How Long Does Stain take to Dry? -[Oil, Gel, Water]

How Long Does Stain take to Dry? -[Oil, Gel, Water]

How Long Does Stain take to Dry? -[Oil, Gel, Water]

Stains are of several types and they vary considerably in their drying times.

While some stains take only a few minutes to dry, there are stains that take days to dry.

The type/brand of stian you choose might depend on several factors, however, it's useful to know their drying times, especially if you're a weekend DIY person.

How long does stain take to dry?

Staining wood
Staining wood

Depending on the manufacturing date, type of stain, moisture content, and method of application, different stains take different amounts of time to dry.

As there is no adverse effect from drying too much, having 'too much drying time' is nothing to be concerned about.

Therefore if you do have time to spare then leave the stain to dry for at least 1 to 3 days (24 to 72 hours).

Given below is a table detailing the drying time of some of the most popular stains on the market.

Product Name Type of stain Recoating/Drying time (in hours)
Minwax Wood Finish Water-Based Solid Color StainWater-Based 1
Minwax Wood FinishOil-Based2
Minwax Wood Finish Water-Based Semi-Transparent Color StainWater-Based1
Minwax Gel StainGel Stain24
VARATHANE One Step Stain & PolyurethaneOil-Based 1
VARATHANE Fast Dry Wood StainOil-Based 1
BEHR PREMIUM® Solid Color Waterproofing Stain & SealerOil-Based1
Oil Stain by OsmoOil-Based 12
Ultra® Penetrating StainAlcohol-based 1.5
SamaN Water-based Wood StainWater-based 1
VARATHANE Water-Based Wood StainWater-based 2
General Finishes Gel StainOil-based, gel72
General Finishes Water Based StainWater-based 2
Tried and True Stain & FinishOil-Based8
Krylon Exterior Semi-Transparent Wood StainOil-based, aerosol24
DEFY Extreme Solid Color Wood StainSynthetic-resin24
DEFY Water Repellent Wood StainOil-in-water24
DEFY Deck Stain for HardwoodsSynthetic24
#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood StainWater-Based24
Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer for WoodOil-Based48
Olympic ELITE Advanced Stain + Sealant In One Solid Oil-Based 24
Olympic Elite Wood Stain and SealantWater-Based24
Cabot Wood Toned Deck & Siding StainOil-Based72
Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain Acrylic 4
Cabot Semi-Transparent Deck & Siding StainOil-Based24
#1 Deck Premium Fence StainWater-Based24

Drying time of different stains

How quickly do different stains dry?

Most wood stains can generally be classified as one of seven major classes of stains. They are as follows:

Oil-Based Wood Stains

They are the most popular kind of wood stain and are generally used in all sorts of wood staining works.

Even though this kind of wood stain takes more time to dry in comparison to other kinds of wood stains, its durability and quality more than make up for the additional time it may consume to properly dry.

These stains have a wide variety of drying times which can extend from a few hours to 3-4 days depending on the brand.

Water-Based Wood Stain

Unlike oil-based wood stains, water-based stains dry rapidly and make their application on huge areas, a hassle.

Being an environmentally friendly stain, water-based stains offer only a little penetration compared to oil stains but have the added benefit of resisting certain forms of fungus and algae.

'Wood Finish Water-Based Solid Color Stain' by Minwax has a drying time of only an hour making it one of the quickest drying stains on this list.

Typical drying time for water-based stains is around a day and never more than 3 day


As the name suggests, a gel stain has a higher viscosity and hence is less likely to spill or leak, unlike other stains.

This ability of the gel stain also means that due to its thick consistency, spraying the gel stain onto a surface is a difficult task.

owing to their high viscosity, gel stains take up to a day to be ready for recoating and several days more to dry completely.

Lacquer Wood Stain

A favorite among woodworkers, a lacquer stain can be applied and dried relatively faster than all other stains and comes at a cheaper price than most as well.

Make sure your work area is well-ventilated and roomy as breathing in fumes from this stain is a health hazard.

Gradual loss of color over time and other possible health risks means that this stain is only to be chosen if you are a professional and/or if you are running very low on time.

Lacquer Wood Stain typically takes only minutes to dry for recoats but can take a whole day to dry completely.

Water-Soluble Dye Stain

One of the few stains to come in a powdered form, this stain is best known for its high applicability and finish.

Woods stained using a water-soluble stain can withstand almost anything except direct exposure to sunlight as UV breaks down this stain rather quickly.

Another notable aspect of this stain is its ability to stain the wood while preserving the natural look and feel of the wood.

Metalized Dye Stain

A direct competitor to the water-soluble dye stain, this stain rarely fades.

Due to the highly volatile nature of this kind of dye, it is highly recommended that the stain be sprayed and spread as soon as possible.

This also means that this kind of dye can not be used to cover large areas in a single pass, so if you have to cover a large area then be sure to divide and work in sections.

This dye can be used directly on bare wood but be warned that it raises wood grains and might need a good sanding afterward.

Varnish Wood Stain

A varnish wood stain is often mistaken for oil-based wood stain due to its similarities and look but they are not the same.

varnish-based wood stains dry into a hard coat while oil-based stains dry into a soft coat.

Another key difference between a varnish wood stain and an oil-based wood stain is that an oil-based wood stain may use many materials as binders while a varnish-based wood stain only uses varnish as its binder.

This type of stain is often irregular and spreads unevenly if applied in a single coat so make sure to do multiple coats.

A wooden article coated in the varnish-based stain will last a long time but its appearance will turn more and more yellowish as it ages.

How can you tell if a stain is dry or not?

A completely dry stain will almost always be dry to the touch and never sticky or tacky. Touch the surface lightly and see how it feels.

Staining Wood with brush
Staining Wood with brush

Another method is to lightly sand the area in question and see if a power forms. If it does then that means the stain is dry.

In case the stain is not dry then remember to give it some more time. Almost all stains dry within a day or two but in case it does not, it can be due to other reasons like poor ventilation or high humidity.

Giving a day or two more will help the drying process to completely come to completion.

Can I use old stains?

Gel Stain
Gel Stain

Like every other material, wood stain also deteriorates after a certain time (around half a decade or more) if they are left unopened and undisturbed.

Factors like humidity, temperature, and frequency affect the shelf life of stains greatly.

If for any reason the stain you applied has not dried even after a week then discard it immediately as it is no longer functional.

Can wood stain fumes kill you?

Much like most chemicals used in woodworking, wood stains are harmful if inhaled or ingested and can even be reasons for causing liver, kidney, and nerve damage.

There is a high concentration of volatile components derived from petroleum that vaporizes during the drying process.

Make sure your workspace is in a well-ventilated area and that you are wearing necessary protective gear such as a respirator.

To get rid of the strong smell you can place the wooden article outside for the day or make use of exhaust fans, if available.

Both baking soda and activated charcoal are considered great options for getting rid of the smell that persists after staining the wood.

How to Fix a Stain job that dried badly?

  1. Sanding the top surface of the wood will result in the removal of stains along with a small amount of wood. Once the stain is completely removed, you may re-stain correctly again.
  2. Use a paint remover to get rid of the stain that has been applied to the wood. This method also prevents the loss of surface wood as well but bear in mind that the paint remover will not work with 100% efficiency for all kinds of stains.
  3. You can also apply multiple coats of stain on top of the damaged or badly executed stain job to get better results. The thicker top coats not only hid the damaged base coat but also provide a better shine and finish to the job.
  4. Depending on the dampness of the wood and outside temperatures or even flaws present in the wood itself, sometimes even a perfect stain job can produce a few spots where the stain has not penetrated effectively. To avoid or prevent this, make sure the wood you are working with has been dried uniformly and that no wet spots remain in or on the wood. Secondly, in case a few spots absorbed the wood stain faster then try staining that spot again. Even though this might mean more drying time, it might also save you from sanding down everything and starting over again.
  5. If all else fails, try painting the wood. Painting over the wood is also popular these days and doing so will almost always cover up the bad stain job underneath. Remember to use high quality paint and also to finish the top coat using lacquer.
  6. There is also a simpler way of removing the wood stains from the wood. Wipe the stain clean off using a rag dipped in mineral spirit or paint thinner. This will get rid of the stain after which you can come back with another clean rag and dry off the rest of the wood. Remember never to use excess mineral spirits as it tends to remove a lot more than you might have intended.

Does heat make the stain dry faster or does it become sticky?

Burning over stain
Burning over stain

Heat helps the stain dry faster and is generally preferred when it is within a limit.

However, excess heat can cause the stain to dry very fast which in turn makes the finish blotchy and rough.

The ideal wood staining temperature is anywhere between 65 and 75 Fahrenheit as that provides enough warmth to the wood without raising humidity or retarding the drying process in any manner.

Will stain lighten as it dries?

Certainly. All stains will be dark when applied and lighten upon drying. After applying the final coat the dark tint will return back to the stain.

Should I sand between coats of stain?

sanding between coats of stain
sanding between coats of stain

While there is not much use in sanding between each layer when working with oil-based stains, it can work wonders on other kinds of stains as it can help in improving the finish of the topcoat.

Sand only with 240 grit sandpaper and anything of lower grade can leave a rough surface behind.

Remember that you should never sand the final top coat of the stain.

Water-based stains also require sanding after each layer since it will raise the grains of the wood and hence must be sanded down.

Sanding between different layers lightly roughness up the surface of the stained surface and improves the adhesion between this layer and the next one.

What kind of rag is best for staining?

Use any kind of fabric that can easily absorb liquid.

Cotton rags or even cotton waste is very efficient in absorbing excess stain and also for general clean up.

As long as the material you plan to use does not react with the stain in any way and can clean up the excess liquid easily then it's good to go.

If you are in a pinch and can't find any of these then you may even try using paper towels or disposable wipes to clean up as well but bear in mind that paper tends to break up and crumble which could prolong clean up even further.

Do you need to have a topcoat stain?

Consider staining as being similar to painting a picture and the top coat as being similar to a photo frame.

No matter how beautiful the painting might be, without the protective frame around it, it is susceptible to all sorts of damage.

While the staining process essentially provides a rich and deep color to the wood, without a protective topcoat like a PU coat or spar varnish coat, the wood color will become dusty and fade over time.

Always finish your wood projects with a protective topcoat after the stain has completely dried.

Isn’t staining the same as sealing?

Staining and sealing are quite different.

In staining, you essentially raise the grains of the wood and color it according to your requirement.

In sealing you apply a protective topcoat like PU coat that is meant to cover the top surface of the wood and provide resistance against the elements and dust and debris.

Additionally, another difference between staining and sealing is that sealing is a surface process while staining permeates deep into the wood and can not be completely and easily removed.

How Long to Let Stain Dry Before Polyurethane?

In most cases, it is better to wait a day or two at least before you begin applying the polyurethane on top of the stain. If you have time to spend and are not sure if the stain is still dry or not then I suggest you wait an additional day also.

Applying PU after staining
Applying PU after staining

How can you make Stain Dry Quicker?

Thinner coats of stain

The thicker the coat of stain, the longer it is going to take to dry.

Since wood fibers have to completely absorb the stain from the next stain coat to be applied, it makes sense to think that a thinner coat can be time-saving.

Remember to sufficiently cover the total surface area of the wood while applying the stain as leaving too little stain for the wood to absorb might result in a spotty finish.

Dehumidify the air

This method involves using a dehumidifier to suck the moisture out of the air and lower the humidity, thus causing the stain to dry much faster than usual.

Humidity that is lower or equal to 50% usually means the stain will dry up in no time so try and set the dehumidifier like so


Just like humidity, air circulation and ventilation also plays a major role in speeding up the drying process.

Working in an open space or opening up windows and doors of your workspace etc can all affect the air-circulation and drying of stain.

You may also employ the use of exhaust/ ventilation fans that suck the harmful gaseous material that is emitted from the stain while promoting clean air to flow in as well

Controlling the temperature

Increasing and decreasing the temperature of your workspace can also vary the results of your staining.

An overheated environment can cause the stain to become tacky and spotty while drying too quickly and a much colder environment can cause the stain to become more viscous and further increase the drying time by even days.

Controlling the temperature of your workspace to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for drying the stain

How Long Does Interior and Exterior Stains Take to Dry?

In general, interior stains dry much faster and take only about a day at the most while exterior stains will take up to a few days, if not more.

A key reason exterior stains take longer to dry is due to external factors like varying humidity and temperatures.

Interior stains are applied only in the insides of the buildings meaning they are less likely to encounter a cold morning breeze and the hot afternoon heat.

The humidity is also somewhat under control while inside the building.

Interior stains also have the added benefit of not being at the mercy of unexpected rainfall and snow while the exterior stains are not exempted from either one.

These are the factors that affect the drying time of stains.

What stain dries the fastest?

Lacquer stains are the fastest drying stains available in the market today with drying time as low as 15 to 30 mins.

Such a remarkably low drying time for lacquer stains allows finishes to be laid much faster than other kinds of stains and this makes them a favorite among professionals.

How to Apply Wood stain?

Refer to this article below for a complete deep dive into the process of wood staining.

Factors affecting drying time of stains?

Generally, there are five main factors that control the drying time of stains and they are:

1. Type of Stain

Out of the seven kinds of stain that you may use on wood, gel stains is by far the slowest to dry and can take as much as a few days to dry completely.

Lacquer stains are on the other end of this spectrum and can dry in less than an half an hour.

2. Humidity

Maintaining a proper humidity level of 50% or below is crucial to the stain drying process.

Anything more than 50% and stains like water-based stains start to slow the drying process significantly.

A workaround is to use a dehumidifier that sucks the moisture out of the atmosphere and speeds up the drying process.

3. Temperature

Both higher and low temperatures can slow down or stop the process of staining.

Very high temperature means that the stain will dry before it can properly penetrant the wood and impart color to it.

This leaves a very tacky finish on the wood and will most definitely have to be re-sanded and re-stained.

A colder environment on the other hand slows down the process of staining so much so that it reaches a point of a literal standstill with the stain too viscous to penetrate the wood.

A perfect temperature for staining is between 55 and 75 Fahrenheit and must be maintained so for faster drying.

4. Ventilation

Water-based stains depend heavily on ventilation or airflow for drying.

a well-ventilated room means that the drying process occurs much faster.

Proper airflow allows the wood to be stained deeply and also takes away the harmful fumes produced by the stain while drying.

5. Type of wood

Type of wood refers to if the wood you are working with belongs to either hardwood or softwood.

Hardwoods like oak, for example, are generally better at being stained and retain a good color without being spotty while softwood is porous in nature and absorbs the stains unevenly resulting in a tacky finish and usually calls for another layer of stain before the PU/Varnish topcoat.

Per-stains and wood conditioners are a workaround for softwood as they fill in the pores and created an even layer on which the protective coat can rest.

You may also use gel stains as they are much more effective than other types of stains when dealing with difficult woods like birch and pine wood.

Softwoods generally take the longest to dry as well.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How far does wood stain penetrate while drying?

There is no definite depth up to which we can say that the stain will penetrate since that depends entirely on three main factors.

The kind of wood you are dealing with makes a lot of difference as to how much the stain actually penetrates. Hardwoods are more resistant to stains while softwood like fir absorbs a lot of stains.

The kind of stain you use also plays a major role in this as well. Identifying if the kind of stain you use is oil-based, water-based, or gel-based is key in determining the depth up to which the stain may percolate.

The last factor is external elements like temperature and humidity that govern if the stain absorption is going to be fast or slow.

A sunny day or warm climate means that the stain will be dried up faster than normal but it does not guarantee that the stain will penetrate far into the wood.

similarly, a cold or rainy day does not assure anything either.

Can you apply polyurethane and other finishes over tacky stains?

A sticky or tacky finish usually means that the wood is either damp or that the stain you applied has not finished drying.

This may be due to several factors like external temperature, humidity, and so on.

If you do apply a protective topcoat over a stain that has is tacky in nature then you risk ruining the overall quality of the wood stain in addition to waiting that much more time for both the stain and the topcoat to dry completely.

What happens if you stain pressure treated wood too soon?

Applying stain on a pressure-treated wood too early will result in the stain not fully penetrating into the wood and may also cause discoloration or in the wood having a faded color.

Why is my stain always blotchy?

Blotchy stain is common because wood absorbs stain unevenly, causing some areas to be darker than others.

Softwoods, such as fir and birch, are more prone to blotchy stains.

On hardwoods like oak, stain seldom looks blotchy.

Do I need two coats of stain?

As a general guideline, just apply as much stain as the wood can absorb.

Unless you're working with really dense hardwoods, which may only absorb one application of wood stain.

What happens if you don't wipe off the stain?

Wood stains are intended to enter the grain of the wood rather than remain on the surface. If you apply it too thickly or fail to wipe away the excess, the substance that stays on the surface will become tacky.

Is it better to stain with a brush or rag?

Always use a rag instead of a brush as brushing on the stain can create uneven patterns and cause uneven absorption of the stain which leads to spotty surface patterns.

A rag on the other case is much smoother can create a uniform coating of stain that will be absorbed easily.

What happens if you apply a second coat of stain too soon?

If you add a second layer of stain to wood that already has a tacky and undried coat, you risk generating a sticky surface that is prone to early peeling since the second coat is not penetrating the wood surface and is merely resting on top of the first coat of stain.

Always make sure you wait a sufficient time for the first coat of stain to dry until you apply the second coat of stain.

Does stain dry faster in heat or cold?

When the stain dries too quickly, it does not have enough time to enter the wood completely. Furthermore, it may dry fairly rapidly, making it nearly hard to apply the stain uniformly.

The same thing might happen if you expose yourself to direct sunlight.

On the other hand, the staining process is slowed if the room air is too chilly. Evaporation is required for water-based stains to dry and cure effectively.

The evaporation process is substantially slower in a cool environment.

Cooler temperatures have less of an effect on oil-based coatings, but they will still decrease the oxidation of the finish.

An optimum temperature of 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit is preferred for staining the wood, ideally.

How long after staining Can I varnish?

In general, you should wait at least a day or two for the stain to cure before applying varnish.

If you don't want to take any chances or suspect that the stain isn't completely dried, wait an extra day before adding varnish.

About V Susan

Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

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V Susan

Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

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