How Long Does Stain Take To Dry?

How Long Does Stain Take To Dry

You’ve just got done with an exciting new construction project, perhaps it’s a dining table that you’re now excited to eat all together as a family, but the initial excitement is sucked out of you as you sit, wait, and check your watch as the wood stain slowly gets to work on your impressive new table.

It takes a long time, but it’s worth doing. But how long does it take exactly, and what can you do to speed it up? 

These questions will be asked and answered in this guide and how specific types of wood stains impact their drying times so that you can make an informed decision as to what kind of stain you should use if you are short on time. 

What Is Stain?

What Is Stain

First of all, if you are new to construction, DIY, or are just generally curious, then we should get into what stain is, how it works, and why you should use it. 

Wood stain is used as a paint to change the appearance and color of wood. Most stains use dyes or pigments to achieve different colors. You can also use other products such as oils, waxes, preservatives, and varnishes to treat and change the color of wood, whether they are interior or exterior pieces. 

As well as making the wood look more attractive and uniform, wood stain is used to protect the wood from the elements if it is outside and will expand its lifespan for many years. You can also use a clear wood stain if you prefer to keep the natural appearance of the wood, which the stain will also preserve. 

As long as the wood has been cleaned and sanded down a bit, the stain can be used on any type of wood, but you should be mindful that some wood may take to the stain better than others which we will touch on a bit more in the next paragraph. 

Stain works by sinking into the wood and providing protection deep into the layers, which makes softwood such as cedar better candidates for it as the layers are less dense and allow for the stain to reach further.

This makes stain different from paint when coloring wood because paint just sits on the outside of the wood, providing just a small bit of protection. 

To get the best results, you should sand the wood down a bit before staining, but you need to make sure that you do not sand too much or too little.

If you sand the wood down too much, the wood won’t accept the stain, but if it is not sanded enough, then the stain will make the wood look almost black due to it being so dark. 

For things such as log cabins, it is advised to stain every two years, but this depends on the stain you use and should be done in the afternoon to avoid any potential dew in the morning, which exposes the wood to too much moisture.

Do not worry if you feel overwhelmed at the immense task of staining your whole house, as there are lots of services that you can choose from that will do it for you in likely a fraction of the time. 

Interior Wood Stain Drying Time

Wood stains that are meant for interior use usually have a base of water or oil which is designed for it to dry quite quickly because interior temperatures and conditions are much more predictable and stable than exterior ones. For most interior wood stains, it should not take more than two hours for them to dry. 

Exterior Wood Stain Drying Time

Exterior wood stains tend to vary more in drying times than interior ones due to their differences in material makeup. This makes most exterior wood stains take at least 12 hours between each coat to dry, but some need at least 48 hours of drying time before you can put on another coat. 

There are some environmental factors that you should consider when waiting for the stain to dry. For example, if there is a lot of moisture in the air, it will make the stain dry much slower, and therefore if it is a warm, sunny day, it will take much less time. 

Before you apply any stain to internal or external wood, always check the drying time and requirements on the tin of stain to get the best results. 

Water-Based, Oil-Based, And Gel Stain Drying Time

Another factor that can change the drying time of a stain is the ingredients it is made from. The stain will vary in texture depending on its chemical makeup, and when shopping for some, it will be made clear to you on the label so that you don’t make the mistake of getting the wrong kind. 

Water-based stains are the thinnest, and stain that is gel-based is thickest. This is what makes their drying times different as the thinner the stain, the quicker it will dry, but this also means that it will require more coats to protect the wood as much as a thicker stain would. 

Stains that are gel-based will take a bit longer than water but may still need another coat. An oil-based stain will take the longest out of the three, but it will only need one coat which allows you to leave it to dry and get on with other things. 

Can You Speed Up The Drying Time?

The thought that you may have to wait for at least 48 hours for certain stains to dry can be very disheartening, but don’t worry because there are some ways that you can cut down the drying time.

These tips and tricks are not guaranteed results and may cause some streaking if you try to make it dry too quickly, but if you are careful and keep an eye on it, you should be fine. You should also read through the instructions on the stain’s tin to take into consideration any warnings or guidelines. 

This trick works for both interior and exterior stains and will require you to create an artificial breeze which you can do by setting up a fan or two. You will need to make sure to move the fans around frequently so that every part of the stain gets dried the same amount, so, unfortunately, you can’t get too comfortable. 

Another way to control the environment to make the stain dry faster is by using a dehumidifier to get rid of the extra moisture in the air, as this can make the stain take much longer to dry. If you are using stain inside, then you can crank up the heat a bit to create a warm and dry environment. 


Diarmuid Brock

I'm a carpenter by day and an amateur woodworker by night. I don't believe in limitations, and I love to help others. I'm here to answer your questions and make your life simpler. I craft and create with all-natural, reclaimed, and repurposed materials.

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