Water Based Wood Stain vs Oil Based Wood Stain

When you’re selecting the best wood stain for your next wood project, you will certainly come across a variety of wood stains (oil vs water based stain), but which type of wood stain is best for your project an oil based wood stain or a water based wood stain? The choice is critical as it determines the overall look, quality, durability, and techniques needed to apply your stain.

Oil based wood stain and water based wood stain each have certain advantages and disadvantages which we will discuss in this post.

How to tell if a wood stain is oil based or water based?

Manufactures will clearly label their products identifying if the wood stains are oil based wood stains or water based wood stains. 

Pros of Oil Based Wood Stains

  • Oil-based stains give your project an even finish and won’t leave marks where you layered stain.
  • Oil based wood stains can contain UV resistant properties.
  • Oil based wood stains penetrate the wood more easily than water based wood stains, making them much easier to apply.
  • Since oil based stains drying time is significantly longer than water based stains, it’s easier to blend in your brush strokes to create a more uniform and even finish.
  • Because oil based wood stains penetrate the wood so effectively, the wood stain will resist peeling better than a water based wood stain. 
  • When Oil based wood stains do fail they tend to fade rather than peel
  • Since an oil based wood stain penetrates the wood so efficiently it takes less effort to apply than water based stains.
  • Water resistant
  • Maintaining oil based wood stains is easier than water based stains
  • If the wood is constantly exposed to outdoor elements like wind, rain, and sunlight oil based stain is recommended. Oil based wood stains are more durable against these weather conditions and will create a stronger protective layer.

Cons of Oil Based Wood Stains

  • Oil based wood stain can contain higher VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), which are bad for you and the environment.
  • Oil based stains can take much longer to dry, which can be a real problem if you are in a rush or if you live in an area prone to extreme weather.
  • The substances that are used in some oil-based stains often contain materials that act as a food or energy source for mold and mildew.
  • Longevity is much shorter with oil-based stains when compared to water based stains.
  • Due to the ingredients in oil based stains you will have a higher exposure to higher amounts of VOC fumes

Water Based Wood Stains

Pros of Water Based Wood Stains

  • This type of stain dries much quicker when compared to oil based wood stains.
  • Water based wood stains do not contain a food source for molds and mildew which of course inhibits their ability to grow on your wood.
  • Cleaning up is easier with water based wood stains.
  • Water-based stains last longer and retain their color better than other types of stains, as long as they are applied correctly.
  • Water based wood stains contain UV protection
  • Low VOC.
  • These stains are mostly non-flammable and low odor making them an excellent choice for large indoor projects.
  • Water based wood stains are more breathable making it harder for moisture to get trapped in the wood.

Cons of Water Based Wood Stains

  • Water based wood stains require greater care and effort during the application process.
  • Thoroughly buff the stain into the wood. Water based wood stains can have difficulties penetrating the wood. 
  • If too much water based wood stain is applied the woods grain can lift, which is when the grain rises from the smooth wood surface.
  • Water based wood stains can dry quickly and not allow enough time to create an even finish.

Applying Water Based Wood Stain Over Oil Based Wood Stain 

Yes, you can apply a water based wood stain over an oil based wood stain provided you follow the proper technique.  You must allow the oil based stain to cure for at least 72 hours give it more time if your project allows.  Once the wood project is fully cured lightly sand the wood with a fine grit sand paper.  Clean off the wood and then apply your water based wood stain.

Applying  Oil Based Wood Stain Over Water Based Wood Stain 

Yes, you can apply oil based stain over water based stain but you much allow the water based stain to fully cure usually 24-72 hours.  Allow for a longer drying time if you are in a cooler climate.

Paint over Water Based Stain

Yes you absolutely can paint over water based wood stains however its important to remember  that the proper prep work must be done. You do not want to gloss over the prep work as if it is done incorrectly tannins from the water based wood stain could bleed through your paint  this is especially true is you choose a lighter paint color.

Steps to Paint Over Water Based Wood Stain 

  1. Throughly clean the wood surface.
  2. Use fine grit sand paper to dull the topcoat of water based stain.
  3. Throughly clean the wood surface once again.
  4. Once dry apply a high quality paint primer, once the primer is dry you are ready to being paint your wood project.

Paint over Oil Based Stain

Yes, you certainly can paint over oil based wood stain provided you follow the same steps listed above.  Since oil based stain effectively act as a sealer a little more sanding may be required then with painting over water based wood stain.

Staining Pressure Treated Wood

Before attempting to apply oil based wood stain or water based wood stain on any pressure treated wood it is important to know what treatment the wood received.  There are 3 different types of treatments wood can get that deem pressure treated and rot resistant.

Wet Treatment – This is the most common type of wood treatment and it is easily identifiable as it is typically still wet when purchased.  This type of treatment should be completely dried prior to any staining, whether that an oil or water based wood stain which unfortunately can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months.

Wood Treated with Water Repellant – Obviously if the wood was treated to repel water an oil based stain would be the best choice as a water based stain will not be able to adhere to wood treated with water repellant.

Kiln Dried Wood – This is the best pressure treated wood to use if you plan on staining as it can be stained right away without any waiting period or excluding any type of stain.

Apply a Water Based Sealer Over an Oil Based Wood Stain

Oil and water don’t mix, so applying water-based poly over an oil-based stain that’s not entirely cured can cause adhesion problems. To avoid this, always apply a barrier coat of dewaxed shellac to seal the oil stain before proceeding. Once the shellac is dry, give it a light scuff sanding (be sure to sand with the grain of the wood) to create an ideal surface for the polyurethane/ varnish or other water based sealer to adhere to.

Apply an Oil Based Wood Sealer Over a Water Based Wood Stain

When applying an oil based wood sealer solvent over a water based wood stain it is recommended to allow the water based stain to fully cure before applying the sealer. Typically this takes 24 hours.

If you are looking at wood stain for your next project check out my gray wood stain, white wood stain and blue wood stain posts.

Water Based Wood Stain vs Oil Based Wood Stain: Conclusion

In conclusion , there are many factors to consider in choosing between oil based wood stain vs water based wood stains. Whether you are looking for a more durable finish, mold and mildew resistant, easier cleanup, or compatibility with certain types of wood, there is a stain type that will work best for your wood type and wood grain. Whether you opt for oil based wood stains or water based wood stains, be sure to do your research. Hopefully we gave you insight on oil vs water based stain.

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