Can You Stain Over Primer? (Everything You Need To Know!)

We often paint over primer, but what if you want to use stain instead? Can you do it?

You can use topical stains over primer, but not regular ones. Regular stains to must soak (or penetrate) the wood pores to stick, but since the primer already has filled the pores, the stain doesn’t stick.

However, topical stains don’t need to penetrate a surface to stick, they can stay over the top layer and dry there. 

Note: Doing this is unnecessary. The only purpose of the stain is to show the wood grain and enhance its color, but if you cover the grain with a primer coating, then applying a stain is unnecessary. 


If you apply stain over a primer, it won’t stick well because it can’t penetrate or soak the wood pores. Since it can’t soak into the pores, there will be a weak adhesion and the finish will turn sticky. 

Primers are used to prep the surface before painting. They provide a smooth base coat for the paint to bite and stick to. Paints stick over them because they need a smooth surface to stick to. And that’s what the primer offers. 

However, stains don’t need a smooth surface to stick; they need to penetrate the surface to stick. That’s why they stick well on porous surfaces such as wood and furniture. 

When you apply a coat of stain over wood, it soaks into the grain and changes the color of the wood. So, if you use a primer first, it will prevent the stain from penetrating the wood grain. This causes weak paint adhesion, and the finish will turn sticky

However, this doesn’t happen with every type of stain. For example, topical stains, such as gel and lacquer, don’t need to penetrate the surface to stick. Instead, they need a smooth surface to bite and stick to (like paints). So, you can use topical them over a painted or finished surface.

The primer won’t bleed through the wood stain. They can only bleed through if their coating is wet. The basecoat can turn wet or stick only if you don’t allow enough re-coat time. 

How To Stain Over Primer?

Before we proceed with this task, you must remember that you don’t need to prime wood before staining. Instead, you can just apply it over bare wood. Also, you must only use tropical stain over a primed surface.

Here are the tools you need for this task:

  • A can of gel stain
  • A stain-blocking primer paint
  • A paintbrush
  • Rags
  • Medium and fine-grit sandpaper

1. Sand The Surface

Sand The Surface

Sanding will remove imperfections and bumps and provide a smooth surface for the coating to stick to. First, sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper, then sand with fine-grit sandpaper.

You must repair and fill all the cracks in the surface using a wood filler (or concrete filler). If you don’t, the coating will be sucked into the holes and you will get an uneven finish. 

2. Apply The Primer Paint

Apply The Primer Paint

Apply one coat of stain-blocking primer. One coat is enough for proper coverage and protection, but you can also apply two coats if the surface is riddled with imperfections or holes. To apply it, use a paintbrush. The first coat must dry before applying the second one. 

3. Apply The Stain

Apply The Stain

When the basecoat is dry, apply a few coats of gel stain over it. You must apply thin coats along the wood grain. You can use a brush to apply it.

4. Wipe The Excess 

Wipe Excess Stain

30 minutes after applying the stain, wipe the excess from the surface using a clean rag. This prevents the finish from turning sticky. 

5. Leave The Finish To Dry

Leave The Stain To Dry

After wiping the excess, leave the stain to dry. You can use a hairdryer to speed up its dry time.

Types of Stains

Gel Stain

Gel stain is a topical finish so you can use it over a primer. That’s because it doesn’t need to penetrate a surface to stick.

Wood Stain

You shouldn’t use wood stain over a primed surface because it won’t be able to penetrate the wood grain or pores. If you use it, the basecoat will prevent the stain from penetrating the surface, so it won’t stick.

Solid Stain

You can use solid stain over a basecoat, but only if its coat is thin. Solid stains must penetrate the surface to stick, but not as deep as other types. It only needs to soak into the wood grain a bit to stick.

So, if you apply it, it will stick better than other types, but not good enough to last on the surface.

Solid stains can also stick to some primers like shellac and latex primer. But, you must thin the basecoat and apply fewer coats so the stain can have good adhesion to the surface.

Deck Stain

You shouldn’t use deck stain over primer because this stain is designed to reveal the wood grain. So, if you use it, the basecoat will prevent it from showing the wood grain.

Lacquer Stain

Since lacquer is a topical stain, you can use it over primer.

Different Types of Primers

Kilz Primer

You can stain over kilz primer, but the adhesion will be weak. Kilz is a stain-blocking primer that is designed to be used under paints. It will prevent stains (or moisture) from penetrating the paint from underneath. So, if you stain over it, the adhesion will be weak. However, you can use topical or solid stain over it.

Shellac Primer

You can stain over shellac primer, but you must seal it to create a glazed finish. A glaze finish is when you trap one coating between two identical layers. This is done for aesthetic purposes, but it will also protect the surface. 

Oil-Based Primer

You can only use oil-based stain over oil-based primer. That’s because they have a natural glossy finish that can prevent an water-based coat from sticking. 

Latex Primer

You can stain over latex primer if you use topical or solid stain. Water-based coatings have a dry textured finish that allows liquid to penetrate its coating with ease. 

White Primer

You can stain over some types of white-colored primer, but the wood grain won’t show. So, if you want to reveal the wood grain of the wood, don’t use it.

Final Words

You can apply stain to primed surface, but you shouldn’t. The basecoat will cover the wood grain and prevent the stain from showing it. So, doing this is unnecessary. 

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about,

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