You know you need to protect your fence, deck or siding from the elements and harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight. But what should you use, a paint or a stain? There are strengths and weaknesses to each product.
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How They Protect the Wood
A penetrating stain soaks into and pigments the wood. The oils in the product keep the wood supple and resistant to moisture. The pigment in the wood blocks the sun's UV rays. A paint creates an impermeable layer over the top of the wood. Typically, two coats of paint are applied over a single coat of primer. Paint creates a film over the top of the wood that seals out moisture and blocks UV light.
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A penetrating stain will reveal the underlying wood grain. You will still be able to see the knots and the pattern of the wood even after it has been stained. Paint, on the other hand, will completely obscure the grain of the wood.
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A stained surface will need to be maintained more frequently than a paint, but the maintenance is less arduous. When a stain fails, it fades and loses its ability to resist water. At this point, washing the surface down, allowing it to dry completely and then adding another coat is all you'll need to do. When paint fails, it will peel and lift from the wood surface. You need to remove any loose material, either by sanding, scraping or stripping, before you can add a fresh coat.
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You can expect a stain to last anywhere from one to five years depending on the amount of pigment in the product and exposure to UV light. A paint should hold up for at least five years, and sometimes as long as 15 on a vertical surface.
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There isn't a right or wrong when it comes to paint or stain for your exterior wood structures. Balance the appearance you like with the maintenance you are willing to perform. Either product will protect your wood and keep it looking good.