Oil-based stains penetrate wood more deeply than water-based stains and provide some water resistance to the finished project. Water-based stains dry faster than oil-based stains and adhere better to some types of wood, including wood that has been previously painted or treated with an oil-based stain.
Oil-based stains are preferred for outdoor projects that require durability and are exposed to the elements. It is a first choice for decks unless they are made of woods, such as cedar, that are naturally rot-resistant. By using naturally rot-resistant woods, water-based stains better preserve the rot-resistant qualities of the wood. Oil-based stains also dry slowly to give the applicant more control over the evenness and thickness of the application for prettier look, especially with large or difficult projects.
Water-based stains apply quickly and easily, and dry fast. They have less odor than oil-based stains and require less ventilation when applying. This makes water-based stains a good choice for indoor applications, especially in the winter months. Because water-based stains do not trap moisture in wood, they can be used with less drying and conditioning time to the piece before the stain application. Water-based stains provide longer lasting color retention and are nonflammable. They also clean up quickly and easily with ordinary soap and water.