Everything You Need to Know About Paints and Stains

Feb 22, 2017

For the most part, stain is the same as paint. It is composed of pigments and a vehicle, ingredients that perform the same functions as they do in paint. Both stain and paint provide protection and add color, but that is where the similarities stop. Most of us notice the difference between paint and stain when we open the can because stain is always thinner than paint. When you apply stain, you will notice that it tends to soak into the surface, whereas paint sits on the surface, coloring the substrate, or to become part of the substrate as color. In contrast, paint sits on the surface, building a thin film. Paint is often more expensive per gallon, is more time consuming to apply, and always should be applied over a primed surface. Paint tends to provide color uniformity, has various degrees of sheen, and has a broader color range. However, stain has its advantages also. It is easily applied and recoated, and surface preparation is usually minimal. With stains, primers are not always required. A few stains are meant for concrete, but most stains are meant to be used on wood. Many of today’s homes feature rough-sawn and textured siding and shingles to reflect natural looking, contemporary architecture treatments. Stain is the best choice for these types of homes because it dramatically enhances and preserves the natural beauty of the raw wood as well as the wood texture. The beauty of a stain finish lies in its ability to accent the texture of the wood. Depending on which type of stain you choose, you may impart a definite color to the wood or merely tint it lightly, allowing much of its natural coloring to show through. Stains are economical to maintain, and they resist cracking, peeling, and blistering when applied according to the manufacturer’s directions. Does stain last longer than paint? There is a common myth in this country that stain is some kind of miracle product that never needs redoing. This is simply not true. If you read the manufacturers’ recommendations, you will see that stained surfaces need to be coated as often as painted surfaces, and with semitransparent surfaces even more often. The advantages of stain vs paint are:
  • No primer required
  • Natural look
  • Usually will not peel and chip like a paint film.
  • Usually requires only one coat
The disadvantages of stain vs paint are:
  • Fewer color choices.
  • Batching of stain is more crucial.
  • No choice in sheens–only comes in flat.
  • Cannot be applied over painted surfaces.
  • A highly absorbent surface may require more stain than you planned on.
OIL STAIN vs. LATEX STAIN Most paint manufacturers offer stains in both latex and oil. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Latex stains are great for color retention, ease of cleanup, and application over wet surfaces. However, oils are preferred in restaining situations where the surface was originally stained with oil. Latex will not adhere properly over a surface that was previously coated with an oil stain, though you can put an oil stain over a latex stain. SEMITRANSPARENT vs. SOLID STAIN Semitransparent stains are usually used on decks, fences, and areas where you want to see the grain of the wood and even the original color. They are most widely used in situations where you want a rustic or natural look for the wood. It is important to realize that the color of the wood has a large influence on the finish color of the stain. As mentioned earlier, semitransparent stain must be recoated more often than solid stain or paint. The reason is that ultraviolet light (UV) has a damaging effect on wood. UV light is the biggest factor in the deterioration of wood, and semitransparent stain offers much less resistance to UV light. Although semitransparent stain will preserve wood from drying out and checking (the cracking and opening up of the grain structure of wood). Indeed, in a dry climate after a decade of staining a surface, it will be nearly impossible to change to a lighter color because the cracks in the surface will be all to apparent. Solid stains are usually used on the body of a structure and on surfaces where you don’t want to see the wood color or grain. Essentially, solid stain is like paint in that it leaves a solid coating of pigment on the surface. Solid stains are best used on surfaces that are not walked on or sat because these products have been known to come off when damp.