can someone explain the difference?

5 Replies

I understand that a transparent stain sinks in to the wood, and a paint does not. But a solid stain doesn't seem to sink in to the wood either- how is this different from paint? Is it just thinner?

I am presently scraping and prepping the wood on my back porch and hot tub surround. I'm pretty sure solid stain was what was on there before. It doesn't peel like paint, it's more just like little flakes. It has worn away to bare wood in some spots. Can I just scrape and recover with a different color?

I've made mistakes before by not priming and by using the wrong type of primer so I'm trying to get the skinny on how not to screw it up this time, lol!


If the wood has been painted you can not stain it. Paint makes a thin layer on top of the wood while stain sinks into the pores of the wood. If the wood had previously been painted the existing paint will keep the new stain from sinking into the pores. 

Transparent stain does sink into the wood it just has much more dye or pigment added to it to simple change the color of the wood.

It is hard with out seeing if your deck currently has stain or paint. If it is chipping It is most likely paint. There are several types of cover ups for very warn decks such as restore or deck over at home depot. From the little I know about your deck I would suggest those. 

I would rent  a pressure washer. This will save you time rather than scraping and will give you a much better prepped surface for  the new. 

Hope that helps!


I would buy a n orbital sander at HD for $25 and sand the whole thing until stuff stops flaking--much easier than scraping. Or powerwash as mentioned above. Then solid stain in a very similar color or darker color. Jered is correct, You can't stain over paint, but if the surface isn't acting like paint then it probably isn't paint. Only an idiot would paint a deck IMO. As for the deck repair-restore kits they are expensive and don't really look that nice. They cover up badly deteriorated decks well but only as a stopgap, and it sounds like you just need to recoat. I have been happy with the Cabot products at Lowes...Read the instructions on the can, if I remember correctly, you can only recoat within an hour or so because it contains teflon and so will repel the second coat if fully cured.

Solid stain will also peel off a deck. That's what is happening on my deck right now. I know it is stain, not paint because I put it there.

It seems to me that deck stain does not work like stain you would use for a woodworking project. It does not sink into the wood like regular stain. At least it doesn't on treated wood. Maybe that's the difference.

The Cabot wood stains go anywhere from transparent to truly opaque/solid.  The solid really looks like paint.   One of my exterior paint guys uses the Cabot stains in solid instead of paint on pretty much any wood house that doesn't already have paint on it.  He did two projects for me.  Most people would say the houses were painted and wouldn't know it was solid stain.

Can you post a picture of the flaking you are working with so we can see if it's paint or deck stain.  Sold deck stain will chip off in very small flakes but for the most part it fades and get powdery instead of flaking like paint.

Thanks for the input, everybody! Fortunately the floor of the porch/patio/deck/whatchamacallit is concrete, so I'm not having to deal with a huge amount of surface. Just the tub surround, the uprights for the roof, and a small roof gable. And it's definitely powdery, not peeling. @Marian Smith and @K Marie Poe I looked up the Cabot product that you mentioned and they have some good info on their website that gives me a lot more confidence about going ahead!

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