Staining your outdoor furniture is the best way to change the color and also protect the wood too. There are many different types of stain to choose from including water-based and oil-based, as well as combination products that include sealers too. There is a huge range of colors available too. Many people don’t know where to start when choosing a stain, which is where this guide comes in!
On this blog post you will find answers to all of your big questions about choosing a wood stain, along with a list of my favorite products on the market right now.
Table of Contents
- Is Stain Required for Outdoor Furniture?
- Is there a Difference Between Interior and Exterior Stains?
- Is Deck Stain Different from Outdoor Furniture Stain?
- 10 Best Stains for Outdoor Furniture
- 1. General Finishes Exterior 450 Wood Stain
- 2. Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain
- 3. Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood
- 4. Cabot Stains Australian Timber Oil
- 5. Varathane Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain
- 6. STORM SYSTEM Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer & Stain Protector
- 7. ZAR Wood Stain in Premium Teak
- 8. SEAL-ONCE Exotic Premium Wood Sealer in Light Brown
- 9. #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
- 10. Rust-Oleum Varathane Weathered Wood Accelerator
- Related Questions
- Should I Use an Oil Based or Water Based Stain on Outdoor Furniture?
- How Do I Seal Wood Stain on Exterior Furniture?
- Are Stain and Sealers in One a Better Option for Exterior Furniture?
- Do You Have to Sand the Wood Before Applying Wood Stain?
- How Do You Re-Stain Outdoor Wood Furniture?
- Can You Apply Wood Oil Over Stain?
- Final Thoughts
Is Stain Required for Outdoor Furniture?
No, stain is not an essential on your outdoor furniture and you may not want to use it. Stain is designed primarily to change the color of the wood. Although it does give some protection, there are better products for that.
Sealers like clear coats and wood oil are there to stop the wood from rotting when it gets wet, and these are essential if you want your furniture to survive being outside. These can be applied over the top of a stain for added protection, or you can buy a stain/sealer combo to do the whole job in one go.
So, if you want to change the appearance of your furniture, stain is the way to go, but don’t use it if you want to keep the natural appearance of the wood as it is.
Is there a Difference Between Interior and Exterior Stains?
Yes, there is a difference between the two and if you are staining outdoor furniture, you should use an exterior product. Interior stain doesn’t have the same protection that exterior stain does. It doesn’t have any UV protection, for example, so it will fade very quickly outside. On the other hand, exterior stains tend to contain fungicides and other compounds that can be toxic when used inside.
There is a reason that manufacturers make interior and exterior products, so it’s best to follow their guidelines.
Is Deck Stain Different from Outdoor Furniture Stain?
People often get confused when they see deck stain and outdoor furniture stain because surely they’re the same thing? In most cases, you’ll find that they are, in fact, very similar. They’re both designed for exterior wood and can be used interchangeably. They both change the color of the wood and they will also contain the same fungicides and UV inhibitors to keep the wood in good condition. So, if you find a deck stain that is the perfect color for your furniture, don’t be afraid to use it.
10 Best Stains for Outdoor Furniture
If the stain is not a stain and sealer combo make sure to mention that the stain needs sealing…
As the name suggests, the General Finishes Exterior Wood Stain is a general purpose stain that can be used for furniture as well as doors, decking, or any other exterior wood project. It comes in a variety of colors;
- Aged Gray
- Stormy Gray
- Coffee Bean
- Natural Base
- Red Mahogany
If you are not happy with this range of colors, the stain is actually mixable. So, you can experiment with different shades and consider adding small amounts of black to create darker colors.
The stain contains mildewcides to prevent mold growth as well as UV inhibitors to maintain the color and stop it from fading. However, this will not stop the wood underneath from fading. It goes on very nicely and gives a good finish. It’s best applied with a foam brush, but a standard brush will work fine too. It will be touch dry in 15-30 minutes and ready to recoat in around 2 hours.
The stain is water-based, which means that it’s low odor and doesn’t contain too many harsh chemicals. It makes for an easy cleanup too.
You will need to use a sealer to protect against moisture once you have applied the stain. You can get an exterior 450 topcoat that is designed to work with this stain, but other clear sealers will work just as well.
If you’re looking for a great all-purpose furniture stain with a good choice of colors, this is perfect.
The Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain is one of the best stains from an aesthetic standpoint. It soaks in very nicely, giving a rich color and highlighting the grain, so it’s perfect for furniture. It is available in an impressive 36 colors including:
- English Chestnut
- Golden Oak
- Red Chestnut
- And many more!
The deep penetrating formula means that you should only need a single coat to get the color that you need, and it dries in 2 hours. So, if you are looking for an easy job, this is a great product to go for. To apply, rub the stain in with a cloth, following the direction of the grain. Then, leave it for up to 15 minutes before taking off the excess. The longer you wait, the darker the color will be.
You will need a topcoat to protect the wood afterwards, and this can be applied 4-6 hours after the stain. Minwax also recommends using their pre-stain product beforehand to prepare the surface and get a better end result.
This Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer is an excellent combination product that stains and seals the wood in one application. It’s a professional grade product that is suitable for use on any outdoor wood surface (fences, decking, doors, furniture, etc.) It comes in a range of colors including:
- Natural Cedar
- Burnt Hickory
- Dark Walnut
- Golden Pine
- Light Oak
- Mission Brown
It goes on very nicely and has a good consistency so you won’t have problems with drips and dragging. This is ideal on furniture where tricky nooks and crannies can easily get messy. The color is very deep to start with, but it will fade over the next few weeks, so don’t be alarmed when you first apply it. The finish looks oily for a few days until it has properly soaked in too, but this will fix itself.
Compared with other stain products, you will need more of the ready seal to cover your furniture. However, it’s also quite cheap, so your total cost will work out about the same. This was originally a product for contractors, so it’s not quite as user-friendly for DIY purposes.
However, once you let it settle in, the finish looks great and you also save time because you don’t need to use a separate sealer afterwards.
The Cabot Stains Australian Timber Oil is an excellent combination of natural oils and stain, which colors and protects the wood at the same time. The linseed oil penetrates deep into the wood and protects it from moisture, while the tung oil brings out a rich color and adds more protection. The stain is added to alter the color of the furniture and it comes in a range of colors.
It is a semi-transparent coloring, so you can still see the natural grain of the wood, while also changing the color, so you get the best of both worlds. The natural oils give a beautiful finish too. It retains the color well and gives excellent protection against moisture too. The only potential downside is that it is not as good as other products at protecting against mold growth. This shouldn’t be a problem unless you live in a very wet, humid climate, in which case, you should consider using something else.
The Varathane PremiumFast Dry Wood Stain is another great product that is designed to give excellent color in just one coat. Their specially designed nano pigments create a deeper color, so you only need one application. It also dries in an hour, so the whole job is done very quickly. It comes in a huge range of interesting colors too, including:
- Bleached Blue
- Carbon Gray
- Barn Red
- Rustic Sage
If you’re looking for something different from the classic wood tones, this is a good option. It doesn’t have a built-in sealer, so you will need to use a clear coat on top. They recommend their own polyurethane products but any good quality clear coat will work just fine.
The STORM SYSTEM Penetrating Sealer and Stain Protector is sold as a product for decking and fences, but it works just as well on furniture too. This oil-based combination product will protect and stain your furniture in one, and it’s designed to be extra durable. It goes on very easily with a brush or roller and it will outlast a lot of other stains on the market because it penetrates very deeply. It comes with UV protection too, which makes the color last even longer without fading.
The only potential issue that you may have is sludge buildup at the bottom of the can. It’s quite a thick product and it does tend to separate a bit. So, make sure that you stir regularly while you are applying it to get an even coverage.
If you have some teak furniture and you want to stain it but also maintain an authentic teak color, this ZAR Wood Stain is perfect. It’s a nice thick stain that gives enough coverage with one coat, but if you want a deeper color, a second coat is recommended. It is easy to apply by wiping on, just like you would with furniture polish, and you get a nice even coat.
This is the best product for teak furniture but can also be used on other types of wood if you just want to get a teak effect. You will need to put a clear coat over the top once you are finished to protect the furniture from moisture. Alternatively, you can use some wood oil to give yourself a nice natural wood finish that works nicely with the color.
A lot of the combination sealer and stain products are oil-based, which is fine, but they are harder to clean up and contain more VOCs. If you’re looking for a less toxic option that won’t damage your garden or be harmful to pets, the SEAL-ONCE Exotic Premium Wood Sealer is excellent. It’s a water-based product but it still gives you the durability and protection, and rich color, that you get with oil-based alternatives.
As it is water-based, it dries very quickly, so you can recoat in around 15-20 minutes on a warm day. You should only need two coats for a nice light brown color and a solid protective layer, but feel free to put more on if you want it to last longer. Application is fairly quick because it’s a thin product and it is simple to get an even coat. You can also use a sprayer if you want to make life easier for yourself.
The #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain is an easy to use, water-based stain that penetrates deep into the pores of the wood for long-lasting color. It also protects against graying too, so your furniture will look immaculate for longer. The built-in sealer gives you protection without the need for a clear coat or wood oil too. This product is available in a number of different wood shades:
- Dark Walnut
- Light Walnut
Applying this stain with a sprayer is the best way to go, but be careful that you don’t apply too much. If you spray it on too heavily, it will drip a lot. So, do a thinner coat and let it soak in before going over it again. Misting it slowly for longer will be more effective than spraying on a heavy coat. If you have a very intricate piece of furniture, you may want to use a brush to avoid any drips and make sure that you get into all of the hard to reach areas. You only need to wait half an hour between coats so it’s easy to finish the job in a single day.
Usually, you’re using stain to stop your furniture from looking faded and weathered, but what if you want that rustic look? This Rust-Oleum Varathane Weathered Wood Accelerator can do just that for you. Paint a layer of this on and you will get a nice realistic weathered effect on your furniture. The end result varies depending on the type of wood you use, so do a small test patch first to make sure that your furniture looks ok with it.
Depending on the type of wood, you may need 3 or 4 coats to get the right effect. Lighter types of wood will get the weathered look after 1 or 2 coats but if the wood is naturally darker, it can take longer.
Should I Use an Oil Based or Water Based Stain on Outdoor Furniture?
The major benefit of an oil-based product over a water-based one is that it is more durable. However, when staining outdoor furniture, you will apply a clear coat over the top to lock out moisture and protect the color from sunlight. So, I would say water-based products are the best way to go because they are often easier to apply, they are far easier to clean up, and they don’t contain as many harsh chemicals.
As long as you do your research and pick a good quality product like the ones listed above, water-based is usually your best bet.
How Do I Seal Wood Stain on Exterior Furniture?
The best way to seal wood stain on exterior furniture is to use a clear coat like spar urethane. First, apply the stain according to the directions and let it fully dry and cure. Then, you can apply a few layers of your clear coat, sanding lightly between each one. This will give you a nice barrier against the rain and stop UV rays from fading the color and graying the wood too. Check out our great article on the best clear coats for outdoor wood to help you find the right products.
Are Stain and Sealers in One a Better Option for Exterior Furniture?
This all depends on what your priorities are. If you’re looking to get the job done quickly with as little hassle as possible, a combination product is the way to go. It’s simpler because you only need to apply one product instead of two. On the other hand, you have a much larger choice of colors with regular stains. Remember, you’re staining a piece of furniture, so aesthetics are very important.
That’s why I would go for a regular stain and then put a separate clear coat over the top, so I can get the exact color that I want.
Do You Have to Sand the Wood Before Applying Wood Stain?
Yes, sanding is very important before staining. Sanding the wood does a few key things; firstly, it removes any rough areas, dirt, and stains that could affect the finish. Secondly, it opens up the pores of the wood and lets the stain soak in more, so the color lasts much longer.
Be aware of sanding dangers when it comes to pressure-treated wood. You can also see out best stains for pressure-treated wood in this detailed guide here.
How Do You Re-Stain Outdoor Wood Furniture?
Re-staining your furniture can be a lengthy process, depending on the stain you used. If you are touching it up with the same stain, you just need to give it a quicksand and apply the new coat. However, if you want to change the stain, you may need to sand it right back or use a stripper to remove the old stain.
But, if you use a gel stain, the process is much faster. Gel stain sits on top of the wood instead of soaking into the grain, so it will cover old stain easily. As such, you just need to sand it back lightly and apply the gel stain over the top. You can then use a clear coat to protect it.
Read our full article here: Do I Need to Remove Old Stain Before Restaining a Wood Deck?
Can You Apply Wood Oil Over Stain?
Technically, you can apply wood oil over stain but it is rarely the best option. Wood oil looks nice when applied directly to untreated wood because it highlights the natural features. Unless you are using a stain that gives a natural wood look (like the teak colored stain discussed above) it’s a waste to use it on stained wood. I would opt for a clear coat sealer because it gives superior protection against the elements.
If you have some outdoor furniture that needs a makeover, the products listed above are all excellent. For a quick job, try one of the combination products with a built-in sealer. But personally, I would use a standard stain product to get the perfect color and then add a clear coat over the top.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.