If you are stain-coating your wood products, you’re likely concerned with the standard time it requires to dry. In most cases, different brands label their products with drying or curing times, which you must check.

Source: indigopaints.com

Generally, a wood stain takes about 24 to 48 hours before it fully dries on a wood surface, a good time threshold before applying secondary coatings. Others who like to play it safe can wait for around 72 hours.

Still, it is advisable to read the product’s suggested use properly. If you are new to stain coating, here you’ll learn about its properties and drying time to get the best project results.

What Is a Stain (Coating)?

Wood stain is a coating for wood used to enhance grain color, alter its appearance, or add a layer of protection. Stains work on a similar composition with paint wherein pigments are carried by “vehicles” to be applied on surfaces. 

The moniker “vehicle” or medium describes the fluid that carries the pigment. This is because pigments are not dissolved in the solution but instead simply carried or suspended in it. Common types of vehicles are lacquer, polyurethane, shellac, or varnish.

Aside from aesthetic enhancement, stains may also exhibit protective properties against heat, moisture, chemicals, and in some types, even termites. 

The Different Types of Stain and Their Drying Times

If you’re woodworking, you’ll most likely encounter different stain types to post-treat your crafts. Thus, familiarizing yourself with a few of the common types of stains will help up your woodworking knowledge. Get the hang of your wood staining options through the types we’ve covered below:

Gel Stain

You can easily identify a gel stain through its viscous nature akin to cream or toothpaste. Most gel stains typically have an oil or varnish base. Because of its viscosity, it is easy to control and advisable for porous and non-porous wood.

However, gel stains are not advisable if you want your stains to penetrate through the wood. It is thixotropic or non-fluid, which makes wood surface penetration difficult.


  • Easy handling and application
  • Less wastage due to dripping
  • Good staining performance
  • Sanding is optional


  • Limited wood penetration
  • Slow drying type
  • You cannot spray it

Drying Time

Gel stains take from 8 to 24 of drying in between layers.

Lacquer Wood Stain

Lacquer wood stain is a popular choice for a fast-drying wood stain as it dries for only around 15 minutes. The solution includes xylene and ketones, which work as fast-drying agents. However, they can exhibit a strong odor when drying. Thus, wearing a mask when applying lacquer wood stains is advisable.

It is also very dilute, allowing it to penetrate through the wood. Plus, it is application efficient and will not require more than two layers of coating. However, note that bubbles can appear when drying, influencing the finish. To avoid this, ensure to regulate the temperature or further dilute it using a lacquer thinner.


  • Quick-drying stain
  • Surface penetrating
  • Easy application


  • Possible bubble formation
  • Strong odor when drying

Drying Time

Can dry as fast as just 15 minutes.

Metalized Dye Stain

Metalized dye stain is your best option when coating bare wood, known as non-grain raising stains (NGRS). This type of stain is commonly sprayed and also dries quickly within minutes. It is typically thinned using acetone or methanol and can blend with lacquer and be applied as a toner.

Additionally, a metalized stain is best if you want a deeper and more uniform finish. Plus, you have plenty of options in controlling its drying speed.


  • Dries fast
  • Best stain choice for bare wood


  • Sensitive and fades fast with UV light
  • Can dry too fast, which should be regulated with water or other additives

Drying Time

Varies depending on the brand but typically around 15 minutes more so.

Oil-Based Stain

Oil-based stain is probably the most popular and widely used type of wood stain. Typically, oil-based stains use linseed oil as the base, a natural and environment-friendly solution.

It allows the pigments to seep deeper into the wood surface. Plus, since it is oil-based, it gives you ample time to finish the coating uniformly. However, this leeway on drying time can also work against you if you work in a rush. 

You can also use oil-based oil to set as a base for further coating layers. However, it is not applicable when using a final water-based coating as oil repels water adhesion or seepage. 


  • High workability
  • Can preserve wood
  • Environment-friendly solution
  • Penetrates deep into the wood surface


  • Dries slowly
  • Repels water-based stains

Drying Time

It may take 6-8 hours of drying under favorable conditions and up to 24 hours when humid.

Varnish Stain

Varnish stains are almost similar to oil-based stains. However, instead of oil, it uses varnish, sometimes polyurethane, as the vehicle for the pigments. Polyurethane is also a good base as it can form a plastic layer and resist heat and chemical damage. Varnish stains are advisable for worn-out wood surfaces, and you can apply them using a brush or roller.


  • Easy application
  • Dries into a durable layer
  • Finishing coat can be optional
  • Water, chemical, and heat resistant


  • Discolors over time
  • It can be hard to apply uniformly

Drying Time

The drying time is around 8 to 24 hours.

Water-Soluble Dye Stain

Water-soluble dyes are distinctive in their powder form, and you have to dissolve them in water (sometimes alcohol) to be used. It is your perfect choice if you’ll be coloring intensely but still want to preserve the natural wood look. Meaning you could color too dark and still retain the details of the wood surface. However, this type of stain is weak against UV rays, making it fade fast.


  • Will not overpower wood details
  • Easy use
  • Has plenty of color choices


  • Can fade under UV light

Drying Time

It can dry for 2 to 4 hours under favorable conditions.

Water-Based Stain

Water-based stain is perfect for underwater or moisture-exposed woodwork. It uses water as a thinner and uses aniline pigments to colorize. Additionally, water-based stains are environment-friendly that greatly enhance the wood grain. 

However, it can also be hard to work with as it dries fast and has limited seepage capability. To manage drying time, you may have to use drying retardants such as propylene glycol or lacquer.


  • Quick-drying stain
  • Resists molds and mildew
  • Environment-friendly


  • Time-consuming
  • Shallow surface penetration

Drying Time

It can take 24 to 72 hours to dry.

What Affects Stain Drying Time?

There are a variety of factors to consider for optimal stain drying time.

  • Stain Type: Different stain types have different average times for drying. Be sure to check product details for the best applications.
  • Wood Type: Most wood types can absorb solutions fast, and some repel them. Verify the wood and stain type compatibility 
  • Ventilation: Is there enough air circulation to assist in drying? Ventilation greatly affects the speed of stain drying time.
  • Humidity: More air moisture causes dampness and significantly delays stain drying time.
  • Temperature: Higher temperature assists drying. However, certain stain types may react negatively to high temperatures.

How To Know When Stain Is Already Dry?

Many stain types can show signs of dryness differently. You can observe less odor for oil-based stains, and the surface no longer feels sticky when dry. Meanwhile, for water-based stains, when it has dried, it no longer feels cool to the touch.

When Should You Wipe Your Stains?

You can wipe stains for a lighter tone; just wipe the stain immediately after applying. Meanwhile, let the stain rest for 10 minutes if you want a deeper tone.

Enhance Your Wood Works Using Stains

Stains can be a great way to enhance and protect your woodwork. Just be sure to observe proper applications and use advisable wood stains. Plus, a little checking of the process and product guide will help you apply stains even as a DIY project.

Editorial Contributors
Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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