Can You Stain Over Painted Wood Surfaces?

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While wooden furniture can be left in its natural state, adding paint or stain can certainly elevate its appearance. Staining can indeed bring warmth to wooden pieces, accentuating their inherent charm.

But what if your old furniture comes with a layer of paint? Can you stain over these painted wood surfaces? Stay with me and let me clarify this matter for you!

Comparing Stain and Paint

Paint and stain are products that have varying results once applied on a wooden surface. Paint adheres to the surface and offers a level of protection since it dries down to form a coating. Furthermore, it effectively hides flaws and scratches. 

stained Mahogany boards

Stains, on the other hand, enhance the natural beauty of wood. It is formulated to penetrate the bare wood grain. 







Basic Principle of Staining Over Painted Wood

Staining over a painted surface can lead to a unique and enhanced finish. It can also result in a distinct wood tone, adding a certain richness to the piece.

staining maple

When you stain over paint, it will result in undertones based on the paint job. This includes the sheen and color and the type of stain applied. 

The streakiness you also see on stained wood is influenced by both the thickness of the stain applied and the tools you use. Rough-bristled chip brushes will give you those wider streaks, while horse hair brushes tend to produce finer streaks.

Why and When to Apply Stain on Top of Paint

Applying stain on top of paint will transform your furniture into legacy pieces. You can also turn some of your wood pieces into dramatic ones. You can apply this process if you need to change the aesthetic appeal of your furniture. 

What Will Happen if You Stain Over Paint?

As I mentioned, staining over your piece’s initial paint color will result in a unique stained wood surface. Here are a few of the results you may achieve after this process. 

dresser top with brown polyurethane finish

Stains to Use Over Paint

Let’s explore various stain types and see how they interact with different paint finishes.

Lacquer Stain

Lacquer stain can be used on water-based paints. Oil-based paints, on the other hand, should be removed before a lacquer stain’s application. 

Deck Stain

Paint stripping will be necessary if you’re planning to use a deck stain. These are commonly found or used on a painted deck. Deck stains can come as oil-based stains or water-based stains. 

Wood Stain

This stain can be applied on the surface as long as it has been scraped and sanded. You can find easily find water-based or oil-based stain products in the market. 

staining a piece of wood

Gel Stain

Gel stains are a topical finish you can apply to stained surfaces. It has good coverage which can hide imperfections. 

Stain to Use Based on the Paint Type

Here is a list of stains you can use based on your furniture piece’s paint type. Go over the list if you wish to stain over paint. 

Chalk Paint

It is water-based, so wax-based stains will have difficulty adhering to it. Make sure to scuff the paint first before applying the stain.

Latex Paint

This paint is compatible with water-based stains. Strip the surface first. 

Painting Furniture with Latex Paint

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is water-based. Make sure to apply a wood stain that is also water-based.

Milk Paint

You can stain this kind of paint. Select your preferred gel stain color to get the ideal result. 

Paints Not to Stain Over

Not all stains can be used on certain paint types. Here are examples of products not to stain over. 

Metal Paint

It is sealant is formulated to contain cellulose that will repel stain.

Exterior Paint

These paints have additives that repel stains. 

house exterior paint


These are non-porous materials that will not allow stain penetration. 

Staining Over Painted Wood Surface: 7 Steps

Now that you know it’s possible to stain over painted wood, I will now walk you through the whole process. For this particular guide, I’d strongly advise opting for a gel stain over other wood stains.

This type of stain won’t showcase its color as it’s designed to penetrate the natural wood grain. Also ensure you have all the necessary materials on hand.

Step #1: Preparing the Wood

Before taking on this project, make sure you have properly prepared the surface and gathered all the necessary materials together. 

Materials Needed

cleaning surfaces with cloth

Clear the wood from dust, dirt, grime, and oil. Use gentle dish soap and some water to clean the surface. Here are the steps to prepare a wooden surface for staining.  

  1. Wipe the surface with a clean rag soaked in soapy water
  2. Dry the surface using a clean and dry cloth
  3. Sand lightly with a fine grit sandpaper
  4. Wipe down the surface to remove sanding dust

Once the cleaning solution is prepared, wet the washcloth into the solution and use it to wipe the area of the object. Use a rag to further clean the surface and dry it up.

Step #2: Put on Protective Gear

Once you have done the surface preparation, put on protective gear. These gears will protect your eyes, face, and hands from any accidents that may happen as a result of this process. 

eye protective gear

You can wear a safety face mask or a respirator. Make sure to wear protective gloves as well to keep the items from staining your hands.  

Step #3: Removing the Old Paint by Sanding

Another important step is lightly sanding as much paint as you can from the wooden surface using fine-grit sandpaper. A 180-grit sandpaper can definitely do the job.

Lightly sanding the surface to get as much paint as possible will allow the stain to adhere more. You don’t have to sand it until it is bare wood or raw wood. 

preparing to sand table with wood sealer before applying second coat

Add a small amount of water to the painted surface, then, start sanding using a sanding block with sandpaper. Gently sand in circular motions to achieve a smooth and even finish. 

This can also effectively eliminate small scratches and lumps. Alternatively, you can remove old paint using the CitriStrip stripping gel

Step #4: Clear the Wood from the Dust and Let it Dry

Once the entire surface has been scruffed and sanded, you can use a damp rag to clear the wood from debris and sanding dust. Squeeze out the rage to remove excess water before wiping it unto the surface. 

Further clean and dry the surface using a dry cloth to eliminate any traces of water left effectively. Leave the surface to dry completely before applying any stain. 

Step #5: Applying the First Stain Coat

Before applying the coats of gel stain, ensure to protect the area, especially since applying stains can be messy. You can easily protect a room by laying down a tarpaulin that can catch any spills and stains. 

It would also be best to work in a well-lit room that is also well ventilated area. When these steps have been accomplished, you can apply the first thin coat of the gel stain. 

staining walnut wood table

Make sure to use a dark stain than the paint on the wood. Using a lighter color stain will do you no good. It’s also best to use a foam brush to apply gel stains on the painted wood. 

Dip the brush into the paint and apply the stain evenly on the surface. Make sure to lightly apply the stain along the natural wood grain in one direction. 

It is best to apply thick coats of the stain so that the coat will dry quickly. Once you have successfully covered the surface, go ahead and inspect the surface for any spots and correct them immediately. Allow the entire surface to dry for approximately an hour. 

Related Read: How Long to Let the Stain Dry Before Applying Polyurethane 

Step #6: Applying More Coats of Stain

The first coat of the stain is not enough to darken the color, especially if you use a semi-transparent stain. It will take around 2 to 3 more coats to get the ideal stain color. The more coats you apply, the deeper the color on the surface will be.  

drying stain

Use the same technique and method employed on the first coat to the additional coats, depending on how many layers you prefer.

Make sure to allow the coats to dry for an hour before applying the next coat. Also, ensure to allow the stained surface to cure for 24 to 48 hours. 

Step #7: Coating Wood with Sealant

Once the stain has successfully cured and dried, it is time to coat the surface with a sealant. A clear coat will help protect the surface from outdoor elements like rain, sun, and physical abrasions. 

sealing wood after staining

Make sure to consult compatible sealants with the stain you used on the painted wood surface. 

Can You Apply Stain on Top of Primer Paint?

Applying stain over primer paint is entirely feasible. The primary purpose of primer paint is to provide a consistent and even foundation for the subsequent application of paint or stain.

It boosts the final coat’s adherence and enriches the end result. For such cases, I suggest opting for solid stains.

Is it Okay to Apply Stain Over a Painted Surface Without Sanding?

You can stain over painted surfaces without light sanding as long as the surface is cleaned and dried completely before staining. 

How to Achieve a Natural Wood Look

You can achieve a natural wood look by paint-stripping the surface completely. Then, you can apply the stain over the painted wood. 

You Might Want to Read: Staining Mahogany Wood 

How to Make Your Painted Wood Look Similar to Wood Stain

You can make painted wood like stained wood by applying a high-quality primer. Furthermore, allow the faux wood grain look to cure for a longer time.

staining over paint

How to Achieve a Smooth Look on Wood

You can easily achieve a smooth look on wood. First, scruff sand the surface with medium grit sandpaper. This can easily eliminate minor imperfections and lumps appearing through the final finish. 

Furthermore, clean the stain in one direction using a foam brush. This will effectively eliminate the excess stain and creates one coat that will dry quickly. 

How to Apply Stain on Top of Paint to Distressed Wood

You can apply it on top of the paint to a distressed wood by adding a dark wood stain over the paint. This application results in aged and distressed wood. Use a rag or a brush for the stain application, then a clean cloth to remove any excess. Allow the stain to dry. 

Another technique to give your wood a distressed look is using a sandpaper block to roughen the surface. Always remember to apply light pressure when sanding the wood’s surface. 

Interesting Articles to Check Out

My Recommended Stain Over Paint: Old Master’s 13016 WIP Stain in American Walnut

Old Master’s Gel stain in American walnut is highly pigmented and can help you get the job done. It can easily be applied on different surfaces, such as plastic, metal, wood, and fiberglass. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like ​

Extra Tips When Staining Over Paint

I’ve got some additional pointers for you if you’re planning to stain over paint:

  1. Always use a clean, dry, lint-free cloth to wipe away any excess stain, and try to wipe consistently in one direction.
  2. Use a foam brush when applying a stain along the direction of the wood grain
  3. It’s essential to ensure that the stain you choose is darker than the existing paint on the wood surface. This will help achieve a more pronounced and effective finish.


Can you use a dry brush to stain on top of the paint?

You can use a dry brush to stain on top of the paint. Make sure to apply the stain in one direction to avoid lumps and bumps. 

Can you use solid stain?

Yes. A solid stain can be used as a final finish on your project. 

Does staining over paint create an antique-like finish?

Staining over paint does create an antique-like finish. The process of antiquing furniture requires you to remove the existing paint before applying the stain. But how about painting over stained wood? Will give the same result? Find out next. 

Is it okay to stain on top of white paint?

It is okay to stain on top of white paint. However, remember that you will get a unique finished piece after this process.

How do I distinguish between paint and stain-graded wood?

You can tell between paint and stain-graded wood based on the product’s behavior. If the material just sits on the surface, then it is paint. If the product penetrates through the wood pores, then it is a stain. 

Is it recommended to stain plywood?

Yes, it’s recommended to stain plywood. This application can enhance your project’s aesthetic and makes it more durable. 

Is it advisable to use a gray stain over a white-painted surface?

Yes,  it’s advisable to use a gray stain over a white-painted surface. However, utilize a no-pain gel stain for this situation. This stain no longer needs any primer and applies more smoothly than traditional wood stain. 


So can you stain over painted wood surfaces? It’s a clear yes! In fact, it has grown popular nowadays and does create a unique look to your wooden furniture, and applying a stain on already painted wood isn’t complicated. 

If you have the time and necessary equipment, go for it. Just a tip: the amount of work needed to strip wooden furniture is highly dependent on the area of your project.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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