Thompson’s Water Seal Stain Review

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Matt Stone

Thompson’s Water Seal Exterior Stain

can of Thompson's water seal stain in front of a fence

Thompson’s Water Seal

Product Description

This is a review of Thompson’s Water Seal transparent and semi-transparent wood sealer, a water-based waterproofing product for exterior wood.

Overall I do not recommend Thompson’s Water Seal to my customers. There are many water-based products available that last longer and provide much better protection.

I know it is somewhat subjective but I also think the colors for this product look strange. I will include pictures below for your reference.

Overall Score: 5.0/10


Inexpensive Product

Easy Soap and Water Clean Up


Prone to Peel

Color can be Uneven

Colors Look Strange

Make sure to read the entire review before you purchase Thompson’s Water Seal.

I have had experience applying Thompson’s Water Seal for my customers and have tested it in my own backyard. I have found a few things I think you should be aware of before you choose this product.

Product Overview

thompson's water seal review stain is poured into a tray
Thompson’s Water Seal

Product Ratings

Ease of Application6
Initial Appearance4
Average Rating:5.0/10

Ease of Application

Thompson’s water seal is pretty simple to apply. It is a water-based formula that creates a film on the surface of the wood. This means it can be applied in a similar fashion to paint. The biggest challenge will be to create an even coat on the entire surface you are working with.

If you are spraying to stain, you should back brush or use a roller to even out the product. This will not aid in penetration but will help you get an even coat. By running a brush or a roller over the area being stained you will spread the stain from areas where it is thicker to where it is too thin.

I would also recommend keeping a wet edge as you spray. This way you won’t apply new stain over an area that has already dried. This can make the area where they overlap darker than the rest of the wood.

Application methods: Brush, Roller, Pump Sprayer, Airless Sprayer

Requires back brushing: Yes

Requires keeping a wet edge: Yes

Special Instructions:

Initial Appearance

two fence pickets with Thompson's water seal stain on them.
Thompson’s Water Seal transparent fence Stain during our application test.

One of the first things that struck me was the strange appearance of Thompson’s Water Seal when I poured it out of the can. The wet stain is a pinkish color that really threw me off. I have never seen another stain that is this color before you put it on the wood.

After the stain had a chance to dry on the boards the pink mostly went away but not completely. The pickets had a pink undertone that just seemed off to me. There are many more natural looking color options out there in my opinion so I deducted points in the appearance category for this reason.

Thompson's semi-transparent stain on two cedar boards.
Thompson’s Water Seal semi-transparent fence Stain during our application test.


Thompson’s Water Seal is not designed to be a penetrating sealer. It forms a waterproof layer on the outside of the wood instead of soaking in. This is one of the reasons for its short lifespan in my opinion. Most experts I have spoken with agree that Thompson’s water seal has to be applied annually to maintain protection for your wood.

I recommend using a penetrating stain because they are much easier to maintain in the long run. There are other water-based stains on the market that offer some level of penetration. These should be longer-lasting products than the Thompson’s stain.


Thompson’s Water Seal is one of the least expensive stains or sealers on the market. This is its primary selling point. If you are on a really tight budget this may be the option you go for.

Keep in mind that since you will likely have to reapply it more often you probably won’t be saving any money in the long run. If you pay twice the price for a stain and sealer that lasts three years you will still come out ahead in the long run.

Ease of Reapplication

Because Thompson’s Water Seal tends to wear off quickly and doesn’t have a need to penetrate it is easy to reapply. As long as there is no peeling you can simply put another coat of sealer over the last one. It will be best to clean the wood before you do this.


Thompson’s Water Seal will have a tendency to peel because it is a product that sits on the surface. In my experience, it will more likely just wear off and disappear before it starts peeling badly.

The worst characteristic we noticed was that the stain faded significantly in our backyard test. Several brands performed much better in the longevity category. Our tests indicate that you would likely need to reapply this product once a year to maintain the color and protection for your fence.

For comparison, products like Wood Defender and Olympic Elite did not see significant fading in that time.


Thompson’s Water Seal comes with a 4-year warranty on decks and a 5-year warranty on fences. This will apply if the product has been applied and maintained according to the manufacturer’s directions. 

Product Information

Stain Type: Water-based, Film-forming

Color Options: 5 transparent, 6 semi-transparent

Application temperatures: Greater than 50°

Recommended coats: one or two

Coverage: 150-400 square feet

Dry Time: 2 hours

Cleanup: Soap and Water

Data Sheet

Manufacturer: The Thompson’s Company

Alternative to Thompson’s Water Seal

Ready Seal Exterior Stain

image of a ready seal stain can close up

Product Description

Ready Seal is a great alternative to Thompson’s Water Seal. It is an oil-based product which means it will penetrate better.

It is very easy to apply, even if you don’t have experience with exterior stains.

Even color is guaranteed with no lap marks, runs or drips. There are 8 color options to choose from.

Overall Score: 8.0/10

Our Verdict

I believe there are much better stain products on the market today than Thompson’s Water Seal. If you are in need of a very low cost option you may consider giving it a try. Otherwise, I would use a higher quality stain that will need less maintenance in the future.

How Much Stain Do You Need?

Want to know how much stain to buy for your next fence stain project?

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Author: Matt Stone
Matt has worked as a professional painter for over 10 years. This includes much experience with all types of wood stains. He loves to write about wood stains to help others make good choices to protect their homes and make them beautiful.