written by: doriangray•edited by: Tania Cowling•updated: 3/30/2010
For the eco-conscious DIY person, using environmentally friendly deck stains is a must. While it is important to protect your deck from the elements, you must also consider the chemical composition of the product you are using and whether it is safe for your health and the environment.
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Why Choose Environmentally Friendly Deck Stains
If you've applied deck stain before, you likely found the strong scent overpowering or offensive. The reason that many deck stains give off these strong odors is because they contain chemicals that are dangerous to your health and the environment. Not only will you inhale the strong gases while you are applying the stain, but the finish will continue to outgas, or release toxic fumes, over a long period of time. Imagine the rain washing these chemicals into your yard, or your pets or children crawling around on such a surface! It is easy to understand why using an environmentally friendly deck stain is a good idea.
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Types of Deck Stains
There are two primary types of stains: oil and water-based. They each have their advantages and disadvantages, although they both serve to protect the wood surface of your deck from the sun's harmful UV rays, rain and other harsh exterior conditions. Oil stains typically penetrate better and last longer than water-based stains, however they are more likely to contain chemicals that are not friendly to the environment. Water-based deck stains are easier to apply and provide an easy clean-up process. Generally, clear sealants don't have as much staying power as more opaque color stains, although you sacrifice the natural beauty and grain of the wood.
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You may have heard the term "low-VOC" used to reference to paint or stain. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which are dangerous chemicals released into the air when paints and stains are applied. They can negatively impact your health, causing basic respiratory irritation, and some studies have linked them to cancer in animals and humans, according to the EPA. Currently, there are no guidelines governing the use of VOCs in non-industrial settings, such as residential applications; however, many manufacturers sell low-VOC deck stain formulas.
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Green Deck Cleaning
Proper cleaning and preparation of your deck ensures that the stain will last longer. However, many cleaning products are also harmful to the environment such as bleach. Instead, opt for a "green" deck cleaner such as Simple Green or Sol-U-Mel. These products are non-toxic, so you don't have to worry about them contaminating the soil in your yard or being harmful to inhale. The drawback, however, is that you may have to scrub harder to remove surface dirt than if you were to use a cleaner with bleach. If you choose to use bleach, use an oxygen-based bleach rather than the typical household chlorine bleach.
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When purchasing deck stain from your local home improvement store, be sure to ask for eco-friendly options and low-VOC formulas. Many manufacturers have developed formulas that are marketed as environmentally friendly deck stains: