Sealer vs Primer vs Stain

Sealer, primer, and stain serve different purposes in painting and wood finishing, each with its unique properties and applications. Understanding the differences helps in choosing the right product for your project.


  • Purpose: Designed to protect the surface from moisture, dirt, and other environmental elements. For wood, sealers penetrate the fibers to provide protection from within, preventing water absorption and decay.
  • Application: Can be applied to various surfaces, including wood, concrete, and stone, to protect and sometimes to prepare the surface for further finishing.
  • Characteristics: Clear or slightly tinted, sealers maintain the natural look of the material while providing a protective barrier.


  • Purpose: Primers are preparatory coatings applied before painting. Their main roles are to provide a smooth, adherent surface for paint, block stains, and ensure the true color of the paint shows after application.
  • Application: Used on bare wood, metal, walls, and previously painted surfaces that are being repainted, especially when changing paint types (e.g., from oil-based to water-based) or colors.
  • Characteristics: Primers are typically opaque and designed to improve paint adhesion and longevity but not necessarily to provide protection from environmental factors.


  • Purpose: Stains are used to add color to wood while enhancing its natural grain and texture. Unlike paint, stains penetrate the wood and do not form a thick layer on top, allowing the wood’s natural patterns to show through.
  • Application: Applied to wooden surfaces such as furniture, decks, and siding. Stains can also offer some level of protection, but their primary purpose is aesthetic.
  • Characteristics: Available in a range of colors from transparent to solid, stains can also come with added protective agents like UV blockers and waterproofing for outdoor use.

Key Differences

  • Sealer is mainly for protection, often used to preserve the natural look or prepare the surface for further finishing.
  • Primer is a preparatory layer for paint, improving adhesion and ensuring the paint’s color and finish are uniform and durable.
  • Stain is for coloring wood, emphasizing its natural beauty, and can offer protection but is primarily chosen for its aesthetic contribution.

Selecting between these products depends on the material you’re working with, the desired aesthetic outcome, and the need for surface protection or paint preparation.