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The Differences Between Paint And Stain

Many think paint and stain have the same characteristics because Both protect and add color to your furniture. However, there are many differences between paint vs. stain, from their appearance to their ability to protect the wood.

What Is Paint?

Paint is a resistant, film-forming finish that has been around for quite a while. This finish protects your wood by sealing out moisture and blocking UV rays. Applying it on wooden furniture will completely hide the wood’s grain. It will require a primer and at least two coats in order for it to be effective outdoors.



Wood is a porous material that naturally expands and contracts. Paint can expand and contract as well, but at a different rate. Expansion and contraction can cause cracks to form on your furniture. Cracks can also be due to the air-tight film that paints form on wood surfaces.

Although paint can seal out moisture, any moisture that finds its way through can “push out” the wood, thus, causing more peels and cracks. Paints that are oil-based also become brittle as time passes by. To remedy this, sand, scrape, or strip the loose paint before adding a fresh coat.

Paint usually lasts for five to fifteen years before deteriorating. It is therefore not advisable to use paint on wooden structures. Instead, you may want to use it on non-wooden sidings, trims, and frames. If you decide to paint the exterior of your home, it would be advisable to use acrylic latex paints rather than oil-based ones because professionals claim that it lasts longer.

There are three main ingredients that comprise paint: solvents, binders, and pigments. Solvents are the ingredients that allow the paint to spread on the surface evenly. Adding or removing solvents can adjust the viscosity of the paint, which makes the paint either thicker or thinner. Solvents in oil-based paints are called thinners while those in latex paints are called water. Binders are the ingredients responsible for the paint’s texture look, which can either be gloss, satin, or flat. Binders are responsible for the surface film and pigments are responsible for the paint’s color.

What Is Stain?

Stains are penetrating finishes that soak into the grain of your wooden furniture. Like paints, they help block UV rays and are resistant to moisture. The oils found in stain also help keep the wood flexible.

One advantage of stain over paint is that even after applying stain, the knots and pattern of the wood can still be seen. Many clear stains have wood preservatives, which can fight mildew, fungi, and sometimes, insect infestations. This makes stains a great finish for outdoor furniture.

Please see our earlier post for more information:

Best Wood Stain For Outdoor Fences, Decks, & More!

Stained surfaces should be more frequently maintained than painted surfaces, but the process of maintenance is easier. Unlike paint, stained surfaces don’t crack or peel. Instead, they just fade and lose the ability to resist water. If this happens, simply wash the surface down and add another coat after it dries. As you can see, in the maintenance of stain vs. paint, stain also has the upper hand. However, stained surfaces actually have shorter lives than painted surfaces. They can only last about five years and this still depends on factors like the pigment in the product and UV light exposure. Some stained surfaces only last for one year. Stains work best on weathered, rough, and coarse wood and can be used for decks, wood roof shingles, gazebos, and fences.

Stains basically have the same ingredients as paint. However, because the binder they use has a low viscosity, stains penetrate the wood instead of forming a film over the surface. Linseed oil or alkyd is commonly used as binder in transparent stains. Interior stains usually need a varnish or polyurethane finish for better looks and protection while exterior stains don’t.



There really is no battle between paint vs. stain. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and one is better for one type of furniture than the other. Both of them can protect and keep your wood looking good as long as you use them on the correct furniture and maintain them well.

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