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Are sealer and stain the same thing?

For deck and fence staining purposes, stain and sealer are the same thing. In common use, sealer and stain can have different, yet similar, meanings. In this article, we will cover what a sealer is, what a stain is, the few differences, and edge cases that would be considered one but not the other. We will also apply this to deck and fence staining so homeowners looking to improve their homes have concrete examples.

What is a sealer?

Sealer is a chemical product typically made from an oil or a latex that will seal wood to protect and prevent rotting through waterproofing. Sealer soaks into the wood to provide protection and will rarely leave a noticeable coating on top of the surface, although it may change its appearance.

For more info on how sealer soaks into wood, read our article Will Deck Stain Cover Paint?

What is a stain?

Stain is a chemical product typically made from an oil or a latex that soaks into wood and will change its appearance. Stain is often also a sealer, although not always.

fence staining
A fence with freshly applied stain

What are the differences?

Stain is a product that always colors wood and usually protects it from rotting. Sealer is a product that always prevents rotting and usually colors wood. The overlap on these products is very large but not complete.

Edge cases

For a product that is a stain but not a sealer, look into wood dye. Wood dye will color the surface of the wood and soak into that surface without preventing any rotting or providing any waterproofing. A homemade example of wood dye would be water with food coloring in it. This would be able to color wood and not prevent rotting whatsoever.

On the other side, a product like Tung Oil would be a sealer but not a stain. It will soak into the wood, prevent rotting, and waterproof the surface while barely changing the color in most circumstances. Other examples of a sealer that is not a stain would be Boiled Linseed Oil, Teak Oil, Danish Oil, and clear coat deck stain.

Clear Deck Sealer
Clear Sealer on a Deck In Stoughton, WI

Applications in deck and fence Staining

In regards to maintaining your exterior wood surfaces, knowing the difference between a stain and sealer can be useful when deciding the look you want to go for. While you wouldn’t use a Tung or Boiled Linseed Oil to stain your deck, you certainly may need to choose between a clear coat (sealer but not stain) and a transparent stain (stain and sealer). Keep in mind that all deck and fence stain products are sealers and the main difference is the level of opacity of the stain. 

For more information on deck stain opacities, read our article on it here.

At EcoWash, we pride ourselves on our knowledgeable team and commitment to quality. If you are a homeowner looking to stain or seal your deck or fence, get in touch with EcoWash today.


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