Choosing Between Oil- and Water-based Stains
A wood stain is a type of paint that allows the pigment of your topcoat to soak properly into the crevices and pores of your project. Stains can be either thick or thin or can provide protection against ultra-violet rays. The greatest decision you have to make in regard to stains is whether you should use oil-based stains or water-based stains. As you make your decision you will want to keep in mind whether or you not you are painting wood for the first time or repainting, whether you want the natural shade of the wood to show through and whether or not your project is going to be exposed to the elements.
When you go to purchase your stain you will want to purchase high-quality stains. You may be hesitant to spend a little extra money for a brand name but the price will ensure a lifetime of quality.
So what about the decision between oil- and water-based? Here are the advantages of using a water-based stain:
- Water-based stains can adhere to wood that has been previously painted with an oil-based stain.
- Water-based stains allow air to move in and out of the paint so that the paint does not trap water and cause decay.
- Water-based stains maintain quality of color longer.
- Water-based stains are not nearly as flammable as oil-based stains.
- Water-based stains dry relatively quickly and allow for a quick fix.
- Water-based stains emit an odor not quite as potent as oil-based stains.
Here are the advantages of using an oil-based stain:
- Oil-based stains are not easily penetrated by the elements.
- Oil-based stains dry more slowly than water-based stains and thus maintain a more even finish.
- Oil-based stains are far more durable than water-based stains and thus require far less maintenance.
If you are still struggling with the decision of which wood stain to purchase you may consider a hybrid stain. Whichever stain you use, just be sure to purchase quality painting materials and stick with your project until the end.
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Comments for this tip:
Stephanie 18 May 2016, 07:28
I have a new Restoration Hardware French Casement Media Cabinet in Drift Brown. Upon delivery, it was quite dirty so I took a damp cloth to clean it only to have the stain come off. Later I learned it has a water-based stain. Any suggestions for adding stain and a topcoat? RH says it cannot provide any info about the stain beyond saying it is water based.
Philip Gillespie 03 Mar 2016, 04:58
Thank you for the very informative tip on wood stains.
Paul Jarvis 28 May 2015, 10:46
Built a new deck and fence last October in SW Missouri. It is made with Pine. We'd like to keep it a lighter color as we prepare to treat and stain it now that it has weathered the winter. We are told that oil gives us more choices - water just a couple that will last (both dark). Which would be best? Part of deck and all of fence are around a pool area.
Marolyn 18 Jul 2014, 12:13
Is Duraseal a better product than Bona Traffic? Both are commercial grade. One company gave estimate for using one, the other company uses the other. One is water based and the other is oil based. Each company says their product is better.
Bob 12 Apr 2014, 10:00
I have a new cedar deck. Can I put water base stain on now and an oil base next year if I should want to change color? How about visa-versa? thanks Bob
Denise Ritchey 30 Sep 2013, 11:07
So confused! Have had 4 bids on sand and finishing my hardwoods. Half say water based the other oil based! I have Mirage Birch floors which is a soft wood. I need a surface that will be hard and not show every little scratch as well has a durable surface for as long as possible.Is the durability from the top coats then and different from the stain? I want a matt finish or less than a satin so as to not show scratches as badly.
So confused. Which is the better way to go?
Chris Zhang 07 Aug 2013, 13:20
How come I heard from others that water based stain last longer than oil based. We just did refinish with water based coating, canwe use oil based clear coat on top to make it more durable ?