Oil Vs Water Based Stain: Which Is Better For Wood Finishing?

Staining is one of the crucial steps to finish your DIY projects because it determines the appearance of your masterpiece and influences its durability. Wood stain comes from 3 principal ingredients: a pigment, a carrier, and a binder.

There are different kinds of wood stains on the showcase, making it difficult for beginners to pick up the right items for their projects. Therefore, our article offers you a detailed comparison of two common types: oil vs water based stain, saving you more time and better protecting your furniture.  


Overview Of Oil-Based And Water-Based Stain

What is an oil-based wood stain?

Oil-based wood stain is one of the widespread and initial kinds of wood stain categories. It is made from wood preservative, linseed oil, and a non-toxic oil. Mineral spirits that are petroleum-based solvents are the major clean-up and thinning agents. 

In addition, some items have a blend of linseed with varnish, bringing most woodworkers lots of time to wipe off abundance before the wood stain dries.  The oil-based type has a unique and pungent smell, so it is best to use outside with excellent air circulation. 


What is a water-based wood stain?

Water-based stain is a new technical enhancement in wood stain technology. Water is the primary thinning agent instead of different solvents; therefore, it possesses a light smell compared to other wood stains. 

Several products use the same colorants as an oil-based stain with fewer volumes to produce hues. Moreover, these stains are combined with some water-soluble aniline dyes, leading to excellent color when they vanish in water.


Oil Vs Water Based Stain: 7 Main Differences

Although oil-based and water-based stains can protect and upgrade furniture appearance, each kind offers you distinct characteristics. Let’s check out 7 primary differences from detailed oil vs water-based stain comparison.

Advantages and disadvantages

Oil-based stains offer an even finish, which doesn’t produce lap marks to decrease the maintenance. Moreover, these stains are perfect for applying on different wood surfaces to secure against dampness damage because oil molts water basically to prevent rot. 

However, it takes time to wipe off excess before making an even finish, which is not ideal for jobs that don’t have much time. Additionally, some products tend to mildew if not properly maintained. Finally, an oil-based stain is not the best alternative for environmental safety because it has some harsh additives.

Meanwhile, water-based stains are more resistant to mold and mildew because they consist of zinc nano-particles like Behr and DEFY Extreme. As a result, they don’t emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a harmful factor to the environment. 

Moreover, some products are simple to maintain by applying water and soap and readdress a maintenance coat easily when the finish starts to fade. Nevertheless, water-based stains won’t provide a smooth finish. They also need more excellent time and care during application by sanding between coats carefully.


Oil-based stains are more durable, which can last more than 2 years. On the other hand, water-based types are prone to flaking, peeling, and chipping over time. Therefore, maintaining them twice a month is necessary to prevent penetration of outside factors such as sunlight and rain.

Kind of wood

Oil-based stains can be applied on any wood surface that doesn’t possess rot-resistant oils, including spruce, fir, and pine. Meanwhile, because water-based stains don’t consist of oils, they are best for redwood, cedar, cypress, and other types that can withstand rot because of natural oils.


Breathability features

Oil-based stains are prone to possess less breathability, which may cause moisture harm to the wood. Water-based kinds won’t trap much moisture, so they provide excellent breathability to let wood absorb complete protection.

Penetration level

The linseed oil ingredient makes oil-based types penetrate deeper into the wood grain. This formula guarantees that you will have more long-term protection for your masterpiece. It is great to apply these products to walls and external wooden surfaces.

On the other hand, water-based stains can’t penetrate as deep as oil-based ones, providing less protection for the material. In addition, they won’t pierce deeply into the wood cell structure, which may create warping, splitting, and cracking issues.


Flammability features

Oil-based stains have higher flammability compared to water-based types. The water-based stains include some capacity to resist high temperatures from fire or sunlight. 

Dry time

Oil-based stains have a longer dry time from 1 to 3 days, which is not an excellent option for jobs that don’t have much time. Meanwhile, a water-based stain is easier to use and dries quicker. Therefore, when handling small and simple DIY projects, this quick-drying water-based stain shows an outstanding advantage.


The Verdict: Which Is Better?

Although there are some apparent differences between oil and water-based stains, each kind provides specific features. Therefore, before choosing a suitable product, it pays to consider some factors: type of wood, penetration level, dry time, and breathability.

To sum up, water-based stains will be the winner when you handle wood with rot-resistant material such as cypress and cedar. Moreover, they are prone to be quick to dry and prevent mildew and mold issues better. They won’t emit VOCs, leading to the best protection for users and the environment. 

Cleaning up is easy with a water-based stain because it doesn’t require potent solvents. In addition, this item is non-flammable and has a slight odor. 

Master skills to apply the water-based stain properly here


Staining your furniture is essential to decrease mildew, mold issues. We hope this detailed oil vs water based stain comparison helps you distinguish some advantages and disadvantages to choose the best choice. 

Water-based stains will possess lower VOCs problems and protect your materials from moisture damage. Meanwhile, oil-based kinds are more durable and penetrate deeper into the wood grain. Don’t hesitate to comment below and share this post with your friends if you find this post of value.