Stain vs. Paint (Pros & Cons)

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A time may come when you want to restore some of the wooden items outside your home like your yard or pathways. It may be decking, fences, or outdoor furniture. The question that arises here is as to what type of finish that you would like to use, and how suitable those finishes are to the surfaces concerned.

Two of the most popular finishes that you can use for restoring wooden items are stain and paint. While applying paint is somewhat straightforward, people tend to shy away from applying stain. You need not avoid using stain because it is easier than you think as we have highlighted in another of our interesting posts.

Stain and paint share similarities in that they both serve the purpose of applying color and protection to wood surfaces. But you need to be aware of where to use each type of finish. If you know about the pros and cons of stain vs. paint, you will be able to decide what to use according to the scenario and the type of wood being finished.

The common factor of stain and paint is that they both contain pigments and a ‘vehicle’ and add protection to the surface that you apply them to. Let us then get into the details of different aspects and pros and cons of stain and paint.

Stain Vs. Paint


While stain penetrates deep into the wood, thereby protecting it internally as well as internally, paint remains on the surface, protecting the wood from the top. Stain enhances the beauty of the wood by accentuating the wood grain, while paint covers it up with all its scratches and blemishes. Both need to be touched up periodically. Here are a few main aspects of these two types of finish:


Prices can vary quite a bit depending on the type of stain or paint that you buy, the brand, and prices in your local area. However, in general, wood stain is the more budget-friendly option since on average it is less expensive than paint. If you factor in an extra base layer of primer before painting, paint comes out even more expensive than stain.


Modern wardrobe with empty shelves isolated on white background. Wooden wardrobe with light gray cabinet doors


If you want a more natural look, you should use stain. You can get a wood stain in a transparent, translucent, and opaque form.

Stain covers superficial cracks while letting the natural grain of the wood show and enhancing the look of the wood. If you want to cover imperfections but retain the natural and rustic look of the wood, then you could go in for a solid wood stain that contains a high percentage of pigment.

With paint, you virtually cover the surface of the wood along with any blemishes that might exist. Paint contains a high level of pigments and resins as well and is opaque in appearance. When it dries, paint will form a hard, protective layer on the surface of the wood.

Choice of Shades and Colors

Wooden plank varnishing


Stain usually comes as a clear liquid that soaks into the wood. It is meant to bring out the features of the wood grain. Therefore, you don’t get much choice of color, although some stains come with a colored tint, typically brown.

Paint on the other hand comes in various colors, shades, and hues, and the variation is so vast that you sometimes need a computer to sort them out. Thus, if you are concerned about the color of your surfaces, you can use paint for the best results.

Ease of Application

The carpenter uses a polishing machine to smooth the wood.

In both cases of stain and paint, you need to prepare the surfaces before application. This involves sweeping debris from the surface, sanding, and scrubbing. You may need to use some degreasing solvents like thinner to remove oil and grease from the surface of the wood.

Stain can be applied to the wood immediately after cleaning. But you need to apply a coating of primer before applying paint. Stain is slightly easier to apply than paint because it has a thin consistency so is less prone to forming globs.

Paint on the other hand tends to be a bit thicker and you need a steady hand to apply it. Another issue that you may face while applying paint is that it tends to thicken with prolonged exposure to air. So, you need to add a solvent like paint thinner or turpentine periodically as your paint job progresses.

We can conclude from the above information that stain is easier and less cumbersome to apply than paint.


Room Of House with Finished Wood Floors.

How durable is stain in comparison to paint? Both stain and paint will deteriorate over time. They tend to chip, peel and crack with exposure to the elements. However, if you compare both types of finish, paint lasts relatively longer. If applied properly, good quality paint can last up to ten years or more.

The durability of paint depends on the environment in which it is and the type of paint used. So, if the wood is exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods, then a more pigmented paint would last the longest. In humid and rainy environments, you should use latex-based paint that provides considerable resistance to water.

Stain on the other hand is too thin to provide prolonged protection to the wood. A stain finish will be short-lived and may last anything between one to eight years, depending on the environment. In terms of durability, paint lasts longer than stain.


man cleaning terrace with a pressure washer

No matter what type of paint you use, cleaning a painted surface of dust and debris is an easy task. Stain tends to dry with a matte finish which makes cleaning a surface finished with stain relatively more difficult. Some homeowners may try to clean stained surfaces with a pressure washer. But the extremely high pressure can damage the wood, so that is a procedure you should avoid.

Paint is easier to clean than stain, but be aware that you will need to do a deep clean on both stained and painted surfaces at least once a year. You should touch up the surfaces after completing the cleaning.


Now, that you have seen the pros and cons of stain vs. paint, you can get the best finish for your wooden surfaces. Which one will you use – stain or paint? The answer to that question depends on the conditions that we have discussed here. On a final note, it is worthwhile to note that you can paint over a stained surface. You can even or add a new coat of stain to it. We deal with how you can do this in another of our interesting posts.

You can also paint upon paint, but it is a different matter if you want to convert from paint to stain. In such a scenario you would have to completely strip the old paint and primer and prep the surface before you apply the stain.

Whatever the case, there are many great finishing options available for your woodworking projects. You can get even better results by using the information we have provided here.