Decking Oil or Stain, Which is Best?

Here at Wood Finishes Direct we’re often asked which is the better out of two or more products. A common example of this is the question “decking oil or stain, which is best?” This is a tricky one because in general, decking stains and oils tend to be very different products, that work in different ways. It’s almost like trying to compare a washing machine with a tumble dryer.


Decking Oil or Stain – Which is Best?

So what are these differences, we hear you ask…

Although both decking stains and oils come in a wide range of natural wood tones and colours, it’s only decking oils that offer a clear or non-pigmented version. In most cases, (but we must add, not in all), decking stains tend to coat the wood whilst decking oils penetrate into the wood.

Decking Stains

Decking stains tend to be varnish like products that coat the surface of the deck. Often available in a wide range of attractive wood shades, decking stains effectively seal the timber from the elements.

Decking Stain

Decking Stain Benefits

  • Decking stains generally build a plastic-like layer over the surface of the deck that seals and protects the decking timbers from weathering and foot traffic.
  • The colour / pigment in the stain helps to reduce UV exposure to the wood therefore helping to protect the timber from the greying effects of sun and rain.
  • Works well and looks good on decking hand rails and spindles.
  • Good coverage and colour strength.
  • Many decking stains are quick drying and are shower proof and ready to walk on in just a couple of hours.
  • Provide mould and algae resistance

Potential Decking Stain Issues

  • Can reduce the visibility of the wood grain slightly due to the pigmented film between the timber of the decking boards and the eye.
  • Can start to crack, peel and flake once the seal has become compromised and moisture can get between the decking boards and the decking stain.
  • Must be fully removed if recoating with a different stain or if the decking stain has started to break down and degrade.
  • Can be difficult to fully remove from grooved decking.
  • Cannot easily be applied to a decking that has been previously oiled. Any oil that remains in the decking may repel or prevent adhesion of the decking stain.
  • Can be problematic on new, naturally oily, dark exotic hardwood decking such as Iroko, Balau, Massaranduba, Teak and Cumaru. These timbers should be allowed to weather naturally for around 3 to 6 months to allow the surface grain to open and for some of the natural oils to dissipate.

Please Note: Not all decking stains are compatible with each other. Always check with the manufacturer before applying any decking treatment over another.

Decking Oils

Decking Oils are available in both coloured and clear formulations. Designed to penetrate in to the surface grain of the timber, decking oils protect wooden decking from within.

Decking Oil

Decking Oil Benefits

  • Excellent coverage usually in the range of 8 to 10 square meters per ltr.
  • Rainproof and ready to use for light foot traffic in around 4 to 8 hours depending on the decking oil used.
  • Many contain UV filters to slow down the effects of UV and water damage to the timber.
  • Helps to replace the lost natural oils of the timber.
  • Works from within to keep the wood supple therefore helping to prevent cracking, splitting and warping of the decking board timbers.
  • Easy to clean, maintain and repair. No need to strip back to bare wood before applying a replenishing top coat.
  • Easy to carry out patch repairs in high traffic areas.
  • Decking oils will not crack, peel or flake from the surface of the wood.
  • Help to protect the wood from mould and algae.
  • Unless it’s a specific anti slip decking stain, decking oils tend to be less slippery than stains as they don’t cover the wood with a plastic-like film, meaning that the naturally uneven texture of the timber has better grip potential.

Potential Decking Oil Issues

  • Not all decking oils may be suitable for exotic hardwood decking because of their oily character and dense grain. Highly refined or extra thin decking oils may be required.
  • Cannot be over-coated with a decking stain or decking paint unless the decking has been allowed to weather for several years.
  • The final colour of a decking oil can be more heavily influenced by the colour of the decking timber than a stain.

It is worth mentioning here that water-based decking oils and solvent-based decking oils cannot be used together. The way to check which is which is to read the brush cleaning instructions on the tin. If it says to use water to clean your brush, it’s a water-based decking oil. If it says to use white spirit, it’s solvent-based.

Top Tips for applying decking oils and stains

  • Always, stir the contents of the tin thoroughly, at least for a couple of minutes before applying. This ensures that colour pigments and other important compounds of the formulation are well distributed and not concentrated at the bottom of the tin.
  • Always do a test patch and allow the decking oil or stain to fully dry before starting the main project. This provides an opportunity for you to see how the product will look when dry. Does it meet your expectations?
  • Only apply in double figure temperatures and when the weather is set to be dry for at least the minimum drying time displayed on the tin. Single figure temperatures, damp or wet conditions could adversely affect the application and final finish of the product.
  • Look out for end of season offers. Decking oils and decking stains can be had at a discount towards the end of the summer season, meaning that you can stock up for the next year and make a saving in the process.

Recommended Decking Oil and Stain Products

Unsure of which decking oil or decking stain to use? Here are some of our recommendations. All of these products deliver great results and will ensure that decked areas will stay protected and looking great for longer.

Decking Oils


Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Oil – penetrates deep into the wood, providing a long lasting finish that is up to twice as resistant to foot traffic and weather damage than the Standard Decking oil.


Ronseal Decking Oil – a durable, waterproof treatment that protects against weathering, warping, swelling, drying and splitting. Rainproof in 2 hours, leave 6 hours between coats. Resists mould and algae growth. Replaces the decking’s natural oils that are lost over time. Shields against the greying effects of UV rays. Suitable for most hardwood and softwood decking.


Barrettine Decking Oil – offers superior protection from UV weathering. High-quality, water-repellent ingredients prevent splitting, peeling and flaking. Enhances natural beauty and colour of decking. Keeps algae and mould in check. Safe for humans, animals and plants once dry.

Manns Premier UV Decking Oil – a multi-purpose exterior oil treatment. Excellent water-beading properties and weather protection. Reduces the risk of timber cracking, splitting and warping. Suitable for both softwood and hardwood decking, and sheds, fences, pergolas. Unique UV formula keeps wood looking good for longer and resists the greying effects of the sun. Can be used on all pre-treated, pressure treated and preservative impregnated timber.


Osmo Decking Oil – Osmo Decking Oils protect, maintain and beautify the wood surface, producing a smooth satin finish which is extremely water resistant and dirt repellent. The microporous finishes are based on natural vegetable oils and allow the wood to breathe and helps regulate the moisture content reducing swelling and shrinkage, the finish will not crack, flake, peel or blister.


Holzol Decking Oil – a trade-quality oil for use on all wooden decking. Addition of urethane resin ensures good durability. Enriched with UV filters to reduce greying. Semi-transparent colours make deck appear alive and vibrant in tone. Based on a blend of natural oils modified with urethane resin. V.O.C level approved


Decking Stain


Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Stain – uses advanced technology to penetrate deeper into the wood for increased adhesion and hardness to provide up to double the foot traffic protection and weather resistance versus the standard Ronseal Decking Stain formulation (based on Ronseal’s weathering data).



Ronseal Decking Stain – a pigmented / coloured deck stain. Suitable for a wide range of soft and hardwood decking. Hard-wearing and weather resistant. Available in a range of attractive natural colours. Quick and easy to apply. Suitable for high foot traffic areas. Dries to a semi-translucent, matt finish. Contains UV filters to reduce greying.


Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain – a durable finish with invisible anti-slip microbeads to make decking tread safer. Suitable for both domestic and commercial decking. Use as a top-coat over non-wax preserver or existing compatible porous finish. Contains algicide to protect against green algae and mould growth. Easily repaired with a simple top-up coating as required. Dries to a semi-transparent colour.

Need help with your decking finish?

Still unsure about which products to use on your decking? Contact our friendly team of resident experts, who are always on hand to provide free advice and guidance on the right products for your project.

12 Responses to “Decking Oil or Stain, Which is Best?”

  1. Martha Macaulay Says:

    I used oil a couple of years ago on my decking I now want to stain it what should I use because of the oil being on it already

  2. Sam Says:

    Hello Martha,

    You can give you decking some colour by using a coloured decking oil. Both Barrettine and Ronseal have coloured decking oils that may suit your needs. And are likely to be suitable for use over the old treatment that you have on there. I would strongly recommend a test area first, to ensure compatibility and to check that you like the finish that will be achieved.

    And if there is anything further that I can help with please do let me know.

    Kind Regards Samantha.

  3. Wendy Says:

    Can I stain and oil my decking for extra protection? Or is it just one or other?

  4. Sam Says:

    Hello Wendy,

    It would be one or the other as they are not compatible products. The Oils are designed to soak into the surface of the wood and protect. It gives a natural look and feel to the wood and is easy to apply and maintain over time, by simply re-coating when you feel the wood needs it.

    A Decking Stain is a surface sealer and similar in finish to a varnish, it can be slightly more durable than an oil and longer lasting, however over time could begin to peel and flake and need removing in order to retreat.

    Both require application to bare wood, and if you are treating decking with a previous treatment you may need to remove this first. Stain cannot go over oil it will not adhere and oil can not go over stain it will not dry. I hope that helps and if you have any further questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

    Kind Regards Samantha.

  5. Matthew Vincent Says:

    After oil can you use varnish or isn’t it reccomended ?



  6. Samantha Taylor Says:

    Hello Matthew,

    Oils and Varnishes are not compatible except in very rare situations. So I would not advice it, the varnish is unlikely to adhere to the oils surface. If you need any further advice on your project please do not hesitate to get in touch.

    All the Best Samantha.

  7. Beryl Knight Says:

    I have treated my decking with Ronseal ultimate decline oil. On the tin it suggest two coats, so I ordered more tins but got the ordinary decking oil ,same colour. Can I use this to give a second coat now.

  8. Samantha Taylor Says:

    Hello Beryl,

    Thank you for your enquiry. You can not use these two together as they are not compatible. The Ronseal Ultimate is a water bourne product and the Original Decking Oil is an oil based product and so there could be adhesion problems.

    Kind Regards Samantha.

  9. Jill Says:

    What is the best oil for an iroko bench? Is it possible to use the same oil on our decking?

    thank you

  10. Samantha Taylor Says:

    Hello Jill,
    Iroko is a tropical hard would and so a slightly thinner oil is required and a good option is the Osmo Teak Oil It is the exactly the same as the Osmo Decking Oil and so both would be suitable for use on both your decking and bench. A test area is always recommended.

    If you have a read up of the products and feel free to come back to me if you have any questions.

    Kind Regards Samantha.

  11. Ernie Mendoza Says:

    We have just finished our brand new garden decking (60m2) yesterday , and I am now waiting for five /six months to protect it by decking oils. The information I have read above are quite good for care taking of our decking.

    I read as well that if I used Decking oils there are several colours that I can use so our decking will look colorful especially in the summer when all plants and trees all in good conditions. I am thinking of using green, yellow, blue, red, and white. We did plant boxes and benches. Please advice if any will come into your mind.

    Thank you

  12. Samantha Taylor Says:

    Hello Ernie,

    We do supply a wide range of decking oils and colours. Not in those bright primary colours however. The Natural Oil Woodstain is available to order Ral colours, this means that you can chose a colour form the chart on our website and have this made up in the colours that you want. It is suitable for use on decking, however care must betaken with correct application and regular maintenance.
    If you have a read up of the product and feel free to get back to me with any questions you may have.

    Kind regards Samantha.

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