There are several factors in how to make stain dry faster, but I’ve found a few key factors that reduce the dry time for all types of wood stain.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster
I have been staining wood regularly for over 10 years now, so I’ve learned a few tricks on how to make stain dry faster. Over the years I have changed how I do things because I learn as I go, and after much trial and error you figure out the best process.
And, I’m here to share that process with you, so you don’t have to go through trial and error yourself. We stain products in my woodshop anywhere from 5 to 10 hours every week, so I know a thing or two.
There are several factors in how to make stain dry faster, but one key thing that I’ve found to help most. I’ll let you in on that secret later, but first, we will discuss how to apply wood stain, then we will go over the types of wood stains and major factors that affect drying time.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster: Application Process
The way in which you apply wood stain greatly affects the dry time. I use a cheap chip brush to thoroughly apply and coat my bare wood, then I take a clean cotton rag and wipe off all of the excess stain. Cotton is the best option to use because it is highly absorbent and does not leave any lint on the wood. Cotton fabric does the best job of soaking up the excess stain off of the wood.
Always wipe off all of your excess stain with a clean cloth every time, no matter the brand of stain: oil-based wood stains, water-based wood stains, and gel-based stains. Remember that the stain-soaked rags are now combustible so DO NOT put them in a pile indoors.
Wiping off the excess is the most important part of the application process because if you don’t, you’ll be left with a tacky and blotchy finish.
I also buy disposable latex gloves to protect my hands, then simply throw them in the trash when I’m done. It’s an easy way to clean up in less time and keeps my hands and cuticles clean.
Wood & Stain Choices
Types of Wood:
Softwoods and hardwoods absorb the stain differently because softwoods are more porous. A softwood like pine, for example, absorbs a lot more stain so it takes longer to dry. A hardwood like maple does not absorb as much stain, so your color is lighter and dries a lot faster.
Types of Wood Stain:
Oil-based stains take a little longer to dry, but they provide a deep, rich color. Minwax Wood Finish penetrating stain is an oil based stain that I use on about 95% of my projects. The directions say that it dries in two hours, but I don’t agree. Keep reading to discover my trick on how to make stain dry faster and be dry to the touch.
Water-based stains dry a lot faster than oil based stains, and are drier to the touch which is very important. I have used the Varathane brand water-based wood stain for a few colors, but I especially like to use their water based stains for black and white.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster: Environmental Factors
The ideal temperature to stain wood is 70° or above. You don’t want to do it when it is below 50° because the stain will never dry. I know this from experience as I’ve had things stacked up in my garage and barn in the winter waiting for the stain to cure. Temperature is a huge factor, probably the most important factor.
Humidity level is another factor that determines dry time. With high humidity, the longer the stain drying process. This is due to the moisture in the air. Stain needs to have a low humidity environment in order to cure. If you are staining in the middle of July and the humidity is 100% then your wood is going to stay tacky to the touch. Tip: if you are in a very humid environment, use a fan to speed up the dry time.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster: Best Process
Finally, the secret to making the stain dry faster is good ol’ UV’s. Yep, direct sunlight is the magic way to get your stain to cure and be dry to the touch faster! Just a couple of hours of direct exposure and your projects will be faster drying in the ideal conditions.
This is now part of my process for all of my projects and it works wonders. I wish I would have figured this out as soon as I started rather than trying different types of stains, setting things in front of fans and searching for the best heat.
A few things to consider when putting your stained projects outside:
In the summer when the UV is high, you will only need to put each surface out in the sun for about two hours. In the winter time when it’s really cold, you can still put your stained projects in the sun, but you’ll want to leave it out there all day.
My general rule of thumb, don’t let it stay in the sun all day in the summer. The wood will dry out too much and can warp. Just a few hours is the right amount of time. In cooler weather, you can leave it out all day since the temperature is much lower.
The majority of my products are minwax stain applied to pine wood. If you are using a hardwood then your sunlight drying time will be shorter.
Make sure it’s not going to rain! As soon as water droplets mix into your stain, the wood will absorb that water leaving a blotchy mess on the surface. If you do get water droplets on your wood project, take a clean rag and wipe it off as soon as you can! You want to wipe it continuously for 1 minute.
Don’t leave it out for too long because the sun will dry out the natural moisture in the wood and cause it to shrink. Think of it as tanning. Leave it for a few hours, then flip it. You don’t want it to be out there all day.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster: FAQ’s
What IS the exact dry time after applying stain?
Normally stains can take 24 to 72 hours to dry, but it depends on the type of stain you are using and the humidity in your space. It also depends on the type of stain and the type of wood surface that you are using for your woodworking project. I like to let it rest for 24-48 hours AFTER a couple hours of sunlight.
How long should I let the stain dry before putting on polyurethane?
For best results, wait until it’s dry to the touch, then you can apply poly. It will usually take at least 12 hours. A polyurethane finish can be applied the day after. If it isn’t dry, the pigments will show up in your poly and have a significant impact on the finish. Give it an extra day to be on the side of caution.
Do I need two coats of stain?
I rarely ever use a second coat of stain. If you need your wood to be darker, I would choose a darker shade of stain rather than additional coats. If you do apply a second coat, you won’t notice that much of a difference anyway because the first coat absorbs the most. Using a heavy amount of stain will not give you a deeper finish either, the stain soaks into the wood that same, no matter how much you put on.
Do I need to use wood conditioner?
Wood conditioner is great to use to avoid a splotchy stain coat. (Pine is notorious for this.)
Applying a coat of conditioner will give your stain a nice, even coat. It soaks into the pores, so that the stain doesn’t. Resulting in a lighter tone, that is more uniform and even.
I have shiny, sticky blotches on my wood.
That means that you have a run. You did not wipe off all of the excess stain.
If it is not totally dry, try wiping it off with a cotton rag. If it is totally dry you will need to get sandpaper to sand up that spot and then touch up with a new coat of stain in that spot. Or sometimes putting solvent on a rag and wiping it off will help.
How do I know how much excess stain to wipe off?
You need to wipe off ALL of the excess stain. Make sure you have a clean rag that is absorbent. If you don’t wipe it all off, then the surface you are staining will be uneven.
Does stain take longer to dry in rainy weather?
Yes it does because there is more moisture in the air. Rain affects the humidity, and if it is humid your stain dries slower.
What is the best way to clean wood stain?
Mineral spirits and paint thinner are very strong solvents that will clean up wood stain. I avoid stains by using cardboard boxes under the staining area and not staining near walls.
How do I get wood stain out of my clothes?
Sorry, but you can’t remove stain from your clothes. Once they’re stained, it is what it is.
How to Make Stain Dry Faster: Recap
In summary, to speed up wood stain drying time, you need to apply it properly by wiping off the excess stain, ideally have a low humidity and high temperature environment, and put it in the sun for a few hours.
Check out one of my recent stained projects that turned out beautifully. I teach women how to make woodworking projects just like this in my monthly membership and share practical tips that I’ve learned through my years of experience. More importantly, I provide step-by-step tutorials to trending projects that you can make and sell!
Let me know if you have any more questions about the staining process!