When you are planning a project to stain your wood deck or log home, you may wonder which product is best to use. As you are standing in the aisle of your local coatings and wood products store, you will notice there are a lot of options to choose from. If your primary goal is to add color to your wood project, you will notice there are several options, including wood stains and wood dyes. What is the difference between wood stain and wood dye? 

Wood Stains vs. Wood Dyes

In general, the purpose of wood stains and wood dyes are the same – to alter the color of the wood. However, the products differ slightly in their application, protection level and longevity. 

What Are Wood Stains? 

The basic function of stains is to alter the color of the wood. Wood stains are oil- or water-based, and similar to oil- and water-based paints. Wood stains are made up of pigments to alter the color of the wood, a carrier, which helps flow the pigment onto the wood, and a binder, to allow the pigment to stick to the wood. Stains work by attaching pigment to the large pores of the wood. 

While the primary function of stains is to alter the color of the wood, stains can also highlight the wood grain. Wood stains can also provide a light layer of protection for the wood, depending on the type of stain. Penetrating wood stains seep down in the wood, drying inside the wood to give the wood more of a natural finish and hiding less of the grain. Surface wood stains dry on the surface, creating a protective layer on the surface of the wood.

Advantages of Wood Stain: 

  • Brings out the wood grain in larger-grain woods, such as ash or oak

  • Stains can be treated like paint, painted on to leave more pigment on the surface. 

Disadvantages of Wood Stain: 

What are Wood Dyes? 

Wood dyes are made up of particles that penetrate the wood, bonding with the wood directly. Because wood dyes, also known as wood tints, penetrate the wood, it colors the wood from within, allowing the color to be more translucent than that of wood stain. 

Advantages of Wood Dyes: 

  • Deeper penetration can means longer lasting color that is less susceptible to scratches or other surface damage. 

  • Allows for deep colors without covering up the grain of the wood 

  • Dyes are better suites for dense woods that may not take stain as well 

Disadvantages of Wood Dyes: 

  • More prone to fade in the sun or UV rays 

  • Provide very little protection, and require additional finish 

When to Use Wood Stain vs. Wood Dyes 

Both wood stains and dyes add additional color to the wood. However, staining and dyeing have their place based on the type of wood, your intended purpose for the project and the longevity needed for the project. 

Wood stains provide some protection to the wood, while dyes do not provide any protection. However, because dyes sink into the wood, they are less likely to show scratches or surface damage. Dyes do fade in sunlight and UV rays, so they are less suitable for projects that will be outdoors or exposed to long-term light. 

Additionally, wood stains are great for creating contrast on the wood piece but can also leave additional pigment on the surface of the wood, obscuring the grain pattern. Wood dyes penetrate the wood, helping to make the grain pop and highlight grain patterns. Woods that are small-grained or dense will not accept stain as well, which does not create the same “pop” effect as dyes.

Choosing the Right Products 

Are you preparing for a wood project to change the color of the wood, and looking for the right product? While the above provides good guidelines for deciding if you should use a wood stain or a wood dye, you may have additional factors you want to consider. Contact the team at Lovitt’s Coatings for additional assistance on choosing the right product for your project.