Choosing the Right Wood Stain For Your Hardwoods and Decking

Several elements come into play when trying to decide which wood stain is right for the job. In this article, we’ll break down those elements to help you better understand the process of selecting the perfect stain for your project in Washington DC.

The Type of Project

Broadly speaking, the type of project is the first determining factor for the choice of wood stain. Is the project interior or exterior? Aesthetic or functional? Large or small? The outside of a home, for example, will require a different stain than an ornately carved chest. Likewise, the surface of a deck that receives a large amount of foot traffic and sun during the day will need a different finish to its supports that are exposed to wet earth and near constant moisture.  Stains are specially formulated to withstand the rigors of a particular task, so selecting the right one for the job is important.  

The Difference Between Interior or Exterior Wood stain

Interior and exterior wood stain differs in that interior stains are designed to accentuate the natural markings of the wood and often require the treatment of a protective sealer in order to guard against moisture and daily wear. Exterior stains are generally thicker, hardier and create a more protective layer. Exterior stains are designed to protect the wood against sun-damage, as well as rot, mold, and other types of fungus. Exterior stains are also more water resistant. Rather than requiring additional sealing, exterior stains usually suffice with a simple double coat. A qualified, professional painter will know these differences.


Because of their transparency, the color samples you see for wood stains are likely to differ slightly depending on the color of the wood you’ll be using the stain on. For this reason, it may be necessary to test a stain first.

hardwood flooring which wood stain for my Washington DC Home?

One method of selecting based on color is to match up with other elements of your design: pieces of furniture, the pavers of your hardscaping, or the shade of brick in your walls. These elements will then form a common visual thread that weaves through your design. On the other hand, you may choose to emphasize the wood or other features by creating bold contrasts. A deep, dark stain used in conjunction with a light natural stone paver, such as sandstone, for example, accentuates both elements beautifully.   

The right stain for the right wood

The perfect wood stain is chosen in order to enhance not mask the natural detail of wood. Even a highly opaque wood stain uses the natural grain and texture of the wood to add depth and dimension. The harder the wood, the more penetrative the stain needs to be in order to give the wood that deep, three dimensional look. A topical stain can be used, but will not give the same level of depth. Instead, a thin, water-based dye stain would be a better option. With softer wood that tends to easily soak up whatever you put on it, a heavy bodied topical stain with finishing sealer can be used to treat the wood and prevent it from becoming swollen when it is exposed to moisture, particularly if being used outdoors.   

Ask us

If in doubt, please do not hesitate to ask our trusted staff for assistance in selecting and applying the best wood stain for your project.