4 Benefits to Using Exterior Wood Stain

person with gloves and brush staining deck wood

If you are planning to use lumber in any capacity, you should strongly consider using an exterior wood stain. While this may seem like an unnecessary step, the truth of the matter is that there are many reasons to stain wood.

Staining wood has both aesthetic and functional benefits for any kind of wood in your home. There is no excuse for leaving wood unprotected. Below are a few of the benefits of staining wood.

1. Making Your Wood Waterproof

There are many situations in which wood will be exposed to water. In particular, wood siding and wooden decks will be exposed to a great deal of water in their lifetimes. Even wood that is indoors is not safe from accidental liquid spills.

Unfortunately, no matter the location or source, water can cause all sorts of problems for wood. This is where your wood stain goes into action. Wood stain forms a barrier over the surface of your wood that is waterproof. This causes water to flow away harmlessly without having the slightest effect on your wood.

2. Protection from Rot

Wood is also vulnerable to rotting. Rot is particularly problematic for your wood, as once your wood rots, there is no going back. Rotten wood can be quite dangerous, as it is not as structurally sound as wood that is in good condition. Unfortunately, if your wood is rotten, you will simply have to replace it.

Obviously, it is better to prevent the wood from rotting in the first place. Luckily, this is quite possible and well worth the effort. Wood stain protects your wood from all kinds of rot. Staining your wood will keep out termites, mold, mildew, and many other pests that can cause rot.

3. Blocking Sunlight

Over a long period of time, repeated exposure to sunlight can damage the wood. If you have wood in your home that is located in a place where it will receive lots of sunlight—wood siding, a wooden deck, wood floors, or furniture near windows—the only way to protect it is with wood stain. Using wood stain will prevent the wood in your home from being discolored.

4. Coloring Your Wood

brush applying wood stain

If you want your wood to be a specific color, wood stain is a great way to do it. By staining your wood, you can achieve many different colors, which can be very helpful when matching your wood to existing or planned decorations.

For the purpose of aesthetics, wood stains come in two varieties—dye and pigment. Pigment-based stains will color wood with large pores, whereas dye-based stains will color wood with smaller ones.

You can even give your wood a color that does not occur naturally in wood, all while preserving the things that make wood naturally attractive, such as grain and texture.

However, wood stain does not have to color your wood. Many wood stains are clear and only preserve and highlight the natural beauty of the surface they are applied to. Most stains, instead of being entirely opaque or entirely transparent, will be somewhere in the middle.

How to Stain

Putting a new face on the wooden piece can refresh an otherwise old and worn object. Unfortunately, when you want to do this, you have to be willing and ready to take on this rather tedious project as applying exterior wood stain to something that has been painted is a task that can take several days to complete.

hand brushing stain onto wood fence

Step 1 - Remove All Paint

The first thing you have to do is remove all the old paint from the wood you want to stain. There are several kinds of paint strippers on the market that you can use with much success. The one that you will actually choose will be determined by the type of paint on the wood you're refinishing.

If you don't know the type of paint you're removing, there's a trick that you can use to find out. There are two kinds of paint: latex and oil. To test what you're dealing with, first pour some rubbing alcohol into a container.

Dip the rag in the rubbing alcohol, and then rub it on a patch of wood that is to be stained. Let it set for several minutes before rubbing the patch with a cloth. If the paint comes off, you're dealing with latex paint, and you can now buy the appropriate paint stripper.

Paint strippers are either liquid or viscous, and which paint stripper you want to use is determined by the number of paint layers that you have to remove. Liquid paint stripper is thin, easily applied, and can be spread pretty much anywhere you can think of. However, the liquid should only be used if you have one or two layers of paint. Viscous paint stripper, on the other hand, requires a brush to apply and is best suited to remove between three and 10 layers of paint.

Spread a layer of paint stripper over the painted wood using the proper application instructions. Wait a day or two and wipe the stripper away with either a damp rag or paint scraper. You'll know when the paint is ready to be removed as it will soften.

WARNING: Paint stripper is flammable and toxic to breathe in. Keep it away from heat sources and wear a face mask and protective clothing (as well as gloves) while using it.

Once the remover has done most of the work, go over the painted wood with a scrub brush, working it into grooves, corners, and other hard-to-reach areas. Briskly scrub any trouble spots.

Use the scraper to remove large chunks of paint and push them off the wood onto the newspaper spread out around the sawhorses. Try to avoid the waste running off onto plants and surrounding landscaping.

Step 2 - Clean the Wood

Once the paint is removed, soak and squeeze out a clean scrub pad. Go over the entire wood surface with it, cleaning every inch. This helps to remove any paint remover residue, as well as gives the wood a good cleaning. Let the wood dry thoroughly.

Step 3 - Sand the Wood

You may find it helpful to go over either the new wood or the newly cleaned wood with a fresh piece of medium-grit sandpaper. It will remove any splinters or rough edges. Pay attention to corners and edges specifically.

Step 4 - Stain the Wood

When you get to this stage, you're at the easy part of the project. To create a porous surface on the wood that will more easily accept your stain, go over it lightly with sandpaper. Then, buff the wood with rubbing alcohol.

With your chosen stain, open up the can and have a clean rag at the ready. Wear new latex gloves for this as well. Dip in a foam brush and apply the stain in one area of the wood with the grain.

Work the stain into the wood with the clean rag, always rubbing with the grain. Don't try to cover the entire piece at once. Go in small sections. Some stains may call for more than one coat, but not always. Read the manufacturer's directions.

TIP: Wood stain is toxic to inhale and touch, so apply the stain in a well-ventilated area while wearing a face mask, gloves, and protective clothing.

Step 5 - Finish the Wood

After the stain is in, it's time to apply the sealant. Spar urethane is an ideal product for this because it protects wood so well. You will apply it in much the same way as the stain, although you will not rub it in with a clean rag.

Apply a coat evenly over the entire surface. Let it dry until it's tacky. Go over it lightly with the sandpaper, smoothing it out a bit before applying the second coat. Let that coat get tacky as well, before coating it a third time.

All of your exterior wood pieces can be stained and sealed in the same way. Once sealed, they're protected from the elements as well as decorated in a way you're happy with.

brush applying wood stain

Stains and Drying Times

As there are a variety of different exterior wood stains, it would not be surprising that there should be a range of drying times.

Some thick stains, which penetrate the wood and form a seal, are dry on the top in a matter of hours. In general, for a penetrative stain, allow one to two days of drying time, and then test.

Alternatively, thinner, non-penetrative stains can take weeks to fully dry against the wood. For these non-penetrative stains, leave for a week or more before applying a second coat.

Latex stains will probably take even longer, maybe even two or three weeks.

Note: Drying times are also affected by humidity, the amount of stain applied to the wood, and whether there is any rain during this period.

Semi-Transparent Stain

The semi-transparent stain helps to preserve the wood grain effect of any wooden furniture or outdoor buildings. These stains are often suitable for decking or chairs and tables that will be outside permanently, as they also contain an anti-fungal element that prevents mold and algae. These stains will penetrate the wood and form a bond with the fibers, making them a better protective stain against the elements.

Use this stain if you are working on a decking area, or if you want to stain your wood while keeping the same basic texture and grain of the natural product. These woods are not suitable for items that need to be colored, or that are intended to be more decorative than functional.

Wooden furniture, door and window frames, and any external wood features that you would like to leave plain are suitable to be stained by a semi-transparent method. Penetrative stains are more difficult to refinish, and you may have to settle for a solid color stain on top of the older semi-transparent stain.

deck with dark wood stain

Solid Color Stain

These stains have been likened to a wood finish, rather than a stain, and that is a very accurate description. Solid color stains are non-penetrating, meaning that they lay upon the surface of the wood rather than bonding with it.

Like topcoat finishes, this can lead to the wood becoming chipped and flaked. In addition, solid color stains do not usually contain an anti-fungal agent, and may not protect your wooden items against water as effectively as the penetrative stains.

Color stains are suitable for those projects where you wish for a more decorative than functional purpose. You might consider using a color stain on outdoor furniture, for example, if you are not worried about leaving the natural grain. Planters and trellises are also very suitable for staining with a solid color variety.

You should not use solid color stains on your decking area, as they will not protect it against wood rot. It would be better to paint your furniture with a gloss and then add a finish over the top.

Doors and window shutters can be painted using solid color stains, but they will need redoing regularly, and you will need to check anything colored by this paint regularly for signs of flaking and peeling. Refinishing coats are easy to apply, however.

Lightening a Dark Stain

Applying exterior wood stain is not difficult; however, you do not always know the final result until it is too late to do anything about it. When you first apply an exterior wood stain, it will look much lighter than it will be after it dries, and in our haste to finish a project, we might rush to put on a second or third coat to darken the stain. Then, when the exterior wood stain is finally dry, it is suddenly darker than you originally wanted.

There is a way out of your predicament, however, as you can fix a dark stain by lightening it. This process does assume you have already removed the topcoat of varnish or polyethylene.

Step 1 - Prepare the Object

Regardless of what you are lightening, you want to make sure you prepare properly. If you are working on a door, then you want to remove it from its hinges. Lay down a drop cloth and place the item on top of it.

You must also prepare yourself before starting, so put on a pair of protective glasses, vinyl gloves, and a mask to protect your eyes, skin, and lungs from debris, chemicals, and harmful fumes.

Sand the surface of the item down in the direction of the wood grain to remove debris and oil from the object. Brush away the dust afterward with a clean paintbrush, paying special attention to grooves and ornate areas. Follow up by rubbing the entire object with a tack cloth.

Step 2 - Mix the Bleaching Solution and Apply

When you use bleaching agents it is always best to follow the instructions on the containers. Some products want you to mix the two bottles together in unequal or equal amounts, while others want you to apply each agent to the object separately.

After you've consulted your product's directions, use a sponge to apply it to surfaces of the item that are flat. For the areas that are ornate or grooved, use a paintbrush.

Step 3 - Neutralize

Bleach can continue to work for hours or days after you have applied it, so it needs to be neutralized when you're finished. As with the bleach, you will want to follow the instructions on the neutralizing agent containers.

The application is done the same way as the bleach but with new, clean applicators. Be thorough, as it is important to get all of the bleach off of the item. You can also use hydrogen peroxide and vinegar solution to further neutralize the bleach. Apply this with a sponge.

Step 4 - Finish Up

You do not want the neutralizer to sit on the wood for too long, so use a sponge dipped in water to wipe the solution off. Try not to saturate the wood too much with water. Then, allow the object to air dry for at least 24 hours.

When it is dry, sand the surface down, and use the brush to remove the dust. Finish with another wipe from a tack cloth, and you're finished.


As you can see, wood stain has many benefits. Staining your exterior wood is also an easy project that any DIYer can accomplish with a little time and effort.