bad stain jobs on wood and stacked paint cans

8 Effective Ways On How To Fix A Bad Stain Job On Wood

In Tips by Jamie P.

Sometimes staining wood doesn’t go as planned, the color may not be what you hoped for or it just turned out bad. Staining wood is a super easy thing to do, but if you do not prepare correctly you might have poor results. I have had multiple staining failures flipping furniture and other DIY projects where I couldn’t figure out a solution. Over a period of time, through trial and error, I have learned how to fix a bad stain job on wood.

The thing is there isn’t one type of bad stain job, issues of all kinds can arise. In one of my YouTube videos, I had refinished a dining table, but I made a huge mistake that had taken hours to fix. I placed the can of stain on the table prior to staining, and what I didn’t notice was that it left a small ring on the surface. If you didn’t know, minor scratches are extremely visible when staining a table. It looked so bad, it was as if the table had never been refinished.

This is just one small example where I needed to fix a bad stain job on wood, trust me there have been plenty of others.

The most effective way to fix a bad stain job is to sand everything down or use a paint stripper. By choosing one of these two options, you will end up removing the bad stain job and then you can start from the beginning.

One thing to keep in mind is there are different methods you can take to fix a bad stain job and as I said before there isn’t one single bad type of stain job. These issues can vary in size, shape, and type. So the answer to this question depends on the issue you are having. My goal is to figure out a solution for your bad stain job and get your project looking as good as possible. Take a look at the list below of several different ways I have fixed a bad stain before.


How To Fix A Bad Stain Job on Wood?

1. Sand Damaged Area and Re-apply Stain

arrows pointing to damaged stained table

Paint Can Ring On Table

This is a method I have had to do a number of times. If I have a scratch in the surface or the stain is blotchy in certain areas I will sand with grit that would be the same or higher than what I have previously used.  If you sand with anything lower than the original sandpaper you have used, you might see a different pattern in the wood surface. Using higher grit sandpaper means it will remain smooth and unnoticeable to the eye.

sanding and staining a bad stain job on wood

After Sanding Damaged Area

When I had laid a paint can on top of a table I was refinishing it had left a terrible ring scratch. I sanded around the area by hand, wiped up the mess, and then stained it only around the sanded space. I let it sit for longer than usual so I knew it would set into the wood well. Also, after wiping the stain off it still needed another coat to blend best. When the tabletop was dry I had applied a second coat of stain over everything and it ended up matching perfectly! Try to match it up so when it does dry it looks evenly stained throughout.

Fixing damaged wood areas when staining is a lengthy process but being cautious and careful can result in a great outcome well worth the time. Small scratches only need to be sanded out and then stained over, it’s really that simple!

2. Apply More Coats of Stain

Sometimes your first coat of stain isn’t enough, you might see some uneven coloring and some places may not even take in the stain well. Try applying a second coat, this is likely to make the surface darker but it will help with uneven staining. If the second coat helped but didn’t solve the problem then you can apply another coat.

However, if there was no change do not apply a second coat. What you can do is sand down the areas not staining well by hand. The reason stain isn’t setting could be from old paint or stain still sitting in the wood grains. Make sure to sand the area well and stain a few coats again. Apply to the designated area until it matches into your project.

If your stain is not penetrating the wood read our full detailed guide Stain Is Not Penetrating Wood (Here’s What To Do).

3. Apply Stain In Selected Areas

Wood stain soaks into wood based on a number of factors. Sometimes you stain wood and it soaks up all of your stain quickly and other times your stain just sits on top. This can depend on the age, type, and if it is damp or not, other factors can also contribute. However, I have had pieces of furniture that would stain perfectly while one little spot just wouldn’t take.

What I would do is just apply stain to that selected area and blend it into the rest of the piece until it matched. Sometimes this means let the stain sit there for longer periods of time.

If this doesn’t work sanding might be required.

4. Chemical Strip The Entire Project

This is how I start many of my refinishing projects, I simply apply paint and stain stripper, wait the recommended time, then I scrape it off. If you are having issues and need to fix a bad stain job on your wooden project you can strip the entire piece.

4 Steps to Strip Bad Stain Job

  1. Apply Stripper
  2. Wait Recommended Time
  3. Scrape Off Stripper/Stain
  4. Use Mineral Spirits and Steel Wool to Clean Up Stripper Residue

Grab a metal paint scraper and follow stripping instructions, after applying and waiting, use the scraper to peel off all the stain. Next, you are going to need mineral spirits and steel wool. Pour the mineral spirits on the surface that you scraped, then use the steel wool to clean up the remaining stripper residue.

When everything has dried up, I recommend a light sanding before getting things started. Use sandpaper between 150 and 220 grit before staining for the best results.

5. Sand Down The Bad Stain Job

sanding a coffee table top

Sanding with Wood Grain

If you don’t enjoy stripping stain off wood, or you just don’t have the materials, you can sand the bad stain job completely off. Typically I use 80-150 grit sandpaper when removing bad stains from a project, but be careful you do not damage the surface to no return.

Sanding wood requires you to follow the wood grain so you prevent surface damages. Also, sanding with the grain improves the staining results so I highly recommend doing so.

I use a random orbit sander, but other sanders are still a great option for removing the old stain. Use a mouse sander, palm sander, but I would stay away from a belt sander unless you know what you’re doing!

Sanding by hand is something I do not recommend, only sand by hand for small detailed touches or an overall small project.

6. Cover It Up!

There are 2 things you can do to cover up a bad stain job on wood. You can paint over the bad stain or lightly sand then apply a super dark stain over the top of it.

Painting furniture is super popular and can be an easy cover over the stain. If I were to paint over stain I would sand it first and then apply a primer on top. Priming would be required because the stain would bleed through the paint very easily. If you are painting the project apply 2 coats and don’t forget to apply a topcoat finish.

My favorite top coat finish would be to spray 3-4 layers of lacquer over the paint, or I would use Triple Thick Polyurethane. A topcoat finish is required or you will see the paint chipping in no time.

To stain over stain you must be aware of this…

You can’t stain a clearcoat finishes, the stain would just sit on top and do nothing. If you sand away all the topcoat finish you can then apply stain over stain. The odds of this working without issues is slim, I think if you are willing to remove a topcoat finish you may as well remove all the old stain.

If you are in the middle of a project and you are using a light stain and it just looks bad, you can use a dark stain over it and it can work fine. The color may not be the same as if it was used directly on the wood, but if it’s dark enough it can cover up the old stuff!

7. Wipe Away Dark Stained Areas

Just like trying to fill in lighter areas, you can instead try wiping away the darker spots during the staining process. Use a clean fresh rag, this enables the stain to soak up into the rag making the dark area appear lighter.

Furthermore, we can get into chemical products that can help remove dark stained areas. Products like mineral spirits and paint thinners can help remove stain from dark areas, use the rag and try to rub it out. Only dab your rag with chemicals such as mineral spirits for this process, too much will remove a lot more than you want.

Then grab a dry rag to clean up access liquids, but just be careful you might end up removing too much!

8. Glaze Over The Bad Stain

Antique glazing is a unique form of staining where you apply a layer of stain over the top and wipe it off to create an aged effect. I have done this to many projects in the past.

It would be somewhat similar to just staining over the project like what I mention above in tip number 2. Usually I antique glaze over paint, but when antique glazing over stain you can add in about 10% mineral spirits so it wipes off easier and quicker. Really this is only effective when staining a different color stain, typically a darker over a lighter stain.

Remember that this effect over stain is to make it darker and to create an antique look. It can fix blotchy stain jobs and light stains you don’t like. Apply the 90-10 ratio stain over your bad stain job and it can effectively clean up blotchy and bad stain jobs.

If you want to see me antique glaze a piece of furniture check out “How to make an old coffee table look new!”.

Final Thoughts

Fixing a bad stain job can be time-consuming and an overall pain. Knowing what to do and how to do it properly will prevent you from wasting time on the wrong tasks. If you arent sure what to do please feel free to email me at furnitureflippa@gmail.com, this will give me a chance to answer you directly and hopefully fix your problems.

If you are interested in more furniture makeovers, flips, and all of the above, please follow along my website and my youtube channel.