Oil Based Stain & Sealer vs Water Based
Oil vs. Water Stains
You want to stain (or seal) your new patio furniture and the
first thing you read is that you have to use water based stain. No wait minute, we meant to say oil based
stain. O great now you have us confused.
This is a dilemma that everyone goes through when you want to stain some
wood furniture. We know you don’t want
to hear this but there is NO right answer.
We have gathered some facts and other information that we think will assist
you in your decision of what type of stain you should use for your application.
Water Based Stains
Breathability – Water based stains are a more
breathable finish. This allows the wood
to use its own inherent properties of protection. It will not trap moisture in the wood and it
works well with less dense woods that have natural rotting resistance such as
cedar, cypress and even redwood.
Application – Water base stains have some advantages
when it comes to application. They do
not have any harmful fumes so they can be used inside or in an enclosed
area. They have a faster dying time and
clean up with just water and soap. One issue with water based stains is that
they can raise the grain of the wood. It
is less of a problem with outdoor furniture where you are not trying to get a
mirror finish like indoor furniture. (Remember
you can put water based finishes over oil but not oil finishes over water.)
Water based stains are all mildew resistant because of their
breathability but there are additives that some manufacturers put in their
products that can increase the level of mildew.
Water based stains are considered more environmentally
friendly. They have less harmful
chemicals as discussed above and some may actually be stamped ecofriendly such
as soy based stains. Water based stains
are not flammable.
Water based stains have become more durable than they use to
be but oil based stains are still considered to be more durable. This does mean you will have to reapply more
often that oil based finishes but the advantage of easier application does
offset this somewhat.
Oil Based Stains
Oil stains tend to seal the wood which can trap moisture in
woods that are not tight grained such as teak. It penetrates deeper into the
wood than water stains do which makes for a more durable coating. So while it
can seal moisture in it also tends to make it harder for the elements to
penetrate the wood in the first place.
The long drying time
of oil based stains make it easier on the actual application of the stain. You have more time to get an even color
across the item you are staining. Oil stains need to be applied in a
well-ventilated area. They can be
flammable. They have a higher VOC (Volatile
Organic Compounds) level. (It is also important to know that the rags
you use can self-combust so care must be used when disposing of the rags you
use in an oil staining project.)
Most of the new exterior oil based stains are mildew
resistant but unlike water based stains they must specifically state it on the
As stated above oil based stains have a lot of VOC’s (Volatile
Organic Compounds). This tends to make
them less environmentally friendly in the application but there is no real
difference in the two types of stains once they have dried on the wood.
Oil stains are considered to be a longer lasting
finish. They do penetrate deeper into
the grain of the wood. You historically
no not have to reapply it as often as water based finishes.
Now that you have some more facts we hope you can choose the
type of stain or sealer (the above also applies to sealers) for your
project. As we stated originally, there
is no right answer. It comes down to
what you think works best for your application.
In most cases we prefer water based stains for soft woods such as
cypress, cedar and pine and oil based finishes for hard woods such as teak and
shorea. Just remember that when it comes
to outdoor furniture no matter what type of finish you choose, the way to make
your furniture last is to reapply the finish when it looks like it needs
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