Should You Paint Or Apply Exterior Wood Stain On Outdoor Structures?

Posted On Thursday, 23 June 2022 19:54

Outdoor structures like sheds, gazebos, cabins, and pergolas are an important addition to your yard. They improve the beauty of your home and create a great setting for enjoying family hangouts and a view of your outdoors. Maintaining these structures ensures that they’re appealing and long-lasting.

Now, wood is a common material for outdoor structures, owing to its aesthetic appeal. However, it has an array of limitations, chief of which is its tendency to absorb water, making it swell and easily deteriorate. Fortunately, this can simply be avoided by using either wood stain or paint. Both options are viable, but each has its unique pros and cons. (1)

The question of which is the best to use for outdoor structures has been a theme of debate among home exterior designers. The discussion below will hopefully fill you in on when it’s appropriate to choose one over the other. 

  1. 1. Stain preserves the natural look of wood

Wood stain should be your go-to option if you like the natural look of wood. It usually comes in clear or brownish hues, meaning it doesn’t fully conceal the natural beauty of wood. Instead, it forms a see-through film over the wooden surface, leaving the natural grain patterns and surface cracks pretty visible. This is perfect for homes with a traditional vibe, which is mostly characterized by wooden elements. (2)

If this is what you desire, there’s a wide range of wood stains you can choose from. A good example of that is Nova’s Exoshield exterior wood stain, which gives your wood structures a homely appearance. 

On the contrary, paint forms an opaque layer over wood, completely sealing up the wood grain. As such, this is more suitable for modern homes, for which that manufactured look is all too common.

  1. 2. Paint offers more color options

To reiterate, wood stain mostly comes in clear hues or translucent shades of brown. This is in line with its primary purpose to preserve the natural look of wood. This might feel limiting, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes colorful structures.

In that case, you might want to use paint, given that you can choose virtually any color under the sun, including green, grey, white, beige, orange, red, dark tan, ivory, blue, pink, name it. Currently, home designers are stretching their creativity to the limits by trying out such odd color combinations. If this describes you, go for paint instead of wood stain.

  1. 3. Paint is long-lasting  

Paint is generally more durable than stain. This is because paint doesn’t discolor easily from sun exposure. As such, a wood-painted outdoor structure can maintain its lustrous look for up to 10 tears without any need for repainting. Such durability makes you get good value for your money, especially since there’s no need to constantly repaint the structures or even do anything to maintain their color. The extended lifespan of these structures also saves on maintenance costs.

On the contrary, stain finishes are short-lived. That's especially true with the transparent strains, which quickly succumb to ultraviolet (UV) rays and water damage. On this account, you may be forced to recoat the structure after a couple of years if you desire a more polished look. 

The solid multi-pigmented stains are more durable as they can perfectly resist moisture and UV damage. Staining your outdoor structures can make them look good for just over five years, after which you’ll need to reapply the stain.

  1. 4. Paint is easier to maintain

Paint, especially the high-gloss varieties, dry up to a smooth finish, making sweeping effortless. Remember, occasionally, you’ll need to clean your deck to remove dirt or mold. And while doing the cleanup, you wouldn’t want to ruin the finish. Painted floors and sidings can perfectly survive pressure washing without peeling off. Conversely, pressure washing and scrubbing can create dents on stained wooden surfaces, leaving them unsightly.

  1. 5. It’s easier to change from stain to paint than from paint to stain

If you’re not sure about the kind of finish you want on your outdoor structures for the long term, it’s advisable to start with staining. This is because, should you decide to switch to painting, it’ll only be a matter of sandpapering the old finish and applying two or more paint coats.

In contrast, moving from a painted finish to a stained one is a complex procedure with numerous steps to follow, from mechanical stripping of the paint to chemical stripping, sandpapering, deep cleaning, and then stain application.   

  1. 6. Paint initially costs more

Generally speaking, paint is more expensive than wood stain by about 10 to 15%. Thus, if your main concern is saving on costs during your home renovation project, you’d better go for wood stain. However, the cost-effectiveness of stains is debatable. As mentioned, stained structures may need recoating much earlier than painted ones, meaning you’ll spend more money in the long run maintaining stained surfaces. (3)

  1. 7. Paint touch-ups are trickier

Should you decide to touch up painted outdoor structures for a fresher look, you’ll realize it’s not a walk in the park, after all. That’s because it may be challenging to match the new paint color with the initial one, especially if the initial paint was custom-mixed. Getting an exact replica of the original paint is next to impossible. But with stain, there’s practically no stress over color issues. Transparent is transparent, and that’s it. Even if the stain is in brown hues, finding the same product in the market, even after several years, is pretty easy.


Evidently, both paints and stains are good coats for outdoor structures because they ensure durability and beautification. However, their individual qualities will be your baseline in making a choice of which one to go with. Essentially, if you need to preserve the original wood color, you’d go for stains. But for a total cover-up, the paint would fit in perfectly. It’s also worthwhile to enlist professional help for expert guidance on which option is the best for your structures and their materials.


  1. 1. “How to preserve wood”, Source:   
  2. 2. “3 ways to stain a deck”, Source: 
  3. 3. “Pros and Cons: Painted vs. Stained Kitchen Cabinets”, Source: 
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