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How Long Does Wood Stain Take To Dry

Every project is unique for home improvement, such as building cabinets or installing decking. For such projects, rather than paint, a staining process is used to get a natural appearance, yet with waterproofing and protection capabilities. You can even opt for something more glamorous with a metalized dye stain.

Among the questions asked are, if you apply wood stain, how long to dry before you can either use what you have made or apply a second coat? Generally, it takes wood stain between 24 and 48 hours for most stains to dry before you can apply polyurethane thoroughly.

However, if you want to ensure you have the toughest finish, the answer to how long wood stain dry 72 hours drying time when using an oil stain. Like many treatments, this is a brief answer. So, in our guide, we dive deeper into the factors affecting an oil-based stain dry time compared to a water-based wood stain. (Learn How Many Coats Of Primer On New Drywall)

wood stain

What Factors Impact Stain Dry Time

The type of stain is the most crucial aspect that determines how long does it take for the stain to dry.

However, the environmental conditions and more can affect how quickly they dry. When deciding whether to complete the project, consider the surface you’re painting and the ventilation, temperature, and humidity.

Types of Stains

You’ll find a selection of wood stains, including:

  • Water-based wood stains
  • Oil-based wood stains
  • Varnish and Lacquer
  • Gel-based stain and Dye stain

How long does it take wood stain to dry depends on your stain? For instance, gel-based takes longer to dry than others, while water-based stain dries quicker. However, factors like humidity have a more significant impact on water-based products.

The most used is an oil-based wood stain. They strengthen the surface’s defenses and can dry quickly. You may ask, how long does oil-based stain take to dry? For decking, for instance, these exterior wood stains will take longer to dry than interior stains.

Although you can usually add a second coat after about four hours, a lacquer wood stain takes 24 to 72 hours to properly dry and cure.

wood types

Wood Types

The surface or type of wood may also influence the drying time. Softwood or porous surfaces could absorb stains unevenly, which could cause them to take longer to dry.

Fir, pine, maple, spruce, aspen, and alder are some of these trees. To prevent stain imperfections, you can treat them with wood conditioner. Another fantastic choice for tough woods is gel stains.

Pressure-treated wood can affect the results as it may not soak in evenly with one coat. Therefore, you must also ensure the first coat is dry before applying a second coat or a lacquer stain.


When handling stains, ventilation or airflow is essential. This is because the stain locks into place more effectively as more air moves while you work. The airflow is very helpful when applying water-based stains since it allows moisture to escape from the stain. (Read Can You Stain Particle Board)

surrounding temperature

Surrounding Temperature

The temperature has a significant influence on how quickly stains dry. Between 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit are suitable for staining wood, with 70 being the ideal temperature.

It’s best to examine the stain label, though. The brand’s base may determine the best temperature for your stained surface coating.


Humidity is the final crucial factor to consider before staining wood. When the stains’ wetness evaporates and the color pigments soak into the surface of the wood, the stain dries.

Complete your project while the relative humidity ranges between 50 and 70 percent during the day. Avoiding rain and humidity levels higher or lower than above can affect how fast your stain dries.

How Long Do Different Stains Take To Dry?

The primary consideration in determining the dry time of many oil-based stains is the type and brand. If you’re ever unsure, check the label on the bottle.

Oil-Based Stains

  • Cabot Oil-Based Stains: Cabot offers oil-based stains with similar drying times in 24 hours. A few can take 24 to 48 hours, such as the Australian Timber Oil.
  • Osmo Oil-Based Stains: Osmo suggests similar for all their wood stains. The stain dries in 12 hours on a 73.4-degree F day in 50% humidity, which can vary outside of this.
  • Olympic Oil-Based Elite: Olympic Elite wood stains for decking require 24 to 48 hours to cure fully.

Water-Based Stains

Most wood stains that are water-based stains require less dry time than oil-based and can completely dry in 24 to 48 hours. For most, you can then apply the polyurethane coating.

Minwax Water-Based Stains: It takes around 3 hours to dry, and you can touch or apply a second coat in as little as 2 hours.

General Finishes: General Finishes offer a wide range of water-based stains taking 3 to 4 hours to dry.

Varathane Stains: A premium stain that comes in a liquid, aerosol, or gel. Varathane stains need hours to dry before applying a topcoat.

How Long For Gel Stain to Dry?

New gel-bard wood stains are available. The consistency makes them easier to control and administer, and they cover wood imperfections without sanding. However, gel-based stains dry slowly; most gel stains take around 24 hours to dry. (Learn How Long For Deck Stain To Dry)

How to Make Stain Dry Faster

  • Airflow, humidity, and temperature can speed up the stain-drying process.
  • Humidity can help a stain dry faster and staining when humidity is between 50 and 70% is excellent; thus, put a dehumidifier on 50% to speed up drying time.
  • For an exterior stain, use a warm day rather than one that is cold and damp.
  • Airflow speeds up stain drying, so work in a well-ventilated area or use a fan to help the stain dry quickly.
  • Space heaters help oil-based coatings dry faster, and if a fan isn’t accessible, open garage or workshop doors and windows.
  • Temperatures exceeding 80 degrees F might speed up drying. However, 90 degrees F will prevent the stain from reaching the wood’s surface.
  • Thin coats of stain will help it dry faster, so wipe away excess stain with a cloth or paintbrush.


How to Fix Staining Mistakes

If you stain anything incorrectly, you can always fix it. To cover an uneven tint, try applying another coat of stain; for streaks, drips, or uneven shading, use paint thinner.

You might need to start over and add apply wood conditioner if your wood is blotchy or if the stain is not soaking into the wood.

Will tacky stain eventually dry?

The purpose of penetrating wood stains is not to provide a surface finish. However, they won’t dry correctly and stay tacky to the touch if applied too heavily. Only the stain soaked into the wood will remain once any excess stain has been removed and redissolved.

What happens if you stain over stain?

If you apply a dark stain over a lighter stain on unfinished wood, staining over stain is raw and gorgeous. To create DIY bespoke stains, combine two or more stains.

Will the stain lighten as it dries?

As stains reach the end of their drying time, they become lighter, but once a finish is applied, they revert to their damp color.

The quickest way to determine the color you’ll obtain with the polyurethane varnish applied is by looking at the stain while it is still moist and the drying time hasn’t started.

Do you have to topcoat stain?

While staining highlights the natural wood grain and produces a rich, deep color, it does not offer long-term protection.

Without a topcoat, wood is readily harmed by exposure to moisture, food, or sharp objects. The wood is shielded from scuffs, stains, and water damage with a polyurethane topcoat.

Can wood stain fumes kill you?

You may take steps to prevent endangering your health and safety even if wood stain fumes are dangerous to human health. Whenever you apply stain indoors or use an outdoor stain in large quantities, you need to do so in a controlled environment.

Wood staining delivers an overpowering smell, and proper ventilation ensures that wood stains fade. A few options to eliminate vapors and smells are baking soda or activated charcoal, although a good mask would be better. (Learn How To Lighten Dark Stained Wood)

Although latex and oil paint fumes can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat when applied as advised, and you let the stain sit until dry, they do not poison the body.

This may occur when vast areas are painted or stained or in a poorly ventilated environment.

When you stain wood on a deck, you’ll find the fumes from the stained wood are not as bad, yet you can still smell them throughout the drying process before replacing them as you apply polyurethane.

How Long Do Interior and Exterior Stains Take to Dry?

Because of their environment, the time it takes a water-based wood stain to dry differs from a gel stain.

It varies totally depending on where you live, but warmer air and lower humidity levels can be managed for interior stains. This stain takes between 6 to 24 hours to dry.

According to experience, the outside stain typically takes 24 to 72 hours to let the stain dry before polyurethane for protection.

This is because temperatures can occasionally vary by over 20 degrees outdoors. More so at night and in the early morning hours, the humidity is also higher.

How Long Does Wood Stain Take To Dry (2)