HOW TO CHOOSE
A WOOD STAIN COLOR

A fresh coat of stain protects and beautifies exterior wood surfaces. Choose ARBORCOAT® Exterior Stain on decks, fences, swing sets, outdoor furniture or any other exterior wood project for the best outcome.
A stained deck with pink pool tube on it, and wet footprints.
Opacity and color: this combination makes up the final look of your staining project. Follow this step-by-step guide to find the best wood stain color for an outcome you’ll love.

Step #1: Consider the age and condition of your wood


The age and condition of your wood play an important role in choosing your stain. For example, solid opacity stain covers imperfections and is a great choice for older wood.

Evaluating the approximate age and wear-and-tear level of your deck, fence or other exterior wood project is an important first step.

Step #2: Determine your wood staining goals


Answer these three questions to determine your wood staining goals:

  1. Do you want your stain to enhance the natural appearance of your wood or transform the wood’s existing color?

  2. Are you looking to make a color statement or stay as close as possible to your wood’s natural hue?

  3. How much of the wood’s natural grain do you want to show through?

Step #3: Take surroundings into account


When choosing a wood stain color:

  • Consider your home’s exterior siding color.

    Blend in? If you want your deck to blend in with your existing exterior color scheme, choose a lighter or darker hue than your home’s siding or trim.

    Stand out? If you want your deck to stand out, consider a complementary color for an energizing look. Complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel. Learn more about complementary colors in the Color Handbook video.

    Testing out a sample of your stain color and opacity before you buy will get you on the right track to selecting the wood stain that's right for you.


  • Assess your home’s landscaping.

    Softer colors highlight colorful landscaping and draw less attention to decks, railings and fences. Neutral color stains, like Maritime White OC-5 or Beige Gray ES-51, keep the visual focus on colorful flora and fauna, less so on your deck or railing. Red-toned stains, like Boston Brick 2092-30 or Beaujolais 1259, will bring out the greenery. The same rule applies for fence colors.


Step #4: Choose your opacity


Stains come in a variety of different opacity levels.
Straw hat perched on a beach chair atop a pine deck. Straw hat perched on a beach chair atop a pine deck.
Translucent Stain

Magazine, sunglasses, and glass of water on a cedar deck. Magazine, sunglasses, and glass of water on a cedar deck.
Semi Transparent Stain

Potted outdoor plants on a redwood deck. Potted outdoor plants on a redwood deck.
Semi Solid Stain

Hose and watering can on a green composite deck. Hose and watering can on a green composite deck.
Solid Stain
Translucent
Best for: New or younger wood decks in good condition—ideal for hardwoods like mahogany, teak and ipe.


  • What is Translucent opacity? A stain with a translucent opacity offers protection while allowing the natural grain pattern and texture to show through with the slightest tone. Available in six wood-inspired colors (see ARBORCOAT translucent options in Step #5).

  • What it does: Highlights the wood’s natural appearance.
Semi-Transparent
Best for: Decks that are a few years old and in need of a new stain—ideal for softwoods like cedar and pine.


  • What is Semi-Transparent opacity? A semi-transparent stain is less transparent than translucent with a bit more tone added. Available in 75 colors.

  • What it does: Enhances the beauty of the wood with color, while still allowing most of the wood’s natural grain and texture to show through.
Semi-Solid
Best for: An older deck or wood that needs a slight touch-up to its natural color and appearance—ideal for softwoods like cedar and pine.


  • What is Semi-Solid opacity? A semi-solid stain provides slightly deeper color. ARBORCOAT semi-solid is available in 75 colors.

  • What it does: Covers most imperfections, while allowing some of the wood’s natural grain and texture to show through.
Solid
Best for: Old decks and wood that aren’t in great condition OR great if you simply want a change in deck color.
Suitable for all wood types: pressure-treated lumber, cedar and redwood. Perfect for painting wood furniture too!


  • What is Solid opacity? Solid opacity is a stain that provides the most shielding and color. ARBORCOAT Solid is available in all Benjamin Moore colors.

  • What it does: Covers the majority of imperfections, while lightly allowing the wood texture to show through.


Download the ARBORCOAT® brochure for more information, or pick one up at your local Benjamin Moore retailer.

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Helpful Tip

Solid opacity stains provide longer lasting results and help cover any imperfections.

Step #5: Explore stain color options


A stain color can either enhance or transform the natural hue of your wood. If you want your stain to enhance the natural appearance of your wood, choose a color closest to its natural hue.

Most homeowners opt for Translucent to allow grain and texture to show through. Translucent ARBORCOAT® Exterior Stain offers just a slight touch of color, each aligning with a specific wood type:

Step #6: Synching color choices with wood undertones


All wood has a natural undertone. Here are some topline ideas for stain colors by wood type based on their undertones. Note that all stain color suggestions below are shown in Semi-Transparent opacity.

Wood With Yellow Undertones
• Most common wood types: Cedar, pine
• To enhance, try:

To go warmer, try:

To go cooler, try:

Wood With Orange Undertones
• Most common wood types: beech, cherry
• To enhance, try:

To go warmer, try:

To go cooler, try:

Wood With Red Undertones
• Most common wood types: Redwood, mahogany
• To enhance, try:

To go warmer, try:

To go cooler, try:

Wood With Warm Brown Undertones
• Most common wood types: Red oak, walnut
• To enhance, try:

To go warmer, try:

To go cooler, try:




Step #7: Sample, sample, sample


It is essential to test out stain on wood before you commit.

  • Be sure to allow the stain to dry completely before making your decision on color and opacity, as the stain’s appearance can change as it dries.

  • Especially for lower opacities, keep in mind there will be variations of color. Just like on natural wood with different textures and grains, there will likely be lighter and darker spots on your stained wood.

You can buy ARBORCOAT® Waterborne Exterior Stain samples online and have them shipped directly to your home, or pick them up from your local Benjamin Moore retailer.

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Helpful Tip

Test color and opacity on different pieces of wood: Not all pieces will take the stain the same way.

Step #8: Start your wood staining project


You’ve chosen a wood stain opacity and color, tested out a sample of it on different pieces of wood and, most importantly, are happy with the results. Now it’s time to start your wood staining project!

Preparation is key: Check out how to prep a deck for staining. Then see our guide to how to stain a deck. As always, your local Benjamin Moore retailer can help with any question you may have, from choosing stain color to product questions.