Wiping Stain vs Penetrating Stain — Which Is the Best to Use on Wood?

Wiping stain vs penetrating stain, both help enhance the beauty of wood, protecting it at the same time. You may wonder which one is best for staining wood. Should you go with an oil-based penetrating stain to finish wood surfaces? Or is a wiping stain best for covering bare wood with a protective layer? What are the pros and cons of these wood stains?

Man using Wiping wood stain

Staining wood is an excellent way of protecting its appearance. Additionally, you can stain wood with vibrant colors that never fade. But choosing the right kind of stain is crucial to ensure the best results. After all, you want your hard work to look stunning years after you have finished it.

This article examines the advantages and disadvantages of wiping stains and penetrating stains. This will help you choose the right kind of wood protection for your next project.

Wiping Stain vs Penetrating Stain — Overview

A penetrating stain and a wiping stain are both oil-based products. Wiping stains have a thicker and richer formula and apply to surfaces like gel stains. They are suitable for wood, composition, fiberglass, and metal surfaces. Penetrating stains absorb into unfinished wood and are typically for indoor use.

What is a Penetrating Stain?

As its name suggests, a penetrating stain is a type of wood stain that penetrates the porous wood surface. Because it absorbs into the wood fibers, penetrating stains are only for treating unfinished wood. Many types of penetrating stains offer excellent moisture protection for interior and exterior surfaces.

Because penetrating stains require application on porous unfinished wood, they are best suited for treating oak, walnut, ash, and mahogany. However, you can apply them to finished wood surfaces if you remove the existing finish completely.

Penetrating Stain Pros and Cons

Penetrating stain pros

·        Enhances the wood grain — Because they penetrate pores in the wood, these stains highlight the natural beauty of wood. This feature is ideal for enhancing a wooden deck, furniture, or other wooden surfaces.

·        Doesn’t peel like paint — This type of stain penetrates the surface and gets into the wood fiber; therefore, they don’t peel as paint does.

·        Easy to recoat — High-quality penetrating stains don’t fade and are highly resistant to wear and tear. If you need to re-coat the surface, you can lightly scuff it and apply more stain.

·        Many options are available — Stains are available in various colors and have solid, semi-transparent, or clear variations. This means it’s easy to achieve great results by applying a stain.

·        Quick drying time — Compared to lacquer stains and types of wood stains like wiping ones, penetrating stains have a rapid drying time between coats. However, this could be a disadvantage if you are covering a large surface or need to wipe the excess stains.

Penetrating stain cons

·        Difficult to get consistency — Getting consistent results with penetrating stains requires careful wood preparation. Failure to prepare wood for staining can result in a blotchy appearance of wood.

·        Not suitable for all woods — The wood grain can affect the final stain color. And unfortunately, penetrating stains are not suitable for all types of wood. For example, it’s difficult to stain pine, cherry, maple, and birch wood with these stains.

·        Not ideal for outdoor projects — Not all penetrating stains are good for use outdoors. However, it is possible to purchase durable oil-based stains or apply a waterproof finish to the stained surface.

·        Only suitable for unfinished wood surfaces — You can only apply penetrating wood stains on unfinished hardwoods. Therefore, they are not suitable for all types of woodworking projects.

What is a Wiping Stain?

As the name suggests, a wiping stain is a type of surface treatment that forms a solid, impenetrable surface that you can wipe clean. Because they don’t penetrate the wood surface, they give you superior control and a more uniform finish. Additionally, you can use them on finished surfaces to achieve a rich color.

One reason why DIYers use wiping stains is that they are suitable for various surfaces, including finished and unfinished wood. In addition, these stains are also suitable for coating surfaces like fiberglass, composition, and metal surfaces.

Pros and Cons of Using a Wiping Stain

Like penetrating stains, there are many benefits and drawbacks associated with using wiping stains. On the one hand, they are suitable for staining a wide range of surfaces. However, they are not great if you want to enhance the wood’s natural beauty.

Here are some of the most important pros and cons of wiping stains:

Wiping stain pros

·        Resistant to botching — One reason to choose a wiping stain is that it has the consistency of a gel stain. Because it doesn’t penetrate the grain, it has a more uniform finish than some penetrating stains.

·        Apply over old finishes — Using a wiping stain can save time because you don’t need to remove old paint, stain, or other finishes on the surface. Instead, you can apply the stain directly to any surface.

·        Suitable for closed-grain hardwoodsUsing a wiping stain is better if you plan to stain woods with tightly closed grains. Therefore, maple, pine, and birch wood take wiping stains better than penetrating ones.

·        Use on non-wood surfaces — The beauty of wiping stains is that you can use these types of stains to coat more than just wood. They are ideal for adding color and protection to various surfaces, including composition surfaces.

Wiping stain cons

·        Hides the natural grain of the wood — One of the downsides of wiping stains is that they don’t enhance the wood grain. Therefore, if you want the natural beauty of wood to shine, you must apply a classic wood stain.

·        Longer dry time — The thicker consistency of wiping stains means that they take longer to dry than water-based wood stains or penetrating ones.

In-Depth Feature Comparison — Wiping Stain vs Penetrating Stain

Wiping stain vs penetrating stain

Wood stains come in many different forms. And many enhance the natural grain of hardwoods and softwoods.

Applying two or three coats of wood stain can match natural wood to your room’s color scheme and enhance its aesthetics.

Some stains are easy to use, while others require some skill. Wiping stain is one such product that requires a little practice to master.

Penetrating stain, on the other hand, is much easier to apply. However, it requires more time to sand and cleans the wood surface. But both products are great for projects around the house and outdoors.

Comparing the two types of wood stains can help you decide which one to use.

Ease of Use of the Stain

Penetration stains and wiping stains can be applied using various methods. For example, you can use a brush, lint-free cloth, spray, or roller to apply them. Additionally, it would be best to use a soft cloth to wipe them, first across the wood grain, then within the grain. The difference in application is drying time.

Wiping Stain vs Penetrating StainVersatility Which one is best

The versatility of wiping stains makes them ideal for coating different surfaces. This makes wiping stains more versatile than penetrating wood stains. A wiping stain provides excellent coverage and hides many imperfections in the wood. At the same time, they maintain a high level of protection against water, grease, dirt, and spills.

Additionally, you can apply a wiping stain on finished and unfinished wood without worrying about preparing the surface. Also, it is easier to match the wood tone color to get the desired results.

Range of Applications for wiping compared to Penetrating Stain

Wiping stains come out on top regarding their range of applications. For example, wiping stains are ideal for use on non-wood surfaces like composition, metal, and fiberglass surfaces. In addition, you can apply the wood stain to finished wooden surfaces.

On the other hand, penetrating stains are only used on prepared, untreated surfaces free from grime, old paint, or other impurities.

Staining New Wood Surfaces

If you plan on staining unfinished, bare wood, wiping stains are easier to work with. It has a heavy, thicker consistency and adheres to unprepared surfaces easily. And if you want a darker color on the wood, you will find it easier to apply a wiping stain.

When using a penetrating stain, you must consider how it works. The stain absorbs into the natural wood. Although this is better for bringing out the wood’s natural features, it makes the finish prone to spotting, dark blotches or showing up the wood’s inconsistencies.

Staining Previously Stained Woodwork

To apply a wiping stain on already stained woodwork, you must apply it to the surface. This is because the stain will easily cover already painted or stained surfaces. However, suppose you want to use a penetrating stain. In that case, you must go through the process of stripping the previous coat and preparing the surface for staining.

The only issue is that using a wiping stain on a surface will only deepen the color, not lighten it. To achieve a lighter color, you can use a penetrating stain. But first, you must remove the old finish. This means that a penetrating stain involves more work.

Drying Behavior of Wiping Stain vs Penetrating Stain

A penetrating stain is the best option if fast drying time is vital. Its light texture and ease of absorption mean it can dry in a matter of two hours. After this time, you can apply the second coat of stain. However, wiping stains take longer to dry — usually at least 12 hours between coats. But hardwood floors can take up to 24 hours or longer to dry completely. 

Wiping stain vs penetrating stain Features Comparison Table

Feature                 Penetrating Stain                      Wiping Stain       

Ease of Use                      Good                                          Best

Versatility                         Average                                         Best

How to apply                   Difficult                                         Easy

Staining new surface     Good                                              Good

Re-staining a surface      Difficult                                         Easy

Drying time                      Best                                                Poor  

FAQs — Wiping Stain vs Penetrating Stain

What is the difference between wiping stain vs penetrating stain?

A wiping stain creates a more consistent finish than penetrating stains because it doesn’t become blotchy. Additionally, you can also apply wiping stain over previously finished wood without stripping the old finish. This is great if you want to change the wood tone. The biggest advantage of wiping stains is that it gives you more control over stain tones.

What is the Verdict? Which Stain Should I Use? Wiping Stain vs Penetrating Stain

Deciding the right stain for your woodworking project depends on the desired results.

For example, if you’re working with furniture and other indoor items, you should probably opt for a penetrating stain. This is best for unfinished interior surfaces and produces stunning results that enhance the wood grain.

On the other hand, if you want a good all-rounder stain for wood, then choose a wiping stain. This is suitable for refinishing all types of furniture, and you can use it on metal, composition surfaces, and fiberglass.