How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry

Each project is different. When planning a wood project, time is a crucial factor that produces a big portion of the result on “how long does wood stain take to dry.” Counting on how you want your project to go, you need to maintain the patience to reach wood stain perfection. 

For a stain to dry fully, it usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. But you may need to wait longer, around 72 hours or more before you can apply the polyurethane, used to protect from scratches and can help resist water damage, and complete your wood project. It all depends on the brand, environmental conditions, and stain type for the amount of time a stain takes to dry.

Depending on the brand and sort of stain, drying times can reach up to 3 days. Many factors go into the drying time. Double-check the instructions on the label for the precise dry time. It is important to take into account what the manufacturer has to say about your conditions for the stain you want because it will vary case by case.

Oil-Based Stain 

Oil-based stains are some of the most popular and widely-used stains in the market and can take anywhere from 6 hours to 24 hours to dry, depending on the conditions of the weather. Under normal circumstances, the stain should be dry within 1 to 2 hours and ready for polyurethane in 8 hours.

These stains, not only add color and depth to your wood but provide another layer of protection. This can make your wood last longer and endure more throughout its lifetime. 

For these particular stains, it all comes down to the brand of the stain and whether or not you want to use a cheap or expensive one. Therefore, it is safer to give it more time to dry to get the same result. After all, you can still apply polyurethane to the stain even if it has been a few days.

Water-Based Stain 

Water-based stains use water because of the dyes’ solvent or vehicle. They are more environment-friendly than other varieties of wood stains as they do not release harmful volatile organic compounds. These stains can typically be finished within 24 to 48 hours, and some General Finish stains are often in between 3 and 4 hours with polyurethane to follow. 

If you desire a shorter drying period, then a water-based wood stain is your best bet. These stains typically have a shorter waiting time than oil-based stains for them to dry. But its strength can furthermore be its weakness as woodworkers must apply the stain quickly to produce an even coating and contain splotches. 

You can wipe away the excess stain, or add solvents that slowly evaporate (such as lacquer retarder or propylene glycol) to provide a satisfactory result with water-based stains. When using water-based stains, it is important to keep in mind the conditions in which these stains are used. Humidity plays into water-based stains heavily as ideal staining conditions should include 70% humidity with temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Why is Stain Taking too Long to Dry (Factors That Impact Dry Time)


When the stained wood is sitting out in humidity it causes drying to take longer due to the moisture in the air. The water droplets are absorbed by the wood making it wet for longer. 

This causes a disconnect during the summer months when the temperature is ideal for staining, but humidity is more prevalent throughout these conditions. 

So, what happens when you want to stain your wood in warm weather but can’t because of humidity?

A solution for these conditions would be to run a dehumidifier to help level moisture in the air. A dehumidifier will cool off the temperature, but not enough to increase the stain’s drying time. 


For a stain to dry properly, the ideal temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of your environment does affect the quality and drying time of the stain, but does not mean the stain will not dry completely if the temperature is not exact. The stain will dry faster if the temperature is higher, and slower if it is lower. 

If the temperature of the surroundings is around the mid-50s and below, it causes stains to dry especially slowly. 

For high temperatures, this does cause stains to dry faster, but a lot of the time the topcoat will appear dry but coats underneath will still be damp. In these cases, there can be damage done to the stain you have applied so it is important to let stains in these conditions dry for longer. If your stain starts to crack, you need to strip the wood and start over in proper conditions. 


Less. Is. More. The trick to creating the perfect wood stains is applying thin layers because these dry faster and come out looking more even. By using less of a certain stain, you also have more room to make mistakes. 

When applying a thicker layer, there will be a longer wait time for the stain to dry. It has to dry naturally so there can not be the use of a blowdryer, or it can cause a stain to cake. 

Interior or Exterior 

Depending on if you are working inside or outside, drying times will vary. Indoor projects are more suitable because you can control the conditions in which you work. 

With outdoor projects, they are more unpredictable due to weather conditions affecting the outcome of your wood stain. However, if you have ideal weather conditions outdoors, staining your wood outside can work better due to other factors such as making a mess inside and staining other things in your household. 

How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry: Conclusion

Most stains dry by 48 hours. You can expect most water-based stains to dry quickly, while gel takes the longest. It is very important to get a manufacturer’s opinion on your project as they have the most knowledge to get the best result.

To complete the whole staining process, you should allow yourself around 48 hours of completion. It is always important to do your research on these factors and check with your manufacturer to ensure your perfect wood stain. Now that you have learned more about the wood staining process, as long as you take into account these tips and tricks you will end with a satisfactory wood stain for everyone to enjoy. 

Written by Zoe Spencer 

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