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Wood Dye vs. Wood Staining; How and When to Use Each

If you’ve ever wondered about wood dye vs. wood stain then this is the post for you! I’ve shared the differences between wood dye (wood tint) and wood stain and how to use each.

I bet most of you reading this haven’t heard of wood dye. Why would anyone use wood dye (also known as wood tint)? We hear about wood stain every day but until last year I hadn’t heard of wood dye. When I first heard of it I had so many questions. What was it made from? Was it water based or oil based or both? I was curious to try this new wood finish. I’m going to share all about the pros and cons of wood dye vs. wood stain and why you would use each.

Before we dive into why you would use each, I want to talk about what they are first.

What is wood stain?

Wood stains are primarily used to color wood while they sometimes provide a protection to the top layer of the wood. There are two main types of stains; oil based and water based.

Wood stains can even be created from household items like coffee and tea! Today I’m talking about the store bought wood stains.

Wood dye vs. wood stain

Types of wood stain categories

There are two main types of wood stain categories; Penetrating and surface finishes.

Penetrating wood stains

These are products that seep down in the wood and dry inside the wood. These are best applied with a cloth and really give the wood that natural finish because they don’t hide the grain and natural wood look. You can see how I used this type of stain to refinish our wood stairs.

Surface wood stains

These are just as they say; the product dries on the surface of the wood. These stains make wood more durable because they protect the surface. That being said, surface stains are typically the best choice for high traffic wood stains. Examples of surface stains are products like Varathane and Minwax stains. I recently stained an outdoor planter with Valspar’s one coat exterior stain.

Pros of Oil based wood stain:

  • Requires longer dry time which allows for a more even finish
  • More durable
  • Less maintenance
  • Most common type of stain

Pros of water based wood stain:

  • Dries quickly
  • No harsh fumes
  • Easy cleanup
  • penetrates the wood deeper

Most people know what wood stain is and have probably used it at least once. You can see where I applied wood stain over a bench that had been previously stained below.

How to apply wood stain over wood stain

I’ve also used wood stain on a variety of different projects like when I repurposed a few wooden crates, added a beautiful ebony stain to the top of our chalk painted dining room table and stained a few DIY floating dining room shelves.

Enough about wood stain, let’s talk about wood dye or wood tint.

What is wood dye or wood tint?

Wood dye (also known as wood tint) is comprised of a colorant and a solvent (like alcohol or water). Unlike wood stain, which sits on the top of the wood surface, wood dye penetrates the wood and colors the wood from within. The color is more translucent than the color from a wood stain.

WHY you would use wood dye vs. wood stain?

Wood stains are used to not only color the wood, but often times they are used to add a layer of protection to it.

Wood dyes, on the other hand, penetrate the wood and do not give a protective layer like most wood stains do.

Like I said earlier, wood dyes are more translucent. This is helpful when you want the wood grain to show. The dyes are made of much smaller molecules than wood stains, so light can pass through them easier.

This is good in one sense, like if you want wood grain to show, but not good if you want to protect the surface of the wood. You always need to add a top coat or sealer to a surface that you’ve applied wood dye to.

Wood stains are similar to paint in that they both are primarily surface coatings. Dyes, on the other hand, penetrate deep because the molecules are smaller.

Wood dyes are great to use when whitewashing a furniture piece, especially if you want to whitewash in a fun color.

Also, wood dyes can be mixed into solvents like Shellac, lacquers or water based finishes.

If you want to achieve a rich color, you can use both together! Apply the wood dye first so it penetrates the wood and then add the stain over it.

You can see where I applied a Keda Wood Dye product to a wood cutting board to create a beautiful colorful decor piece!

wood stain vs. wood dye and how to use each

Disclosure; this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not affect the price you pay. This disclosure statement refers to the rest of the Amazon links in this post. See more on my disclosure page.

Pros of Wood Dye:

  • Translucent
  • No harmful odors
  • Comes in an array of colors
  • Easy clean up
  • Can be mixed with other solvents and sealers

Pros of Wood Stain:

  • Very Durable
  • Easier to apply because they don’t dry as quick as wood dye’s
  • Works better with outdoor wood
  • Comes in either oil or water based

Where do you buy wood tint?

I purchased my wood tint on Amazon. You can see a few products below.

This particular product comes in an array of colors. See below.

Wood Dye

You can see another product below that comes in a “dye kit.”

Video about Wood Dye vs. Wood Stain and how to use each

Related Posts:

Valspar One-Coat Exterior Solid Stain & Sealer Review

How to Stain Wood Stairs Treads without Sanding

Ten Easy Gel Stain Cabinet and Furniture Projects

Wood furniture Makeover with Unicorn SPiT as a Gel Stain in Three Easy Steps

Stained Wood Stairs; Do they Need a Sealer?

How to Apply Wood Stain over Wood Stain

How to Stain Wood with Household Products

I hope this post has helped you better understand how to use wood stain vs. how to use wood dye.

Thanks for stopping by!



Thursday 2nd of November 2023

I am finishing off a small spindle legged oak side table. There was a nasty heat stain in the centre so I have bleached it out and now need to colour the table top so it matches the darkness of the legs and frame. I was going to use Danish Oil with a dark mahogany colour but the table top is too light and needs toning down. Would you recommend a dye to colour the top then finish off with a neutral danish oil, I would value your guidance. Thank you

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Thursday 2nd of November 2023

I think applying a wood stain to permanently match the rest of the table might be a great idea first. Then apply the danish oil. Always try to test a small inconspicuous area first if you can.

Nigel payne

Monday 12th of September 2022

Am using a white littlefairs dye on a pine floor, can I varnish over with Ron seal waterbased floor varnish to seal it, many thanks Nige

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Wednesday 14th of September 2022

I am not familiar with those products. I would reach out to the varnish manufacturer and email them. Sorry I couldn't be of more help!

F Dixon

Wednesday 13th of April 2022

Why Ho why are you comparing two different products just because they perform similar jobs. I'm very surprised that you now only come into contact with wood dyesthey have been around longer than stains. You covered very well their usages but may I add excellence of finish stain is the complete finish but dyes require help in the way of protection e.g. varnish oils my experience dyes allow a better more even finish when varnish or oils are applied stains an ok finish. Fred. From Wales


Friday 11th of February 2022

I was a bit reluctant to continue reading after I read that you just discovered wood dyes within the last year. Wood dyes have been in my vocabulary for 30 years or more, however I'm always looking for new information to expand my knowledge. You obviously did your research because this is the best explanation of dye vs. stain that I have read online. Bravo! I would also add that using a dye first, followed by the same color stain provides the "best of both worlds" for many types of wood.

Nelda Anderson

Thursday 12th of August 2021

I am looking to buy corbels and wood carvings for my trim carpenter to use on new wood cabinets (new home construction). The rubber wood is most affordable but it always suggests dyeing or painting. Why not stain?

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Thursday 12th of August 2021

That's a really good question. I wonder if they used the term "dye" loosely to include staining?