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Most homeowners know that both paints and stains can be used to enhance wood exteriors. But while many people have a basic understanding of paint, they know far less about exterior stains. To help bridge this information gap, here are answers to some of the most common questions about exterior stains, courtesy of experts at the Robin and Haas Paint Quality Institute.

A: Both paints and stains impart color to a surface, but paints obscure the texture of the surface below, essentially creating a new, uniform surface, while stains maintain the texture - and sometimes even the grain - of the underlying surface.
A: There are two broad categories of exterior wood stains: "solid color" stains, sometimes referred to as "opaque" stains; and "semi-transparent" stains (sometimes called "transparent" stains). Solid color stains are more highly pigmented and, hence, are more like paint. They are designed to allow the texture of the wood to show through, but not the grain.
Semi-transparent stains contain less pigment and produce a thinner film, in part to allow the texture and the grain of the wood to show through. Both solid color and semi-transparent stains are available in water-based and oil-based formulations.
A: Very. While it is always wise to use top quality coatings on the home's exterior, it is especially important when working with stains. Consider that exterior paints are commonly applied on top of a primer and often in two coats; in contrast, stains are typically applied direct to bare wood in just a single, thin coat. You simply can't afford to compromise quality on this type of application.

A: Exterior stains can be applied directly to new bare wood that is free of dust, dirt and mildew. New bare wood that is dirty should be washed with soapy water, then rinsed; mildew can be removed by scrubbing with a common bleach solution (one part bleach, three parts water), and allowing the solution to stand on the surface for a few minutes before rinsing. Be sure to protect your skin, eyes and nearby plants or bushes when using the bleach mixture. If the wood was previously stained or painted, it should be power washed to remove the old coating, dirt and mildew. One final tip: For best results, bare wood that has weathered more than a few weeks should be thoroughly sanded before applying the stain, to remove surface wood fibers.
A: On wood lap- or bevel-siding, stain should be applied with either a brush or roller in a horizontal fashion. Apply the stain to just a few boards at a time, working all the way to the end of the wall, then do the next lower boards, and so on. Following this procedure will help prevent "lapping," an unsightly effect created when dry and wet sections of stain overlap, leaving extra pigment in the overlap area. (When staining vertical sections, like board-and-batten siding, work the boards from top to bottom before starting the next board.)
A: Stains usually have to be reapplied more often than quality paints, typical, every few yew. This is especially true for semi-transparent stains. When applying latex stain, use of a top quality 100 percent acrylic stain will provide better adhesion and likely lengthen the life of the job. When it comes to interior painting, all rooms are not created equal. According to experts at the Paint Quality Institute, rooms that are subject to moisture, heavy traffic and wear and tear are tougher on paint. To get the best performance in these areas, it is critical that you select a high quality interior paint that offers the right performance characteristics.
The kitchen is the most used and, often, the most abused room in any house. Since grease, spatters and spills are a fact of daily life in any kitchen, it is essential that you select an interior paint that resists stains and offers easy cleanup. The best paint to use here is a top quality interior latex paint with a semigloss or gloss finish.
Higher quality glossy interior paints are specially formulated so that stains remain on the surface, rather than penetrate the coating. As a result, if you should get grease or a spatter on the wall, it is usually a simple matter to wipe it off with a damp sponge. Even in the case of stubborn stains, quality interior paints can typically be scrubbed without damaging the sheen.
Bathrooms and laundry rooms present other challenges for interior paint namely, high humidity, fluctuating temperatures, and water splashed onto the walls. Because of the presence of excessive moisture, a major concern is mildew, but moisture can also contribute to more serious paint failures, including blistering and peeling.
To help protect your paint job from these potential problems, it is important to choose a quality interior paint that is formulated to resist mildew growth. Paints that are specially labeled as "bathroom paints" are certainly in this category. As a bonus, top quality paints also have superior adhesion, which helps them maintain a better grip on walls, ceilings and woodwork as an added measure of protection against blistering, peeling and other problems.

Small children can make a big mess on walls and woodwork ... leaving not only fingerprints, but also crayon marks, food stains and other blemishes in their wake. So it's essential to plan ahead when painting children's bedrooms and play areas.
What's needed is a durable, stain-resistant paint that can stand up to frequent cleaning and scrubbing. According to the experts, the best choice is a top quality latex paint in a gloss or semigloss finish. These paints are highly stain-resistant and easy to wipe down. And you can apply extra elbow grease to scrub away the toughest stains without fear of marring the sheen.
Regardless of the room you are painting - and whatever gloss level, color or brand of paint you prefer - experts at the Paint Quality Institute recommend that you always choose the highest quality paint to get the best performance. If you have questions about stains speak to a knowledgeable salesperson at the local paint store, hardware store or decorating center. Or visit the Paint Quality Institute Web site at

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