While many dock owners choose to stick with bare pressure-treated wood, the best way to protect it is to add layers of protection.
Knowing when to apply a stain vs a sealant, and what products will work best in your area is the key to proper dock upkeep.
In this blog post, I’ll break down everything you need to know about sealants, stains, and other products that can help keep your dock looking great for years to come.
The difference between stains and sealants for docks
The main difference between stains and sealants is that sealants can be used on painted wood to apply a clear, transparent finish that adds a layer of protection against salt and moisture without changing the color itself.
Any outdoor, wooden surface is going to need a stain or sealant to protect it from the elements. Stains for outdoor decks or docks typically include sealants for applying both products at once, but you can find dedicated sealants if you do not wish to stain the wood.
Stains will generally mimic certain shades of wood (usually light brown, to dark), and can be applied in coats to achieve the shade you prefer.
Sealants add another layer of protection from fungal growth and wood rot on top of a stain or paint and are great to add for maximum protection from the elements.
Sealants help to protect against sun damage that can warp the color of your wood and fade your dock.
Over time, the sun’s effect on unprotected wood can cause the wood’s natural oils to dry up, leading to splitting and cracking.
Most dock stains also work to waterproof your dock and will add pigment to your wood.
Your color can also add a little flair, as most stains are available in a wide range of colors. Moreover, while a stain is going to run a little more expensive than a sealant, but will last about five times as long.
How to apply a stain or sealant
Step 1: Clean your dock
First things first, you need to clean your dock. If the integrity of the wood planks is good, pressure washing is typically a good option. Just be careful on brittle wood, where the pressure may be too much.
For these cases, scrubbing with a brush and using a garden hose is probably a better option.
If it’s been a while since you last cleaned your dock you can couple this with a product like Stain Solver to really cut through old marks.
If you run into any other problems along the way or are unsure about what your particular dock requires consult this helpful guide.
Step 2: Sand your dock
Since docks tend to be rather splintery as they age, sanding away any rough spots or grooves will make it much smoother to the touch once you apply a stain or sealant. You definitely want to purchase an electric sander for this use case to save time.
While it isn’t absolutely necessary to sand before you paint, it’s an added step that can really help to alter how your wood feels. Of course, proceed with caution with brittle wood.
Once your Dock is completely dry and sanded, you can move on to applying the stain.
Step 3: Select an application method
From here, depending on the stain you select you’ll either apply it with a paintbrush, roller, or pump sprayer. I would recommend using a brush for smaller docks since you will be able to work with the grain and get in the grooves.
Throughout the process make sure not to leave any extra product on the boards as this could lead to peeling. For more information on the color characteristics of a few different types of sealers and stains, check out this YouTube video by AsktheBuilder.
1. Cabot stains: For docks built with pressure-treated wood
Cabot stains can run a little more expensive than other products, but it’s generally worth it due to the longevity of the product. There are two Cabot products made for pressure-treated wood I found on Amazon:
- Cabot Semi-Solid Deck and Siding Stain (7400 series)
- Cabot Semi-Transparent Acrylic Stain (1300 series).
Each comes in 74 different colors and wood tones and guarantees moisture and UV protection.
The product only needs to be reapplied once every 1-2 years, and the color you choose should depend on the wood you’re working with. Keep in mind that the 7400 series is going to be oil-based, and the acrylic stain is water-based.
Water-based stains are generally easier to clean up and less harmful to the environment, but oil-based stains often stand up better to the elements.
2. Defy Marine Seal: An eco-friendly sealer and stain
This product can protect your dock from UV rays as well mold and mildew infiltration. Best of all, it’ll protect your wood against both salt and fresh water, perfect for coastal use.
You can use Defy on pressure-treated wood, composite lumber, or exotic hardwoods just allow them to weather for 6-12 months before application.
3. One Time Wood Sealer: A long-term solution
One Time Wood sealer is a popular product for docks that contains a proprietary acrylic resin blend to protect your dock from water and the sun. This sealer comes in colors in several colors like Golden Honey, Clove Brown, and Chestnut and can be applied once every 7 years.
A little goes a long way, and this product also cures in the natural sunlight —meaning it won’t evaporate or wash away like other stains.
4. Cutek Extreme: For color retention
If you need a product to retain the color of your dock, check out Cutek Extreme. It offers superior color retention as well as moisture protection.
Cutek Extreme contains wood protection oils that penetrate and stabilize the wood (instead of just encapsulating the boards); this helps to protect from the elements as well as preserve the wood overall.
Cutek Extreme is sold clear (to applly on top of an existing color), but you can adjust the stain to your preference by adding a color tone.
Cutek has great video documentation you can check out on their website here to help you understand why this product is so unique.
This product can be a little hard to find but has great reviews.
Before you purchase a stain or sealant, understand what type type of wood your dock is made of, the environment the wood will be in, and how much upkeep you desire.
If you can make time for it, treating your dock every couple of years can help it live out a long, beautiful life.
Sun damage can warp the color of your wood and fade your dock. It’s also going to dry up the wood’s natural oils and likely lead to splitting and cracking.
With a sealant alone you could lose the color of your wood in 3-6 months, and you’ll need to reapply the product yearly.
After you give your dock a facelift, check out my post on 21 boat dock accessories you can have a lot of fun with this summer.
Best of luck!