Best Wood Stain

If you don’t stain your wood, it dries out, loses its original color, and fades to a pale shade of gray, which is something you may or may not desire.  

Without any stain or sealer, your wood is also more susceptible to rot through fungi infestation.

If you want to avoid this, you can invest in a good wood stain. Not only will it give your wood a nice, rich color, but it will also seal it, keeping the moisture out, and preventing the wood from rotting.

I’ve looked into the best wood stains on the market, and I’m now ready to share my analysis with you. This article will explain the pros and cons of all the products I tried.

I’ve also put together a buying guide that will walk you through the key points to consider before you buy wood stain.

In a hurry? Check out my top 3!

1. DEFY Extreme 1 Gallon Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain

This is hands down my favorite wood stain for outdoor projects, such as decking, fences, patio furniture, and the like. And there are several reasons why.

First, it’s semi-transparent, allowing the wood grain to show through. And it has a smooth, natural matte finish, which means it’s less likely to cause anyone to slip on it if it is used for decking.

It’s available in crystal clear (which is too pale for my liking, to be honest), as well as in a range of 6 different shades:

  • cedar tone,
  • natural pine,
  • walnut,
  • redwood,
  • butternut,
  • driftwood gray–this is a rich gray color and not the faded one that I talked about in my introduction that we’re trying to avoid.

DEFY Extreme wood stains are made with premium quality resins that are highly resistant to fading. This means the finish lasts a few years longer than the nearest competitors.

I tried the redwood stain on a stool I use outdoors, and I was delighted with its easy application. It didn’t take too long to dry either, and I was pleased with the color and finish.

And the other great thing about this wood stain is that you don’t have to worry about sanding or stripping the surface down for a new coat. Instead, all you need to do is apply a single coat of DEFY Wood Brightener–if necessary.

I was also reassured to learn that it’s made right here in the good old US of A.

One last detail: you can buy it in bulk, 1 gallon at a time. This is much more convenient than having to open several smaller tins.

  • 🫥 Semi-transparent matte finish
  • 🫙 Big size can for big outdoor projects
  • 🎨 Wide range of colors to choose from 
  • 🇺🇸 Made in the USA 
  • 🤔 You’re meant to add the second coat while the first one is still wet, which is unusual and messy.

Also Available At

2. Rust-Oleum Varathane Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain

This wood stain comes from Rust-Oleum, a well-established industry brand. It is a major bestseller with the leading online retailers, where it has been met with excellent customer ratings and reviews, which struck my interest.

It’s available in various tin sizes, including a half pint, a pint, or a quart.

I was also impressed with just how many different colors were available in the range – a whopping 26 altogether. There are some lovely natural wood shades and some nice pastel shades. 

It’s oil-based, which means it penetrates deeply into the wood and seals its pores as it stains. 

I was impressed with how quickly the base coat became dry to the touch – it only took an hour. That’s about 3 times faster than most other wood stains.

However, this didn’t mean that I could add the topcoat as soon as the stain was dry to the touch. I followed the instructions and waited 8 hours before applying the top coat. The instructions also say that one coat is all you need, but I prefer to be safe than sorry.

One thing I liked about this wood stain is that you don’t necessarily need to apply it with a brush; if you prefer, you can use a lint-free cloth. I haven’t come across this very often, so I gave it a go, and I have to say it turned out rather well. I love how it enriched and really highlighted the natural wood grain.

  • ⭐️ A bestseller with excellent ratings
  • ⌛️ Incredibly quick to dry, 1 coat in 1 hour
  • 🎨 Wide range of shades to choose from
  • 🫙 Available in a wide range of sizes
  • 🧴 Oil-based formula that penetrates deeply
  • 🪵 Enriches the natural grain of the wood
  • 😕 The biggest complaint from customers is that some of the available shades have unpleasant dark gray undertones, but I did not experience this personally.

Also Available To Buy At

3. PureColor Eco-Friendly No Odor Wood Stain

Now, this wood stain is available in an absolutely huge range of colors and shades. And what I really love about this particular range is how you can combine the colors…

For example, you can mix two shades together in different ratios to bring about a lighter shade. This really opens up the possibilities of colors you can produce, so you can more easily get color or tonal matches with the surrounding decor.

It comes in a bag-in-box system rather than a tin, and you prep the stain by shaking and agitating the bag before you pour it into your paint tray.

You can buy the stain in different sizes of cartons, namely a small sample size, a quart, or a gallon. I tried out a sample of this wood stain, because I didn’t really need a quart or a gallon.

The first thing I noticed when testing it out was that it didn’t really have that strong odor you normally get when you open the bag, or when you apply it. It was quite refreshing. 

I also found that despite being a water-based wood stain, it actually penetrates the wood deeper than other water based wood stains do. The results were amazing, with an enriched wood grain and rich, striking color.

I managed to spill some of the stain on my workbench, but I found I could clean it up easily with a little soap and water. 

The other thing I like about this brand is they’re corporate responsibility, in that they take their time to ensure that they minimize the environmental impact they have when they manufacture the stain.


  • There’s a HUGE range of colors to choose from
  • Very deeply penetrating for water-based stain
  • You can mix colors to get that perfect shade 
  • There’s no nasty odor to worry about
  • Minimal environmental impact


  • There don’t seem to be many stores where you can buy this stain from

Also Available To Buy At

4. Minwax PolyShades Wood Stain

Minwax PolyShades Wood Stain + Polyurethane Finish – Quart, Honey, Satin

What I love about this range of wood stains is that whichever color you decide to use, you get a really nice sheen to the wood, which makes it look more chic and expensive. And if you didn’t want to go for a full on gloss, there’s also a satin option, which is slightly more matte, but not entirely.

What’s more, in addition to staining your wood, it also provides polyurethane protection, which essentially means that it will protect any spills and moisture from penetrating the wood, and also protect the wood from the likes of not only general wear, scratches and corrosion, but also protect against heat.

You can buy the tin in a choice of two sizes. There’s a half pint for small projects, or a quart for larger projects.

It’s available in a choice of 14 different shades, and all of them are natural wood shades, which I like. My favorite shade was pecan. Sadly, however, they don’t all cost the same, so that’s something to watch out for.

When I tested out the pecan stain on a piece of wood, I found that the wood grain became more pronounced and gave a nice, rich color, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I put this down to the fact that it’s an oil-based stain rather than a water-based one, so it can better penetrate the wood (more on oil and water based stains in the buying guide later).

Admittedly, it’s a bummer that you have to wait 6 hours and do more sanding before you can apply the second coat. But if you want a really nice finish, it’s worth it.

It’s a prominent bestseller with the leading online retailers and has been met with excellent customer ratings and reviews.


  • Bestseller with excellent reviews
  • Nice, shiny finish in satin or gloss
  • Good range of colors to choose from
  • It also provides polyurethane protection
  • I found it really enhances the wood grain
  • It’s an oil-based stain rather than water-based


  • The manufacturer recommends sanding between coats
  • Not recommended for use on outdoor furniture or decking

Also Available To Buy At

5. General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain

General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, 1 Pint, Antique Brown

Here we have yet another prominent bestseller with the leading online retailers, and again it has been met with excellent customer ratings and reviews.

The great thing about this wood stain is that you can apply it with a paint sprayer, which is something of a godsend when you have a large project to stain or if you’re unconfident about applying it by brush.

It’s available in tins of different sizes, namely a pint, a quart, or a gallon. Simply buy according to the size of your project.

It’s also available in a choice of 18 different natural wood colors, including some really rich ones, or as a whitewash. And you can even create custom colors by mixing colors together.

I tried it out on a piece of pine wood, and I found that the stain spread easily, and that the thick formula allowed for controlled penetration and reduced blotching. I also found that it didn’t stink the place out, which is always a good thing.


  • Bestseller with excellent ratings
  • You can apply it with a paint sprayer
  • Nice range of colors to choose from
  • It uses a low odor, water based formula
  • Thick formula for controlled penetration


  • It’s such a popular stain that retailers occasionally run out of stock

Also Available To Buy At

Buying Guide

As promised, here’s your buying guide. Let’s walk you through the key points to consider before you buy.



Wood stain is all about the aesthetic and having the perfect shade and tone to match the rest of your decor. I didn’t have a chance to display all the available colors in my reviews, but if you click on “Check price” the product page will open on another tab, and you can see what other shades are available.

Grain Appearance / Transparency

You also need to decide how well you want the grain of the wood to come through. You can go for an opaque wood stain to hide the grain appearance entirely, or choose stains with different degrees of transparency. You can even get wood stains that enhance the appearance of the grain if you prefer.


You also need to decide whether you want the wood to have a matte finish, or a sleek and smart, high gloss shine. Or you could go for something in between, such as a silk finish. A high gloss finish is usually a little easier to wipe down clean if it gets dusty or dirty.

Size Of The Tin

You also need to consider the size of the tin. Small tins may be just fine for smaller woodwork projects, but if you want to stain your decking, that’s a whole other ball game. Check out this handy deck stain calculator I found on this link.

Water Based Vs Oil Based Wood Stain

You know what? There’s no clear winner when it comes to water based versus oil based wood stain. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. Which one to use depends on whether the wood is outdoors or indoors.

Benefits Of Oil Based Wood Stain

Personally, I would recommend using oil based wood stain for outdoor wood, such as decking. It penetrates more deeply into the wood. It provides a thicker seal. It requires less long-term maintenance, and it can stand up to the elements, including the likes of wind, rain and sunlight.

Benefits Of Water Based Wood Stain

But water based wood stain has its advantages too. For example, it’s extremely resistant to mold and mildew, and it’s more environmentally friendly. And when used indoors it has the same longevity as oil-based wood stains.

Drying Time

If you’re going to have small kids or pets in close vicinity to your woodwork project, then the quicker the stain dries the better because it closes the window in which the finish could get ruined by anyone touching it or brushing by.

If you intend to apply more than one coat of stain to your wood project, then the quicker the first coat dries the better, because it means that you get straight onto the next stage.

Value For Money

You might have noticed that I haven’t included prices in my reviews. That’s not because I’m trying to be awkward, but because prices can change over time. However, I recommend that you check prices as you go along – all you have to do is click on “Check price” which will bring up the product page on a separate tab.

Paul Brenner

I'm your guy for any type of electrical installation or plumbing repair. I'm a jack of all trades. You name it, I can do it. I've seen it all and I'm not scared.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

5 images maximum / 31.25MB per image / jpeg, pjpeg, png, gif

Enable registration in settings - general
Shopping cart