Does Wood Stain Protect Wood? (Explained!)

A  coating of wood stain helps the wood look better. But, does it protect it?

Wood stain offers a low level of protection to the wood. The stain soaks into the grain and protects the wood from dust, debris, and handling. However, it doesn’t protect it from water, moisture, or other damage.

If you want to protect a surface, you must apply a topcoat (sealant) over the finish. Polyurethane, varnish, and lacquer are good choices for a topcoat. 

How Much Does Stain Protect Wood?

How Does Stain Protect Wood?

Stain protects wood by penetrating and covering the material. It creates a layer over the surface that protects it from stains, handling, dust, and debris. 

Stain also alters the color of wood to a darker shade because it has a high level of dark pigments. So, when you apply it on wood, the stain makes it look darker. 

But, a normal stain doesn’t protect a surface from moisture or water. If a surface has only a stain coating, it will be affected by water, scratches, or moisture. That’s because wood stains aren’t waterproof or water-resistant. 

Since stain penetrates the surface and doesn’t stay on top of it, it doesn’t protect the wood from fungus, mold growth, or heat. That’s bceause it isn’t coated with additives and chemicals that protect a surface.

However, “stain & seal” products can protect the wood from UV lights, moisture, and water, and will alter its color. These stains are made from a mix of stain and sealer and come in different colors and will last for about 10 years. 

You can also apply 2 coats of sealer (topcoat) over the stain to protect the finish. The sealer will produce a thick and glossy layer over that shields the surface from scratches, moisture, water, and UV lights. 

Related Read: Can You Apply Varnish Over Stain?

Staining vs. Sealing (For Wood)?

Staining vs Sealing

Staining and sealing wood are two different things. When you seal it, you use a stain-blocking and moisture-resistant sealant that protects the surface from moisture, water, UV lights, and scratches. The sealer doesn’t penetrate the surface; instead, it stays on top of it.

When you stain, you use a highly-pigmented stain that will alter the shade of the wood. The purpose of staining is to improve the beauty and color of a surface, not to protect it.

But, who’s better for wood? Stain or sealer?

In terms of beauty, staining wood is better because the stain is designed with colorants or paint pigments to alter the color and shade of the surface. When dry, the stain produces an attractive and colorful finish.

Sealing doesn’t offer an attractive finish. Most sealants don’t have pigments in their formula and dry to form a clear and glossy finish. This will get boring to look at after a while.

In terms of durability, sealing is better because it protects the surface from moisture, dents, and even UV rays. In addition, when sealants dry, they form a moisture-resistant and thick film that prevents moisture (or liquid) from penetrating its coating. This gives the surface improved durability and resistance against factors that can damage it.

For indoor decorative wooden surfaces, use stain as they don’t need much protection. For outdoor surfaces, use sealant because the stain isn’t durable enough to withstand weather elements. You can also apply stain and then seal it with polyurethane or spar varnish.

Does Stain Protect Wood from Rotting?

Pure wood stain won’t protect your wood from rotting. That’s because it isn’t waterproof and doesn’t repel moisture. Rotting wood is caused by moisture, fungi, pest infestation, and mold growth. A stain coating doesn’t protect the surface from any of these. 

To prevent the wood from rotting, the finish must be moisture-resistant and thick enough to prevent termites and bugs from burrowing into. Ordinary stain is prone to all these things, so it won’t protect the surface from anything. 

However, if you apply 2 coats of sealants, such as varnish or lacquer, the wood won’t rot. This is because the sealant prevents moisture from penetrating it. You can also use “stain & sealer” products.

Does Stain Waterproof Wood?

Does Stain Protect Wood From Water?

Wood stain doesn’t protect the wood from water or moisture because it isn’t waterproof. Most stains are water-soluble, meaning that they can be dissolved in water. So, the finish will dissolve and peel off if the stain is exposed to moisture or water. This also allows water to penetrate the surface underneath.

Stain is mostly made by colorants (or pigments) and doesn’t have extra protective additives that make its finish waterproof. Also, it doesn’t have a glossy layer that repels moisture. So, stain isn’t waterproof and will get washed off if exposed to constant water.

However, the “stain&sealer” is waterproof because it is mixed with a waterproof sealant. This coating will alter the wood color and simultaneously protect it from water. 

So in simple terms, the stain doesn’t make a surface waterproof because water can still get underneath it. To make it waterproof, apply a sealer over the finish. Polyurethane, lacquer, or varnish will give the finish waterproofing qualities. 

Final Words

Wood stain offers low protection to a surface. Therefore, you shouldn’t use it for outdoors or surfaces exposed to constant water. It’s better to use it for indoor decorative surfaces.

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about,

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