Painting vs. Staining Wood: Which Is Right for Your Next Project?

Katie Smith
Written by Katie Smith
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated July 26, 2022
 woman on the patio painting a wood chair
Photo: blackCAT / Getty Images

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Should you paint your kitchen chairs canary yellow or stain them copper brown? While a lot depends on your preferences, you’ll want to know the pros and cons of painting and staining wood before making your decision. Learn more about the pros and cons to decide what’s right for your project.

Painting Wood Pros and Cons

woman painting wooden planks white
Photo: Mint Images/ Getty Images

Painting is a great way to add color and personality to your home. You can completely transform a shelf, wood floor, or mantle without spending a lot of money. Depending on your project, you can choose from oil or acrylic paint.


  • Variety of colors and sheens

  • Completely transforms and hides wood

  • Provides better protection than stain

  • Can paint over existing paint


  • More maintenance than stain, as it chips easier

  • More expensive than stain

  • If you want to repaint, you have to scrape and sand as much of the existing paint off as possible in order to get the new coat to stick properly

Staining Wood Pros and Cons

staining hard wood floors
Photo: BanksPhotos/ Getty Images

Stain is great if you are looking for an all-natural look, or feel like you already have enough color in your room. It penetrates wood by soaking in and allows you to see the grain and design of the wood while enhancing it.

You can also choose a solid stain, which has more pigment than normal stain and also provides great coverage and protection without a topcoat.


  • Lasts longer than paint

  • No need to prime first

  • Stains are less expensive than most paints

  • Wears off slowly and doesn’t chip or peel


  • Can’t stain over existing paint

  • Doesn’t come in a lot of different colors or sheens

  • Does’t protect wood as well as paint does

Painting Wood vs. Staining Wood

Trying to decide between paint and stain is entirely a personal choice. You may like the look of wood in its natural state and the choice to stain may be an easy one.

Either way, you can choose to DIY this project or hire a local painter to paint or stain your wood surfaces for you.


If you are considering painting something like a hardwood floor, keep in mind that you will see more peeling and chipping if you use paint and it will require more touch-up work than if you use stain. Painting will require more upkeep, but it may be worth it if you have your mind set on brick red floors.

“We usually recommend that you stain first and then, when the wood starts to deteriorate, paint,” says Bob Tschudi, Angi Expert Review Board member and general contractor in Raleigh, NC. “Once you paint wood, it’s a labor-intensive job to remove it.”

Most durable: painting wood

DIY Friendly

If you are debating whether to paint or stain your kitchen cabinets or shelves, and want to put in as little work as possible, staining the wood may be for you. You don’t have to do as much preparation like priming the cabinets and there is no topcoat required once the stain is on.

Easiest to DIY: staining wood


Paint is a great way to add pops of color, where stain is neutral and will go with any decor.

Most options: staining wood 

Ease of Project

If your surface is already painted and you want to stain it, you will have to completely strip all the existing paint off, which takes extra work. However, if you are working with natural wood and want to stain it, there’s no need for priming or a topcoat like there is with painting. Stain usually only requires one coat.

Project difficulty: tie (depending on state of existing wood)


If you are considering painting or staining a deck, keep in mind that paint has a thicker barrier between the deck and the elements outside, which will preserve your wood better. While it may need more upkeep than stain does, paint can protect more against things like algae and warping.

“We stained a deck annually that was in the sunlight for at least eight hours a day, and it still deteriorated over time,” says Tschudi. “Paint would have preserved it longer, but a sun-blocking structure such as a pergola or an awning would have provided several more years of quality use.”

Best protection: painting wood

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