Deck Stain Pro | Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Stains
Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Stains
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Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Stains

Apply Wood Deck Stain

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Stains

Water-based and oil-based stains have distinct differences. Your stain choice will impact the time and effort needed for application, and will determine the durability and long-term maintenance issues.

How do you choose between a water-based and an oil-based deck stain? Each had distinct advantages and disadvantages. Generally speaking, water-based stains last longer than oil-based stains. Evaluate your expectations and your commitment to stain application and upkeep before you make your decision.


  • If applied correctly, water-based stains will last significantly longer than oil-based stains because they have better UV resistance and color retention.
  • They are easier to clean and maintain.
  • Take greater care and more time when applying a water-based stain. Water-based stains require greater care and time during application — don’t use shortcuts. Water-based stains will fail if you don’t take the needed time.
  • Thoroughly brush the stain into the wood. Water-based stains have more trouble penetrating the wood; these stains can begin peeling soon after drying if they aren’t worked into the wood properly.
  • Water-based stains are not a food source for mold, mildew and algae. So they minimize their growth potential. Stains containing zinc nano-particles, such as Defy and Behr, will have better natural resistance to mildew growth.


  • Oil-based stains will not last as long as water-based stains.
  • Oil-based stains are much easier to apply, because they penetrate wood more easily and will quickly adhere to the wood.
  • Because oil-based stains penetrate so well, they will resist peeling better than a poorly applied water-based stain. The resins used in oil-based stains often contain materials that act as food to mold, mildew, and algae, which can affect the health of the wood.

Water-based stains require time and effort, which pays off with significantly greater durability. Oil-based stains are easy to apply and take less effort, but they will not last nearly as long as a water-based stain. They also have more mold, mildew, and algae problems and more maintenance down the road. Determine which type of stain best suits your individual situation before you begin your deck staining project.

  • J. Orr
    Posted at 19:50h, 12 June Reply

    Thanks for this warning: “Thoroughly brush the stain into the wood. Water-based stains have more trouble penetrating the wood; these stains can begin peeling soon after drying if they aren’t worked into the wood properly.”

    I’m looking at using Defy Extreme, a water-based stain, and didn’t realize that it can peel if not worked into the wood properly. Will be esp. carefully with this now.

  • Keith Schoenberger
    Posted at 14:22h, 08 May Reply

    oil base stains such as sikken cetol have been highly recommanded to me by a couple deck builders. after reading this i am more confused then ever. not happy about this at all, i would think that oil base penetrating better would last longer. what to do, what to do.

    • deckstainpro
      Posted at 15:15h, 08 May Reply

      Keith, there are a few issues at play here…1) Oil based stain formulations have had to change to become VOC compliant. They’re not the same as they used to be as they’ve had to comply with state regulations. 2) The technology in water based stains has drastically improved over the years. They’re much better at penetrating than they used to be, they don’t attract mold and mildew like oils do, and they last longer in many cases. There are a few things to consider though: for water-based stains to last, you need to prep the wood properly. Neglecting to do so will most likely result in failure. Not all oil based stains are bad, it just depends on what you’re looking for, whether it’s ease of application, cost, eco-friendliness, or maximum lifespan. If you haven’t checked out our videos yet, you can see the time-lapse performance videos on different deck stains that we tested. Just click on the videos tab at the top. Keep in mind that the results you see could be different.

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