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How To Change from Water Based to Oil Based Deck Stains

How to Change From Water Based to Oil Based Exterior Decking Stain and Vice Versa

The longevity of a deck or other exterior wood structure depends highly on how well it is maintained. A wood surface left alone or neglected will not last long in the harsh environment. Wood needs to be sealed and protected from moisture, UV rays, mold, mildew and such contaminants that will cause rot and decay. The most common types of wood protectants are oil and water based.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Once a wood surface is coated with a particular type of stain it is usually maintained every few years with another light maintenance coat of the same type stain. However, on occasion some homeowners may decide to change from oil based to a water based stain or vice versa.

To do this successfully a few guidelines need to be followed.

When switching from one particular type of stain to another, you have to remember the characteristics of the stains you are working with. These two types of stains will not perform well together. If the wood has a penetrating oil based stain on it now, a water based stain will not be able to penetrate the wood. If it is film forming stains you are dealing with, they will not adhere well and normally the topcoat of stain will fail prematurely.

To successfully change from oil based to water based or vice versa, you have to remove all of the existing stain. There are products like Restore-A-Deck Stain Stripper or HD80 that can help break down existing stains to make them easier to remove. The stripper is applied to the wood surface and allowed to dwell. It works to soften the stain so the wood surface can then be pressure washed or scrubbed clean. A second step of wood brightener is then applied to neutralize the stripper and prepare the wood for new stain.

Removing an old stain and getting back down to bare wood is the only way to ensure the new stain will adhere or penetrate the wood properly. Removing an old stain is not always easy. Solid stains and some water based stains can be extremely stubborn. They may take several attempts to strip and sanding may be necessary. Once the existing stain is gone you can apply the new oil or water based stain to a clean wood surface.

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47 responses to “How To Change from Water Based to Oil Based Deck Stains”

  1. Jim Shuck says:

    If going from an oil base stain that has failed within 1 year – poor application (splotchy) and lightened significantly – to use another oil based product – do I need to strip. If not, should I use a cleaner first them re-stain?

  2. Michael says:

    I applied a oil enriched solid laytex stain and did all the prep work as it says it is peeling everywhere. I was given 5 gallons almost exactly the same color but it is a oil based stain. Will I be able to apply oil over a oil enriched latex stain?

  3. Mike P says:

    If a customer sticks with the same brand with the same oil application each time, can you apply after cleaning it or do you need to strip it up and start over. For example, a re-seal every two years with TWP 1500. Can it be applied over the existing sealer or will that cause it to not absorb well. Dos the previous application need to be removed?

    • Jeff S. says:

      As a rule of thumb if water is not repelling anymore u can re apply same product, but if water is still being repelled then u wait or strip and brighten. Good test is to sprinkle water on deck and see what happens and try this in several areas as under eves will sometimes still be repelling,

  4. Mary says:

    I have a water based stain on pressure treated timbers and plan to recoat with oil based TWP stain. I have sanded the timbers with a power sander until most (if not all ) of the stain and graying wood have disappeared. Is this sufficient, or do I need to wash and brighten the timbers as well before staining with the TWP?

  5. Jack says:

    We have a new driveway gate with a painted steel frame and cedar boards mounted vertical in the frame. Do we need to use any type of cleaner on this NEW wood.
    I was surprised to learn, that it was not recommend to put water base stain over an oil base finish without a serious preparation, but your logic makes sense to me. If it still repels water, a water base product will not last.

  6. Dakini says:

    Your site is very helpful. Many thanks. We live in New York. Our pressure treated wood deck is 3 (the upper) and 15 (the lower level) years old. It has NE exposure with a really strong sun until early afternoon and a dense shade after that. 2 years ago we stained it with Arborcoat as a less toxic alternative (- we have 2 dogs and an organic garden, thus we like to avoid chemicals as much as possible). The deck looked really good for a couple of months. The winter made the stain basically peel off except on the vertical surfaces. We are ready to restain it. It got scrubbed with a light bleach solution, pressure washed and lightly sanded. A few spots still have a 2-year old thin coat of Arbor. We were going to use Superdeck. But then I saw you often recommend Defy. Would that be a better choice? Can we use it without using the stripping chemicals first? Thanks in advance.

  7. Andrew says:

    I have some old decks that need staining. They have an old stain on them, I have no idea if its oil based.
    I don't want to get involved with stripping, as ive never done it before.

    Would a good sanding and pressure wash be sufficient for a new acrylic solid stain to adhere to the old decks?
    I was thinking about using Flood with its oil based primer based in its formula.

    Also, the stain color will be different than the one already on the deck, will this be a problem?


    • That depends on the brand you are using. Some will say yes and others no. If you do not remove fully then you can be subject to the old coating failing under your new coating. Does not matter on the color hone using a solid stain as it will mask the old coatings.

  8. Outsourced IT says:

    If a customer sticks with the same brand with the same oil application each time, can you apply after cleaning it or do you need to strip it up and start over. For example, a re-seal every two years with TWP 1500. Can it be applied over the existing sealer or will that cause it to not absorb well. Dos the previous application need to be removed?

  9. jude says:

    Hi. If I have a water based stain and, to avoid stripping, want to apply a different water based stain, will that be an issue? By different I mean different brand and similar or darker color. What we used was discontinued, probably due to poor results. It was a new line from a quality manufacturer. Thanks for the help!

  10. Johnny B says:

    I have read many of your site articles and sub-site articles. And here is what I have derived from this research.
    1. If you have a new Western Cedar deck (I do), recently finished, I should wait 4 – 12 months to allow the oils in the wood to emerge and evaporate.
    2. If it has the sheen look to it (I do), from the sugar rising to the wood surface because of the manufacturers planing process I need to sand that away. After sanding use a brightener product on the wood to restore its original color.

    Can I do a successful end run around this preparation in 4-12 months? Why? The contractor left me with 20 ft. long cedar boards 4 inches and 6 inches wide to stain before he assembles the rails. I have chosen to install the “sub-rails” with the 3/4 inch dia aluminum pipes powder coated black. If I follow your wisdom, and believe me I am listening, I will have a very tedious staining process down the road a few months from now around those pipes if I let the assembled deck “season” for while. :-))) Some of the advice I have read suggests this may be possible because sanding and a brightener could be enough to open the wood pores sufficiently?

    Next question.Miller paint stores in my area carry a new water-borne wood finish product for decks by the name of Sansin enviro stain. I am interested in using the “Natural Sundance” tone which I interpret to be a transparent stain close to the color of Teak. It is a step up in price and I assume may help me do a good job of making my end run. :-))) However, I will wait tedious, as difficult as that that seems now, if I have to.

    Thanks so much in advance for your suggestions. You have great site here. Johnny B

  11. Sanding and brightening should open the pores but you will need to clean as well. In order: Deck Cleaner/Light pressure washing, lightly sand and buff if needed, apply wood brightener and rinse well.

    You can weather and prep the railing before install.

    Have not used the Sansin water-borne, so cannot offer any advice there.

  12. Shawn says:

    I have a question about removing Behr water-based stain from my wood deck. I put the stain on a couple years ago and it was terrible. It is peeling off in most places but I want to remove it all before staining it again. I am going with TWP stain and asked them about their strip product. They said that most likely, their product would not remove the remaining Behr stain since it is not formulated to do that. My question then is what type of product would be good to completely remove the remaining Behr stain? I have sanded portions of the deck and it did help remove some but not all of it. Thanks for your help!

    • Try HD80 or the RAD stain stripper. Behr is not easily removed for any stripper due to the way it films like a paint on top of the wood. You may need repeated applications to remove.

      • Shawn says:

        Thanks for the response. My best bet may be just to sand a little bit more to remove the the Behr layer. After sanding, it sounds like I still would want to apply the Restore-a-Deck Brightener before I stain with the TWP. Is it preferable to use a power washer with the Brightener or is that bad for the wood prior to staining? Thanks again for the insight.

  13. Richard Witte says:

    How do one determine if decking has oil or water based stain? Is there a simple test for this?

    • No way to determine if it has dried. Visually we can tell for most cases based on seeing 1000\’s of decks. Feel free to post a pciture in our forum.

      • advice says:

        Use methyl hydrate on a rag and rub the stain hard. If it comes off on the rag it is latex. If not it is oil as Methyl hydrate does nothing to a oil base finish :)

  14. Katie Kuenn says:

    I am going to practice by using the stripper ahead of time. How much time can go by before I have to use the remaining stripper before it goes bad? Or does it not?

  15. showroom2004 says:

    wow thank you so much for this site. I'm not 100% sure but i think my deck is currently done in oil. i assume this because its been 6 years and water based wasn't very popular back then. if i wanted to go with oil again (and I'm willing to test it on some stairs around back to find out if there are problems before doing the whole deck) what do you recommend. i live in southern maryland. also if i did the oil based stain over what i assume is oil, how long before there are problems if my actual stain was water based?

  16. Tobias says:

    We stained our new deck with Olympic Elite Woodland Oil (spec states: Oil modified), this was done two years ago, can we just clean the deck and put another coat of the same product on? Can we put two coats on?

    • You should be able to prep and apply the same. Best to follow their directions on who to reapply a maintenance coat.

      • Tobias says:

        I ended up using a cleaner to clean the Deck, then sanded the entire deck, yes it took time. Then cleaned again and let dry for about 48 hours. Completed staining in one full day. All looks good now.

  17. Patricia Barringer says:

    we have a unknown water base stained cedar wood kit that needs more stain, we have a Behr latex base wood
    stain, can it be applied over the water base without issues?

  18. Dedra says:

    I have used TWP for years and love it. I moved to another state and didn't realize the decking was either water or latex stain and applied TWP over top and of course it did not absorb but instead dried as best as it could and is now peeling off. What type of remover is best to use to remove the TWP and wherever is underneath it and can I pressure wash after applying it ? I suppose I will need to sand it too? The other decking that is just the old water or latex stain how is it best to prepare it for applying TWP? Thanks

    • Strip what you can with Restore A Deck Stripper and pressure washing. Sand faff the remaining of needed. Brighten the wood after the sanding. You will need to do this for both decks.

  19. Kathy says:

    I had used oil stain for years, several coats. The painter I had to do the deck 3 years ago used a water based stain. It did not penetrate, the wood is, for the first time ever, cracking and drying. It is also growing green stuff….I cannot strip this deck. Is there any dark stained oil base I can apply over?

  20. ron baker says:

    I have a cedar deck which I pressure washed and striped the remaining Behr stain, and applied Re-vive on it._I let it dry and applied Sherman-William natural clear stain and put a second coat and the deck is slippery. How _do I remmeady this

    • I am not understanding what you did? Is the Re-vive, Deck Revive by Gulf synthetics? You cannot add a clear product over top of a deck stain or paint. Only thing to do is to sand at all off and start over. Unfortunately that is not easy to do and it might be easier to just replace the wood, if you can afford it.

  21. Le Ann says:

    My deck has a coat of acrylic stain covered by a coat of oil based stain. Can i put another coat of oil based stain over this. it is not peeling, just looks patchy. If i strip it, what type of stripper do i use?

  22. Laura says:

    We purchased a house in southern Florida. I have used a big box store stripper and cleaner plus lots of elbow grease. Not sure what product I'm stripping. I can tell I've gotten to bare wood in some spots. After reading reviews, I've decided to purchase defy extreme stain. Do I need to redo stripping and brighten it using their product or can I assume my wood is prepped. How can I test the wood to seee if it's ready to accept stain?

  23. Ms Franklin says:

    Good article.

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*This is first and foremost a help site from our experience as wood restoration contractors. All stain and prepping manufacturer directions were followed with our reviews and ratings. We offer no guarantee of similar results. Take inconsideration that wood and deck stain results may differ due to prepping procedures, different wood types, exposure to UV radiation, natural weathering, etc.