wood dye vs stain

Wood Dye vs Stain – Which is Best in 2022? (DIY Guide)

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Choosing between wood dye or stain is a big DIY decision. Get it right, and you’ll have spectacular woodwork. Get it wrong, and you could ruin your project. 

It comes down to knowing the difference between the two and when to use one over the other. Trust me, I learned the hard way, so I want you to learn from my mistakes as we compare wood dye vs stain. 

Best Wood Dye and Stain Products in 2022 – The UK’s Top Picks 

Trying to narrow down the field is tricky, but after hours of research and personal experience, I’ve found what I consider to be the best wood dye and stain on the UK market.

Best Wood Dye
Littlefair’s Water-Based Wood Dye
  • Water-based, environmentally friendly and non-toxic
  • Coverage: Approx 10-12m² per litre
  • Low Odour
  • Easy Brush Clean
  • Lightfast 
  • Touch dry in approximately 2 hours
  • Wide range of colours and sizes
  • Indoor use only
  • Bottled by hand in the North West of England

Littlefair’s water-based wood dye is safe to use and environmentally friendly. It washes clean with soapy water, and you don’t need harsh chemicals. Because it’s environmentally friendly, it creates minimal odours, so it’s ideal for indoor wood like skirting boards and window frames. 

If you’re in the middle of a home renovation and have fitted new door architraves, protecting them with wood dye ensures their longevity and enhances your interior spaces. 

This dye quickly dries, brushes on smoothly, and enhances natural wood grain. It’s one of the most popular wood dyes available, which is no surprise, given that the company was started in 2001 by Les Littlefair, a joiner by trade. 

This award-winning dye is produced in Blackburn, Lancashire, and is available from stockists across the UK and online. However, you may need a solvent-based wood dye for exterior surfaces because it lacks weather resistance and fades in UV light. 

Water-basedNot suitable for exterior wood
Minimal odoursLacks UV and weather resistance 
Ideal for indoors
Smooth coverage
Quick drying

Best Wood Stain
Remmers HK Wood Stain
  • Protects exterior wood from moisture and UV radiation
  • Coverage: 100 ml/m² per coat. At least 2 coats required
  • 3 in 1: impregnation, priming and stain
  • Water-repellent: wet surfaces dry quickly
  • Protection against weathering reduces the risk of blue stain and rot
  • Increased solids content provides physical protection against nesting wasps
  • Protects against mould and algae
  • Does not flake
  • Approx drying time of 12 hours at 20 °C and 65% relative humidity
  • Available in a variety of colours


If you want a premium wood stain that stands up to everything the elements throw at it, this Remmers stain is a great product. 

Unlike Littlefair’s dye, this stain is solvent-based, which means it’s more robust. The downside is it emits VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are bad for the environment. 

As the stain dries, the solvents evaporate and release low-level ozone into the atmosphere. Furthermore, clean-up requires white spirits or paint thinners that harm the environment. 

This stain is a three-in-one product, combining a primer, colour, and an impregnator. It means that when the wood gets wet, it dries quickly and is still breathable. It also protects against mould, algae, blue stains, and wasp damage.

A solvent-based stain may harm the planet, but if you want your exterior wood to be protected, you need a product that withstands UV light and harsh weather conditions. Water-based stains are available for exterior wood but are less hardwearing than solvent-based rivals.

Remmers was founded in 1949 by Bernhard Remmers, just as Germany was rebuilding during the post-war era. The company rapidly grew in the early years and established a reputation for innovation and quality. The family still owns the company, making it one of Europe’s most prominent private firms. 

Ideal for exterior woodSolvent-based
UV-resistantReleases low-level ozone
Water-resistantHigh VOCs
Protects against mould and algae Breathable and fast drying
3-in-1 product

Wood Dye vs Stain – Which is better?

green wood

So, we now know what makes these products different, but how do they fare when compared on a like-for-like basis? Let’s take a look:

Water-Based vs Solvent-Based

Water-based products are much safer for indoor woodwork because they create fewer odours. They’re also safer for the environment because they have fewer VOCs. Choosing a water-based dye or stain ensures minimal impact on the planet.

However, water-based stains and dyes are only suitable for indoor use because they perform poorly under harsh weather conditions.

On the other hand, solvent-based products are much harder-wearing, making them the ideal exterior option. 

IMPORTANT: Solvents give off volatile organic compounds that can easily overpower you, so always work in well-ventilated areas. 

Solvent-based stains are better at UV light and moisture protection because they coat the wood surface, creating an impenetrable barrier. However, wood stain is more likely to chip and scuff because it’s a surface treatment, so two coats are necessary.

Quantity vs Cost

When dealing with quantity and cost, we must consider the wood’s surface quality. Porous wood soaks up more stain or dye, whereas rougher wood needs extra layers to get total coverage. 

Wherever possible, sand and prepare your surfaces before applying stain or dye. For a comprehensive guide to sanders, check out our reviews of the best sanders in the UK

On the surface, it appears that Littlefair’s Wood Dye is better value for money. However, when you multiply the quantity to match the 0.75-litre tin of Remmers, you can see that it’s more expensive.  

Let’s examine the coverage to see if the extra expense is justified.


Littlefair’s website states that you should expect eight to ten square metres of coverage from their wood dye. That figure is based on one coat, but depending on the circumstances, you may need two. 

So, at best, you get ten square metres (approximately 107 square feet), but you’re likely to halve that with a second coat. Compare that with the Remmers’ wood stain, at 7.5 square metres (about 81 square feet) for one coat, and you can see that the wood dye wins out.

You need two coats of wood stain because it’s all about surface protection, so in reality, you’ll get 3.75 square metres (40 square feet) of coverage per tin. 

Suddenly, Littlefair’s Wood Dye looks like the best value for money. 

Pro Tip: The easiest way to apply wood stain and dyes is with a natural-bristled brush. If you use a roller, it may leave air bubbles on the surface. 

Wood Dye vs Stain Comparison Chart

ProductQuantityBasePrice (Per Litre)Coverage (Per One Coat)Rating out of 5
Littlefair’s Wood Dye0.25 litresWater£££10 square metres4.5
Remmers HK Nutwood Stain0.75 litresSolvent ££7.5 square metres4.7

Wood Dye vs Stain – What’s the Difference?

Both wood dye and stain protect and colour wood. However, each one does it in different ways.

Wood Dye

dyed old wood

Wood dye can be solvent or water-based, although water-based products are better for the environment. 

Dyes penetrate the wood fibres, soaking into the wood, protecting and colouring from within. This behaviour makes the wood more translucent, preserving the natural grain. 

A dye is your best option to keep the natural wood grain. Wood dye molecules are so small that they bond with the wood fibres removing the need for a separate binder. It also leaves the surface feeling more natural without any greasy residue. 

Remember, water-based wood dyes are better suited to interior wood because they’re not UV or weather-resistant. 

Wood Dye AdvantagesWood Dye Disadvantages
It comes in water and solvent-based formulasLacks UV and moisture protection (water-based only)
Better for interior wood (water-based only)Not suitable for exterior wood (water-based only)
Lower VOCs (water-based only)Solvent-based emits VOCs
Penetrates deep into wood fibres
Enhances the natural wood grain

Wood Stain

wooden boards half covered with stain

Wood stains may seem similar, but how they react with wood is completely different. 

Wood stains are more akin to very thin oil-based paints. They contain pigments and binders that coat the wood surface to create a protective seal. 

If you have woodwork that’s seen better days or want to cover surface imperfections, wood stain is the best option; it covers more densely and dries to a hard shell.

Like wood dye, some stains are water-based, which means they’re unsuitable for extreme weather conditions. If you’re staining exterior wood, always choose a solvent-based product.

Wood stain molecules are too big to penetrate the fibres. Instead, the pigments occupy larger wood pores to create a protective surface, which means they cope with UV light and moisture much better than wood dye. 

Not all wood stains are densely colour-tinted. Some products are translucent, helping to enhance the natural wood grain. If you have exotic wood, like rosewood or lacewood, you might want to use a stain that allows the character of the wood to shine through. 

Wood Stain AdvantagesWood Stain Disadvantages
Better for exterior surfaces (solvent-based only)Solvent-based products are harmful to the environment
Protects against moisture and UV light (solvent-based only)Contains high VOC levels (solvent-based only)
Covers imperfect wooden surfacesIt emits low-level ozone (solvent-based only)
Easy to applyNot suitable for indoor use (solvent-based only)
It comes in water and solvent-based formulasRequires chemical detergent for clean-up (solvent-based only)

In the video below, Quick Choice explains the difference between wood dyes and stains:

YouTube player

Final Thoughts – Wood Dye vs Stain

If your project is indoors, choose Littlefair’s Wood Dye because it emits minimal odours. Too often, I have been on the receiving end of solvent-based paint odours, so I can confirm it’s no fun. Other advantages include;

  • It’s safer for the environment.
  • Penetrates the wood grain.
  • Enhances natural wood grains.
  • Doesn’t chip or scuff.

If your task is outside, you must consider UV and moisture protection. That’s why you should pick Remmers HK Wood Stain. It’s a solvent-based formula, so it copes with harsh weather conditions. Other advantages include;

  • It forms a hard shell to repel moisture.
  • It’s a 3-in-1 product containing primer, colour pigment, and an impregnator. 
  • Ideal for covering surface blemishes.

If you lack the skill or will to stain or dye your woodwork, find top-rated pros in your local area using Rated People
For more information on stains and dyes, check out the woodwork section of this guide.