The 9 Best Wood Stains of 2023

General Finishes Oil-Based Gel Stain is our top choice

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Best Wood Stains

The Spruce / Chloe Jeong

Unlike paint, which conceals the surface beneath, wood stain generally allows the grain of the wood to show through while adding rich color and protection against moisture or UV rays. That makes it ideal for restoring wooden objects, including furniture, floors, cabinets, and decks, to their former glory without covering up their natural beauty.

According to Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy Painters of Riverview, when considering a wood stain, "Quality is key; make sure it’s a well-respected brand with good reviews. Another factor is durability; you want something that will last and not easily corrode or weather away. Also, take into account how much maintenance it requires; there are some brands where you must reapply stains more often than others. Lastly, consider color. When applying stain, always ensure your wood is prepped beforehand. Clean and dry the wood surface before using your chosen stain to get optimal results.”

We evaluated wood stains based on their finish quality, range of colors, ease of application and cleanup, durability, and overall value.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall

General Finishes Oil-Based Gel Stain

General Finishes Oil-Based Gel Stain


What We Like
  • Works well even on pine

  • Doesn't drip

  • Rich, lustrous colors

  • Can be applied with foam brush or rag

What We Don't Like
  • Over-application can cause blotches

  • Dries slowly

This thick, oil-based gel stain applies smoothly, even over difficult woods like pine. It doesn't penetrate very deeply into the wood, but just below the surface, creating a glowing, lustrous finish that highlights the beauty of the natural wood grain. Wipe it on with a rag, foam brush, or a paint pad, and then wipe away the excess. Thanks to this stain's thickness, it won't drip or run, making it ideal for tricky objects like furniture with a lot of curves and intricate details or vertical surfaces like bookcases or curio cases.

Like other wood stains, it's important to prep your wood surface before getting started, which means light sanding followed by careful attention to removing all bits of sawdust. This thick gel doesn't dry too quickly, so you have time to work carefully, applying even—but not too heavy—coats of the stain. Don't over-apply, as that can lead to uneven results or blotches. One coat will give you a nice layer of color, but two or even three coats are best for the richest results. You do need to wait quite a bit of time between coats, however. Let the stain dry for at least eight hours before applying the next coat, and once you are completely finished with your project, let the stain dry for two or more days before applying a sealer.

The stain is available in 15 beautiful colors, including white, gray, black, and many wood tones. Choose from 8-ounce, 1-pint, 1-quart, or 1-gallon sizes, depending on the size of your project. While not the cheapest stain available, it's worth the price for the lovely results you can achieve.

Price at time of publish: $55 per quart

Type: Oil-based gel | Size: 1 quart | Coverage Area: 150 to 200 square feet | Dry Time: 24 to 48 hours | Location: Interior use only

Best for Cabinets

Varathane Premium Fast-Dry Interior Wood Stain

Varathane Premium Fast-Dry Interior Wood Stain


What We Like
  • Fast drying

  • Can achieve good results with just one coat

  • Reasonable price

What We Don't Like
  • Wood must be thoroughly sanded before application

  • Letting the stain sit too long before wiping away excess can cause blotchy results

This oil-based wood stain from Varathane can transform tired kitchen cabinets and other interior wood with as little as one coat; just brush one thick coat of stain onto the wood, allow it to soak in for five to 10 minutes, and then wipe away excess stain with a clean rag. Don't wait longer than this to wipe away the excess stain, or you might end up with blotchy results. Of course, if you want deeper, richer results, you can apply a second coat, and you won't have to wait long to do so, as this stain dries to the touch in just one hour. Be aware that like many wood stains, this one requires considerable preparation time, however. The wood needs to be thoroughly sanded to remove any prior stains, sealers, or paint before applying this product.

With numerous trendy colors to choose from, including barn red, sage green, and bleached blue, as well as classic wood tones, such as dark walnut, golden mahogany, golden oak, and black cherry, as well as gray, ebony, and antique white, you can give your kitchen cabinets a whole new life in a weekend, thanks to the short drying time of this stain. For the best results and to protect your finished cabinets from damage due to moisture, cooking oils, or splashes, apply a coat of polyurethane as the final touch, waiting for at least one hour after your last coat of stain. It's available in 8-ounce or 1-quart containers, and it's quite reasonably priced.

Price at time of publish: $20 per quart

Type: Oil-based | Size: 1 quart | Coverage Area: 275 square feet | Dry Time: 1 hour | Location: Interior use only

Best for Furniture

SamaN Interior Water-Based Wood Stain

SamaN Interior Water-Based Wood Stain


What We Like
  • Very large assortment of colors

  • Can achieve good results with just one coat

  • Won't raise wood grain

What We Don't Like
  • Relatively expensive

  • Not for rough or imperfect wood

Unlike oil-based stains, this water-based product, which is formulated for fine woods used to make furniture, doesn't emit smelly fumes, so you can apply it indoors without worry. It applies very easily. Just sand away any prior stains, sealers, or paints, and use a brush or rag to apply an even coat of stain to the wood—no need to first apply a wood conditioner, as is often recommended before using an oil-based stain. Wipe away excess color, and let the stain dry for 30 minutes to an hour. While you can achieve soft color with one coat, you'll get the best results with two or three, and unlike many other water-based stains, this one won't raise the grain of the wood, which means you don't have to keep sanding between coats. Finish by applying a clear sealer to protect your project.

Thanks to the amazing array of colors, the hardest part about transforming your furniture or other indoor wooden objects with this stain may be choosing which hue you like the best. Along with numerous natural wood tones, SamaN offers the stain in fun tints including raspberry, emerald green, turquoise, lime, paprika, and eggplant. You can even mix stains to create a color of your own. Choose from 12-ounce or 1-quart containers.

Price at time of publish: $17 per 12 ounces

Type: Water-based | Size: 12 ounces | Coverage Area: 75 square feet | Dry Time: 1 hour | Location: Interior use only

Best Oil-Based

Minwax Wood Finish Oil-Based Interior Stain

Minwax Wood Finish Oil-Based Interior Stain


What We Like
  • Many colors, including trendy tones

  • Resists lapping

  • Often requires only one coat

What We Don't Like
  • Will streak if not wiped soon after application

This deeply penetrating oil-based stain gives beautiful results and highlights the natural grain of wooden furniture, cabinets, floors, doors, trim, moldings, and other interior wood pieces. It resists “lapping”—uneven color where two brush strokes overlap—and provides rich color that’s often dark and smooth enough for just one coat to be sufficient. Wipe away excess stain within 15 minutes of application to avoid streaks. If desired, you can apply a second coat after waiting two hours. Once the stain is completely dry, finish your project with a protective sealant. 

You can apply this stain with a rag or brush. Like most wood stains, it’s advisable to sand your piece thoroughly to remove old stain and sealants before applying this product. It’s available in over 30 colors, including numerous wood tones and a few more unusual options, including barn red, silvered gray, vintage blue, and navy. Choose from 8-ounce, 1-quart, or 1-gallon containers. 

Price at time of publish: $23 per quart

Type: Oil-based | Size: 1 quart | Coverage Area: 125 square feet | Dry Time: 2 hours

Best for Decks

Ready Seal 1-Gallon Can Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer

Ready Seal 1-Gallon Can Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer


What We Like
  • Can be applied with sprayer

  • Resists moisture and UV rays

What We Don't Like
  • Color looks too dark at first

Get your deck, fence, pergola, or other exterior wood structures looking their best and protected from the elements with two coats of Ready Seal Exterior Wood Stain, which has a sealer built right in. This quickly drying oil-based stain penetrates deeply into wood that’s been prepped by sanding or stripping away any prior stains, paints, or sealants. Once dry, Ready Seal won’t chip, flake, or peel, and it resists moisture to protect your wood from damage. You can apply it with a paint sprayer, which is a huge time-saver if you’re staining a large deck or fence. It can also be applied with a brush or roller. 

Apply two thin coats of the stain, with at least 45 minutes of drying time between them. Once you’ve applied the second coat, it can take two or three days for the stain to cure fully. Be aware that the color will look quite dark at first, but will slowly transform to its true color within 14 days of application. There are eight natural colors to choose from, and the stain is available in 1-gallon or 5-gallon containers. 

Price at time of publish: $41 per gallon

Type: Oil-based | Size: 1 gallon | Coverage Area: 125 square feet | Dry Time: 48 to 72 hours

Best for Floors and Stairs

Varathane 1 qt. Classic Wood Interior Stain

Varathane 1 qt. Classic Wood Interior Stain

The home depot

What We Like
  • Many color choices

  • Penetrates deeply without concealing wood grain

What We Don't Like
  • Requires extensive sanding before use on floors

It’s a big project, but if you want to change the color of your hardwood floors or restore stained wooden floors or stairs to their former glory, then you’ll get reliably good results from Varathane Classic Penetrating Wood Stain. This oil-based stain is available in more than 25 beautiful colors, including black, gray, natural, cherry, weathered oak, and red chestnut. The semi-transparent color penetrates deeply into the wood without covering up the natural wood grain. 

For best results, you need to sand your floors down to the bare wood first, and carefully remove all sawdust before getting started. Apply the stain with a lint-free cloth, synthetic brush, or foam applicator, being sure to follow the grain of the wood. Wipe away excess stain after a few minutes, and let the stain dry for two hours before applying a second coat. Then allow the stain to dry for eight hours before applying an oil-based polyurethane sealer or 24 hours before topping it with a water-based polyurethane sealer. You can purchase the stain in quart or gallon containers.

Price at time of publish: $13 per quart

Type: Oil-based | Size: 1 quart | Coverage Area: 150 square feet | Dry Time: 2 hours

Best All-in-One With Sealant

Minwax Polyshades Wood Stain & Polyurethane

Minwax Polyshades Wood Stain & Polyurethane


What We Like
  • Sealant built right in

  • Requires minimal sanding before application

  • Available in gloss or satin

  • Many colors to choose from

What We Don't Like
  • Apply too thickly and it will blotch

  • Long dry time between coats

If you want to stain interior doors, trim, cabinets, furniture, or banisters with as little bother as possible, then Minwax Polyshades is the stain for you. This oil-based stain is combined with polyurethane, so unlike most similar stains, you don’t have to apply a separate coat of polyurethane as the final touch to your project. Nor do you have to sand away existing polyurethane or stain down to bare wood; just a light scuff with a fine-grit sandpaper, and you’re ready to go. There are more than 10 beautiful wood tones to choose from, and you also get a choice of two sheens, satin or gloss. Both dry to a semi-transparent lustrous finish. 

For best results, apply this stain with a natural bristle brush. Note that unlike most wood stains, there’s no need to wipe away the excess as long as you keep your coats thin. Go too thick with this stain, and you’ll have blotchy results. Let the first coat dry for at least six hours before applying a second coat. Expect it to take up to eight hours to be fully dry at the end of your project. Also be aware that while this is an excellent wood stain for just about any interior woodwork or furniture, it is not the best choice for staining hardwood floors. It’s available in 8-ounce or 1-quart sizes.

Price at time of publish: $16 per quart

Type: Oil-based | Size: 1 quart | Coverage Area: 135 square feet | Dry Time: 6 to 8 hours

Best Water-Based

General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain

General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain


What We Like
  • Low odor

  • Can be applied with paint sprayer

  • Good over maple or pine

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Too many coats can cause blotchy results

With hardly any odor or emission of VOCs, General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain is easier on the environment than oil-based products, but that doesn’t mean you’ll sacrifice on the results. With proper preparation, including cleaning and lightly sanding the wood before you begin, and careful application with a paint sprayer, synthetic-bristle or foam brush, paint pad, or synthetic roller, your results will be rich, lustrous, and deeply colored. This water-based stain applies very well even over difficult woods like maple and pine, and is suited to any interior wood object, including furniture, cabinets, floors, trim, banisters, and more.

For best results, apply a thick coat of stain, wait a few minutes, and then wipe away excess color with a clean cloth. Wait two hours, and then apply a second coat of stain; don’t go beyond two coats or you risk blotchy, uneven results. Finish your project with two or three coats of sealant after letting the stain dry for at least two hours. There are more than 15 beautiful colors to choose from, ranging from whitewash to black and including many wood tones. The stain is available in pints, quarts, or gallons. 

Price at time of publish: $45 per quart

Type: Water-based | Size: 1 quart | Coverage Area: 100 to 150 square feet | Dry Time: 2 hours

Best for Pressure-Treated Wood

Storm Protector Wood Stain & Sealer

Storm Protector Wood Stain & Sealer


What We Like
  • Penetrates pressure-treated wood very well

  • Includes sealer

  • Can be applied with sprayer

What We Don't Like
  • Only five colors available

  • Long dry time between coats

Pressure-treated wood is often used for exterior projects, as the material is treated with preservatives that help prevent decay and increase longevity. But because the wood is already saturated with these preservatives, it doesn’t soak up the stain quite as easily.  However, Storm Protector Wood Stain & Sealer penetrates deeply even into pressure-treated wood, as well as other commonly used exterior woods, such as redwood, cedar, pine, and mahogany. The sealer is built right into the semi-transparent stain, so the finished project is protected from UV rays and weathering. Like other exterior stains, you need to apply the product to sanded, dry wood on a day without high humidity or wind. 

You can use a paint sprayer, brush, or roller to apply a thin coat of the stain. If you want deeper color, you’ll need to wait at least 24 hours before adding a second coat. There’s no need to add a final coat of polyurethane or another sealant. The stain comes in 1-gallon cans and is available in five colors, including hickory, Pacific redwood, and golden oak. 

Price at time of publish: $30 per gallon

Type: Oil-based | Size: 1 gallon | Coverage Area: 100 to 150 square feet | Dry Time: 24 hours

Final Verdict

If you want a thick wood stain that’s easy to apply even to vertical surfaces or difficult woods, then you’ll love General Finishes Oil-Based Gel Stain, which dries to a beautiful, lustrous finish and is available in several lovely wood-tone colors. But if you prefer a water-based wood stain that’s especially well suited to staining wooden furniture, then our recommendation is SamaN Water-Based Wood Stain, which is easy to apply, dries quickly, and is available in nearly 40 colors, including many stylish hues.

What to Look for in a Wood Stain

Water-Based or Oil-Based

Wood stains fall into two broad categories: those with an oil base and those with a water base. Both have their pros and cons.

Oil-based wood stains, such as Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Wood Stain, which are the most common type, generally have a base of linseed oil or a similar oil. These stains dry more slowly than water-based products, which can be a good thing, as it makes it easier to avoid brush strokes or uneven spots showing in the finished results. Oil-based stains penetrate more deeply into the wood than most water-based stains, which gives a rich color, especially after two or three coats. These stains also tend to have better longevity than water-based products, which makes oil-based stains the best choice if you are staining outdoor furniture or other outdoor wooden items. It’s best to apply oil stains with a rag or cloth, although you can use a brush.

On the downside, you’ll need mineral spirits to thin oil-based stains and to clean brushes or mop up spills. These stains can have a powerful odor, and most emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals that “off-gas” into the surrounding air and can irritate the lungs, eyes, and throat, as well as harm the environment. Many states, including California, New York, and Ohio, only permit oil-based stains specifically formulated to produce low-VOC emissions. It’s best to apply oil-based stains outdoors when possible, and if not, maintain as much airflow as possible in the room where you are working. 

Gel-based wood stains, including our top pick, General Finishes Oil-Based Gel Stain, are also oil-based, but these stains are much thicker than regular oil stains. They apply best with a rag or painting cloth. Gel stains give a more opaque coverage than oil stains, with a final appearance that is not quite as opaque as paint, but not quite as transparent as oil stain. Gel stains adhere to wood well, even if it isn’t completely sanded bare, and they are an especially good choice when staining pine, as they are less prone to blotching on this type of wood than other kinds of stain. Like oil stains, you’ll need mineral spirits to clean up any spills. 

Water-based wood stains are more environmentally friendly than oil products, as they don’t emit VOCs, and they are the better choice for most interior projects. These stains don’t penetrate as deeply into the wood as do oil stains, so you’ll need to apply more coats if you want rich, deep color. Water-based stains also dry much faster than oil stains, so you need to work quickly if you want to avoid visible brush strokes or uneven blotches in your finished project. However, it’s much easier to clean up after using a water-based stain, as wet spills or drips can be washed away with soap and water. These stains are best applied with a brush, although you can use a rag. Our favorite water-based stain is General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain.

Stain Opacity

Opacity refers to how much underlying wood grain you can see through the dry stain. Paint, for example, is completely opaque, meaning you cannot see through it at all. Wood stains are generally semi-transparent, meaning that you can see the wood grain through the stain once it’s dry. Jan Walter, a professional painter and owner of the blog Gocolorize, comments, “A stain is better to use when you want to preserve the grain of the wood and show off its natural beauty. A stain will enhance the natural look of the wood, while paint will coat and hide the grain of the wood.” 

There are four main opacity levels for wood stains, including solid, semi-solid, semi-transparent, and transparent. Solid stains are the most opaque and provide the best UV protection, though the natural appearance of the wood cannot be seen through these stains. Semi-solid stains are a good option if you want to protect the wood from UV radiation but also want to see some of the natural wood grain.

Semi-transparent stains allow you to see most of the natural wood grain but still provide color and some protection. Most wood stains fall into this category. Transparent stains are completely clear and are really only useful for protecting the wood from moisture, making them a great choice for sealing decks and fences without concealing the natural wood grain at all.

Appearance and Color

Wood stain is available in many different colors, most of which are the hues of various types of natural wood, such as mahogany, cherry, oak, or walnut. You can choose a stain that isn’t much different from the color of your natural wood, to add a bit of richer color and UV protection, or you can stain your wood with a darker color if you want to drastically change its appearance. 

Many brands of wood stain also offer colors not found in natural wood, including various tints of blue, green, red, and black. These are good options if you want to liven up furniture or other interior wood with an unexpected pop of soft color. SamaN Water-Based Wood Stain, our top choice for staining furniture, comes in a wide array of colors that includes greens, blues, and purple, as well as natural wood tones. Note that generally, tinted wood stains provide a semi-transparent wash of color that still lets wood grain show through, unlike the solid color created by paint.

There are also different finishes, or "sheens," of wood stain, as with paint. Matte stains have no shine once dry, while satin stains, which are the most popular, have a natural glow but no pronounced shine. Semi-gloss and gloss finishes are the shiniest, but as with paint, shinier finishes generally show off imperfections in the surface underneath. Minwax Polyshades, which combines sealer with the stain, is available in either satin or gloss sheens. 

Indoor or Outdoor Use

Jan Walter observes, “If it's for interior or exterior use is the most important factor to consider when choosing a wood stain. Exterior stains should be UV-resistant and have a mold- and mildew-resistant finish, while interior stains should preferably be water-based, since they are low-VOC.”

Many wood stains are formulated for both indoor and outdoor use, but if you are staining wood that will be exposed to the elements at all times, it’s best to choose an outdoor-only stain that provides the utmost in protection. We recommend Ready Seal Exterior Wood Stain, which has sealer built right in to resist UV rays and moisture on all types of outdoor wood, including decks, fences, pergolas, and siding.

If you're choosing stain for indoor use, Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy Painters of Riverview, notes, "Everything from the type of wood to its grain to the quality of the light in the room can affect how the stain appears, so make sure you’re choosing a stain based on the conditions in the room and the type of wood you’re working with. Generally, you’ll want to use stain if you’re trying to emphasize the natural look of the wood. Paint will typically cover much of the natural texture and wear of the wood, while stain will enhance it. So, stain is great for more natural looks."

  • What wood stains the best?

    Different types of wood absorb stain differently. For instance, walnut, cherry, and mahogany wood have very small pores that help to protect the wood from moisture, but this natural protection also makes this wood difficult to stain, because the small pores don't absorb stain very well.

    Alternatively, oak and ash easily absorb most types of stains at a balanced rate, making them ideal for deck boards, fencing, and furniture. Pine and cedar absorb stains very quickly, but due to this high level of absorption, wood stain can leave pine and cedar looking blotchy and uneven. Use oil-based stains on pine and cedar to get an attractive finish. Alder, birch, and maple should be stained with a water-based stain, because they have a lower level of absorption that would not effectively absorb oil-based stains.

  • What’s the best way to apply wood stain?

    Jan Walter gives these tips for achieving the best results when using wood stain:

    • “Always do a test patch on an inconspicuous area, like the back of a drawer or the underside of a shelf, before staining the entire piece. You don’t want to find out too late that you don’t like the color or finish.” 
    • “Always sand the entire piece before you stain. Remove any old sealants, paints, or stains, as well as any blemishes in the wood, before you apply a fresh coat of stain.”
    • “Applying a wood conditioner before staining will help the stain absorb evenly. This gives you a smoother and more even finish.” 
    • “Use a lint-free cloth to apply the stain in a circular motion. After letting the stain sit for a few minutes, wipe away the excess with your rag, making sure to follow the grain of the wood. This helps your finish look professional.” 
    • “To finish the project, once the stain is completely dry, use a polyurethane sealant to protect the wood and the stain from wear and tear.”
  • What’s the best time to apply wood stain?

    If you are staining wood furniture or other interior wooden objects, then you can stain any time of year when the weather is nice enough to open your windows for ventilation, the humidity isn’t unusually high, and the temperature is moderate. However, if you are staining a deck, fence, or other exterior wood, then you should plan to stain on a day when there has been no rain for at least 48 hours, and when there is none in the forecast for at least the coming two days. The humidity should be low-to-average with no wind, and the temperature ideally between 50 and 80 degrees. Applying stains when the above conditions are not met can lead to poor results. In most areas, late spring or early fall have the best weather for applying wood stain.

Why Trust The Spruce?

This article was researched and written by Michelle Ullman, a writer who specializes in home and garden products. She has been writing for The Spruce since 2020, covering a wide range of home-improvement products, including power and hand tools, painting supplies, landscaping tools, and tool organizers. To choose the best wood stains for this article, she consulted dozens of customer and third-party reviews and websites and considered each product's coverage, ease of application, wood penetration, color range, and price point. Further input and advice were provided by Jan Walter, a professional painter and owner of the blog Gocolorize, and Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy Painters of Riverview.

Updated by
Timothy Dale

Timothy Dale is a home repair expert and writer with over a decade of hands-on construction and home improvement experience. He is skilled in residential, commercial, industrial and institutional plumbing, electrical, carpentry, installation, renovations, and project management.

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