Wiping Stain Vs. Penetrating Stain

penetrating stain vs wiping stain

As much as wood provides a breathtaking beauty in its natural state, it may not match the home decor colors or tones. People add stains that have dyes and blended pigments with either water or mineral spirits to the stripped wood surfaces to highlight grain patterns or change the color of the interior wood. 

Wiping stain vs. penetrating stain, which is best? I am giving you the information to help you make up your mind on what stain to use. I have discussed the difference between the two stains to help you make your choice.

Since wood is a product of nature, it constantly varies from one tree to the next even when the wood comes from a similar tree species.

Avoid surprises by testing the stains on an inconspicuous spot to make sure your stain colors are in line with the natural wood colors you desire.

Stains are available in two solvents, oil-based mineral spirits or water-based.

I advise that you choose a finish, stain, or pre-stain wood conditioners with the same solvent. 

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What is the difference between water-based and oil-based products

Oil-based products

  • You have longer working time and can stain cabinets, doors, floors, and paneling without worrying about dried lap marks.
  • It doesn’t raise the grain and eliminates the need for more sanding.
  • Uses a natural brush in the application process.

Water-based products

  • Dry faster, and you can do both staining and finishing on the same day.
  • Has low odor
  • you need only water and soap for cleanup.
  • Come in different vibrant stain colors. 

Penetrating Stain vs. Wiping Stain – What’s The Difference?

Wood stains are used to change the natural wood color. There are different types of stains you can use for interior applications.

The colors are virtually limitless. Popular choices are; Wiping stains or Penetrating stains.

We’ll look at two common and widely used stains that is penetrating stain vs. wiping stain.

Penetrating stains are less resistant to blotching while wiping stains are more resistant.

Why? Because wiping stain doesn’t really penetrate deeply into the wood surface like in penetrating stain. 

Besides, you can use a wiping stain over your previous finished wood surface without needing to change the tone color.

However, if you use a penetrating stain, you will need to strip the old finish off first before applying the stain.  

What is a Wiping Stain?

Wiping stains are oil-based stains. They have a thick and rich formula that allows easy application and gives you superior color control.

You need the superior color control to get the uniform, vibrant color on your surfaces in one application.

Wiping stains are like gel stains as they are heavy-bodied but don’t penetrate the wood to tone it to your desired shade.

Besides, wiping stains are resistant to blotching than penetrating stains because they dot penetrate the wood.  

Wiping stains can be used on different surfaces, including finished and unfinished wood surfaces.

Plus, you can use it on metal, fiberglass, and composition surfaces.

Its highly recommended for woods such as maple, cherry, pine, poplar, and birch.

What is a Penetrating Stain?

Penetrating stains are traditional oil-based wood stains that penetrate wood surfaces to enhance the natural wood beauty by creating vibrant colors.

You can use a penetrating stain on unfinished wood surface or interior wood surfaces.

Also, you can use it on surfaces where the finish has been removed.

However, experts recommend it for staining unfinished hardwoods like walnut, mahogany, oak, and ash.

How to Use a Wiping Stain

When using a wiping stain, let the stain sit for 45 seconds, depending on the temperature at the time of application.

Letting the stain sit for 45 seconds increases its chance of absorbing wood fivers and penetrating to give you a finer color.

You only active the finer color once you remove any excess stain using a cotton rag or pad.

Besides, having a uniform color makes the finishing more visible. Apply the wiping stain correctly regardless of the type of wood. 

You can use wiping stains on-top of a previously finished piece to chance the wood tone color without needing to strip off the old finish.

The best part is that you have much control over your chosen stain color. 

For instance, maple wood is more difficult and requires more time when using a wiping stain for it to absorb into the maple wood.

What happens if I don’t wait for 45 seconds? Failing to abide by the 45 seconds wait time results in inconsistent color, which will make you unhappy as the final finishing will not be appealing. 

It’s possible to leave the wiping stain to sit for longer than 45 seconds. However, you need to ensure it doesn’t take too long as it can be very sticky or hard to remove later.

How to Use a Penetrating Stain

You can use a pad, cloth, brush, sprayer, or roller but allow the stain to penetrate your wood surface for 2-5 minutes.

Wipe off any excess stain using a soft cloth before your stain dries off. Do this first working across the grain then later with the grain. 

How do I apply the stain? Do it in the direction of the wood grain using your brush, cloth, pad, or roller.

The 2-5 minutes is to allow stain penetration to give you the desired color. 

You can darken the color by using a second coat after resting for 4-6 hours. Repeat everything as directed above.

If you are staining an outdoor project, it can take 24-72 hours to dry.

How many coats can I apply? It’s best to use 2-coats unless you are dealing with an extremely dense hardwood, which can only absorb 1-coat of the wood stain.

Generally, 2-coats are sufficient to give you the desired color and beautiful finish you want. 

Stain Application Tips

Stain the wood pores

All stains need open pores for adequate absorption into your wood surface.

Regardless of whether you are weighing on penetrating stain VS wiping stain, both stains can be used on your wood surface. 

Applying the stains over your finished surfaces doesn’t change the wood color.

The cloth will simply wipe off the stains blocked from any pores by the existing finish.

Sand the bare wood lightly

This is necessary to open the pores while preparing for staining. Start with medium-grit sandpaper as you work your way up to a final sanding with a fine-grit sandpaper.

Always sand following the direction of the grain to ensure there are no unsightly scratches left behind. 

Apply stain using a bristle brush, cloth or foam brush

Wood surfaces with large or open pores like mahogany, oak, or ash require more pressure to stain into those pores.

Therefore, rub or brush against the grain direction to help fill the pores deep with stain. Apply adequate stain to give your wood enough to absorb. 

Pay attention to sit duration before wiping off

The longer your stain sits on the wood surfaces, the richer and deeper the color end result.

For consistency, I advise that you be careful with your timing.

Don’t allow the stain to dry on your wood surface as it prevents you from getting the clear finish or cause other problems.

Swirl marks on the stain-saturate cloth can be obvious even in a clear finish scenario. 

Staining gives your surface color and not protection

Always remember this fact. Once your stain is dried, you can use a clear finish to protect your wood and stain.

Plus, it helps make the wood surface more beautiful. 

Wait time between stain coats

Wait an hour before applying the next coat or second one. The surface will be dry, and you can test it by touching.

Plus, you can wait overnight before using the wood surface or returning it for normal use.

Besides, you can use 240-grit sandpaper for sanding the wood surface before applying your second coat.

The intention is to give your surface good adhesion that will make the succeeding cot stick. However, only sand the surface lightly.

Seal the stained wood

After staining, seal the wood surface to prevent bleeding. After you have smoothened the stained wood, you can use a sealer coat of sanding or thinned shellac or any other suitable sealer.

However, don’t use shellac with a water-base stain or NGR.

Ensure your sealer is compatible if you are planning on finishing the wood surface piece with polyurethane.

If you are applying a polyurethane, let the stain dry or wait for 24-48 hours to ensure your stain fully dries, then apply.

Stains dry lighter but may loo darker at first while still wet. 


Always work in sections to be more effective and wipe off any excess stains as you go using your cotton rag.

It’s upon you to decide between penetrating stain vs. wiping stain. Choose an ideal color wisely to complement your interior home decor or outdoor environment.

Observe the application tips to be more effective and ensures that you have the beautiful surface you desire.

It’s easy to assume that the work is simple, but it needs dedication and keenness.

Besides, you get an excellent end result if you are patient and follow the directions given above.  

I recently wrote an article on Minwax VS Varathane. Read it here.

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