Stain and Varnish: Differences You Need to Know

ECOS Paints 03/05/2024
Stain and Varnish: Differences You Need to Know

Do you know the difference between stain and varnish? If you don't, you can learn the difference right now. Depending on the project you're trying to accomplish, one will be more suitable for you than the other. So let's go over the differences between stain and varnish.


Wood stains are used to either change or enhance the natural color of your wood. They help to intensify the existing tone and highlight the grain. While it can be somewhat protective for the wood, it’s mostly used to decorate it. There are many different wood stain colors you can use. Using wood stain with a top coat treatment can help add extra durability to your project.

Two Types of Stains

There are water and solvent-based stains, as well as oil-based stains. For those who don’t know, "solvent" is just another name for liquid. Water and solvent-based stains are mixtures of either water or solvent with pigment. When you apply these to your floors, the liquid or water evaporates and the colored pigment is left behind. The advantage of using these stains is that they dry faster -- usually in about 15 to 30 minutes. They also come in a variety of colors and they’re easy to clean up. Using a brush or spray, you can put these stains on your floor, trim, moldings, and even cabinets.

Oil-based stains add color to your wooden floors without raising the grain. It also isn’t always necessary to use a film-forming top coat with them. While water and solvent-based stains dry quickly, oil-based stains take about three days or more to dry. Keep in mind that water-based stains are odor- and VOC-free, and also come in a variety of colors. This allows you to have a greater amount of choice while achieving the final result you desire.

The benefit of using a stain is that it will help bring out more of the patterns and colors of your wood. It’s good for a traditional or rustic finish on your furniture or floors. Whether you plan to sell your property or simply want to bring it up-to-date, a stain can allow you to give your home a refreshed look.


So what is varnish for? Well, there are many differences between stains and varnishes. Rather than being decorative, varnish is designed to be a protective barrier for your indoor wooden floor or other wood project. It’s usually applied on top of a stain after the stain has dried. Instead of coming in a variety of colors, most varnishes are generally transparent with no hue. Occasionally, some will have color to alter the wood shade. Varnish is often made with oil and resin, but there are now many varnishes (both tinted and clear varieties) on the market that are water-based. These water-based varnishes do not contain harmful VOCs, which means these products are a safer and healthier choice for indoor use.

The main purpose for using varnish is to give your wooden floors more durability. Often, these varnishes will be applied to areas in your home that see the most wear and tear. Most of the time, varnishes will dry in about four to six hours. In addition to your wooden floors, you can use varnish on your cabinets, trim, and other woodworking projects around the house.

Now, you know the difference between stain and varnish. Stain will help you create the best-looking wooden floors in your house, while varnish will give you the protection your wood needs. So after you’re done using both, you'll have a beautiful and durable wooden floor -- especially if you use the highest quality products available. To learn more about using our stains, varnishes, and other VOC-free products for your next home improvement project, please contact ECOS Paints today.

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