Can You Stain Over Polyurethane? Learn How (2023)

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When staining a piece of finished wood or furniture, you must decide whether to remove the topcoat first or work with it.

Can you stain over polyurethane? Or do you have to go through the hassle of removing the old finish before applying a new coat of stain?

If these questions apply to you, read along to learn whether you can stain over polyurethane and the steps you need to follow to give your furniture the new elegant look it deserves.

Table of Contents

Can You Stain Over Polyurethane?

Yes. You can stain over polyurethane but only using gel stains. Gel stain colors the wood by creating a film over the surface. However, since gel stain does not penetrate wood, you won’t get the same grain patterns you’d get with a standard oil-based or water-based stain.

If you choose this option, start by cleaning the wood surface and fine-sanding it before staining. Wipe off the dust, then apply your gel stain and let it dry. Seal the stain again with a clear top coat to protect it.

Does Stain Stick to Polyurethane?

Regular oil-based and water-based stains do not stick to a polyurethane finish. Polyurethane covers the wood pores and forms a glossy, hard layer, making it impossible for standard stains to penetrate the wood or stick to the surface.

(Video) Apply Polyurethane Wood Finish How To - GardenFork

However, topical stains like gel stains contain urethane, the primary ingredient in polyurethane, which bonds to the existing poly base and stains the wood as required.

Can You Stain Over Water-Based Polyurethane?

Absolutely! You can stain over water-based polyurethane using a gel stain instead of a standard wood stain. Gel stain works without penetrating wood pores. Sand the wood surface slightly for the best results and use a water-based gel stain for better compatibility.

Can You Apply Oil-Based Stain Over Polyurethane?

Standard oil-based stain won’t work over polyurethane since the finish coat won’t let it seep into the wood. The stain will only wipe off the surface and leave it unstained. To stain over polyurethane with an oil-based stain, you can mix the stain with poly before applying or use a product like Minwax Polyshades, which is already a blend of stain and polyurethane.

How Do You Stain Wood Over Polyurethane?

If you want a fresh coat of stain on your finished wood furniture, you don’t need to strip off the polyurethane finish. Instead, you can use a gel stain to refresh your wood and give it a fresh look.

Read on to learn how to stain over polyurethane without creating a sticky mess or spoiling its look.

What You’ll Need to Stain Over Polyurethane

Here are the supplies you need to collect before you start staining your finished piece of furniture:

  • Gel stains
  • Natural bristle brush
  • Foam applicator
  • Lint-free cotton cloth
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Protective garments (Rubber gloves and nose mask)
  • Tack cloth
  • Scouring pad

Things to Consider When Staining Over Polyurethane

Before we dive into staining over polyurethane, here are some factors you need to keep in mind so that you don’t create a mess during staining:

  • Use a darker stain color.

Since staining over already stained and finished wood won’t produce perfect results, consider buying a stain that’s darker in color than the finished wood color.

Darker stain color will help hide the imperfections and leave your furniture looking fresh and admirable.

  • Follow the direction of the grain.

When staining over the finish coat, always work in the grain direction to maintain the wood grain pattern and avoid contrasting grain marks.

  • Enhance stain adherence.

Since standard stain would not stick on finished wood, use gel stain or a combination of stain and poly. Also, light-sand the surface of your furniture to enhance stain adherence.

(Video) How to Stain Wood [5] Things that you should NEVER do

Step-By-Step Guide on Using Gel Stains Over Polyurethane

Once you’ve gathered all your supplies and prepared your workstation, it’s time to start staining. First, put on your protective gear and cover the floor with a tack cloth or plastic sheeting to protect it from stain spillages.

When you’re ready to start staining, follow these steps to stain your furniture and achieve an excellent finish.

Step 1: Clean the wood surface

Start by cleaning the furniture to remove dirt, grease, and debris from the wood surface. You can clean it using a solution of denatured alcohol or warm water with a few drops of dishwashing detergent.

Damp a scoring pad with the cleaning solution and use it to scrub the finished wood surface gently. Next, dampen a cotton cloth in warm water and use it to wipe the surface to remove traces of the cleaning agent. Leave the wood for about an hour to dry before proceeding.

Step 2: Sand lightly to smoothen the surface

Once it’s clean and dry, use fine-grain sandpaper to sand the wood surface lightly. This will help de-gloss the surface to enhance adherence to the stain.

A hand sanding sponge will do if you’re staining a small surface. However, consider an orbital sander if you are working on a large project. Remember to sand in the direction of the wood grain to achieve the best results.

Step 3: Wipe off the sawdust

After sanding, remove the sawdust and other residues by wiping the surface using a damp, lint-free cotton cloth. Failing to remove the residues will make the wood look untidy and unevenly stained.

Step 4: Apply your stain and let it dry

Once your wood is clean and ready for staining, use your natural bristle paint brush or a foam brush to apply a coat of gel stain evenly throughout the surface.

Work along the direction of the grain and ensure you cover the entire surface with the stain.

Use a lint-free cotton cloth to wipe off the excess stain and distribute it evenly on the wood surface.

Let it dry for about two hours, then apply another coat if you want your stained furniture to have a darker shade. Let your furniture stay in a well-ventilated place for 24-48 hours to dry completely. The longer it takes to dry, the better the outcome.

(Video) How To Apply Gel Stain To FINISHED Wood

Step 5: Seal with a clear coat.

After drying completely, lock in the stain color by sealing the stained surface with a clear finish coat.

You can use polyurethane, shellac, or lacquer according to your preferences. The clear seal will protect the stained wood and make it durable, long-lasting, and resistant to wear and tear.

How to Stain Over Polyurethane Using Minwax Polyshades

Another alternative to staining over polyurethane with gel stains is using a combination of polyurethane and standard wood stain. The good thing is that you don’t need to go through the hassle of preparing your own blend.

You can buy Minwax Polyshades, a ready-made mixture of wood stains and polyurethane finish. Once you have your poly-stain mixture, use the following procedure to stain your finished wood:

Step 1: Prepare the wood surface

Start by cleaning the wood surface using warm water and a mild detergent to degrease and remove any dirt particles.

After cleaning, let it dry before sanding lightly using fine-grit sandpaper. Next, wipe off the sawdust using a damp cotton rag and leave it to dry.

Step 2: Apply a coat of Minwax Polyshades and let it dry

When the surface is dry, use a mixing stick to stir the Minwax Polyshade before applying it to your wood.

Use your paintbrush to apply a thin layer and spread it evenly on the entire wood surface. Stain in the wood grain direction and leave it in the open for at least six hours to dry.

Step 3: Apply a second coat to make it darker

If you want a darker shade, apply two or more coats until you get the shade you want. Be sure to leave enough drying time between coats for the best results.

Can You Stain Over Polyurethane? Learn How (1)

(Video) Mixing Stain & Polyurethane? What Happened?

FAQs On Staining Over Polyurethane

Will polyurethane darken stain?

Water-based polyurethane is clear and will not significantly affect the stain color. Clear finishes have no color pigments that can darken the wood stain. However, oil-based polyurethane has an amber tint which can slightly darken your wood stain.

Can you stain over varnished wood without sanding?

Staining over varnished wood without sanding may not produce the best results. Sanding helps to de-gloss the varnish and increase adherence of wood stain onto it.

What finish can go over polyurethane?

Minwax Polyshades, which is a mixture of wood stain and polyurethane, can go over polyurethane finish perfectly. This is because polyurethane on the wood and the one on the stain bond to form a fresh coat of finish on the wood.

Do you have to remove polyurethane before staining?

No. You don’t have to remove polyurethane before staining. You can stain over an old polyurethane finish using a gel stain, which does not need to penetrate wood pores to stain wood.

Final Thoughts on Staining Over Polyurethane

If your furniture requires retouching, you don’t need to undergo the hassle of stripping the old polyurethane finish.

With just a little sanding and a few coats of gel stain, you can stain over polyurethane to give your wooden furniture a fresh look.

Did you find this tutorial helpful? Let’s know what you think in the comments. Also, feel free to share this article with your fellow DIY woodworkers to let them know how to stain over polyurethane without creating a mess.

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What stain goes over polyurethane? ›

As well as staining over existing stains, gel stains are ideal for staining polyurethane surfaces. Even if the wooden surface has been painted with acrylic or oil-based paint you can still apply a gel stain. Gel stains are durable and they promise some sort of protection because there is polyurethane in the mix.

Can I stain over stain without sanding? ›

You do not need to sand off the previous stain and finish. The purpose of the light sanding is to give a little tooth to the surface to help your new stain colour stick.

How do you prepare polyurethane for staining? ›

Prep the wood finish for polyurethane

The wood surface finish should be smooth to touch and not feel rough. Make sure it is free of dust and dirt too. Tack cloth can be used for removal of any dust/dirt. Let the stain or paint dry on your wood project for at least 24 hours before applying polyurethane.

Can you paint or stain over polyurethane? ›

Yes, you can paint over polyurethane or varnish, so long as you properly prepare the surface. Paint won't stick to polyurethane directly, so if you skip this step, the paint can peel off.

How long does polyurethane take to dry before staining? ›

However, you need to allow 8 hours of drying time before using an oil-based polyurethane and 24 hours before using a water-based polyurethane. General Finishes Gel Stain: will be dry within 12-24 hours, but needs 72+ hours to cure if you're using a water-based finish.

Can I change the color of polyurethane? ›

Polyurethane can be mixed with latex paint for a tough, durable finish that won't go gummy and sticky in humid summer weather like plain latex paint does. The finish will be the same color as the latex paint.”

Can you stain wood that has been sealed? ›

If you're wood has already been sealed by polyurethane or another finish, the wood stain won't work, because it can't reach the pores of the wood. Visually inspecting your piece is the easiest way to tell if the wood has already been sealed.

What happens if you don't sand before staining? ›

You need a smooth surface with no blemishes because stain will highlight scratches and dings in the wood. Always sand down to clean wood (if you have enough meat left of the wood) before applying any stain.

How do you strip polyurethane? ›

Sand the surface to remove polyurethane.

You can simply use fine steel wool. You can also use 150-grit sandpaper. The sandpaper will smooth it out and take off the last of the polyurethane. The after wash should have taken off most of the polyurethane, which is why you shouldn't need a heavy-duty sandpaper.

Will 2 coats of stain make it darker? ›

Yes, each layer will darken your project even more. You can also start with a lighter color Gel Stain and layer on darker colors.

Why is stain coming off when applying polyurethane? ›

The problem is that the stain is not fully dry. The solvent in the stain and the poly are similar and will dissolve each other b4 fully dry.

What goes on first stain or polyurethane? ›

Applying stain and polyurethane is usually a two-step process. First, the stain is applied to add color to the wood, then polyurethane is applied to protect the wood.

Do you sand the last coat of polyurethane? ›

Note: The first coat needs the most sanding to appear smooth; don't worry if it doesn't look as flawless as you'd like at first. After the third coat, sand with 320-grit, then 400-, and finally 600-grit sandpaper.

Can you put a coat of stain over polyurethane? ›

So, can you stain over polyurethane? The short answer is, yes you can! However, you will need to bear in mind that polyurethane seals the wood so traditional stains will not be able to penetrate its pores. This is why you will want to use a gel stain over polyurethane.

How do I get a smooth finish with polyurethane? ›

Remove Old Finish and Sand
  1. You'll get the best results from your topcoat if you remove any old paint, varnish or other finishes before polyurethane application.
  2. For a smooth coating, you'll want the surface to be as smooth as possible, so prepare the wood by sanding it with a sanding block or orbital sander.

How many coats of Minwax polyurethane should I apply? ›

For maximum durability, we recommend 3 coats. Avoid heavy traffic and replacing of furniture for 72 hours after the final coat.

What kind of paint will stick to polyurethane? ›

If everything was done correctly, your polyurethane surface should be ready for paint without any issues. Water-based paint works just fine if your surface is primed correctly, however it's recommended you use oil-based paint for a more superior, long lasting finish.

Will stain get darker with polyurethane? ›

An oil based polyurethane will continue to amber and darken over time, while water-based poly will remain clear for the lifetime of the hardwood floor. This color difference is less noticeable over a stained hardwood floor, but an oil based poly will still exhibit an amber hue that will continue to darken over time.

Can you use oil based stain over water based polyurethane? ›

bondogaposis. Can I apply the oil based poly on top of the water based stain? Absolutely, as long as the stain is completely dry, you will have no issues.

Is it better to stain with a brush or rag? ›

Using a lint free rag is the best way to apply wood stain because it is great for controlling the amount of stain that is applied and for removing any excess stain. Also, the rag leaves a beautiful, even, and brush stroke free finish.

Why is my polyurethane still tacky after 24 hours? ›

The poly simply needs to cure for a while. Even after it "dries" and is safe to work on, the solvents that keep the polymers in suspension aren't all gone; they'll continue to evaporate, and the clear coat will fully harden in time.

How do you speed up polyurethane drying? ›

Humidity and Temperature: Polyurethane dries faster in lower humidity and higher temperature. At increased temperatures, the polyurethane will dry faster, at lower temperatures it will take longer. A temperature of 70F and 50% humidity is what it takes for the average dry times mentioned above.

Will polyurethane turn white to yellow? ›

The Short Answer: All polyurethane will yellow over time. While modern technology has extended the amount of time it takes to yellow and reduced the extent it can yellow by, ALL polyurethane (including polyacrylics) will yellow.

What happens if you paint over polyurethane? ›

What Happens If You Paint Over Polyurethane? If you choose to paint over polyurethane without prepping, your paint is likely to peel right off. It won't take much to scrape the paint off the surface. Most people find that it slides right off when they drag a simple fingernail across the surface of their paint.

How do you keep polyurethane from turning yellow? ›

To avoid a yellowing wood finish, use a water-based polyurethane instead of an oil based polyurethane. The best water-based polyurethane is Minwax's Polycrylic, which is formulated for easy consumer use.

How do you fix a botched stain job? ›

The ideal way to fix a wood stain mistake is to sand the piece down to bare wood, and re-stain. However, this is time-consuming. Applying another layer of stain, painting the piece, or evening the piece with gel stain are other methods that could produce a satisfactory result.

Is it better to stain or seal wood? ›

The advantage of this, they say, is the sealer provides additional protection against water and weather damage, while the stain helps reduce fading from UV rays. Sealers should last at least a year, with some lasting up to three years.

Do I need to remove all stain before restaining? ›

Generally speaking, it's a good idea to completely remove all traces of the previous coat of deck stain before applying a new one. The reasons for this may be fairly obvious -- a previous coat of stain might be peeling away from the surface in several areas.

How long should I wait to sand after staining? ›

Gel stains and water-based stains typically have a recoat time of 2-4 hours. Check the can to be sure for your exact product. You should sand after the first coat of water-based stain to flatten any wood grain the water raised, but it's unnecessary after that.

How soon after sanding should you stain? ›

After sanding, power-wash the deck and allow it to dry for at least 24 hours before staining. Sanding exposes porous wood that's ready to soak up the stain, but this isn't possible if the wood is full of water.

What kind of rag to use for staining? ›

Cheesecloth: White 100% cotton cheesecloth is great for staining. Since it is a thinner material, it is easier to fill the wood grain and covers your surface better.

What does vinegar do to polyurethane? ›

Vinegar should never be used on polyurethane floors, for example. Because it's an acid, vinegar can eat away at hard finishes like polyurethane and wax. Use only white vinegar, diluted with water, on soft floors that are finished with an oil-based coating.

Does vinegar strip polyurethane? ›

So what happens? When you use vinegar on polyurethane finished wood, the acid in the vinegar breaks down the finish and starts to pit the finish. These pits trap sand and along with the acid will eventually strip the polyurethane.

Does baking soda remove polyurethane? ›

Baking soda can be used as a homemade cleaner to help remove polyurethane build-up on wood floors, but it is not as effective as a commercially available product.

What happens if you apply too much stain? ›

Instead, it will create a tacky surface, which may be prone to early peeling. Because the additional coat is not penetrating the wood, it is simply layered on top, which will cause the coat to be more fragile and will not offer the same level of protection as the proper amount of stain.

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

If you apply a second, unnecessary coat of stain to wood that is already adequately covered, you risk creating a tacky surface that is prone to early peeling because the second coat is not penetrating the wood surface, but simply laying on top of the first coat of stain.

How many coats of stain is too much? ›

The general rule of thumb is to apply only as much as the wood can absorb. Typically this will be 2 coats, unless you are dealing with extremely dense hardwoods which may only be able to absorb 1 coat of wood stain.

What happens if you put a second coat of polyurethane too soon? ›

When you recoat after 2 hours you get a chemical bond between layers. If you let it go longer than that, you need to wait 24 hours so it's hard enough to sand and get a mechanical bond.

Do you need to seal polyurethane stain? ›

Step 3: Seal or “finish” the stained wood

After the stain has dried, it's time for the first finishing coat. Remember, you put the stain on unfinished wood, so you need to seal the stain to protect it. Open and stir your polyurethane then brush a coat on. It will bubble as you brush it on.

Why do I have brush strokes in my polyurethane? ›

When polyurethane is too thick, the brush marks hold their shape and don't settle out. Thinning the product provides a smoother finished surface. Experiment with different amounts of paint thinner to see what works best for you.

How long does polyurethane take to cure? ›

Generally speaking, the following estimates apply to most finishes: Hard wax oils: 1-7 days. Water-based finishes: 7-14 days. Oil-modified polyurethane: 30 days.

How long do you have to wait in between coats of polyurethane? ›

Water-based polyurethane requires at least two hours of dry time between coats, and you should only apply two coats in a day. It's important to remember that drying time is affected by temperature and humidity.

How do you get brush marks out of polyurethane? ›

*How Do I Remove Brush Strokes from the 3rd Coat of High Performance Polyurethane? Sand down the final finish with a 220-grit foam sanding pad, and then add another layer of General Finishes High Performance PolyurethaneTopcoat. Apply liberally than you did previously without heavy back-brushing.

What happens if you don t sand between coats of polyurethane? ›

Sanding multiple times and applying more coats may take a lot of time and money. But, if you skip this process, the polyurethane coat will not cling to the previous coat, and the last coat will eventually peel off, causing you to buy more and start the project again.

How do you stain wood that has been sealed? ›

If you're wood has already been sealed by polyurethane or another finish, the wood stain won't work, because it can't reach the pores of the wood. Visually inspecting your piece is the easiest way to tell if the wood has already been sealed.

Which is better gel stain or regular stain? ›

The primary difference between gel and a traditional stain is that gel stain sits on top of the wood while a traditional stain sinks in; as a result, it lets some of the wood's unique markings and texture shine through while delivering a crisp, consistent finish not dissimilar to paint.

Can I use wood stain and polyurethane together? ›

As the name suggests, stain and polyurethane in one works in one step. Stain and poly in one adds color and protection in one coat. Because the pigment is suspended in the polyurethane, the color doesn't really soak into the wood.

How can you tell if polyurethane is oil or water based? ›

COLOR: Oil-based poly has an amber hue, whereas water based poly is clear. An oil based polyurethane will continue to amber and darken over time, while water-based poly will remain clear for the lifetime of the hardwood floor.

Does water based polyurethane last as long as oil based? ›

High quality water based polyurethanes is considered by many homeowners & flooring professionals to be equally durable. Oil based poly can last around 10 years. Water based poly can have the same longevity. The key is using high quality water based poly like Bona Traffic and having it applied by a professional.

Does oil based polyurethane last longer than water based? ›

Oil based polyurethane lasts longer than water based.

There is no contest on the durability between the 2 options. Water based polyurethane has lower VOC's - which is a bit of an environmental benefit (more about that in a moment) - but because it has lower VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), it doesn't last as long.

Can you stain over stain that has been sealed? ›

Yes! In fact, applying stain over stain is a fairly simple process. It works especially well if you're applying a dark stain over a lighter stain. What is this?

Can you seal wood and then stain it? ›

Once you've chosen a sealant strength, apply it to the end grain before you stain. Sand off any sealer that gets on the face of the board before you stain.

Can you stain wood that has already been finished? ›

When staining over an existing finish, it's much easier and safer to go darker rather than lighter. Keep in mind, because you're applying a new stain to an existing color and finish, the color you choose will be altered because the original finish will show through somewhat.

What is the hardest stain to apply? ›

The Ten Worst Stains (and How to Treat Them)
  1. Tomato Sauce & Ketchup. Tomato sauce and ketchup are particularly unfriendly con clothing. ...
  2. Blood. Blood can be particularly tricky to remove. ...
  3. Red Wine. ...
  4. Chocolate. ...
  5. Fruit & Fruit Juice. ...
  6. Grass. ...
  7. Coffee. ...
  8. Grease.
Apr 30, 2020

What kind of stain is the hardest to apply on wood? ›

Varnish wood stain

Varnish wood stains are very similar to oil-based stains with one difference – they dry hard. They tend to be more difficult to apply than other stains as there's less time to wipe off the excess, usually within 15 minutes, compared to oil-based stains which need to be wiped away before it dries.

Which wood stain lasts the longest? ›

In general, an oil-based deck stain will last the longest, but it also depends on the type of wood, the weather conditions, and how long the deck has gone unprotected before staining.

Should I sand between stain and polyurethane? ›

In fact no sanding of any kind is required between coats of varnish to ensure bonding of the next layer. Ideally the one, and only, reason you should sand between coats of varnish is to 'de-nib' — to sand off minor surface blemishes, e.g. from dust particles landing in the finish before it has dried.

Do you sand between coats of stain and polyurethane? ›

Allow each coat to dry fully. To give the subsequent poly layers something to bond to, sand lightly between coats with 320-grit sandpaper wrapped around a hard block. Note: The first coat needs the most sanding to appear smooth; don't worry if it doesn't look as flawless as you'd like at first.


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