Benjamin Moore Arborcoat Review

This Review (our experience) of Arborcoat was first published in 2010. The product has changed since then and so has our experience with it. We updated it in 2015 and will do so in the summer of 2019. 

To call this a Review of  Benjamin Moore’s Arborcoat would be unfair. First of all, it’s very new and we don’t exactly know it’s long term performance. The Toronto climate is tough on exteriors and creating the proper surface conditions is an adventure. This a blog is about our experience with Arborcoat and not a review per say.

A few years ago (late nineties) Benjamin Moore developed the Gennex waterborne colourant technology. Benjamin Moore’s best paints today use this advanced low and zero VOC system. Natura, Aura, Ben and Ecospec have been used enough by consumers and the verdict is positive. Painting contractors had success with the new Benjamin Moore paints. On exterior projects Ecopainting uses a lot of these new waterborne products. we are very happy with their performance and how easy they are to use. Using the Gennex system on exterior products Benjamin Moore created high performance paints with serious green attributes. This time we can claim that some eco friendly coatings can outperform any paints.

Then came ARBORCOAT. A low VOC and low odour product that promises better performance than any traditional solvent based stain. The first summer it was available we used hundreds of gallons of ARBORCOAT. We were contracted to stain the exterior railing of a 54 unit townhouse complex in downtown Toronto. We used the solid stain version, tinted to Benjamin Moore’s colours. We also used the same solid stain for deck staining and some residential wood siding. Our painters seemed to like how easy the product was to use. The product had a thickness feel about it and looked really good . It showed fewer  lap marks and excellent hiding properties.

In early September that year we used the transparent product. This was on a large siding job in Uxbridge. The feedback was all positive as far as ease of application went. Time of course will be the real test, but so far the early reviews were all positive.

We used a solid black Arborcoat stain later to finish a Toronto carport. The carport was one year old and this was the first coating it received. Again, the report from the painters was positive. The stain left a beautiful smooth finish without losing the wood`s grain and texture. One coat easily covered the wood in a nice rich solid black. This was a perfect look for the old surroundings of the carport.

Updating our experience – 2015

We used the product a few times since. We applied it on decks, siding, railings, vertical and horizontal surfaces. We used the solid, semi-transparent or translucent versions of the the product and the results are mixed.

It demands perfect surface and weather conditions. All products need this but some stains are a little more forgiving. Considering the small time window for exterior staining in Toronto, staining weather almost never happens.

Vertical surfaces perform better. We went back to enough job sites and it still looks good. Most coatings perform better on vertical surfaces, Arborcoat was not any different.

Nice siding product. It’s a good alternative for paint on wood siding if you want to maintain the texture of the wood. Durability on wood siding is very good with good prep work.

I wouldn’t recommend it for decks. We used waterborne solid, semi, translucent Arborcoat and none performed well on decks. Deck staining is not our specialty, but we have enough experience to form this opinion. Old decks or new decks, the performance of the product was not acceptable. The prep was good, the weather conditions agreeable but it stil failed. In some cases the coating peeled in sheets and re-staining these decks was a nightmare. The tried and true penetrating oil products were absolutely superior. Film forming acrylics almost always fail despite claims of superior adhesion. Despite our initial hopes and first impressions, Arborcoat was not any different.

This blog was written for Ecopainting, Toronto painters servicing both the residential and commercial sector.

42 thoughts on “Benjamin Moore Arborcoat”

  1. PROPER PREP IS IMPORTANT .Wood that is smooth needs to be sanded 80 to 100 grit non ferrous sand paper .Apply arbour coat to all 6 sides prior to construction .Ensure moisture content is between 13 and 16 percent .Apply second coat and let dry .Have stained 50 million bft of wood in 30 plus years .Never had a job fail .Slaping stain on surface only is poor practice .Of course it will fail because moisture gets in sun heats up and moisture turns to steam and lifts stain off .Before negative comments do it right

    • Hi Paul, thank you for commenting. I agree that proper prep is absolutely necessary and most brands will perform better with it. The problem is you don’t always have the ideal situation to do the prep with. For example: “Apply arbour coat to all 6 sides prior to construction” is a great suggestion. The reality is most of the decks we re-stain are built already. The customer hires a contractor to stain, not to build one every time. Sometimes an existing deck is built too close to the ground and since the boards are not previously stained on all sides, the moisture is already present. Expecting the moisture content to drop to below 15% in a climate like ours is not always realistic. Yet the customer still wants it stained. I suppose you can turn down all deck re-staining jobs but somebody will stain them anyway without informing the customer.
      The best we can hope in a short time window here is to use a non film forming stain that lets the wood “breathe”. There are some newer offerings that claim to be “Hydrophilic” and can be applied when the surface is a little wet but time will tell how they will perform.
      To conclude, I agree with you if everything is equal.

  2. I have used the Arborcoat in a solid stain and you are correct it is a nightmare on all floors of my decks. We are in process of trying to sand it off. I’m wondering what solid stain you have had the most success with? I am beyond frustrated spending every summer restaining what was done the year before. Thanks

    • It is frustrating, especially when not having perfect conditions to work with. I hate to say this but the old penetrating oil products that didn’t form a film were better. We don’t do as many decks any more because of these issues. Sansin stains sound promising because it promises what oils used to do.

      • I am not sure where you are located but there aren’t many oil stains left because of regulations. The better hybrid or waterborne products like Sansin and others mimic the properties of oil by being thinner than usual and drying slow to allow for proper penetration of the wood. If Sikkens is still allowed in your area to carry oil, weha d success with them in the past. Benjamin Moore is bringing back some of their alkyd stains (at least here in Toronto Ontario). They call it “Classic Oil Finish”and I thing they go as opaque as Semi-solid. Ask at Sherwin Williams, they might have some product as well.

  3. I am in south central Texas where the weather gets brutally hot. My deck is roofed. It needed re-stain and I couldn’t remember what I had used before. I have used Ben Moore paints on houses with good results. It is during the covid 19 breakout and I ran up to the paint store and being that this is what they had, I bought 2 gal. First off it was $117 for them, kinda pricey. They had the semi-solid. I went with a color that appeared to match my original color. Right now, half the deck is painted. It dried flat sheen and chaulky looking. My prior stain was semi gloss and showed the wood. This doesn’t. The color is not at all what I wanted. It did dry smooth and went on exactly like paint. It dried super fast. I don’t know what to do now. Guess I will finish it d/t cost and pray it cleans easily and doesn’t flake. Bummed.

    • Hi Elizabeth. Since you are halfway done with the staining, you might as well complete the rest of it. If you removed most of the failing stain and you did not trap any moisture, it should be okay for a while. Unfortunately with any of these hybrid or waterborne finishes you have to follow instruction to almost impossible levels. For example do not stain too early or too late in the day. Do not stain too early or too late in the year. Do not paint after rain or before the rain and never in the sun. These almost perfect conditions that almost never happen makes deck staining a service that most painting contractors want to avoid. In the mean time, good luck and hopefully you get some longevity out of your hard work. (colour and look not withstanding)

  4. Hello! I’m looking for a exterior stain preferably oil based to refresh my home. Water no longer beads on the house. I’m am very concerned about what I can use … the previous stain did not peel, flake or crack… totally soaked in and lasted 14 years. The home was originally stained using Solignum creosote semi transparent stain and a few years down the road redone with the Pratt and lambert oil based stain none of which comply with Canada’s Voc restrictions now and are of course no longer available.The tongue and groove pine siding is now 33+ years old and is still in excellent condition… but needs to be refreshed! I’m looking for a product that will gives us the longevity that our prior penetrating stain did. So difficult! This will be the fourth time it has been done since being built. Sorry for all the information… just giving you some background! I can tell you my husband is old school and has a distrust of waterborne stain. I was recommended BM Arbour Coat Classic Oil Semi Transparent stain flat finish. Has anyone used this? I am located in the Muskoka Area .R

    • Hi Robin. Most quality waterbourne stains perform well on siding and horizontal surfaces. Most of their problems were on horizontal surfaces and more specifically decks. If you want to use Arbour Coat Classic Oil Semi Transparent stain you should have no issues with it. It should perform like most penetrating oil stains used to. I know you mentioned the existing finish is old but make sure it’s almost off, otherwise the stain will not be able to penetrate the substrate well. Also if the surface is unevenly discoloured, test the colour somewhere before proceeding. I think they also have a semi-solid in the oil line which is a little more opaque. Thank you for your question.

  5. I live in New England and I have had major issues with arborcoat I use the storm stand and a special superdeck elastomeric primer it’s been 6 years now and I’ve not had to recoat yet

  6. Hi There, Just restrained my large pergola with Arborcoat semi transparent dark walnut. All the internal boards look great but the outside boards are very dark and have a nasty swirl appreance to them. could not see what I was doing when staining and could not keep a wet edge. Should have done this part seperate. Learned for next time. Want to fix it. Any thoughts? Thinking if I reapply the stainn again it will be too dark.

    • Hi Matt, I hope you have a solution already. Are you able to sand/power-sand these boards and start again? It’s a lot of work but I don’t see another solution. You are correct applying an extra coat of semi- transparent stain will make it much darker. Especially a dark walnut colour.

  7. Hello. Love your comments. We live in Virginia and want to restain our cedar deck that is 10 ft. above ground. Was last stained with Arborcoat translucent stain about 4 years ago, with disastrous results on floor, top rail, and steps. Vertical surfaces are still great. In retrospect, I must admit that I might have put too thick of a coat on the boards, which wouldn’t run off like a vertical surface.

    Last year Benjamin Moore folks talked us into going with Arborcoat Classic Oil Finish Semi-solid stain. I still haven’t applied it. After our experience with the last Arborcoat stain, we have been trying to avoid yet another mistake, so have procrastinated in using what we bought. I finished sanding the horizontal surfaces and power-washed (actually just rinsed) the deck. The railing (except for the top railing) is washed but otherwise untouched.

    Though we are going from translucent (less durable) to semi-solid (more durable) stain, we are staying with the same color, natural cedar. Can I put this new stain directly on the railing? Should I rough up the railing first in any way (fine sandpaper, Scotch-Brite, etc.)? Should I put 2 coats on the horizontal surfaces? If so, how much time should I space between them? In the past I have heard 6 months, other times 1 day or 10 minutes. The Benjamin Moore guy said to go back with a second coat after doing 3 more boards with the first. Which is correct?

    One last question: Before I convert to a raised concrete pad next time, how long should I expect this coat to last if everything goes right? How soon should I re-stain? What will I see on the deck that tells me it’s time to do it?

    BTW: In spite of the 6-side comment above, I was told to NOT do that because you end up trapping any moisture that does make its way into the board from getting out. They told me to leave the underside unstained so that the moisture can escape. I originally did this deck staining 6 sides with Sikkens stain and ended up having to replace the entire floor.


    • Hi Ken, sorry about the late replies. We were closed for a while in Toronto and we are staring again slowly. I think you have your answer for the railing sheen and re-coat.
      You should get way more life with the oil semi product. I am not sure how many years but plan on fewer than you think.
      Two semi-wet coats as they suggested is a good technique and we use it. Technically they are not two coats but a way to apply more stain evenly. It works well with some oil products. According to Benjamin Moore on re-coating this:
      “If needed, a second coat of stain can be applied at a rate no less than 500-600 sq. ft. per gallon. Wait for the first coat to dry 24-48 hours before applying the second coat. Please note that multiple coats will affect the opacity of the final finish and obscure more of the natural color of the wood”. The spreading rate suggests a thinner second coat.
      Great point about the 6 sides comment. The moisture has to escape from somewhere and you definitely don’t want it escaping from the top.
      I hope this helps.

  8. Some additional info: I took one of the vertical side rails into Sherwin Williams, along with a bucket of the old stain. turns out the stain was the Arborcoat waterbase type. But the vertical boards have a sheen on them still. The guy at Sherwin Williams was concerned about any type of stain penetrating because of the sheen. the only stain on these boards is 2 coats of the Arborcoat waterborne stain, so I don’t know where the sheen is coming from .

  9. Hi, I just bought bm arborcoat wateborne exterior stain. I prepped (very laboring) and used brightener . I only bought a pint to try it on my very large deck but after your opinion of it . (I’m in the ny area )I dont think I should use it!!

    • Sorry about the late reply, things have not been too normal after this COVID-19 situation. If your wood is fully prepped and has no other coating left on it, I would use their classic oil formula. It should be available in your area.

  10. Ideas? I used the Arborcoat solid coat on an exterior deck in Lake Tahoe Ca. Harsh conditions from snow to mountain summer heat. To be truthful, peeling from wear and tear to be expected in those conditions. I am priming the worn areas with a oil exterior primer and giving the surface another coat. Should I think of changing product? It is a vacation rental and if I can get a couple years maintenance out of the Arborcoat fine…but do you have any other suggestions as to how to deal with it/.

    • Priming with an oil primer is a good idea, as it will penetrate the bare wood better. You really should get two years out of this. As far as changing products, all water based or hybrid solid stains should work similarly in your situation. If you are able to strip it completely and use a slower penetrating oil or hybrid stain, sure, go for it. Being a vacation rental, you likely don’t want to invest so much time and effort.

  11. Hello,
    Yesterday (about 18 hours ago), I have stained my newly installed cedar deck using an Arbocoat semi-transparent oil-based stain. The stain was easy to apply, with no concerns. When I looked at my work today, I found that the stain was not evenly applied, there are many light spots. In addition to it, at night time, a raccoon made a lot of dirty paw-prints over row stain that is hard to erase without scritching the stain. So, my questions:
    1. How to fix these imperfections: light spots, raccoon paw-prints? Should I do sanding first or use paint thinner? OR
    2. Should I apply one more coat of stain over the entire deck 24 – 36 hours after the first coat was applied? Is it really needed?
    Thank you.

    • Thank you for the question, I hope I am not late with this comment. The paint thinner solution is too late obviously. If it looks a little more even by now and the raccoon paw marks are not as noticeable, wait a year for the finish to dull a little. Light sand it and apply another coat then. If you think you need to apply a second coat this year (if you have not already), this is what Benjamin Moore says in their literature:
      “If needed, a second coat of stain can be applied at a rate no less than 500-600 sq. ft. per gallon. Wait for the first coat to dry 24-48 hours before applying the second coat.
      Please note that multiple coats will affect the opacity of the final finish and obscure more of the natural
      color of the wood. Multiple coats may also result with the finish having a slight sheen.
      Good luck and I hope you have a solution.

  12. Hello! I have been doing so much research about deck staining and can’t believe this is the first time that I came across your site. I’m so concerned because I just returned home from buying a five gallon drum of Benjamin Moore solid deck stain : ( The salesman has been at the paint counter of the local independently owned, highly respected, home improvement store for many years. I went there to support a local business, have someone to go back to if there was a problem and because I was actually looking for another water-based product that is highly rated but that store no longer carries. So he offered me the Benjamin Moore or Zar solid. The Zar is highly rated and is actually less expensive, but we liked the color we found with the BM stain, and bought that.
    We live on the east coast of PA, and the wood is new pressure treated pine or cedar, (from a big-box home improvement store) installed in fall 2018 or spring 2019 and has not been coated with anything yet, and it is newly cleaned. He assured me that we will get 3 to 5 winters out of this deck stain. I can not return it as it is a tinted color. But, should I just suck it up, kiss the $179 goodbye and spend another $125 on the Zar instead?

    • Hi Mark, we used Arborcoat stain again recently with good results. I think Benjamin Moore is a company that does a lot of research and testing and I wouldn’t be surprised if the formula is improved. Follow the manufacturer recommendations exactly as they are on the label or look for them online. Also being new wood, you may want to rough up the surfaces with an orbital sander, to remove the mill glaze of the wood. We never used ZAR stain before so I don’t have personal input on that. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The way I see it is, that if it’s a product recommended by the manufacturer for decks, follow their own recommendations and it should be fine. Good luck and thank you for stopping by!

  13. Hi George,
    I’m so grateful for the time you’ve spent answering all these questions! I hope BM is paying you!
    I live in Maine in a cape with cedar clapboards that have always been stained every seven or so years with sikkens oil. The house has gotten very dark and we’d love to lighten it. I’m wondering if you’d recommend BM semi transparent or if we’re best to accept the darkness and keep on going with the sikkens which we can still get at our local BM. Longevity is more important than color! Thanks so much!

    • Thank you about your comments. I just shareed some of my company’s experience and somehow all these comments kept coming. I don’t mind it at all but I don’t get any money from Benjamin Moore. If you are getting good results with what you are doing, keep doing it for as long as the products are available. You did say you prefer durability over looks. Keep in mind that you need to strip the existing coating before you apply a semi-transparent coating. I am sure you know this already but depending on it’s condition, it’s a lot of work.

  14. Hello George, So good of you to help us DIY folks. WE had a new deck built two years ago and our contractor recommended that we stain with Olympic Maximum SemiTransparent Stain and Sealant. The results have been very unsatisfactory with chipped and peeling paint as per many of the photos you see on-line. We’ve sanded the “bad bits” but hesitate to start over with sanding. Would a good wash and retain with a better product work? We understand that we will lose the grain of the wood but in fact we have already after ultimately putting on two coats over the last two years. Our old cedar deck that was 45 years old finally rotted out but had been stain with oil base stains and never needed much attention. This new way of being is very new to us.Is there a better stain that we could use on top of this failing stain?

    • Hi Diane. Unfortunately most hybrid and modified oils with acrylic do not work as well as promised unless you have a perfect situation with time of application, humidity, prep, etc. That is almost impossible to achieve. To get a better start you need to remove all existing stain, even the parts adhering well. This is a lot of work. You could use another acrylic or hybrid over it but follow instructions well. Flood from PPG makes some good adhering products. I hope this helps.

  15. Oh my! I am new to this DIY painting and staining and was about to jump into staining a lattice enclosure we had built to hide pool equipment. My local paint supply space recommended the BM Arborcoat, and having been happy with BM products in the past, just took their word, chose the finish and color I liked, and headed home with my newly mixed gallon and some rollers. I chose the semi-solid. The test areas look fine. But I wondered this morning if I was supposed to use a primer coat first. They didn’t mention it at the shop. So I googled it… and came upon so many poor reviews!!! Now what? This is all vertical work, not decking. And that seems to get better reviews.

    Any thoughts on or experience with this kind of vertical lattice/fencing kind of use?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Hi Terri, it will be fine. Vertical surfaces will last much longer, and if you like how it looks, your stain is just fine. You don’t need a primer for semi transparent stain because it works by penetrating the surface of the wood.

  16. Your site is one of the best resources I’ve seen. I’m sorry to ask this since we are not in your area, but I’m hoping people who can be potential customers will recognize your expertise through your answers to all these questions!
    We are getting ready to stain or paint our mountain lodge house that has wood siding. I believe the former owners used a solid color stain. We have to have professional painters do it as it is a very tall house on a narrow lot. With this expense, longevity/quality is biggest objective.
    Would you recommend using a solid stain going forward or a paint? Also, designers/decorators keep recommending Ben Moore, but I keep seeing sites like Consumer Reports recommending Home Depot’s Behr Premium. Do you prefer one over the other in your experience? Also, for longevity, would you go with a solid stain or paint? We live in a very humid climate in Western North Carolina (similar to Seattle in rainfall) that also gets some snow.
    Thank you so much for your help,

  17. Hi. We need to stain our almost one-year-old, never treated, rough-cut pine shed/studio, ideally with water-based stain. Is Arborcoat good for that? We live in the NE of the U.S. I’m going nuts here because of the conflicting info I’ve been getting re suitability (weather/humidity) with water-based vs. oil stains.
    (I’d post a photo, but there’s no link for that.)

    • The old painter in me wants to suggest an oil paint because it dries slower and it penetrates the wood better. We had good luck with waterborne Arborcoat as well. Sorry, another not so clear answer again. At some point I guess you take the manufacturer’s claims into account and go for it.

  18. Any comments on using Arbor coat semi transparent oil base stain to spray on a new treated lumber fence. The fence is now 2 years old and dry enough to treat and protect. Any info appreciated

    • Hi Louise, I don’t see any reason not to. It’s been over two years, it will be fine to do this. If possible, spray some wood brightener with a garden sprayer, rinse and wait to dry for 24 hours. For better results back brush after spraying.


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