How To Stain Furniture? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On February 24, 2023

Want to know how to stain wood furniture?

You've come to the right place!

In this article, you'll learn:

  • How to stain furniture
  • Supplies you'll need to stain wood furniture
  • The steps necessary for doing an awesome job

And much more!

How To Stain Furniture?

So, before you do stain furniture, I recommend you read our quick 5-step tutorial that will help you make it happen faster and easier.

What Do You Need To Know About How To Stain Furniture?

Staining furniture isn't hard, and you can do it yourself (DIY) easily by following this quick 5-step guide. 

Whether you're refinishing kitchen cabinets, hardwood floors, unfinished furniture, a tabletop, or just a piece of wood this guide walks you through the 5 steps necessary to get the job done without missing anything.

What Supplies Will You Need For Staining Furniture?

Before you jump right into your staining project, be sure to gather all the essential supplies you'll need to lay down stain on your furniture.

Below are a list of the supplies we'd recommend.

Your Stain/Wood Finish of Choice

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of stains you could use on your project. 

Check out our stains page where we've done a lot of research on the best stains on the market.

We've got all the facts on gel stains, stains for pine, stains for a piece of furniture, you name it – we've done all the research for you.


Most painters and woodworkers use 120-grit sandpaper on their DIY projects.

Drop Cloth

Use a drop cloth to avoid getting stain everywhere. Drop cloths work better than old sheets because they won't seep through the surface as easily.

Foam Brush

Foam brushes work great for smaller projects.

Tack Cloth

Use a tack cloth to help clean dirt and dust from the pores and cracks of the wood.

Clean Cloth/Clean Rag

You'll want a microfiber rag to clean up/wipe down the surface of your furniture before staining.

Stain can also be applied with a clean rag, cloth, or an old t-shirt. Staining isn't like painting--the stain seeps down into the pores of the wood, so it doesn't matter as much how it's applied.

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits will help you clean the extra stain off of hardware and other surfaces that may have got stain on them but weren't supposed to be stained.


Use a natural bristle brush for oil-based stains and a synthetic brush for all water-based stains.

Sanding Block/Sponges

Use a sanding block to rough up the surface before staining. Shop on Amazon, or visit your local paint store for some sanding sponges. We recommend sanding sponges because they make it easier to get in between the nooks and crannies.

Paint Sprayer

A paint sprayer isn't necessary for most furniture projects, but it might be a good purchase for quickly covering larger projects like cabinets, etc.

Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Softer woods(like pine) require a pre-stain wood conditioner before staining. Pre-stain conditioner lines the pores of the wood to help the stain sink evenly on the first coat.

Paint Masker

Using a paint masker makes stain projects so much easier. Simply attach the painter's tape and masking material to the paint masker, and quickly cover up areas that won't be stained. You'll thank us later.

Painter's Tape

Use something like ScotchBlue because it's easy to peel off after the fact.


Even professionals apply stain to small projects by simply saturating a cloth with stain and wiping it onto the surface of your furniture project.

How To Stain Furniture (5-Step Guide)

Now that you know exactly which supplies you'll need to stain your furniture like a pro, let's dive into the step-by-step process.

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

  1. Remove hardware/mask surfaces
  2. Sand the surface
  3. Clean the surface
  4. Apply stain
  5. Inspect results/apply a second coat

Step 1 – Remove hardware/mask surfaces

The first step in staining your furniture is covering up all hardware/upholstery to protect it from the stain.

You’ll likely need screwdrivers to remove some hardware, and you’ll definitely need a paint masker to make things easier. 

Use a paint masker to cover any surface that you don't want to get stain on. Remember, paint sprayers create a lot of overspray, so you may want to consider painting outdoors when using a sprayer.

Step 2 – Sand the surface

Sanding the surface of the furniture will help for a smoother finish.

We recommend using the standard sanding sponges sold on Amazon or at your local paint store because they allow you to sand in between the cracks without much hassle.

Try to avoid power-sanding tools because they can create unattractive indentations in the surface of the wood.

Step 3 – Clean the surface

Staining a clean surface will help so the stain falls down evenly into the pores of the wood.

You might also want to use an air compressor to blow the dust out from in between the cracks or a vacuum to properly clean the wood surface.

After softwoods are clean, it's best to apply a pre-stain wood conditioner before applying the actual stain.

Step 4 – Apply the stain

Now it's time to start staining. 

Applying the stain can be done with a few different methods. The key to avoiding blotches when staining is to wipe off the excess stain. Always apply the stain in the direction of the wood grain for the best results.

Here's a quick rundown on the different ways to apply stain, and our specific recommendations on each method:

Stain furniture with a rag  

Even professional painters use a rag or old shirt to apply stain to furniture because it is quick and easy. 

Put on some chemical-resistant/nitrile gloves, saturate the rag in your stain of choice, and wipe it onto the surface of the furniture. It's as easy as that.

Stain furniture with a paintbrush 

Using a paintbrush is a perfectly acceptable method for applying stain/varnish.

Remember, natural-bristled brushes work great for oil-based stains, and synthetic brushes work great for water-based products.

Stain furniture with a paint sprayer

Using an HVLP paint sprayer is an easy way to cover large areas. See our recommendations for the best paint sprayers on the market.

Step 5 – Inspect results/apply a second coat

After the stain has dried for the amount of time recommended on the paint can, it's time to apply a second coat.

You may have noticed that are dry spots on the surface of the furniture that have completely absorbed the first coat of stain. 

Don't worry, the second coat of stain typically doesn't require as much stain--you'll end up using only 30-40% the amount you used when compared to the first coat.

You might find that some areas of the furniture still appear to be dry after two coats of stain, and that's okay – you'll need to spot stain these spots until the stain appears to be even with the rest of the project.

After the stain has dried for 24-48 hours, apply a coat of polyurethane/sealer to protect the stained wood from UV rays, water, scratches, etc. You can use fine-grit sandpaper to wet sand the sealant for a smooth finish.

Now your furniture looks better than ever, and you have only yourself to thank! And if you're hiring a professional painter for cabinets or other large jobs, make sure to call around for different bids before going with the first option.

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 To Stain Furniture

Now that you fully understand the process for staining furniture, be sure to check out these extra tips and tricks on how to get the job done right!

Are you trying to remove the old finish? We know how to handle it...

Read our guide on how to remove stain for some helpful tips on your next DIY restoration project.

Read More >> How To Remove Stain From Wood?

Which stain colors should you use?

Ultimately, this depends on the overall look and feel you're going for with your finished project.

Check out our articles below to look through the different types of stains we recommend.

Read More >> What Are The Best Semi-Transparent Stains?

Read More >> What Are The Best Stains For Pressure-Treated Wood?

Read More >> What Are The Best Stains For Cedar Wood?

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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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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