Top 5 Best Gel Stains For Wood And Fiberglass (2021 Review)

Last Updated On April 2, 2021

Are you looking to stain a wood surface without the mess of runny wood stain? You might consider a gel stain for the job.  

In this ProPaintCorner.com guide, you will learn:

  • The best gel stain products on the market
  • Tips for performing the best gel stain job
  • Do's and don't's when using gel stain
  • And much more!
Top 5 Best Gel Stains For Wood And Fiberglass

Below is a quick list of all our top products. Keep scrolling to learn more about how to choose and use the best gel stain for your next project.

Image Product

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General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain
  • Leaves an elegant finish
  • Easier to use than regular stain
  • Doesn’t penetrate the wood
  • Leaves an elegant finish
  • Easier to use than regular stain
  • Doesn’t penetrate the wood
View on Amazon

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Minwax Interior Wood Gel Stain
  • Popular choice
  • Non-drip formula
  • Dries completely in 8-10 hours
  • Popular choice
  • Non-drip formula
  • Dries completely in 8-10 hours
View on Amazon

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Unicorn Spit Gel Stain and Glaze in One
  • Creates an opaque look
  • Scented
  • Includes 10 bottles-each a different color
  • Creates an opaque look
  • Scented
  • Includes 10 bottles-each a different color
View on Amazon

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Gel Stain by Retique It
  • 11 different colors to choose from
  • Glazes over the existing finish
  • Dries in an hour or less
  • 11 different colors to choose from
  • Glazes over the existing finish
  • Dries in an hour or less
View on Amazon

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Varathane Premium Gel Stain
  • Great for vertical surface refinish
  • Buy in half-pint or 1-quart quantities
  • Enhances the natural beauty of wood
  • Great for vertical surface refinish
  • Buy in half-pint or 1-quart quantities
  • Enhances the natural beauty of wood
View on Amazon

Our Overall #1 Rated Pick

Updated On April 2, 2021

Our favorite is the General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain because it is the most reliable for getting the best results on your painting project.

With 15 different colors to choose from, you can't go wrong with choosing General Finishes because it will work with basically any wood or fiberglass.

General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain also helps to smooth out the wood grains.

When it comes to painting products, the most reliable solutions are the brands that have been around the longest. 

You can rely on General Finishes to get the job done without worry because thousands of other customers have only good things to say about it.

Our Top 5 Best Gel Stains

If you're truly looking for the best semi-transparent stains to use for your DIY project, you're in the right place!

Below is a list of our top 5 stains, keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of each one:

What Are Gel Stains For Wood/Fiberglass Surfaces?

Gel stains are a thicker variant to the classic wood stain that you might find at the hardware store or Home Depot. 

Some people say that gel stain works better than conventional stain, but we'll let you be the boss of that.

Here are a few advantages of gel stains:

Thicker consistency

Thicker consistency makes gel stain easier to work with than a runny, oil-based stain that can seep deep into the grain of the wood, making it impossible to get the right results on wood grains that are more porous.

More drying time

Because gel stains are thicker this means that they will take a little bit longer to dry when compared to a normal stain. 

Different look

Gel stains have a slightly different look than a regular stain.

See each specific product we have recommended to get a good idea of how it will look when applied to your project.

Stays on the surface of the wood

Gel stains don't soak into the wood grain as normal stains do. Instead, they stay on the surface, so you can expect to use less quantity when using a gel stain.

This also makes it easier to stain vertical surfaces like doors, kitchen cabinets, window frames, etc without dripping stain all over the place.

Seals in the project

Gel stains are typically the last step in painting or staining that helps to completely seal in the project.

For example, many boats and surfboard builders use gel stain as the finish coat to form a hard finish on the exterior.

Durability

Gel coats are usually the last coat/topcoat for a reason: because they dry hard and preserve the surface that's underneath it.

Read More >> What Are The Best Wood Stains To Use For A Deck?

What Are The Different Types of Gel Stains For Wood Surfaces?

When it comes to gel stains, you have a lot of great options that other customers have been satisfied with in the past. 

Here are some of the different options we have recommended:

Oil-based

The classic oil-based gel stain is a natural solution for sealing in wood surfaces.

Water-based

Water-based stains are less toxic which is good, but they might not have the effect you were looking for.

Interior stain

Some gel stains are recommended for interior use only, so make sure to read the label before purchasing specifically for your project.

Interior/exterior stain

Some products are good for both interior and exterior use---something to keep an eye out for when buying your next gel stain.

Polyurethane 

Polyurethane gel coats are more like an epoxy that is used for achieving a hard finish on the surface.

For example, woodworkers might use a 2-part polyurethane resin to paint a hardwood tabletop because it will fill in all the knots in the wood finish and make it nice and smooth.

Read More >> What Are The Best Stains To Use For Staining A Fence?

How Do You Properly Apply Gel Stains To Surfaces?

Preparation is the key before applying a gel coat because this is often the final step in the painting process.

Gel stain also works great on fiberglass doors, windows, and you could even use a gel stain to help seal in a boat or surfboard.

Here are some supplies you'll need for applying gel stain correctly:

Sandpaper

Sanding is always a must when working with wood and fiberglass.

Start with 80-grit sandpaper for rough surfaces, and work your way up to a 200-grit or higher. You can even wet sand with super-fine grain sandpaper, but the most important part is that you get the project sanded for the best results.

Applicator

You'll need something to apply the stain with, whether it be a paintbrush, a microfiber towel, or even an old t-shirt or sock. 

Mineral spirits

You'll need something like mineral spirits(depending on the product) for cleanup and removing stains from undesired surfaces. 

Drop cloths

It's nice to have at least an old bed sheet lying around to help keep gel stain off of your 

Step ladder

Chances are, you need a step ladder around your house to help you when staining doors and windows along with other projects.

How Do You Apply Gel Stain? (5-Step Guide) 

Need a quick tutorial for your next stain/varnish job?

Here are a few quick steps that will help you get the job done smoothly.

  1. Sand & Prep
  2. Clean Surface & Apply First Coat
  3. Let Stain Dry & Inspect
  4. Apply A Second Coat (If Necessary)
  5. Test Water Durability

Step 1 - Sand And Prep

Sanding is naturally the first step in any wood or fiberglass finishing project because the main idea of stain is to make the surface smooth and attractive.

Starting with 80-grit sandpaper may be necessary on some projects, and you will get the best results by increasing the grit number each pass all the way up to a maximum of 150 grit.

If you sand with any finer than 150-grit sandpaper, the gel stain might not take to the wood as easy because of its thick consistency.

For outdoor projects like a raw wood fence or siding, you may want to use a pressure washer. 

On some surfaces, it might even help to hit it with some steel wool to get rid of any flaking that might happen after the stain is applied.

Here is a great video that explains the whole gel staining process:

Step 2 - Clean The Surface And Apply First Coat

Use a vacuum, or simply wipe the surface of the wood dry with a damp microfiber towel. 

You might even want to apply a conditioner or a 'slip coat' of mineral spirits that preps the wood for stain.

Apply the first coat of gel stain on your project according to the instructions on the label of the specific product used.

Start with hitting all the crevices, and finish with the larger surface areas.

Note: Don't forget to stir the stain well before applying it to the wood surface. You should also read the label of the specific product you are using for any other specific procedures that may be necessary.

For example, when applying gel stain over lacquer(or vice versa), you might want to apply a small amount on the surface to see a sample of the finished product.

Step 3 - Let Stain Dry And Inspect

After the stain is dry, you'll either want to lightly sand with high-grit sandpaper or just leave it how it is.

It's up to you how in-detail you want to go when staining wood and fiberglass---some people like to take a long time, and others like to slap some stain on there and get on to the next project.

Step 4 - Apply Second Coat Of Stain (If Necessary)

Apply another coat of stain if it absorbs too far into the wood and creates inconsistencies in the finish.

There's no need to overdo it with excess stain, however, so if it looks good with the first coat, then you should save the remaining stain for other projects.

Step 5 - Test Water Durability

Since gel stain is a great sealer, it should keep your wood or fiberglass well out of harm's way when it comes to water damage.

You might want to pour some water on the surface of the wood or fiberglass after everything has dried to see how resistant it is - if you see inconsistencies, then you can always apply another coat of stain.

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

What To Look For In The Best Gel Stains For Wood Surfaces?

Non-toxic

Buying a non-toxic solution is always something to consider.

Retique, in particular, makes a great water-based gel stain that is priced reasonably enough for you to get the job done without exposing you and your loved ones to harmful toxins.

Good reviews

After clicking the link to the Amazon page, you'll want to scroll down and look at what others have said about each specific product to get a good idea of what to expect.

All products listed on this page have high reviews and a good reputation, but it still helps to see other people's projects to give you some good ideas.

Variety of stain colors

Some of these products have a variety of different colors you can choose from before buying. 

Quantity

Buying paints and stains in high quantities always comes out cheaper. Be aware of how much gel stain you are buying.

Square footage

Some products will specify how many square feet each unit covers to help you get a good idea of how much to buy.

The best advice for your specific project is to research online what other people have done in your situation. 

Don't forget that you can always ask us a question on the front page of our Pro Paint Corner site.

Our Reviews Of The Best Gel Stains For Wood Surfaces

This is by far the most popular oil-based gel stain on the market than is given 5-stars by thousands of users.

General Finishes is a brand you can't go wrong with because it is a heavy-bodied stain that is easily applied with a foam brush or microfiber towel. 

General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain is solid in four different quantities, including 1 gallon, 1 half-pint, 1 pint, or 1 quart, so you have coverage no matter what size your project is. 

Pick up your favorite color of General Finishes Gel Stain off of Amazon.

Pros

  • Amazon's choice product
  • Thousands of 5-star reviews
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Square footage not specified
  • VOC content not specified
  • A bit on the pricey side

Are you looking to stain your project without dripping stain everywhere?

Or more specifically, a java gel stain that gives your wood that rich color of great coffee when refinishing?

Try Minwax Interior Wood Gel Stain on vertical applications like molding and doors because it gives your wood or fiberglass a rich appearance and isn't as messy as a traditional stain.

Minwax is sold in 1/2 pint or 1-quart quantities and comes in 12 different colors including walnut, coffee, aged oak, red elm, hickory, honey maple, and more!

Pros

  • Ideal for staining vertical surfaces
  • For use on plywood, hardwoodsmetal, fiberglass
  • Easy to apply

Cons

  • Square foot coverage not specified
  • VOC content unspecified

Unicorn Spit is a unique product that mixes paint with gel stain and glazes for a glamorous finish that penetrates deep into the surface of bare wood grains.

This 10-pack of 4-ounce bottles provide you with 10 different colors of Unicorn Spit that can be mixed and matched with each other for a creative spin to your wood staining project

Unicorn Spit Gel Stain and Glaze in One is even Jasmine scented which makes it more fun to work with either indoors or outdoors.

Pros

  • Unique product
  • Make your project more vibrant
  • Well-reviewed on Amazon

Cons

  • VOC content not specified
  • One solid color isn't an option

Gel Stain is an artisanal water-based gel stain that uses nano-technology to work as the perfect glaze over already painted finishes. 

One of the reasons why you might opt for Gel Stain by Retique is because it is thin enough to use in a paint sprayer, so this is a great product for larger projects.

Another cool part about Gel Stain by Retique is that you can buy three different kits, including rustic, weather, and contemporary looks.

Pick it up off Amazon for the best price.

Pros

  • Non-toxic and water-based
  • Cleans up with soap and water
  • Low VOCs

Cons

  • Not sold in different colors
  • More expensive than other options
  • Square footage not specified

Varathane Premium Gel Stain works great for staining vertical surfaces, and it creates a natural wood look on fiberglass surfaces, so use it on all of your boats, surfboards, and any other fun project as well as furniture.

With 10 different colors of Varathane Premium Gel Stain to choose from, you shouldn't have any problem finding the right product for your next staining project.

Pick up Varathane off of Amazon, and have a half-pint or quart container shipped to your doorstep.

Pros

  • Covers 250 square feet per container
  • Thicker consistency
  • Greta reviews

Cons

  • VOC content not specified
  • Takes longer to dry

General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain is our top pick because it has thousands and thousands of 5-star reviews on Amazon plus it is priced reasonably. 

This General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain is easy to use and cleaner than applying regular stain because it is thicker. 

So, if you are looking for a stain that stays more on the surface of the wood and doesn't require as many coats then you can't go wrong with picking this up off Amazon.

Final Thoughts On The Best Gel Stain For Woodworking

Above we have listed the best options for gel staining your project, but you'll want to do some research based on your specific project to help you decide exactly how you want to do it.

Do You Need A Ladder?

Some staining projects require that you use a ladder.

Stepladders are great for doors, extension ladders will help you stain on spots higher up, and 

And don't worry, we've already researched the best ladders out there on our site.

Hop on our site whenever you need to figure out which painting products are the best for any project.

Looking For Professional Painters? Use Our Page!

Our Pro Paint Corner page is a great tool for all your painting needs.

Paint And Stain With Safety In Mind 

There are. a few health risks to consider when applying paint. or stain.

Here is your checklist of necessary safety supplies when staining:

Use nitrile gloves when working with stains to avoid coming in contact with toxic chemicals.

Even if you don't like the idea of disposable gloves, you should still cover your hands up with something to avoid contact with gel stains.

Some of these products are toxic if inhaled, so be sure to use a cotton mask or even a respirator when applying a stain.

  • Safety glasses

Keeping your eyesight at 100% is a top priority when using gel stains. You'll thank us later!

Ask Us Questions On Our Pro Paint Corner Page! 

We'll be here to answer any questions you have because we want you to have a successful DIY project.

Staining Concrete? You should also consider going to town on any concrete on your property that needs to be updated.

Check out our page that gives you great advice on products that work especially well when staining concrete.

Read More >> What Are The Best Stains To Use For Concrete?

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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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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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.

About Pro Paint Corner

You’ve got painting questions. We’ve got the best painting answers from a network of seasoned painting pros.

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