How Long For Stain To Dry (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On August 25, 2023

Are you wondering how long to let stain dry? 

You've come to the right place!

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • Why you need to know how long to let your stain dry
  • How to properly stain wood
  • What supplies you'll need to make sure you get the best stain finish
How Long For Stain To Dry

There are many different types of stains and many different factors that determine how long it will take for them to dry.

So, before you do apply stain to your next woodworking project, I recommend you read this quick guide if you were wondering about how long it takes for the stain to dry.

What You Need To Know About How Long For Stain To Dry

High humidity environments will make DIY home improvement stain projects drag on and on, but be patient! It will dry–it just may take more time.

Stain drying should be the least of your worries because time will pass anyway(worry about doing it right), but do consider it if you're on a tight schedule.

Porosity & Dry Time

The type of wood you're working with will also play a big factor in how long it takes for the stain to dry.

For example, softer woods like pine and cedar might absorb the first coat completely within just a few minutes, whereas hardwoods like mahogany may take more than a couple of hours for the stain to be dry to the touch.

Interior Wood Stains Vs Exterior Wood Stains

Be sure to choose the right stain for your woodwork. If you're staining oak cabinets, you want a nice interior stain that really embellishes the natural color of the wood.

On the other hand, if you're staining a cedar picket fence, you'll want an exterior stain that's cheaper by volume (sold in 5-gallon buckets).

Supplies You’ll Need For Staining Wood

Before you dive into your stain project, you'll want to make sure you have all the supplies you'll need so you're not running back and forth from the hardware store. Below are some of the more common supplies you should have handy when beginning a staining project.

Wood Finishing Stain/Varnish of Choice

Hands down, the easiest way you'll find the best stain for your specific wood and function is by doing a quick internet search.

Let's just specify that a deck stain won't be the same as a hardwood finish. You should know what species of wood you're staining to more successfully select a good stain for the project.


You'll want anything from 80-grit to 1,000 grit sandpaper when sanding a project for stain prep.

Just remember that gel stains and other stain products should only be sanded to 220-grit so that the stain can successfully fall between the pores of the wood.


Some projects, like hardwood floors, for example, are a perfect option for using a paintbrush or roller to apply the stain.

Remember to use a natural-bristled brush for the best results when staining with oil-based stains, and a synthetic-bristled brush when staining with water-based stains.

Pre stain wood conditioner

You may want to use a pre-stain conditioner on your project because it helps the stain absorb more evenly into the pores of the wood.


Some stain projects are most easily performed by simply saturating the stain onto a cloth and wiping it onto the surface. 

Drop Cloth

Use a drop cloth to help protect the floor and other surroundings when staining.

Paint Sprayer

You'll thank us later by using one of these paint sprayers on your next large area project.


You'll need the appropriate solvent for the type of stain you are using to clean up the mess afterward.

For example, cleaning water-based stains may involve some hot soap and water, but oil-based stains involve using mineral spirits or paint thinner to successfully remove it from surfaces like carpet and upholstery.

Mineral Spirits/Paint Stain Remover

You might need a paint stain remover to remove the previous stain from the surface of the wood when re-staining. 

Mineral spirits also help for clean up and removing stains from unwanted areas.

Paint Masker

We highly recommend purchasing a paint masker because it helps cover up areas that won't be stained quickly and efficiently.

Search 3M paint masker on Amazon for the best option.

Respirator/Cotton Mask

Protect your breathing by putting on either a respirator(for spray painting) or a cotton mask(for painting with oil stains).

Water-based stains typically don't require a respirator if you're using a paintbrush or roller, but we still recommend using a cotton mask.

Safety Glasses

You should protect your eyes from dangerous wood finish splashes by using safety glasses.

Staining wood can actually increase its lifespan. This is because the stain prevents splintering, rot, and rain from destroying the wood's surface.

How Long For Stain To Dry (5-Step Guide)

Now that you have all of the necessary supplies, let's dive into the step-by-step process for letting stain dry so you can get an excellent finish on your project!

(Psst! You can click any of the links below to jump straight to that step.)

  1. Identify the stain type
  2. Read the stain label
  3. Measure outside air temperatures/humidity levels
  4. Apply the stain and inspect the results
  5. Apply another coat of stain if necessary

Step 1 – Identify the stain type

The first thing you need to figure out is what type of stain you're using. Here are a few different types of stain just to give you an idea:

Gel Stain 

Gel stains have a thick consistency and sit on top of the wood grain. 

You'll want to stop sanding at 320-grit sandpaper for the best results when using a gel stain, and don't forget to read the instructions, as some products are 1 and 2 parts, meaning you must combine two quantities of paint for the correct application.

Oil-based Stains 

Oil-based stains are the most classic way to change the color of your wood project. 

Here's a tip: if you're trying to apply a coat of polyurethane clear coat over oil-based stains, you will want to paint a layer of shellac as a barrier so that the polyurethane will cure correctly.

A lightly-sanded shellac surface will provide an excellent surface for adhesion when using polyurethane.

Water-Based Stains

It's important to know what stain you are using because some stains look better on certain types of wood. Do a quick internet search to find some good ideas on what to do for your specific project.

For example, oil stains typically take longer to dry than water-based products. Not to mention the fact that you shouldn't use too high of grit sandpaper for thicker stains like gel stains.

Step 2 – Read the stain label

Reading the label specific to each product is key for successful stain jobs. 

Take a look on the back of the paint can for information like acceptable temperatures for application, the right grit sandpaper for the best results, and how long to wait until adding another coat.

In short, the stain label provides you with all the information necessary to complete your project.

As an example, most paint labels state the outside temperatures required for the paint to successfully cure.

Now you can plan your paint staging with the proper times for drying. 

One last thing -> Be patient waiting for paint to dry in humid temperatures. If it feels like you are rushing it to put on the next coat, put down your paintbrush and take a lunch break for a while.

Step 3 – Measure Outside Air Temperatures

Staining in extreme temperatures can be disastrous. 

If you stain a wood surface in excessive cold temperatures, the stain might not dry until exposed to higher temps. That means that a stained wood floor in your winter cabin could stay wet until the furnace is installed in the house.

On the other hand, staining a wood surface in excessive warm temperatures will cause uneven penetration and other weird marks that will require extra sanding and re-coating for the job to look good.

If you are in an extreme climate, it might be a good idea to wait until a more favorable season to apply the paint.

For example, if you live in Arizona, then painting outside during the summer could result in a botched and blotched paint job.

Step 4 – Apply the First Coat of Stain and Inspect the Results

Because of varying temperature and humidity conditions, you won't know exactly how long it takes for the stain to dry until you apply it to the desired surface, and wait for it to dry.

So, lay that first coat of stain down, and make sure you wipe off the excess stain before it blotches and needs to be sanded.

It's important to apply stain along the wood grain for the smoothest application.

Step 5 – Apply a Second Coat of Stain if Necessary

Not all stains will be a one-coat job. Sometimes you have to add second and third recoats to get an even consistency.

Staining wood differs from painting walls because wood grains absorb the paint more than drywall or plaster.  

After you've applied the second coat and let it dry(and you're satisfied), you'll want to wait at least 24 hours before applying a polyurethane topcoat for added protection. The second coat is a thin coat that typically doesn't require as much stain as the first coat.

Other Valuable Resources On Wood Staining

Wood staining is a valuable skill to learn as a DIY fan because it opens up a whole world of possibilities. You can redo furniture, you can give your baseboards a whole makeover, or you can change the look of your deck.

If you want to learn more about how to stain a deck or a fence, check out our articles below for more info and step-by-step guides:

Read More >> How Do You Stain A Fence Like A Pro?

Read More >> How Do You Stain A Deck Like A Pro?

Read More >> What Are The Best Pump Sprayers For Staining a Fence?

Are you wondering which brands to buy?

Try buying brands like General Finishes, Minwax, Varathane, and more off of Amazon for the best results when staining.

Wondering about stain color?

The best advice for choosing stain color would be to determine which colors go well with the type of wood you're staining.

For example, stains for pine are typically cheap, and they look attractive over one of the most commonly used wood species in North America.

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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Got Paint Questions? Search For In-Depth Answers Below!

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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