Can You Stain Over Stain? What You Need to Know

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There are several ways to add finishing touches to a wooden project. One way is by applying stain. But what if your project has an existing stain? You will now choose to go darker or lighter, use the same stain, or change it to something else. 

If you’re confronted with this dilemma, I’m here to address questions about staining over an existing stain based on my experience with various projects. 

Can You Stain Over Already Stained Wood?

Yes, you may apply stain over an already existing stain on the wood. This process is a fairly easy one, as long as all the tools are available. 

The good thing about a staining project is that you have control over the resulting wood tones. It is easier to apply a darker wood stain than a lighter one. This way, you can mix and create the custom stain.  

Do I Need to Remove all the Old Stain Before Restaining?

You don’t always need to strip off the existing stain before restaining, as long as you adhere to the right techniques. That said, it’s crucial to remove any protective top coat on the surface before diving into the restaining process.

stripping old stain

Protective coats such as polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer will prevent the new stain from getting absorbed by the wood. If you desire a lighter color, you need only remove the old stain using a stripper. 

Can I Stain on a Surface With Finish?

Staining a wood surface without removing the existing finish or existing stain will not create the best results. Adding a stain on an existing finish will create a unique sheen but does not optimize its use. 
Thus, it is always best to strip away or sand away the old finish and old stain. This will reveal the bare wood and get the best results. Sanding exposes the wood grain, resulting in better stain absorption.

The Pros and Cons of Re-Staining Stained Wood

Restaining wood that’s already stained isn’t too challenging. But like most tasks, it has its upsides and downsides. Before you dive into a staining project, I’d recommend to weigh these pros and cons.



Wood Stain Types to Know + Which Should You Use?

There are different stains available in the market today. Water- or oil-based stains are known to help produce a darker stain on the surface of a piece of wood with an existing stain. 

You should know that different stains add different colors and warmth to your wood pieces. 


Here is a list of different traditional stains to know which one is best for you: 


Gel stain has a thick consistency. Gel stain is either varnish or oil-based. They are known to be pigment-rich wood stain that dries to form a film on the wood surface. 

Gel stain does not penetrate the wood’s pores and instead forms a film on the surface once completely dry. Thus, they are good for staining over stain. I’ve also used gel stain to mask previous stains and paints with good results.

To apply it, it is best to apply a thin coat of gel stain on the wood surface. Wipe the excess with a rag to maintain a thin coat. A thick film of the gel stain leads to a longer drying time and also may result in drying problems. 

gel stain

Ensure that your workplace has proper ventilation and wear protective gear. Gel stains can be messy due to their texture.  


Oil-based wood stain is one of the most available wood stains available today. Oil-based wood stain options contain only dye or a combination of a dye and a resin binder. This allows maximum adherence of the pigment on the wood surface. 

More often than not, stains that are oil-based are composed of linseed oil and other natural oils. Linseed oil is yellowish in color and obtained from the seeds of the flax plant. Its formula makes it easy to use as well as a safe option for use on table tops.  

Select few are deemed safe finishes for wood surfaces that come into contact with food. However, some stains may contain toxic solvents, and thus it is best you go over the safety measures before application. An oil-based stain dries slowly.  


Most water-based stains are considered environmentally friendly since they do not have solvents. Tidying up your workspace is also a breeze since water can help in this process. These stains dry faster compared to oil stains.

water based stains

Water-based stains consist of water-soluble dyes and water, which serve as the solvent and, at the same time, the thinner. In my observations, these stains don’t penetrate the wood grain deeply, offering limited protection.

In order to ensure the drying time of the stain, you may add solvents such as a lacquer. These solvents will reduce the rate that the water-based stain will dry. 

However, be careful when using these solvents as they tend to mute out the stain color which can result in a semi-transparent stain.  

Lacquer and Varnish

Lacquers and varnishes are often formulated with pigments that result in an effect that is almost the same as wood stains. Instead, lacquers and varnishes create a clear film-forming coat that protects and seals the wood off. 

Varnish wood stains are also known as polyurethane varnish. Polyurethane stains are considered artificial resin. Once a surface is applied with the varnish, it is now resistant to acid spills and other chemicals.

polyurethane, paint brush and paint roller

If you’re planning to use one, I recommended using a brush for efficient application. If you opt for a more seamless and perfect finish, it is best to use spray paint. There is no need to apply a finishing coat since the varnish dries into a hard and protective coat after the process. 

Dye Stain

A water-soluble dye stain comes in powder form and is diluted in water to make a solution. It comes in diverse colors for you to choose from. These were used as textile dyes and have since been repurposed.

Dye stains honor the wood’s inherent beauty. Thanks to its pigmentation, it’s often simpler to handle than other stains. But a word of caution, though: consider using dye stains primarily for interior projects only, as the pigments can be sensitive to UV light.

How to Stain Over Already Stained Wood: 6 Steps

As someone who’s spent a fair share of time with wood, I can attest that many of us in the craft know you can stain over an existing stain. However, if you’re aiming for a darker or lighter shade, there are specific steps you’ll need to follow.

When it is time for you to make the necessary changes to the existing stain of your wood pieces, you start by choosing the stain to use. Follow these steps to successfully touch up your furniture. 

restaining wood

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

You will need to assemble the following tools and materials to successfully stain over your wooden pieces:

Step #1: Prepare the Wooden Surface and Your Workspace

Prepare your working area by cleaning and removing items that may get in the way of the process. This will create more room and also allows unrestricted movement around the workspace.

Place some plastic or plastic sheeting on top of the floor. This will serve as protection for the floor from accidental spills. Utilize newspapers or larger cloth to cover surfaces of objects in the room that cannot be removed from the room. 

cleaning wooden surface

For the wood, make sure to prepare and clean it before staining. In addition, remove any attachments and embellishments, if there are any. If you are staining cabinets, you must remove doors, drawers, and other hardware. 

After removal, you can now start sanding the surface. Light sanding removes any inconsistencies on the surface and smoothens it for a smoother finish. Sand along the direction of the wood’s natural grain. It is best to sand until you have raw wood.

Step #2: Prepare and Mix the Stain

Prepare the stain you wish to apply to the wood piece’s surface. You can also mix to create a new stain that will make your wooden piece beautiful. 

Step #3: Stain Away

Once the wood is prepped and dry, get a clean damp cloth and dip it into the stain. Gently apply wood stain on the wood’s surface. When applying stain, make sure to cover the entire surface. 

Apply additional coats necessary to keep the stain saturated. Also, remove the excess stain if there are any.

applying stain

Allow the stain to sit on the surface for 15 minutes. For the best results, I highly advise reading the product information for recommended drying times. The longer the time for drying, the deeper the color will be.  

Wear clothing that you do not mind getting stained and soiled. Use latex or rubber gloves before applying the stain. Since the skin is porous, the stain will be difficult to remove once it comes in contact with it. 

Step #4: Apply Another Coat (Optional)

Once the stain has completely dried, proceed to assess the color and whether it is acceptable to you or not. If you are not yet satisfied or want to achieve a deeper color, you may re-stain wood by applying stain by applying the same steps.

Let the wood dry for about 18-24 hours before applying another coat. And a little tip: give it a light scuff sanding between those coats; it makes all the difference.

applying another coat

Step #5: Allow for the Surface to Cure

Allow the stain to cure on the surface. Read the product label for the instructions regarding drying and curing times. 

Step #6: Apply Finishing Coats if Needed

Once you are happy with the surface, you can apply finishing coats to the wooden piece’s surface. A finishing coat is a clear top coat over a stained surface. This coat should be applied once the stain has dried completely. 

The clear coat for wood will protect the surface from scratches and discoloration. Read the instructions on the product label to determine the correct number of coats to apply on the surface. You will get beautifully finished wood.

How Can I Make Stained Wood Darker?

Now that you know how to apply stain over stain and the different types in the market, you can change the tint of the surface by making it lighter or darker. 

If the current stain on your wood is not your preference, you can go ahead and apply another coat over it, given that you are willing to stain wood darker.

darker stain

Take note of the current stain on your wood surface. If your wood surface has a light-colored stain with red tones, this could create a warm undertone for your new darker stain.  

Stains to Apply to Darken Wood Surfaces That are Light-Stained

You can apply stains that are oil-based, water-based, and gel to darken wood surfaces that are light-stained. Make sure you meticulously follow the instructions and take a moment to read the label guidelines. It’s the key to a successful finish.

How Can I Turn Wood Stain Lighter?

You can turn wood stain lighter by soaking a clean cloth in turpentine or mineral spirits. Rub the cloth to the wood firmly and evenly along the grain until you have successfully lightened the satin. 

How do I Make a Stain Lighter Prior Application?

You can lighten a stain lighter before application by thinning it out. There will be less pigment in the suspension compared to the base liquid. 

Should You Refinish Wood?

In certain situations, you may have applied a stain that turned out to be too dark for your preference. Other times, you may have a surface coat that you want lighter. Whatever the case, refinishing wood is up to you and your preference so that you get the desired result.

refinishing a table

Chemical Stripping

There are instances when the topcoat can be thick and difficult to work with, and sanding it off may not be enough. Before staining over stain, you can opt to use chemical strippers first.

These are a good alternative to strip paint and stain from wood surfaces. This will surely result in a lighter solid stain.

Chemical strippers are known to be toxic since it gives off fumes. It is best to wear protective gear when working with them. 

The top coat will start to create bubbles upon application, then use a plastic scraper to lift it off. Feel free to reapply the stripper in other areas. When in doubt, consult the directions on the product label.  


Sanding the surface of the wood is an easy way to remove the topcoat of an existing stain. I typically start with 80 grit sandpaper and then progress to finer 120 grit and 220 grit papers. You can use an orbital sander or belt sander for convenience. 

220 grit sandpaper

This is a good option to avoid chemicals, but make sure to wear a respirator since sanding almost always produces a lot of dust. 

Tips and Reminders When Staining Over Already Stained Wood

There are many things to consider and bear in mind before staining over stain. Here are some tips and reminders when staining over previously stained wood.

stain over stain

Will Staining the Wooden Surface Protect it?

Yes, staining not only beautifies but also protects the wood. It’s my preferred method for surfaces exposed to the elements. Applying wood stain on the surface will reinforce its structure and protect it further.

Is it Possible to Apply Stain Over Painted Wood Surfaces?

It is possible to apply stain over a painted wooden surface. This can result in a unique look. However, applying the stain first and then painting it afterward is best.

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How Can I Remove Wood Stain by Using Bleach? Is it Possible?

You can use to remove the existing wood stain by using common laundry bleach [1]. Bleaching wood is an overlooked alternative when removing dark stains. Make sure to clean and prep the wood with water or mineral spirits a day before bleaching.  

lightening wood color with bleach

What are the Other Ways to Change the Color of a Wooden Surface?

There are other ways other than wood stains to change the color of the wooden surface. Some of these ways include the following: varnish, oil finish, wax finish, shellac, wood dye, lacquer, french polish, and wood preserve.

Our Top Picks for the Best Wood Stains Today

With the myriad of stain brands and varieties out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So, drawing from my successful woodworking products, I’ve sifted the best wood stains available today. Here are my top and highly recommended picks!

Minwax Polyshades Wood stain

Minwax polyshades wood stain is considered the best for staining over stained cabinets. This product enhances the wood grain with every application. Not only does it provide the wood with rich color, but it protects it as well.

General Finishes Water-based wood stain

General finishes are considered the best water-based wood stain on the market today. It offers a wide range of color and features premium quality pigments that results in vibrant colors. 

General finishes are low in VOC, noncombustible, and have low odor. You can mix stains which allows you to formulate your custom colored stain blend. 

applying waterbased wood stain

Varathane Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain

Varathane premium fast dry wood stain is considered the best oil stain on the market. It is formulated to dry to the touch in about 1 hour. The stain contains high-performance nano-pigment-producing colors when applied to the wood surface. 


Can I change the color of the stain?

You can change the color of the stain. When adding a stain over an existing stain, you can apply a darker shade to alter it to a darker or lighter tone. 

Can I apply light stain over dark stain?

Applying a lighter stain over a darker stain almost always does not work and will make little difference. The existing dark stain will overshadow the new and lighter one.

Can I apply grey stain on a brown-stained surface?

You can apply a grey stain on a brown-stained surface. Before application, make sure to lightly sand the surface to open the pores. Penetrating and gel stains are known to work in this scenario.  

Can I apply black stain on a brown-stained surface?

You can apply a black stain on a brown-stained surface. Applying a black stain over brown is effortless since it is darker in color than brown. Make sure to prep the wood surface before application. 

Can I mix two different colors of stain?

You can mix two different colors of stain. Start by adding a mix of light stain and a dark shade stain. The mixture will result in a new stain. The ratios of the mixture will entirely depend on your preference. 

Can I lighten stain with vinegar?

Vinegar does not result in a lighter shade of stain. Vinegar is used to stop the bleaching action on the wood when the lightened color of the wood has been achieved. 

Will I be able to make Wood darker by staining more coats?

You can make the surface darker by adding multiple coats of stain. Before applying the next coat, ensure the stain is dried properly. The more you apply dark stain, the grains and natural pattern of the wood will be noticeable.  

Will stain fade while drying?

The stain will become lighter as it dries. Thus it is best to observe the surface as it dries to help you decide if you will need to restrain wood and apply a second coat. 

Should I stain or paint wood?

Deciding whether to stain or paint wood depends entirely on you. Stains enhance the wood’s inherent color giving it a more natural feel. Paint, on the other hand, changes the color completely. 

How will I stain cabinets that were stained before?

There are a few steps to perform when you plan to stain cabinets with an old stain. You can begin the process by removing the doors, drawers, and other hardware found in the cabinet. Then proceed to sand and clean the surface.

Apply thin coats of stain on the surface. Allow the stain to dry and scuff in between coats. But can you stain MDF wood cabinets? Find out next!


Staining wood truly brings out the depth and beauty of its natural tones. I’ve heard many hesitations about staining over an existing stain, but with the right approach, it’s entirely feasible.

I hope this guide has given you some clarity on how to restain wood and addressed your concerns about layering stains!

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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