The Case for Oil Based Stain

When considering a coating for lumber, celebrating a surfaces natural beauty is paramount. In Denver, most exteriors have some element of wood. Whether it’s siding, decoration or a fence, picking the right type of stain is the first step. Both oil based and water borne stains have their merit, but oil prevails because of its lack of disadvantages. Water borne is easier to clean and apply, but it lasts a fraction of the time. And most importantly, waterborne coatings must be fully removed before maintenance. Oil based coatings do not. An oil simply requires a single maintenance coat every 2-3 years.
For example, if a new redwood deck is installed, it will last for up to 50 years if coated bi-annually. However, if that deck is coated in water borne product, the deck will deteriorate faster, even if it is coated often. The reason is simple. Wood is a living breathing product, it has natural resins and insect repellents. Oil based products moisturize and penetrate to work alongside the lumbers natural resistance to weather. Water based stain, on the other hand, simply covers the surface of the wood. It does not penetrate or moisturize nearly as effectively as oil.

Oil-Based Stain Advantages:
Requires more time to dry which allows for a more even finishPenetrates deeperExtremely durableThicker seal for woodLess long-term maintenance. Costs less in the long term
Water-Based Stain Advantages:
Quick dry timeProvides a richer color–more paint likeNo harmful odor or fumes, not flammable
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 common examples of wood are cedar, pine, 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 coating. That is, if a water based coating exists, most of it is to be removed before application. 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 a deep, rich color is desired then I recommend using water borne stain, or even paint. But if a long term protective coating is desired, then oil based coatings win the day.Peeling water based stain. Must be fully sanded and removed.
Oil based stain. Simply clean and re-coat every other year.


If you have any questions about stain, prep or species of wood, let me know. I am here to help.

Patrick Rhea

Owner PR Painting

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