So you are wondering how long it takes for wood stain to dry? This can be a tricky question to answer, but it’s important to know the time it takes for your stain to dry. Knowing how long the drying times are will help you plan projects better and avoid any time-consuming disasters.
The problem is, all products are different and there are many types of wood stains available. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about wood stain and how long it takes them to dry. I’ve also included 30 examples of popular wood stain products and their drying times in a huge table below.
What Affects Wood Stain Drying Time?
Although you will find guidelines about wood stain drying time on the tin, the actual time will always be slightly different. There are a number of factors that affect wood stain drying time. Let me go over each below:
Wood stain dries when the volatiles that carry the pigments and resins evaporate, allowing the stain to stick to the wood. This process is impacted by the temperature because, as you know, liquids tend to evaporate faster in higher temperatures. So, if you use stain in the summer in direct sunlight, it will dry faster than it would in the winter when temperatures are low. Sometimes working in the sun it dries too fast causing noticeable uneven stain jobs.
The ideal temperature range for staining wood is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with an optimal temperature of 70 degrees. If the temperature is warmer or colder than this, you should wait for better conditions.
It’s not just temperature that impacts the evaporation of the volatiles in the stain, humidity makes a difference too. When there is already a lot of moisture in the air, it takes longer for the volatiles to evaporate, so stain drying times are longer. Very low humidity, coupled with temperature, can make the stain dry too quickly and impact the finish, so very hot, super dry days should be avoided.
Ideally, you should apply wood stain when humidity is between 50 and 70%. Anything outside this range will significantly impact the drying times.
Staining Indoors vs Outdoors
Drying times differ a lot between indoor and outdoor projects. When you are working outdoors, the sunlight, temperature, and humidity have more impact. The wind can also speed up the drying times too, so working outside is a lot more unpredictable. When you are staining wood indoors, the conditions are a lot more stable. Although the humidity and temperature still have a role to play, you should find that the stain times are much closer to the estimation on the tin when inside.
Ventilation is the main differentiating factor when working indoors. Having all of the windows closed will reduce air flow and potentially increase humidity, so wood stain will take longer to dry. Improved ventilation will cut drying times quite significantly. Inside a workshop you may have installed ventilation systems, this helps circulate the air helping increase dry times.
Also, ventilation is always recommended when working with paints and stains, you really don’t want to be breathing in these fumes for long durations.
The Type of Stain Being Used
The type of wood stain being used is perhaps one of the biggest factors to consider. Most stains have the same basic components, but the evaporating volatile components differ. The main types of wood stain are:
- Gel stain
- Dye stain
Water-based is usually the fastest to dry while gel stain is probably the slowest. Water-based stains are also impacted by humidity and temperature more than other types of stain. Oil-based stains usually have a linseed oil base, which takes much longer than water-based stains to dry.
However, there is a huge range of different products on the market, each with their own formula, so there are no set rules. A lot of brands offer fast-drying wood stains, for example, that cure and sink into the wood much quicker than you would expect. The most important thing is that you never make assumptions and always check the guidelines on the tin (product label).
The Type of Wood
The type of wood that you are staining impacts the drying time too. Some types of wood are more porous than others, so they absorb the stain unevenly and this can make the stain take a lot longer to dry properly. In general, softwoods like pine, fir, maple, and alder are a little more difficult to stain than hardwoods that absorb stain evenly. Using wood conditioner first, or opting for a gel stain, will help you get better results on a porous wood.
How Can You Tell If Stain Is Dry?
When you look at wood stain, you should be able to see whether it is dry. If it is still glossy and wet looking, it needs to sit longer. But if it looks like it has soaked in properly, it should be almost dry. However, it’s not always easy to tell, especially if the stain has a gloss finish.
Touching it is the easiest way to check if it’s dry or not. I would use a clean rag and slighty touch an inconspicuous area. Remember that touching it can actually made the stain look weird in that area.
Oil-based stains will feel sticky and they will have a slight smell to them if they are not dry yet. Water-based stains will still feel very wet. Once they are dry, they will feel dry to touch and you won’t see stain on your rag or finger.
What to Do if Stain Doesn’t Dry?
If you leave your wood stain for a long time and it still doesn’t dry, you’ve probably applied too much stain and did not remove the excess amount. The good news is, there are a few simple tricks you can try to fix it.
Often, if you are using a penetrating oil stain, it doesn’t dry because you’ve applied too much. It completely saturates the wood and then the excess sits on the top, where it won’t dry properly. This sometimes happens if you don’t strip and sand the wood properly first because the stain doesn’t soak in properly. It might sound a bit odd, but applying another coat is the best fix here. The fresh coat will dissolve the existing stain and bring it out. You can then wipe off all of the excess from the surface of the wood, and it should dry properly this time.
You can watch some of my furniture flips where I apply stain on YouTube. Check out this Mid Century makeover video and jump to 7:15 to see me applying an oil based stain. Then at the 8:02 mark I am wiping off the extra stain.
If the stain sits on the top without soaking in, and it doesn’t dry, you probably didn’t prepare the surface properly. In this case, you should use mineral spirits to wipe off as much of the stain as you can, and then let it dry. Once it’s fully dried, sand back the wood slightly and then stain again.
Sometimes, it’s not your mistake and you did apply the stain properly, it’s just taking longer to dry. Usually, this is due to high humidity or poor ventilation. It might be that the stain is bad too. In this case, just be patient and give it a few more days to dry. If it still doesn’t dry, you may have to clean it with mineral spirits and start again. Maybe your stain is not penetrating the wood, find out why in this detailed article about stain not penetrating the wood.
If you are using a gel stain you may notice it isn’t drying. Gel stain needs the right temperatures and humidity levels to dry, plus it can take up to 48 hours for gel stain to dry. You must apply it and wipe it away, leaving a thick amount of gel stain will never properly dry. See what the difference between gel stain and regular stain in this detailed guide I created.
How To Speed Up Stain Drying Time?
Before we get into different ways to speed up stain drying time, it’s important to note that letting it dry naturally is best for your project. For indoor projects, try to maximize the air flow and if you are working outdoors, pick a day with optimal conditions. That said, there are some situations when you want the stain to dry a bit faster. If you are in a rush, there are a few ways to speed things along. Here are some quick points but also some extra details below:
- Heat dry with a hairdryer (heat gun)
- turn on a fan for ventilation
- open 2 windows
- open garage door
- place in the sun on a dry day
- thin the stain
Heat drying can make stain dry much faster, but it can affect the finish if you apply too much heat. A heat gun works fastest, but there is also a bigger margin for error, so a hairdryer may be best. Apply gentle heat and keep the hairdryer at least 25-30cm from the surface, so you don’t damage the finish.
You can also add a compatible agent to the stain that will thin it and reduce the drying time. For oil-based products, a lacquer thinner will make it dry quicker. When working with water-based stains, you can use denatured alcohol to get the same effect. This may change the color of the stain though, so be aware.
To thin the oil-based stain, start with a measured amount and add the mineral spirits or denatured alcohol one tablespoon at a time. Every stain reacts differently, so there is no exact formula, it just takes a bit of trial and error. When you think you have the right consistency, test it on a piece of scrap wood to make sure that it goes on nicely. It should soak in much better and dry faster.
A few simple ways to dry stain faster is to increase ventilation, add a fan into your workspace. Turn on the oscillating mode and let the full room cycle air. I have added fans into the workspace before, it helps but watch out that you don’t blow dust around to ruin your project.
You can also drag it out onto your driveway and let it sit in the sunlight for an hour, it will likely dry it quickly.
Is it a good idea to speed up stain dry times? Not always, but sometimes time is of the essence.
What’s the Difference Between Dry Time, Recoat Time, and Cure Time?
When you look at guidelines about drying times, you may come across 3 different terms; dry time, recoat time, and cure time. People are often confused about the different terms and what they mean.
Dry time and recoat time are very similar, sometimes used interchangeably. However, the recoat time may show as being less than the dry time because recoating you can apply stain over stain no problem. Applying stain to recoat will often just reactivate the stain, meaning the new stain will cause the old stain to become wet again. If your first coat of stain isn’t dry then applying more stain won’t necessarily cause damages.
However, if you were to brush or wipe a polyurethane over wet stain you could mix the stain around and it could look blotchy. This is why you have a dry time, when you need the stain to be dry in order to apply the finishes without causing damages to the stains appearance.
So, what does cure time mean and how is it different from the dry or recoat time? Cure time refers to the length of time it takes for the stain to completely bond to the wood. In other words, the time it takes for the resin and pigment to turn completely solid. You need to wait until the stain and finish has cured before you can start treating the surface as fully finished. If you subject it to wear and tear before it has cured, the stain can be easily damaged because it is not fully bonded to the wood yet.
Different Types of Stains Drying Times:
How Long Does Water-Based Stain Take to Dry?
Water-based stains tend to dry much faster than other types. After 1-2 hours, the stain should be touch dry and ready to recoat. On average, it takes 24-48 hours before they are cured. However, there are fast drying stains on the market that can be cured in as little as 3 or 4 hours. Many projects I do I will apply the water-based wood stain in the morning and later in the evening I will spray a topcoat on it, sometimes faster. Other times I apply late at night and the following morning I will apply the topcoat.
I do take a look to ensure it is dry enough for sealing. I will never apply sealer with a brush or wipe it on if its at all wet, this will damage its appearance.
How Long Does Oil-Based Stain Take to Dry?
The drying times on oil-based stains vary, with some taking longer than water-based and some drying faster. Some will dry in 1 hour or less, while others can take up to a day before they lose the tacky finish. Some fast drying options will dry faster than you would imagine, but it’s best to leave it a little longer to be sure. Ideally, give it the full day to feel dry or until the next morning. Generally, they take around 72 hours to cure properly, but your stain will still cure underneath a topcoat finish, keep that in mind.
How Long Does Gel Stain Take to Dry?
Gel stains tend to be the slowest drying option. They’re great if you have a non-porous wood and you want something that sits on the surface, but the fact they don’t soak in means they take longer to dry and cure. They can take anywhere between 1 and 8 hours before they are ready to recoat, but they can take over 24 hours to feel dry.
Gel stain can still be worked with before it feels completely dry, I have applied lacquer and polyurethane over it to get the dry feel quicker, but keep in mind that the gel stain can take weeks to fully cure if doing so.
How Long Does Floor Stain Take to Dry?
Staining a floor is a lengthy process that usually takes around 4 to 5 days in total. I am no expert on floor staining but from my research a general floor stain can take 12 up to 48 hours before it is ready for another coat. Ideally, you should do multiple coats of stain on the floor before putting on a poly top coat, so it will take around a few days to finish the job.
Best to have good ventilation and avoid high humidity as this will slow down your process.
How Long Does It Take Stain to Dry on a Deck?
Depending on the type of deck stain you use, and the wood that your deck is made from, expect it to take anywhere between 4 and 24 hours to dry. However, most deck stains will be able to take rain after around 12 hours, so they won’t get washed out (though you should check the specific product you are using, and avoid staining if rain is expected). Wait at least 24 hours, preferably up to 72 for the stain to cure before you start walking on the deck and putting furniture on it.
Deck stains can dry extremely fast in the sun, sometimes they can be dry to touch in less than an hour!
How Long Does Fence Stain Take to Dry?
Ideally, you should wait 12 hours between each coat of fence stain. Although this will vary depending on whether you are using an oil-based, gel-based, or water-based stain. Water-based stains can still be slightly damp when you apply the next coat, so you don’t need to leave it as long. Typically, staining a fence you will use the same stain as you would on your deck, not always but they are often compatible.
Note: Bear in mind that these are all general drying times and it completely depends on the wood you’re staining, the type and brand of stain you are using, and the conditions you are applying it in. If you are applying stain in the sun it will dry much faster than on a cloudy day. The following table will give you more detailed information about the drying times of some of the best wood stains.
How Soon After Stain Can You Apply Polyurethane?
This all depends on the specific drying time of the stain you are using, and the conditions you are working in.
It is best practice to allow your stain to fully dry before applying a polyurethane finish, however this isn’t always required. If you are spraying polyurethane over stain it can still be slightly wet, this is because the stain will not be damaged by touch and the polyurethane will dry while the stain continues to dry and cure underneath.
If you are applying polyurethane by brush or wipe-on application you must allow the stain to become dry to touch. This can take 4 up to 48 hours. If you do not wait and the stain is wet you can damage the stains appearance from touching it with the brush or rag.
To be on the safe side of this you should wait until the stain feels dry to touch, let it dry overnight, turn on a fan! It’s better to allow time to dry then to apply a finish too soon potentially lowering the durability.
30 Wood Stains and Their Drying Times:
Related Wood Stain Questions:
What is the Best Fast-Drying Wood Stain?
There are some excellent fast-drying wood stains on the market right now. If you want an oil-based product, Varathane Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain is one of the best. It dries in just one hour, and you’ll only need a single coat to get the desired color. So, you can finish the job in just a few hours, including drying time.
If you want to use a gel stain but you don’t want to deal with the long drying times, try the Dixie Bell Voodoo Gel Stains. They are ready to recoat in just 15 minutes, and you get excellent coverage. This is the best way to achieve a good finish on non-porous wood, without the long drying times that you often get with gel stain.
Finally, the best water-based fast-drying stain is the Minwax Wood Finish. Just like the oil-based Varathane option, it dries in one hour and you only need a single coat for full coverage, so you can finish the job in no time at all.
How Long Does Wood Conditioner Take to Dry?
Wood conditioner is a light finish that forms a thin layer over the surface of the wood, reducing stain penetration. Applying this to softwoods will help you achieve a more even absorption of the stain, so the end result is better, but this does add to the job time.
Oil-based conditioners take up to 15 minutes to penetrate into the wood, while water-based conditioners only take 5. Once they are soaked into the wood, they need time to properly dry before you apply the stain. This drying time should be around 2 hours, as long as you have applied a nice thin coat, but it can take longer if the humidity is high. Always give it some extra time if you are unsure.
How to Know if Stain is Oil-Based or Water-Based?
The easiest way to tell is to look at the packaging. Most products will state whether they are oil or water-based, but if it isn’t clear, check the cleaning tips. If it says that you can clean up easily with warm water and a bit of standard dish soap, you’ve got a water-based product. But if you need paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean it, it’s oil-based.
You can also tell from the smell, in most cases. Oil-based stains are made with more VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and strong solvents that give off a more pungent smell. Water-based stain, on the other hand, tends not to use these strong chemicals so it won’t smell as strong.
When Should You Increase Your Stain Drying Time?
In normal conditions, you can follow the manufacturer’s guidelines about drying times, but in some situations, you should increase it and allow significantly longer. If the humidity is over 75-80%, this will slow down drying a lot, so make sure to accommodate for this.
Applying multiple coats or especially thick coats will also increase the drying times, especially when using gel stains. The recommended drying times are for standard applications, so anything beyond that will take longer to dry.
Always use your best judgment and if in doubt, it’s always better to give it longer than it needs rather than not giving it long enough.
There is no simple formula for determining the drying time of wood stains because it’s dependent on a lot of different factors. As a general rule, water-based products are quickest, then oil-based, and gel stains take the longest. However, there are many fast-drying stains that break those rules, so never make assumptions. You can use the handy table above to get a general idea before buying any wood stain. But above all, always check the recommended drying time on the packaging and, if in doubt, leave it for longer to make sure.