What Is The Difference Between Transparent and Semi Transparent Stain?

You’ve spent a few days getting the grounds ready and dug your holes for sauna tubes.  You’ve filled them with concrete, built your frame with 2 x 8 PT lumber, laid your PT planks, and that 12 x 16 deck is done.  What’s next?

Picking color for an outdoor deck is always fun, wanting it to compliment your house colors and the furniture you will use on it.  But, which stain will you choose?  There are so many choices to consider, including:

  • Semi-solid stain
  • Solid color stain
  • Transparent stain
  • Semi-transparent stain

Those options do not include any consideration to brand, and for our purposes today, we will discuss these options only.

Semi-Solid Stain vs Solid Color Stain

Let’s look at the first two on that list, learn the differences between them, and use that as lead-in to discuss the last two.  But, we can’t discuss semi-solid stain without using semi-transparent stain for comparison. 

First, let’s consider wood surface coverage for the deck.  For instance, if the wood is new, you may want to let the grain, or at least some of it, show through.  Semi-solid stains and semi-transparent stains are related – – but the words “solid” and “transparent” are key to understanding the difference.

Semi-Solid Stain vs Solid Color Stain

Semi-solid stains will have a deeper color to them and be less “transparent” than semi-transparent stains.  This means they will show less natural wood grain, but some of the grain will show through. 

By the way, the color, or pigment, in stains protects the wood from UV rays.  UV rays damage wood by breaking down and damaging its fiber.  This makes the wood more likely to crack, leading to moisture entry and warping.  Additionally, it will lead to mold and rot.

This is to be distinguished from solid color stain, which will have full and deep color and be virtually like paint.  A solid color stain will allow no grain to show through, have no sheen, and not reflect light. 

Why not simply paint your deck instead of using solid color stain, then, if you don’t care about grain showing?  There are differences, and they are important. 

  • Each will hide the grain, true
  • Solid color stain, though, has a much thinner consistency
  • That thinner consistency allows deeper penetration into the wood
  • And solid color stain is much less likely to peel than paint

So, your deck will look better longer if you use a solid color stain.  The color options are virtually the same as between the two, and you can easily match the deck stain with the colors of your home.

However, there are some arguments to support paint rather than solid color stain.  Staining your deck is easier and takes less time; but, paint gives a better surface finish, fills in cracks better, and is more effective in fighting mold and sun damage.  It’s also less likely to peel.

Solid color stain does not penetrate the wood; instead, it lays upon the surface of the wood and does not bond with it.  In this sense, they are similar to paint.

As you can see, there are many considerations when choosing the type of stain (as opposed to brand name) to use on your deck.  Though most recommend not using solid color stains for your new deck because it will provide less protection against weathering and wood rot. 

If you are going to stain your new deck, you might be better served choosing a semi-transparent stain.  It will allow the grain to show and penetrate the wood surface for deeper protection.  The pigment in it will protect against UV damage, and the color options are as many as paints.

What Does Semi Transparent Stain Look Like?

What Does Semi Transparent Stain Look Like

Translucent, or semi-transparent,  refers to opacity – simply, the absence of transparency.  In common words, it means you can sort of kind of see through it, but not clearly.  The lack of clarity comes from the pigment in the stain, and again, we remember that pigment helps block UV rays.

Semi-transparent stains are manufactured to bond with the wood surface and penetrate deeper into the wood than solid stains.

Transparent stain has a small amount of pigment; semi-transparent stain has a much more pronounced color appearance and a wide selection of colors to choose from because of a greater amount of pigment.  Each allows natural wood grain and texture to show through and enhance the appearance of your new deck project. 

Can You Mix Transparent and Semi-Transparent Stain?

The short answer is yes.  You can mix different wood stains and types together as long as there is a shared undertone between them.  You want the look to be consistent.

What about mixing semi-transparent stain and solid stain? 

If down the road you want to lighten the color of a dark deck, cover it with a lighter solid stain.  If you are covering a semi-transparent stain, you can cover it with another semi-transparent or solid stain.  And, if you are covering a solid stain, do so with another solid stain.  As we mentioned earlier, a semi-transparent stain is manufactured to bind with a wood surface but will not bind well with a solid surface.

What Lasts Longer: Semi-transparent or Solid Stain?

What Lasts Longer Semi-transparent or Solid Stain

It’s actually close between them. 

A good semi-transparent stain, the lightest in color, allows the wood grain to show through well and can be expected to last 3-4 years before another treatment might be necessary.  It will depend to some extent on the surface exposure to sun and weather.

A good solid stain does not allow the wood grain to show through, just as paint does not. You might get a bit more time from a solid stain, though, as the best are rated at 3-5 years before another application might be necessary.  Again, this will depend to some extent on the surface exposure to sun and weather.

Your new deck project came out as well as you hoped, and it’s ready to pick a color and surface cover for it.  You’ve got the information now, though, to make an educated choice.  There are plenty of product names to choose from, but the type of stain is perhaps the more important consideration.

Then, move the furniture onto it, light the grill, bring out the cold beer, and enjoy!

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