Does Wood Stain Protect Wood? (Explained!)

Staining wood helps to beautify the wood. But wood stain is also meant to protect the wood from moisture and rotting. So does wood stain protect wood?

Wood stain offers some level of protection to wood. When stain is applied on wood, the wood stain soaks into the wood to protect the wood from dust, debris, and handling.

Some wood stains like varnish and lacquer also protect the wood from moisture, heat, and UV rays. All of which can damage the wood quickly.

However, you should know that lacquer and varnish are not exactly wood stains. Though they are used on wood, they contain chemicals and additives not found in ordinary wood stains. So they are usually called sealants.

So how does stain protect wood? Let’s find out.

How Does Stain Protect Wood?

How Does Stain Protect Wood?

Stain protects wood by penetrating and covering the wood material. When stain is applied to wood, the stain coating penetrates and soaks into the wood to produce a smooth finish on the wooden surface. This finish protects the wood from stains and handling. The finish also serves as a shield to protect the wood from dust and flying debris.

Wood stain also protects wood by altering the color of the wood to a darker shade. Wood stains by design are highly pigmented meaning that the stain has a darker shade. This is why wood stains are referred to as wood dye. When wood stain is applied, the stain changes the color of the wood to a deeper shade. This new color on the wood helps to block heat and UV rays.

Some wood stains even protect the wood from moisture, heat, and UV rays. These wood stains are usually sealants like varnish and lacquer stains. When these stains are applied, they don’t soak in the wood. Instead, these sealants stay on the wood and produce a thick and moisture-resistant film when dry. This film protects the wood by covering it.

Since the sealant is moisture-resistant and thick, it will be very difficult for moisture, UV rays, heat, and dust to affect the wood underneath. These are the ways that stains use to protect wooden surfaces. But is wood stain enough to protect wood? Let’s find out.

Is Stain Enough To Protect Wood?

Generally, a stain is not enough to protect wood. Though stain offers some level of protection to wooden surfaces, the stain is not strong enough to protect the wood entirely. This is because most stains are not waterproof or water-resistant. This means moisture can easily affect the wood.

Also, stains usually soak into the wood. While this prevents the wood from light damages and dust, it doesn’t protect the wood from fungus, mold growth, and heat. Asides from these, wood stain is also not coated with additives and chemicals that can improve the finish to protect the wood. Wood stain only protects your wood from light damages. It doesn’t protect it from the factors that can really harm the wood like moisture.

However, you should know that some wood stains are enough to protect wood. But these stains are usually sealants which means that these stains are not 100% wood stain. These sealants contain chemicals and additives like UV blockers, plastics, and resins that improve the finish to protect the wood.

Most of these sealants like lacquer are water-resistant, UV-resistant, chip, and heat resistant when dry. This makes these stains good enough to protect wood. These stains or sealants can be applied over ordinary wood stains to improve the weather-resistance qualities and overall protection of the finish.

For instance, after applying 2 coats of a water-based or latex wood stain, you can seal the final layer with lacquer to make the finish more protective. So does this mean sealing wood is better than staining wood? Let’s take a closer look at that.

Related Read: Can You Apply Varnish Over Stain?

Staining vs Sealing (For Wood)?

Staining vs Sealing

Staining wood is different from sealing wood. When you seal wood, you will most likely use a stain-blocking and moisture-resistant sealant on the wood. The purpose of sealing the wood is to prevent moisture from penetrating or bleeding through the wood and the finish. Staining wood is different.

When you stain wood, you’ll most likely use a highly-pigmented wood stain. These stains have impressive colors that can alter the shade of the wood. The purpose of staining wood is to improve the beauty and attractiveness of the wood. So which is better?

In terms of beauty, staining wood is better. As explained earlier, wood stains are designed with colorants or paint pigments to alter the color and shade of the wood. When dry, the wood stain will produce an attractive and colorful finish on the wood. Sealing wood on the other hand doesn’t guarantee such an attractive finish. Most sealants dry to form a clear and glossy finish. This will get boring to look at after a while.

In terms of durability, sealing wood is better. Sealed wood is protected against heat, moisture, dents, and even UV rays. When sealants dry, they produce a moisture-resistant and thick film that prevents everything from moisture to pests from affecting the wood. This gives the wood improved durability and resistance against factors that can damage it.

That said, you should stain wood whenever you are opting for a beautiful finish. For instance, when painting wood for room decor. You should seal wood when you want extra protection.

If the wood is to be used outdoors, it’s better to seal it so it has enough weather resistance. You should also know that it’s possible to stain wood and still seal it after. This gives you extra protection and beauty. Just ensure to use a sealant that will be compatible with the wood stain.

Will Stain Keep Wood From Rotting?

Ordinary wood stain will not keep your wood from rotting. This is because ordinary stain is not waterproof. However, wood stains like lacquer and varnish can prevent wood from rotting for several years. This is because these wood stains are water-resistant sealants.

The main cause of rotting wood is moisture. Other causes include fungi, pest infestation, and mold growth. Ordinary wood stain can not protect the wood from these but a sealant can.

To keep wood from rotting, the wood stain has to be moisture resistant to prevent water from affecting the wood. The wood stain also has to be thick enough to prevent termites and bugs from burrowing into the wood. Finally, the wood stain has to have fungicides and other chemicals that can repel and kill microorganisms like fungi.

Unfortunately, ordinary wood stain doesn’t have any of these attributes. Ordinary stain is prone to moisture. The stain can also be eaten by bacteria and mold can easily grow on the stain when it gets wet. All of these make it easier for the wood to rot. So, generally, wood stain can’t prevent rot. But wood sealants like varnish and lacquer can.

Does Stain Protect Wood From Water?

Does Stain Protect Wood From Water?

Wood stain doesn’t protect wood from water unless the stain is waterproof or water-resistant. This is because stains generally are water-soluble meaning that the stain can be dissolved in water. So if wood stain is exposed to high moisture content, the finish will dissolve and peel off the wood. That allows water to penetrate the wood underneath.

However, sealants like lacquer, varnish, and even water-based polyurethane can be applied over the stain after it has dried to make it water-resistant. This means the stain will then be able to protect the wood from water.

Most wood stains are water-based. This makes the stain coating weak in terms of moisture resistance. Also, ordinary wood stains don’t contain chemicals and additives like plastic that can repel water. This makes the stain coating vulnerable when exposed to constant or high moisture content.

For instance, if you use ordinary wood stain to cover outdoor wood, the wood will get drenched and it will eventually rot during the rainy and winter seasons.

But you should know that some wood stains have moisture-resistant qualities. Such wood stains are usually mixed or sealed with water-resistant top coats to make the finish water-resistant. Some others have plastic in the stain coating so when the stain dries, the plastic compound in it prevents moisture from getting to the wood.

So in simple terms, stain will not protect wood from water. But it can if the stain is mixed or sealed with a moisture-resistant top coat or if the stain is formulated with additives to make it water-resistant.

Does Stain Make Wood Waterproof?

Stain doesn’t make wood waterproof because water can still get underneath the stain and soak in the wood even when the stain has dried. For wood to be waterproof, the stain has to be waterproof as well or at least be able to repel moisture. However, stain doesn’t have this feature.

Though the stain can hold its own if exposed to low moisture content, it will blister and peel off if exposed to high and constant moisture like rainfall or snow. To make stain waterproof, it’s advised to seal or mix the stain with a waterproof sealant.

Does Wood Stain Protect Against Termites?

Wood stain protects the wood against termites, bugs, and other wood pests. Since the wood stain soaks into the wood better than most paints will, it becomes very difficult for pests and termites to burrow into the wood.

To get to the wood, the termites have to bite through the wood stain and this is easier said than done for them. The main reason for this is that termites don’t eat wood stains.

Wood stain does a very good job of protecting wood from termite infestation. Termites don’t have vision meaning that they can’t see. These insects sense rotting wood and fungi through their antenna. When they pick up the odor, they march to the wood and devour it but wood stain prevents this in two ways.

First, the odor of the wood is masked by the stain. So, it is difficult for the termites to pick up the odor of the wood without picking up scents of the wood stain as well.

Secondly, termites hate to eat wood stains. Since the wood is covered with stain, the termites will not bite through it. However, the termites can find a way to eat parts of the wood not covered with stain. So to be on the safer side, ensure to cover all parts of the wood with stain.

Does Water-Based Wood Stain Protect Wood?

Water-based wood stain protects wood. But this protection is limited to light use and dents. Water-based stain can’t protect wood from water, heat, or UV rays. So, it’s best not to use this stain on wood that requires heavy protection like outdoor furniture. Water-based stain is more suited to indoor use.

Final Words

Overall, wood stain does protect wood but not from every damaging factor. Ordinary wood stain is more suited to protecting wood from light use, dents, termites, and handling.

Ordinary wood stain can’t protect wood from water or other elements except the stain is coated, mixed, or sealed with a top coat. This makes wood stain more suited to indoor use where the wood and stain are shielded from the elements.

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