How Long To Let Stain Dry Before Polyurethane Application

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To maintain the aesthetic of your furniture pieces, you can get its stained wood surface sealed with polyurethane. Adding a stain to these pieces might not be enough and this final finish might be necessary for protection. 

So, if want to know how long to let stain dry before polyurethane application, here’s a quick guide from our painters and woodworkers: 

About Staining

Staining wood is a process that allows you to change the color and pigment of your wood. Stained wood elevates its natural beauty and aesthetic. 

staining over paint

It is also best to read the manufacturer’s guidelines before choosing one for your project. Furthermore, there are different types of stains suited for different kinds of projects. 

There are also different applications for wood stain. You can use a paintbrush or a rug to apply a stain on the surface. It is not recommended to use a spray gun when dealing with stains. 

Best Practices to Follow

One of the best practices to follow when dealing with woodworking products is to always read the manufacturer’s guidelines and directions found on the packaging. Every stain and finish has different times for drying. 

staining wooden shelf

Furthermore, it is also best to wait for approximately 24-48 hours to give the stain enough time to dry before applying polyurethane. If you have the luxury of time it is best to wait for up to 72 hours. 

How Long Will it Take for Stain To Dry Before You Can Apply Poly?

Generally, different wood stains have different formulations resulting in drying time variations.

Before embarking on this project, it’s best to know about the different type of wood stains available. Some types of stains include conventional varnish, water-based and oil-based stains.  

Water-Based Stains

Water-based wood stains are often marketed as latex wood stains despite having little to no latex in their formulation. A water-based stain is thinner compared to its oil-based counterpart, but water-based is easy to work with. 

water-soluble dye stain

Also, most water-based wood stain types are environmentally friendly as they’re formulated to contain significantly lower chemical concentrations or volatile organic chemicals. It takes approximately 1-2 hours for water-based stains to completely dry if you apply them in thin coats.  

Oil-Based Stains

Oil-based stains are known to have a longer drying time compared to most other wood stains. The longer drying time can be accounted for by its thick consistency, which we recommend applying on horizontal and vertical surfaces.  

Also, unlike most wood stains, oil-based is capable of penetrating deep into the wood pores and bind in its fibers. 

The drying time of oil-based wood stains can take approximately 24 hours, considering the weather conditions. In the unfortunate event that the weather disagrees, then drying time can take approximately 48-72 hours. 

staining maple wood

Oil-based wood stain dries at an ideal ambient temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, there should be enough ventilation in your work area if you are working with an oil-based stain. 

(If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, here’s a guide on removing oil-based stains from wood!)

Gel-Based Stains

Gel-based is another type of wood stain available in the market. A gel-based wood stain, unlike other wood stains, adheres to the wood’s surface. A gel-based wood stain dries out to become a protective layer to keep the wood from decaying. 

A gel-based stain is not intended as wood treatments but is considered as a surface coat. However, a gel-based stain still has an effect on the wood’s texture and color. The grain and texture of the wood will remain visible even after its application. 

Old Master’s Gel Stain

The drying time of a gel stain can take approximately 8 to 24 hours. The stain’s drying time is also dependent on the amount of gel stain applied unto the project and the weather conditions. 

Lacquer-Based Stains

Lacquer-based stains are considered old-school wood treatments. It is a wood treatment that has been around for a very long time. It does an excellent job of improving the aesthetics of the wood and protecting it from deterioration at the same time. 

A lacquer stain is waterproof and becomes transparent when dried up. This specific type of wood stain is used for premium quality furniture and is sure to last a lifetime. 

Despite its good reputation, many woodworkers stopped using it since it is bad for the environment.

spraying lacquer to dining table

A piece of furniture applied with lacquer creates a beautiful finish. This stain takes to dry completely between approximately 5-10 minutes, perfect for time-bounded projects.  

Wood Stains Types Drying Time
Water-based stain 1 to 2 hours
Oil-based stain 6 to 24 hours
Gel-based stain 8 to 24 hours
Lacquer-based stain 5 to 10 minutes

Will Being Outdoors or Indoors Matter?

Working indoors or outdoors will have an effect on the drying times of your project. Projects that are made indoors have a high chance of drying faster since it is exposed to a controlled environment. 

spray painting outside

Projects that are made outdoors have a high risk of getting affected by nature. On the other hand, if the weather is ideal these projects will dry fast. 

How to Tell if Wood Stain is Already Dry

Telling if the wood stain is already dry depends on the type of wood you are working on. Water-based wood stains are among the easiest to examine and decide if it has dried completely. You can touch the surface as well to check if it has dried down. 

Oil-based stains require more time to dry before you apply polyurethane or other coats and sealants. You can tell it has dried down when the stain stops smelling and when the stain is no longer tacky stain.  

Gel-based stains are difficult to tell. A tell that this stain is drying is that it becomes really sticky. Lacquer stains dry quickly so you will have less of a problem when telling whether it has dried down or not. 

Can You Speed Up the Drying Process? How?

Knowing how long to let a stain dry before applying a polyurethane [1] coating application is important. The good news is you can speed up the process of drying. 

staining table top

Aside from too much stain application, there are a lot of conditions and factors to consider to expedite the process of drying to help the product cure completely. 

Make Sure to Sand the Wood Properly

Considering the state of the wood is one of the many factors to consider if you want to speed up the process of drying. Examine the surface of the wood if it has been sanded correctly. This can help the stain adhere properly. 

If the wood surface has not been sanded properly and the existing stains are still on the surface will lead to the current finish having a longer drying time. Furthermore, you will need to remove, re-sand, and re-stain the piece. 

Work in an Ideal Ambient Temperature

Speeding up the process for drying is not solely dependent on your wood pieces alone. It is also necessary to consider the ambient temperature as well as the airflow of the working area. 

spray painting MDF board

If the temperature is cold or hot it can influence the drying time of the stain on the piece. 

Utilize Artificial Temp Control (or Compatible Substances)

It would be ideal to be able to control the ambient temperature of your workplace. This can be achieved by utilizing an artificial temperature control. You can use an oven, heat gun, hair dryer, or even the sun to increase the temperature. 

You can also utilize compatible substances such as alcohol to increase the rate of drying the surface. 

Factors Affecting the Drying Process

Knowing how long to let stain dry before polyurethane coating application should not be limited to time. First and foremost it is best to read the manufacturer’s instructions before starting. It is also good to know several factors that can affect the process of drying:


Air circulation or ventilation can affect the process of drying. The more air circulating, the faster the stain will dry. This can also help with the smell that is being emitted by the stain. 

well ventilated room


Humidity also affects the process of drying the project. Humidity is the amount of water molecules present in the air. Humidity is very tricky. When the air is too humid the project will take a longer time to dry.

It is best to get a dehumidifier to help control the humidity levels.  


Weather conditions and ambient temperature can affect the drying process. A higher temperature may hasten the process of drying but it could also elevate humidity levels. 

The recommended temperature for this process is approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature range of 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit is also good for the project depending on the humidity level. 


Not only the kind of stain should be considered when discussing the factors affecting the drying time but also the brand. The brand of the stain can impact its performance towards the final product, as each brand has a unique formula. 

staining wood with sponge brush

Make sure to read the manufacturer’s guide or instructions and go over the ingredients, drying times, and preferred conditions. Make sure not to combine brands you might not get desirable results. 

More For You

Applying Polyurethane Too Soon: What Will Happen?

Applying poly whether oil-based or water-based polyurethane too soon is a bad idea. Especially since polyurethane and wood stain are incompatible during their wet state. If you add oil-based polyurethane too soon without allowing the stain to dry completely, both will not dry at all. 

Applying polyurethane too soon will result in more work as you’ll have to remove the existing mixture from the wood board. Aside from this, you’ll also re-sand and re-stain the surface as well, allowing the stain to dry, and then apply polyurethane sealer once again. 


What happens if you use polyurethane over a wet stain?

Applying polyurethane over a wet stain is a disaster waiting to happen. If you have the unfortunate event of doing this, then neither the wood stain nor the polyurethane will not dry down.

Can you put polyurethane over the stain?

You can apply polyurethane over the stain granting that the stain has completely dried down. Make sure that the stain has dried down so that you will not do the tedious task of redoing the whole process. But can you use water-based polyurethane over oil-based stains? Find out next!

How long do you let the stain dry before applying another coat?

Wood stain takes some time. The time it takes to allow the stain dry before applying another coat is between 1 to 3 hours. However, it is best to read the manufacturer’s instructions because some coats may require 72 hours before applying another coat. 

What is a metalized dye stain?

A metalized dye stain is a wood treatment that is also referred to as a grain-raising wood stain. Metalized dye stains are unique and raise the wood grain once applied on the surface. 

How much time should elapse between applying stain and poly coating?

It is best to know the time elapsed between applying stain and poly coating. Different stains have different drying times but it is best to allow the stain to dry for 12 to 24 hours before applying a poly coating. Best to wait overnight. 

Interesting Read: Comparing Stain to Varnish  


Sealing furniture pieces is a good idea to allow the furniture to last longer and look beautiful at the same time. 

Enhancing the beauty of your stained wood surfaces is essential prior to the application of a sealant. If you know how long to let stain dry before polyurethane application, you’ll save a lot of time and trouble with your woodworking project. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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