Oil-Based Stains vs. Water-Based Stains

When choosing a stain for your outdoor wood project, there are several factors to consider in choosing the kind that is best suited for your needs. The two main stain bases are either oil-based stain or water-based stain and there are certain situations where one is better to use than the other.  Oil and water-based stains provide different levels of protection and coverage depending on factors such as type of wood, previous wood treatment, weather exposure, etc. Below we’ve provided some context for your important decision of using oil-based stains versus water-based stains.

Water-Based Stain Advantages:

  • Dry quickly
  • Keep its color for a longer period of time
  • Provides a richer hue of color
  • No harmful odor or fumes, not flammable
  • Breathable stain
  • Easier cleanup (only requires soap and water)
  • Extremely mildew and mold resistant

Oil-Based Stain Advantages:

  • Requires more time to dry which allows for a more even finish
  • Penetrates wood deeper
  • Extremely durable
  • Thicker seal for wood
  • Less long-term maintenance


Type of Wood

When choosing a stain to apply to your wood, it is important to first identify the correct stain base. In the debate between oil-based stains vs. water-based stains, if you are coating a wood that has a natural resistance to rotting, a water-based stain is the better option. Some examples of this kind of wood are cedar, cypress, and redwood.


Previous Wood Treatment

If the wood you are intending to stain is covered in a previous coating of paint or stain, certain steps should be taken in order to achieve a new protectant, even layer. Although it may be difficult to establish what the previous layer is, it will be helpful in your choice of oil-based vs. water-based stains. If the previous layer is oil-based, a water-based stain will adhere better and should be used.


Weather Exposure

The kind of weather the outdoor wood will be exposed to also plays a factor in determining the best stain-base for your project. If the wood is going to be in direct exposure to wind, rain, and sunlight, an oil-based stain is the best choice. This is because it is more durable than a water-base and will provide a more complete protective layer against these elements.