So obviously with an outside patio you'd use exterior stain, and a bedroom desk you'd use interior stain. But I have no idea what type of stain to use for wood that's located in the garage?

The garage steps and shelves don't get much of any direct sunlight. They will definitely get dust/dirt/mud/grass/snow/water from time to time. The temperature of the garage varies from 15 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is it safe/OK to use exterior stain for these even though I doubt it's recommended? Is it OK to use interior stain for these, even though they will likely receive much more abuse than indoor furniture?

I do plan on using sealer/finish as well. Maybe I'll use the all in one kind of stain or do stain then sealer/finish. What do you suggest?

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  • 1
    So was that for the badge or is their something lacking of the current answers?
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 2:38
  • Would like to get more answers, hear about personal experiences, more detail, some pictures would be good too.
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 12:34
  • 2
    Fair enough. Do you intend then to edit the question to remove the ambiguity of the word stain? A real stain is just meant to colour wood. Much like Graphus states in his answer.
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:28
  • Hi Dronehinge, I have updated my Answer to include discussion on sealing/finishing.
    – grfrazee
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 19:57
  • What is the goal of the finish? Is it to make it look nice? or is it to make it last? I'd almost recommend paint. Nice bright colour so you don't hit your head or stub your toe.
    – tl8
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 4:40

2 Answers 2


Assuming you are talking about stain only (no integral top coat of varnish or similar), there is no reason an interior stain won't work in your garage, nor is there any reason an exterior-grade stain is unacceptable.

As far as I know, exterior-grade stains contain extra UV and weather resistance, with a corresponding increase in price. You have no concerns from that front in a garage, hence indoor stain is fine. Exterior stain is fine as well, just maybe a little overkill.

@Graphus brings up a good point about foot traffic, which should be kept in mind for your stairs. Per this website, deck stains have scuff resistant compounds for extra resistance to foot traffic, which may be beneficial for your staircase.

For sealer/finish, it depends on what in particular you're talking about. For the stairs, you'll probably want some sort of deck sealer similar to Thompson's Water Seal or any of its tinted varieties for some additional color. I wouldn't recommend the use of a finish like a varnish on the stairs due to the expected wear.

For the shelves, you can go with a traditional stain and finish routine. Personally, I'm not a fan of the stain and finish all-in-ones like Minwax Polyshades. I feel like they obscure the grain of the wood too much (granted, these are pine shelves in a garage, so you might not care a lot). So, now you're looking at staining the wood first, letting it dry/cure, then applying a varnish of some sort on top. For ease, I would use an oil-based stain, if you desire to stain the shelves. If you allow the stain to properly dry/cure, you can use either an oil- or water-based polyurethane varnish, as discussed in this Question. I like the water-based polys since there is less time between coats.


Just to clarify some terminology here (although manufacturers love to muddy these waters!) stain should refer to a product that colours the wood only, after which you would add a protective layer with your chosen finish or topcoat (varnish, lacquer). Coloured topcoats are now very commonly called stain right on the tin, which is an unfortunate source of confusion for consumers.

So, assuming you are referring to a "stain and finish" combination product (in essence, coloured varnish) the choice isn't really between exterior or interior for this application, because it has to withstand foot traffic it's really more about whether the finish is OK to use on floors. This should be specified somewhere on the labelling, if it's not tough enough for that there will be a disclaimer such as Not suitable for use on floors.

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