I bought an outdoor wooden planter online. It wasn't sealed so I wanted to treat it to help protect it from weather and water. The wood was already stained gray so I went with a "Clear Transparent Waterproof Wood Finish" meant for decks and fencing that I already had in my basement. The liquid inside was an orange color, but I assumed it would dry clear as the name suggests. There was no label on the can lid to indicate that pigment had been added. Unfortunately it's now been over 60 hours and the wood is still an orange-gray color.

What did I do wrong? The possibilities I can think of are:

  • "Clear" doesn't actually mean clear
  • The finish was too old (should only be a couple years)
  • I applied the finish too thick for it to dry clear

I don't think there's any way to fix it aside from painting over it in opaque paint, but I'd like to understand what went wrong so I don't make the same mistake in the future.

treated wood can of wood finish

  • 2
    Your alternate solution would be to sand back, and then use a "truly clear" finish (a waterbase polyurethane is typical. The oil base types all end up yellowish-clear at best.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Mar 6 at 15:24
  • 3
    "Clear" does not mean "colorless" in any world I've ever lived in.
    – kreemoweet
    Mar 6 at 21:29

1 Answer 1


If you read the one-star reviews of the linked product (over 10% of the total ratings), they largely seem to be people complaining that the product is not actually clear. Quoting the company's response to one of them:

I can understand how there might be confusion with the wording of "clear" as an untinted product. The "clear" finish refers to the level of transparency of the product, not the color. A good example of this is how Jell-O is available in a variety of colors but is completely clear. There are other products on the market that are clear and colorless but will most likely not have UV protection included, as that is typically what gives a clear stain color.

So there you have it. That does match my understanding of the technical meaning of the word "clear", but I too would have assumed it meant "colorless", and been disappointed. This is why I always read a few one-star reviews before buying a product online...

  • 6
    Oh boy, I think you got it. I originally bought this can for another planter that was plain untreated wood, so any added color was hard to notice and wouldn't have made a difference. I know better now...
    – David K
    Mar 6 at 20:14
  • 13
    Also, Jello is neither "transparent" nor "clear". It is translucent and colored
    – David K
    Mar 6 at 20:16
  • 17
    From a physics perspective, I would say colored glass is transparent (as long as you can still see objects clearly through it), and frosted glass is translucent. Which way jello goes probably depends on the jello. From a marketing perspective, if 10% of reviewers feel misled, that seems to be splitting hairs a bit too finely, though. Mar 6 at 20:18
  • 2
    My high-school chemistry teacher's mantra ("Clear does not mean colorless!") would technically apply here, but I think OP is justified in being annoyed. Sanding back to bare wood should work, though.
    – Dalbergia
    Mar 7 at 20:55
  • 8
    The product specification in OP's post says the "Color/Finish" and "Color Family" are "Clear" and "Transparency" is "Transparent", so buyers should expect it to be both colorless and transparent. Otherwise, the intended color should be indicated in the fields for color.
    – Victor
    Mar 7 at 21:53

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