Exterior Wood Finishing Guide Part 3 - Wood Stains - Solvent vs Water Based?

17 Sep 2019
Adam Downey

Water based or solvent based wood stains?

Choosing between water and solvent based wood stains requires careful consideration with factors such as the type of wood, condition of materials, internal or external use, weather conditions at the time of application and of course health and safety.
Both water and solvent based wood stains can be used on internal and external timber.

A water based wood stain is easy to apply and is quick drying, low VOC and low odour.
When using low VOC wood stains, projects can be completed in one day. Water based products do not contain any active ingredients so a water based wood preservative (such as Impra Prevent or Osmo W R Basecoat should be used with this product.)

Compared to solvent base wood stains, water based wood stains may have a shorter wet edge time, so careful consideration is needed when applying to a large surface area and when the weather is very warm. Solvent based wood stains do provide better flow, have a longer wet edge time and are least susceptible to weather conditions so more flexibility is available to the user when applying.

In our own tests on hard and soft woods using Impra profilan (water based) wood stains and spirit based wood stains (Impra and other well known brands) on exterior exposed surfaces, the Impra profilan wood stain lasted 5 years before a refresher coat was required, two years longer than the Impra spirit based wood stain and 3 to 4 years longer than the others!

Quality water based wood stains are generally more expensive than spirit based wood stains, the technology required to produce a top quality product requires a great deal of research and development and most manufactures do not have the resources. Water chemistry has made great advancements while solvents have remained unchanged. As a result, water based wood stains today are equal or superior to solvent based wood stains. Unfortunately most of the water based wood stains available in the UK today perform very poorly and can only be classed as coloured water.

Our recommendation would be the Impra Profilan, after testing the product multiple times ourselves whilst also surpassing a number of independent tests including a Which? best buy award for the Opac Paint!