Oil Based vs. Water Based Stain

Oil Based vs. Water Based Stain


Are you wondering whether to go with an oil-based or water-based stain? Here is some information to help you decide which one will work best for your project. Both types of stains have their own unique benefits, so it really depends on your specific needs. Keep reading to find out more about each type of stain and see which one might be right for you!


Naturally, an oil-based stain will penetrate the wood far more deeply than a water-based stain. This is due to the fact that oil molecules are considerably smaller than water molecules. This means that they are able to seep into even the smallest cracks and crevices, providing long-lasting protection against moisture and UV damage. In addition, oil-based stains are much less likely to peel or flake off over time. For these reasons, oil-based stains are an excellent choice for outdoor uses and other wood products that will be exposed to the elements.

wood staining using a brush

Environmental Impact

Oil-based stains have been one of the best wood finishes for years because of their durability and resistance to water. However, water-based wood stains are becoming more popular as people become more aware of the environmental impact of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are released into the air when oil-based products are used, and they can have harmful effects on both the environment and human health. Water-based stains, on the contrary, are eco-friendly because they don't release harmful chemicals. When you are applying a wood stain, it is important to take precautions to avoid inhaling the VOCs. Otherwise, you may experience adverse health effects. First, you should wear a protective mask. Second, make sure to allow the air to circulate. Taking these precautions will help you avoid inhaling VOCs and protect your health.

Cleanup and Flexibility

Water-based stains are the obvious winner when it comes to cleanup and flexibility. Soap and warm water will clean the brush, roller pan, and your hands - making your life significantly easier. Oil-based stains can take days or even weeks to lose their smell. As they will penetrate the wood so deeply, so will the smell. So if you're looking for a stain that's low-maintenance, water-based is the way to go. If you're hoping to add a bit of color to your home, water based wood stains are a great option. You can find them in a wide range of shades, making it easy to find the perfect color for your space. And if you're hoping to create a cohesive look, it's easier to find colors that complement each other when you're working with water-based stains. 

Drying Time

Oil-based stains, which commonly use linseed oil as a binder, dry more slowly. Choosing an oil-based stain will likely add time to your project because of how long it takes to dry, but this often makes it easier to handle since it imperfections can get fixed before drying too fast.

You should choose a water-based wood stain if you're in a hurry to finish the job. However, if you're after a smooth, even finish on the wood, an oil-based stain is your best bet. There is no need to rush when applying an oil-based wood stain and wiping away the excess, which may make it more user-friendly. If you want a more professional look, use an oil-based wood stain.

applying wood stain using a brush


If you're looking for a hassle-free way to apply wood stain, oil-based stains are the way to go. You’ll be able to take your time and work at a leisurely pace to get a smoother, more professional finish with no brush overlaps. In contrast, you need to pay closer attention during the application of water-based stains. You'll need to work quickly to avoid the stain from drying up prematurely. Plus, you'll need to take care not to apply more stain than the wood can absorb; unlike oil-based stains, water-based stains do not penetrate the wood as deeply.

an old man staining his garden fence

Wood Grain

It's no secret that planning ahead is crucial for any woodworking project. You can't expect your finished product to appear at its best if you skimp on wood preparation. That's why you need to weigh the benefits of working with wood against the risks involved. The potential for raised grain is one such risk. The natural fibers in the grain of any type of wood will expand and raise when subjected to water and moisture. Because of this, you should be aware that any water-based wood stain may cause the grain of your project to become more raised. As a result, any damage caused by the grain being exposed by your water-based stain could potentially render the work unusable. This means you will need to devote more time and effort to preparation. However, if you want to use a water-based stain, then you'll have to carefully wet the wood on purpose to increase the grain and then sand it down before applying the stain. This is an additional step, but it is essential if you want a polished final finish.


a container of brown-colored wood stain and two different sized staining brushes

So, which type of stain should you choose? It really depends on your needs. If you want a quick project with little cleanup, go with a water-based stain. If you're looking for a durable finish that will really bring out the grain of your wood, oil-based is the way to go. Whichever type of stain you choose, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully for best results!