How Long Does Stain Take To Dry? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On September 22, 2023

Are you wondering how long it takes for stain to dry?

You've come to the right place!

In this article, we'll walk you through some quick steps to help you successfully stain your surface, plus:

  • We answer the question, 'How long does stain take to dry?'
  • Supplies needed for staining
  • More tips for a professional-looking stain job

And much more!

How Long Does Stain Take To Dry?

So, if you want to know exactly how long you should plan to let your stain dry on your next DIY staining project, keep reading!

What Do You Need To Know About How Long Does Stain Take To Dry?

Drying time all depends on weather and humidity. For example, humid climate conditions could cause the stain to take twice as long to dry when compared to being in an arid desert.

The drying process when performing DIY exterior wood stain projects are a bit harder to control, so you'll want to check the temperature outside as well as the temperature recommendations on each specific stain to ensure the best results.

Can dry-time be sped up?

The best way to get the fastest dry time on stain projects is by wiping off the excess stain before it dries. This will also help prevent blotches in the stain.

You could also speed up the dry time on your stain projects with a heat gun or heated blower, but you'll need to be pretty accurate and cautious about not going too hot, as you could cause blistering in the wood and blotches in the stain.

Try a heat gun or a diesel-powered heater blower (you could rent one from Home Depot) held a couple of feet away from the wood surface to speed up the dry time if you're staining in especially cold or humid environments. 

And if you're staining in 70-degree Fahrenheit temps, just wait an hour or two and let it dry – just be sure to wait longer than that to apply the polyurethane after the fact.

How Long Does Oil-Based Stain Take To Dry?

Oil-based stain takes the least amount of time to dry, and you can expect it to be dry within just a couple of hours in the right conditions. 

How Long Does a Water-Based Stain Take To Dry? 

Water-based stains take a little bit longer to dry than oil-based. We say you should way at least 12-24 hours to paint a second coat of water-based stain, and at least 24-48 hours before you apply polyurethane finish.

Read More >> What Are The Best Stains For Fences?

How Long Does Gel Stain Take To Dry?

Gel stain dries somewhere in between oil-based and water-based stains. You can expect a gel stain to dry somewhere between a few hours and 24 hours.

It would depend, obviously, on whether or not the gel stain is oil or water-based. 

In short, oil-based stains dry faster, and water-based stains take a bit longer to dry.

What Supplies Will You Need For Staining Wood?

Before you get started with any DIY project, it's always best to gather up all the supplies you'll need to finish the project. This way, you avoid constant trips back and forth to the garage, the shed, or (god forbid) the hardware store.

Below is a list of supplies you'll likely need to complete your stain project.


We recommend using 120-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface of the wood before staining.

Your Wood Stain of Choice

There are a lot of different wood finishes and stains you could use on your job. Do a quick internet search, or talk to a paint professional(drop us a question on our home page) to find out which stain product goes best with the specific wood you're using.

Polyurethane Finish

Most painters are painting a thin layer of polyurethane over the top of the stain after it's finished to create a scratch-free surface that is also water and UV-resistant.

Drop Cloth

You'll most likely need a drop cloth to protect the floor from getting stain on it. That is unless you're using a deck stain, of course.

Mineral Spirits/Solvent

Mineral spirits or paint thinner will help remove stain from unwanted areas after the fact.

Read More >> What Is The Best Way To Stain Wood?

How Long Does Stain Take To Dry? (5-Step Guide)

Now that you know what supplies you'll need to work through this project, let's walk through the steps necessary to finish it like a pro!

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

  1. Consider outside temperatures
  2. Read the label on the paint container
  3. Apply one coat of stain
  4. Let the stain dry to the touch and inspect the results
  5. Apply second and third coats if necessary

Step 1 – Consider outside temperatures

Aside from the time recommended on the stain container, the environment plays a big role in how long the stain will take to dry.

Stain dries faster in high temperatures, but it also dries slower in high humidity, so you'll want to take both factors into consideration when staining your project.

A good way to ensure the appropriate temperature in summer is to paint during early hours of the morning or late hours of the evening when it's not as hot. 

Step 2 – Read the label on the stain container

Reading the directions for use is vital when staining because each stain product is different.

There are many different types of stain, so make sure to follow the instruction closely for the best results.

We should also note that some wood staining products can be applied at much more extreme temperatures than others. For example, Ready Seal 510 claims that its product can be applied at any temperature range.

Interior wood stains will most likely require temps in between freezing and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the proper results.

Step 3 – Apply one coat of stain and wipe off the excess 

Remember, wiping off all the excess stain with a rag or cloth after the stain goes on will help an even distribution. Always apply the stain in the direction of the wood grain for the best results.

Depending on the type of wood, you'll want to use a pre-stain wood conditioner to help the stain fall evenly into the pores of the wood. Softer woods like pine will turn out better with a pre-stain conditioner.

Stain can be applied using virtually any painting utensil. You could even saturate a rag with stain/varnish and wipe it onto the surface for great results.

Step 4 – Let the stain dry to the touch and inspect the results

Let the stain or other wood finishing project dry to the touch, and inspect the results.

Did the wood absorb some of the stains in certain spots? Did it set up thick enough to need sanding? Does it look like it needs another coat? 

Most likely you'll be applying a second coat.

Lightly sanding or roughing up the surface with steel wool before the next coat is a great way to ensure great adhesion.

Be sure to wait the recommended amount of dry time according to the manufacturer before re-staining.

Step 5 – Apply a second coat of stain/additional coats if necessary

One coat doesn't always do it when finishing wood. In fact, most woodworkers will tell you that they typically use 2 coats of stain most of the time, and 3 coats in very rare cases.

Nonetheless, you'll want to lightly sand or scrub the first coat of stain with steel wool to make for maximum adhesion on the next coat. 

Yes, there will always be spots on woodworking projects that just keep on absorbing the stain. Just keep spot staining until it looks good.

After the stain has dried to satisfaction, we recommend applying a thin coat of polyurethane(or another type of sealer) over the top of the stain job to protect the wood from UV rays, water, and scratching. 

The rule of thumb for applying polyurethane is to wait 24-48 hours(maybe longer in high humidity levels) for the stain to completely set into the wood before applying the polyurethane finish as a topcoat.

Read More >> What Is The Best Way To Stain A Deck?

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

Other Valuable Resources on How Long Does Stain Take To Dry 

Now that you know the basics when it comes to letting stain dry, check out our extra tips and tricks for getting the best stain finish possible!

What is the fastest drying stain?

Try products like Varathane Premium Fast Dry or Ready Seal if you are looking for a fast-drying stain for your next project.

Are you applying clear lacquer? Remember to use thin coats

A clear lacquer is a great way to protect wood projects without drastically changing the color of the wood. Remember to use thin coats(and lots of them) for the best results when using clear lacquer on your home improvement projects.

Buy a paint sprayer for your next stain project

Larger staining projects can be easily covered by using a paint sprayer. Luckily, HVLP paint sprayers are inexpensive and easy to clean.

See our complete list of recommended paint sprayers for some great options when buying off of Amazon.

Are you staining concrete? See our guide on how to do it right

Staining concrete is a great way to add value to your property, plus it protects concrete surfaces from UV rays and water damage.

See our guide on how to stain concrete for a solid set of instructions.

Are you still deciding on stain color?

There are so many different stain colors to choose from. See our recommendations of the best stains on the market for an easy buying guide when purchasing off of Amazon. 

Any questions on stain drying? Drop us a line

Visit our home page for a quick answer to any of your DIY stain/paint projects.

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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