Tung Oil vs Teak Oil

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Since most teak oils contain tung oil, it’s easy to get these two penetrating oil finishes confused. In this article we’ll clear up the confusion by defining each type of oil. We’ll review the similarities and differences between these two products before telling you when to use tung oil and when to choose teak oil instead.

We’ll also explain which is better, and the major distinguishing factor between teak and tung oil. 

What Is Tung Oil?

Tung oil is a vegetable oil, harvested by compressing the seeds of the tung tree. Tung trees are commonly found in China, where tung oil has been used for thousands of years to protect wood on ships and boats. 

Today, the most common usage of tung oil is as a penetrating oil finish, used to seal and protect wood. The protective barrier formed by tung oil has several notable characteristics that make it ideal as a preservative and protectant for wood.

Wood with tung oil applied on half of its surface

Tung Oil Characteristics

Tung oil has a pungent aroma and takes several days to fully cure. For this reason, it’s use is often restricted to exterior furniture and decking. Despite this, tung oil is an excellent protectant for any wood, whether indoors or outdoors.

Tung oil is transparent, with a warm yellow tint. It belongs to a category of oils called ‘drying oils’. Drying oils, which include tung, linseed, poppy seed, and walnut, form a flexible but impermeable barrier when exposed to oxygen. 

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When properly applied in thin layers, tung oil forms a stable but somewhat elastic barrier. This allows wood treated with tung oil to expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity. 

The barrier is also water-repellant, making tung oil an excellent choice for treating wood that will need to stand up to the elements. It is popularly used to coat deck furniture used on boats. Tung oil does not yellow with age and never goes rancid. 

For highly trafficked outdoor wood surfaces, though, you’ll want to put a deck sealer over top of the tung oil.

Tun Oil Applications

The barrier is also water-repellant, making tung oil an excellent choice for treating wood that will need to stand up to the elements. It is popularly used to coat deck furniture used on boats. Tung oil does not yellow with age and never goes rancid. 

Tung trees are naturally resistant to disease and insects, and require no pesticides or fungicides in order to grow. Wood treated with tung oil takes on this resistance. 

To treat wood with tung oil, use a clean, lint-free rag. Pouring small amounts of tung oil onto the rag and working it into the wood one area at a time will give you the best results. Rub along the grain, not against it, and be careful not to apply more oil than the wood can absorb. 

An important safety note about applying tung oil: as it dries, it generates heat. If wet rags are wadded together, and the heat has no way to escape, drying oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust. To avoid this, always fully dry rags soiled with tung oil before disposing of them.

Pure tung oil cures to a honey-like hue, leaving a slightly yellow hue similar to a polyurethane. Dark tung oil has an added ingredient that darkens and enriches the finish. Tung oil is frequently used on dense, fine-grained hardwoods such as mahogany and rosewood. 

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Once applied, tung oil can take up to three days to fully cure. 

What Is Teak Oil?

Teak oil is the marketing name for a penetrating oil finish composed of a refined drying oil (usually linseed or tung) with additives to speed dry time and make the oil easier to apply. 

Many people have the mistaken idea that teak oil comes from the teak tree, and that by applying it to teak furniture, they are somehow restoring the natural oils. In reality, teak oil is just a marketing name. Rather than coming from the teak tree, teak oil is marketed for use on teak furniture. 

Teak wood is one of only a few woods that contains a natural water-repellant. For this reason, it is often used to construct high-quality outdoor furniture that can resist the elements. As teak furniture ages, it fades to a silvery gray patina. Teak oil can be used to temporarily restore the golden color of the wood. 

Teak oil can also be applied to non-teak wood products, and is appropriated for use indoors or outdoors.

Man wearing gloves applying teak oil on wood

Teak oil can be sprayed, brushed, or wiped onto wood. It takes about 24 hours to cure. Two to four coats of teak oil are generally required to form adequate protection from the elements.

Tung Oil vs Teak Oil

With the basics out of the way, let’s turn to the differences and similarities between teak and tung oils. 

Similarities

Both penetrating oil finishes function in the same way and cure via the same process. They have similar contents and affect wood in nearly the same way. 

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Penetrating Oil Finishes

Both tung oil and teak oil belong to a category of wood finish called ‘penetrating oil’. Unlike film-forming finishes, such as lacquer, shellac, and varnish, penetrating oil finishes don’t just sit on the surface. Instead, they seep into the pores of the wood, filling the available space and forming an impervious barrier. 

Use

Tung and teak oil are used to treat, condition, and protect wood. They are not suitable for use as cooking oils or degreasers. 

Contents

Tung oil is a drying oil. Teak oil is formulated using drying oils. Sometimes, tung oil is used to make teak oil. 

Effect

Both teak oil and tung oil bring out the luster and character of the wood, enhancing its color and the appearance of the natural grain. 

Mechanism of Action

Teak and tung oils are both penetrating oil finishes that cure to a hard finish through a process of oxidation. 

Differences

Despite their similarities, teak oil and tung oil have many differences. They offer varying levels of UV protection and reflectivity and have different application requirements.

One of the most significant differences is found in the respective dry times of these two materials, and they differ considerably when it comes to environmental friendliness, as well. 

UV Protection

Teak oils usually contain UV-blocking ingredients. Tung oil does not contain any additives. However, there is some controversy over whether teak oils actually provide the UV protection they claim

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Environmental Safety

Teak oil has been altered with polymers and other additives. The formulation of teak oil varies from one manufacturer to another, as there is no standard definition for what constitutes a teak oil. Each teak oil product must be evaluated independently for environmental hazards. 

100% tung oil is a completely natural product that is non-toxic and food safe.

Luster

Teak oil lends a gentle shine to wood, and can be buffed or polished to a satin finish. Tung oil has a less reflective matte finish with a very subtle sheen. 

Hand brushing an oil finish on a wooden fence

Dry Time 

While tung oil takes two to three days to fully cure, teak oil cures in less than 24 hours. 

Expense

Tung oil is less expensive than teak oil. 

Application

Lightly sanding between coats of teak oil is recommended for the smoothest, shiniest finish. Tung oil is generally not sanded between coats. 

Major Distinguishing Factor

Teak oil dries and cures significantly faster than tung oil. In the time it takes for a single coat of tung oil to dry, you could apply two or three coats of teak oil. 

This faster dry time is accounted for by the addition of solvents and chemicals to teak oil. These extra ingredients also increase the cost of teak oil, can change the color of the wood and make the finish less environmentally friendly. 

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When to Use Tung Oil

Use tung oil on food surfaces, for a matte finish, and when you’re not on a strict deadline. 

Tung oil is easy to apply and cures to a hard finish that repels water, making it perfect for indoor and outdoor furniture alike. Consumers with environmental concerns appreciate that tung oil is non-toxic and food safe. Tung oil will not yellow with time, although it is susceptible to fading in the sun. 

The two to three day curing process of tung oil is not very convenient. However, the quality and appearance of the finish make it well worth the wait. 

When to Use Teak Oil

Use teak oil when you want a shinier finish, or to complete your project in hours instead of days. 

This penetrating oil finish is ideal for use on exterior furniture, but can be used indoors with excellent results. The most common complaint about tung oil is how long it takes to dry. Teak oil, with it’s significantly faster dry time, offers all the protective qualities of tung oil in much less time. 

However, that speed has a cost — teak oil has a tendency to change color as it ages, which can affect the color and appearance of the wood. You should not use teak oil on cutting boards or salad bowls without first confirming that the formulation is non-toxic and food safe. 

Which Is Better, Tung Oil or Teak Oil?

Tung oil is better than teak oil at protecting wood, lasts longer without yellowing, and is environmentally safe. 

Teak oil is only preferable to tung oil if you’re short on time and can’t wait for a tung oil finish to properly cure.

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Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.