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Understanding Transparent vs. Semi-Transparent Deck Stain

Transparent vs Semi Transparent Deck Stain: Main Differences


Deck stains can come in many forms, but the two main types you’ll encounter are transparent and semi-transparent. What’s the difference, and how do you know which type to choose for your deck? Here’s a breakdown of the differences between transparent and semi-transparent deck stains to help you make the best decision for your home.

Why Use a Deck Stain?

Most decks are built from treated wood that doesn’t require staining or painting to prevent decay. However, regular maintenance will still be required to keep your deck looking new and to avoid excessive cracks and splits in the boards. 

Sun, rain and snow all have a negative effect on wood, and applying a solid, transparent or semi-transparent stain is the best protection you can provide to ensure years of enjoyment from your deck. Consider these additional benefits:

  • Deck stains come in many colors and finishes.

  • They are easy to apply and make for a great DIY project.

  • High-quality stains contain UV blockers that prolong the life of the wood.

  • Deck stains can revitalize an old deck and add value to your home.

  • Quality deck stains help seal the wood and protect it from insects.

Common Types of Deck Stains

Determining which type of stain to use depends on the look you want for your deck. All three types will protect your deck and improve its look, but each one provides a very different finish. The condition of the deck when you start will play a major role in helping you make your decision.

Solid Deck Stain

A can of ZAR® Solid Color Deck & Siding Stain


Solid deck stains are a good choice for decks that need to be heavily protected against the elements, such as those near the ocean or in climates that receive a lot of rain. Solid deck stains contain more pigment than the other options and form a protective layer over the wood that can’t be penetrated by water. 

Because of their higher pigment levels, they also provide better UV protection than transparent and semi-transparent stains. Some other benefits of solid stains include:

  • They come in a wide variety of colors to choose from.

  • Their solid colors help hide any imperfections in the deck.

  • They are usually easier to clean.

  • They can be used over other types of stains and paints.

However, it’s important to keep these points in mind:

  • Solid deck stains will obscure the natural beauty of the wood and will not allow you to use a transparent or semi-transparent stain afterward.

  • Unlike transparent and semi-transparent stains, which soak into the wood, solid stains sit close to the surface and can suffer from cracking and peeling over time.

A solid deck stain can be the right choice if you are not worried about seeing the grain of the wood, if your deck isn’t exposed to harsh conditions or if you need to cover an older stain that is fading.

A can of ZAR® Deck & Siding Semi-Transparent Stain


A semi-transparent deck stain provides some coverage while still allowing the natural wood grain of your deck to show. This is a good option for decks that have already been stained or weathered because it will help revive the color while still allowing the wood to breathe. 

They are more durable than transparent deck stains and can withstand weathering and fading due to the increased amount of pigment in the stain. In addition, semi-transparent deck stains usually require less-frequent reapplication than transparent stains. 

However, there are some limitations associated with semi-transparent stains:

  • There are fewer colors to choose from than there are with solid stains.

  • If you leave it clear, UV rays and the elements will have a negative impact on the wood.

  • You can’t apply it over painted surfaces.

  • Imperfections will show through the stain.

Zar Clear Wood Sealer


Using a transparent stain allows you to see the natural wood grain of your deck through the stain. It’s clear so this product is best applied to new wood because it will not hide stains or other imperfections. 

The benefits of transparent stains are:

  • The natural beauty of the wood can shine through.

  • It soaks into the wood, so it’s not as slippery as a solid stain.

  • Transparent stains won’t crack or peel, so the deck won’t show wear easily.

  • When it is time to refinish the deck, you can go over the stain with a solid color.

Overall, this option is best used for homeowners that want the look of a natural deck. This stain provides protection and requires mild maintenance while still allowing the deck’s natural beauty to be highlighted.

Choose the Best Deck Stain to Finish Your Dream Deck

A mop is being used to apply a wood stain on decking.


ZAR® Premium Finishes offers solid, semi-transparent and transparent stains for your deck, siding and other wood projects. We also have stains available for interior wood projects such as flooring, cabinets or furniture pieces. 

Have a concrete patio instead of a wood deck? No worries — our NuDECK Wood and Concrete Restorative Coating can bring new life to your patio, even if it’s not made from wood.

Our website contains how-to videos, applications guides and specification sheets to help you choose the ideal stain or coating for your next project. Contact us today to find a retailer near you.