Each project is different. If you’re planning a wood project, you may be wondering how long does stain take to dry? It’s a critical consideration because the drying time affects how long your overall project takes to complete.
In general, most stains take between 24 and 48 hours to dry fully. But you may need to wait longer, around 72 hours or more, before you can apply the polyurethane and complete your wood project. Dry times vary based on the brand, stain type, and environmental conditions.
In this article, we’ll explain the factors that go into stain drying time to help you pinpoint how long your project may take. We even include a list of the actual drying times of 20 top brands on the market today.
How Long Does Stain Take to Dry?
On average, stains take around 24 to 48 hours to dry. Some brands or stain types may take longer or up to 72 hours. Many factors go into the drying time. Double-check the instructions on the label for the exact dry time. However, the manufacturer’s suggestions could still vary depending on your conditions.
The Actual Drying Time of 20 Stains
The drying time will vary between products and brands. You’ll find the powerful stain brands and their average drying times in the table below. Use the information for comparison.
Factors That Impact Stain Dry Time
The most crucial factor that impacts the dry time of the stain is the type. However, other factors like your environmental conditions alter their drying time. Consider the surface you’re painting and the ventilation, temperature, and humidity when you choose to complete the project.
Type of Stain
There are many types of wood stains, including:
- Dye stain
The type of stain you use determines the dry time. For example, water-based typically dries much faster while gel-based takes longer than other types. However, water-based is also affected by environmental conditions like humidity more. Oil-based stains are the most popular choice on the market today. They add protection to the surface and are often fast-drying.
Stains also vary based on the use. They’re split into either interior or exterior paints based on where you apply them. For example, many exterior wood stains are for decking. Interior stains are common with furniture or cabinets. Exterior stains typically take more time to dry and are higher altered by the weather.
However, the most critical determinant of dry time is the brand. Brands vary, and so do the products under the same brand. Check the label to find the exact drying time of your stain.
Type of Wood
The surface or wood type may also play a role in the drying time. Porous or softwoods may absorb stain unevenly, which can make them take longer to dry. These woods include fir, pine, maple, spruce, aspen, and alder. You can treat them with wood conditioner to prevent imperfections in the stain. Gel stains are another excellent option for difficult woods.
Ventilation or air circulation is crucial when working with stains. The more air you have circulating as you work, the better the stain locks into place. The airflow allows moisture to release from the paint, which is especially beneficial with water-based stains. However, all stains will dry faster with added air circulation.
Temperature is a crucial factor in the dry time of paints and stains. The best temperatures for staining wood are between 50 and 90 degrees F, with 70 degrees F as an ideal temperature.
However, it’s best to check your stain label. The temperature best for your stain may depend on the base the brand uses.
The final important thing to consider when staining wood is humidity. Stain dries when the color pigments soak into the wood’s surface, and the paint’s moisture evaporates. Humid days or regions could significantly impact this process.
Complete your project during a time of the day where humidity is somewhere between 50 and 70%. Avoid rain. Any humidity level that’s higher or lower could alter the stain’s dry time.
How Long Does It Take for Various Stains to Dry?
The primary consideration to figuring out the dry time of wood stains is the type and brand. If you’re ever unsure, check the label on the bottle.
Many oil-based stains are easy to use, making them a top choice in woodworking. While some brands can take a whopping 72 hours to dry, they’re primarily fast-drying. Popular oil-based stains like Osmo require over 12 hours to dry, while Cabot needs at least 24 hours to dry thoroughly.
Minwax Oil-Based Stains
Minwax is a manufacturer with various oil-based options that come in either gel, liquid, or aerosol form. They also include standard and performance-grade types, which require similar dry times as other oil-based stains.
All Minwax stains require an average of 12 hours to dry. You could reecoat after 8 hours. However, the time it takes for the second coat to dry varies based on the brand. Some take two hours. Others must sit for at least 12 hours.
The Minwax oil-based gel stains take the most time to dry. They require at least 24 hours or more, with re-coating after around 8 to 10 hours.
Behr Oil-Based Stains
Behr is a well-known brand in the industry. All the wood stains from Behr have the same recommended dry times. Behr says the stains cure entirely in at least 72 hours and feel dry to the touch between 1 to 2 hours. You can re-coat after a couple of hours if needed.
Cabot Oil-Based Stains
The manufacturer Cabot offers many types of oil-based stains, which have similar drying times. Most Cabot stains dry in 24 hours. A few types take between 24 and 48 hours, such as the Australian Timber Oil.
Osmo Oil-Based Stains
Osmo suggests similar recommendations for all their wood stains. The company says the stain dries in 12 hours on a 73.4-degree F day in 50% humidity. If the temperature or humidity is higher or lower than these numbers, the drying time could take much longer.
Olympic Oil-Based Elite
Olympic Elite is a high-quality wood stain brand for decking. Most of the options require between 24 and 48 hours to cure fully. However, the moisture level and wood quality can alter the dry time.
Water-based stains typically require much less dry time than oil-based options. Most wood stains can dry completely in 24 to 48 hours. Some, like General Finishes stains, may only take between 3 and 4 hours. You can then apply the polyurethane coating.
However, for caution, you may want to wait 72 hours to make sure it dries completely. Due to the nature of the stain, humidity is a huge factor in the drying time of water-based products. Ideal staining conditions include 70% humidity and temperatures around 70 degrees F.
Minwax Water-Based Stains
For comparison, most Minwax water-based stains take approximately 3 hours to dry in the best conditions. You can touch the stain or apply a second coat in as little as 2 hours. If you apply Minwax too heavy or use it in high humidity or cool temperatures, it may take longer.
General Finishes have a wide array of stain types. Their water-based stains take between 3 and 4 hours to dry in ideal conditions. You want to use General Finish on a 70 degree F day with 70% humidity. Lower temperatures or higher humidity levels will prolong this time frame. However, you can use a fan or heat source to speed up the process.
Varathane is a premium stain option. They come in a liquid, aerosol, or gel. Most Varathane stains require a minimum of 8 hours to dry before you can apply the topcoat.
Some brands may only need two hours to dry. For example, the gel varathane stains take two hours to dry, then two hours after applying the second coat. The project could add up to a minimum of 8 hours before you’re ready for the polyurethane.
It’s best to use varathane in a controlled environment, where the humidity is at 50%, and the temperature remains around 70 to 80 degrees F.
Interior vs. Exterior: How Long Does It Take for Stain to Dry?
The drying time varies between interior and exterior stains. The reason comes down to environmental factors. Interior stains allow you to work in an area where the air is warmer and controlled. They typically have a lower humidity level, depending on your location. Comparatively, exterior stain takes longer because outdoor environments fluctuate.
The temperature and humidity outside may change throughout the day as well. In most locations, humidity levels are higher in the early morning and evening. Other areas may have temperature fluctuations of 20 degrees or more, making the stain take longer to dry.
In general, interior stains require an average of between 6 and 24 hours to dry, while exterior stains take between 24 and 72 hours.
How Long Does Gel Stain Take to Dry?
Gel-bard wood stains are newer to the market. They require you to stir them thoroughly before application. However, many people think they’re easier to control and apply due to the consistency. They also hide wood flaws without lots of sanding.
The downside is that gel stains typically require a longer drying time. Gel-based stains are the slowest option available. Most gel stains take at least 24 hours or more to dry.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster
There are four main ways you can make stain dry faster: altering the airflow, humidity, temperature, or all three.
An easy method for making your stain dry faster is to focus on humidity. Staining when the humidity ranges between 50 and 70% is ideal, so opt to use a dehumidifier on 50% to speed up the drying time.
Another excellent way to speed up the stain’s drying process is airflow. You could work in a well-ventilated area or use a fan to help the stain dry faster. Heated air from a space heater is helpful with slower-drying oil-based finishes. If you’re working in a garage or workshop, try opening the doors and windows if a fan is unavailable.
You can also increase the temperature above 80 degrees F to speed up the drying process. However, temperatures about 90 degrees F will keep the stain from penetrating the wood’s surface and cause problems.
Alternatively, you could also apply the stain in thin coats to help it dry faster. Try wiping the excess stain as your work using a cloth or paintbrush.
How Long Should Stain Dry Between Coats?
Most stains only require a couple of hours before you can apply either a second coat of stain or polyurethane varnish. Depending on your project and the materials you choose, some brands may take between 8 and 24 hours. You might need to leave some stains to dry overnight before it’s safe to apply another coat to the surface.
How Long to Let Stain Dry Before Polyurethane
In general, water and oil-based wood stains dry 24 to 48 hours before you can apply polyurethane. If you want to use caution, extend the time to 72 hours. However, the fast-drying stain brands also only require a few hours of dry time before you can apply polyurethane.
Oil-based stains have widely varying dry times before adding polyurethane because they come in aerosol, liquid, and gel forms. Some brands dry in as little as a few hours.
Most oil-based options require anywhere from a few hours to 24 hours to dry. For example, you can re-coat Minimax standard and performance-grade stains after 8 hours, while the gel types take a minimum of 8 hours before you can re-coat and 24 hours before adding polyurethane.
Water-based stains usually take a shorter time to dry compared to oil-based ones. They can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to dry before you can add the polyurethane layer. Some Minwax and General Finishes wood stains only take around 3 to 4 hours.
How Can I Slow Down Stain Drying Time?
A stain that dries too fast can leave blemishes in appearances, such as streaking and blotching. If your stain is drying too quickly, slow it down by adding a splash of paint thinner or mineral spirits to the stain.
How to Apply Wood Stain
Before you start applying stain, take a moment to prepare your workspace. Wood stains contain solvents that evaporate as they dry, releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. For your safety, you must focus on proper ventilation.
Step 1: Sand the Wood
Start by sanding the wood with 100-grit sandpaper. Move across the entire surface following the direction of the wood’s grain. Follow up by sanding it again with 150, then 220-grit sandpaper.
Step 2: Clean the Surface
Wipe the dust and debris from sanding. Use a shop vac or lint-free cloth, as needed. If the dust is challenging to remove, try adding a little mineral spirit to the cloth before wiping.
Step 3: Apply Wood Conditioner
To prevent streaks and blotches, apply the wood conditioner next. Move the conditioner on the surface in the direction of the grain. Allow your wood conditioner to sit for 15 minutes to 2 hours. Wipe away any excess.
Step 4: Stir the Can
Open the can of wood stain, stirring thoroughly. Use a stick to mix the dye or pigment that may settle at the bottom.
Step 5: Apply Stain
Use a high-quality brush or a rag to apply the stain onto the wood’s surface. Move the stain in the direction of the wood grain like the previous steps, wiping away any extra with a clean cloth before it dries.
Step 6: Allow to Dry and Apply Second Coat
The second coat of stain provides a darker hue. Leave the stain to dry, checking the appropriate amount of time before applying the second coat. You may need to wait overnight.
Step 7: Apply Polyurethane Finish
A polyurethane topcoat provides long-term protection to lock in your stain. The finish keeps scratches, water damage, and stains from damaging the stain. Use a natural brush with natural bristles to apply polyurethane for the best results. Brush using smooth, long strokes in the same direction as the grain. Allow the poly to sit until the surface no longer feels wet and sticky.
How to Tell if Stain Is Dry?
You can determine if the stain is dry based on the feel. Oil-based stains do not smell or feel tacky to the touch if they’re dry. Water-based stains become dry when they no longer seem cool. You’ll also notice a powder will form on water-based options if you lightly sand the surface.
Why Your Stain is Not Drying
Most stains dry hard quickly. You may have trouble with a stain not drying if you use an oil stain, particularly with an oil-based stain combined with a dye stain. The combo is a standard option in oil-based products, as the dye adjusts the color of your final product.
Will Tacky Stain Eventually Dry?
If you apply a wood stain too thick, the surface will feel tacky to the touch and will not dry properly. The excess will not dry eventually. Instead, it redissolves and falls away, leaving only the stain that could penetrate the wood’s surface.
The stain may also remain tacky if you experience high humidity or rainy weather. If this is the case for you, allow more dry time to see if the tacky feeling goes away. If not, wipe the wood using mineral spirits to remove the stain’s top layers. Allow it to dry, then re-stain the surface using a fresh can of stain.
Best Fast-Drying Wood Stain
The best fast-drying wood stain available today is Rust-Oleum’s Varathane Fast Drying Wood Stain. It’s a high-performance option with nano pigments that produce an intense color and highlight the natural wood grain. With only a single coat, and the stain dries in as little as an hour. Use it for all your wood projects, from trim and floors to furniture and decking.
The best part about Varathane, besides the lightning-fast drying time, is that it doesn’t require a wood conditioner. You can cover over 275 square feet of wood with a quart of the stain. Plus, this product offers long-term durability when you pair it with Varathane’s polyurethane.
How to Fix Staining Mistakes
If you make a mistake while staining, you can always fix the flaw. Try applying another layer of stain to hide an uneven color or use paint thinner for streaks, drips, or uneven shading. If you have blotchy wood or the stain is not penetrating the wood, you may need to start over. Sand the stain from the surface to re-stain.
Most stains dry by 48 hours. However, the dry time depends on factors like the brand, type, and environmental conditions. You can expect most water-based stains to dry quickly, while gel takes the longest. Always check with the manufacturer for exact information on your project.
Did our list of the actual dry times of 20 different stain brands help you plan your project? Share your experience in the comments, and if you enjoyed our article, please share our wood staining tips with your friends.