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

Most of the time we paint over primer, but what if you want to use stain instead? Can you stain over primer?

Yes, you can stain over primer as long as you use a topical stain like gel or lacquer. You can’t use regular stain over primer because it won’t stick to the surface.

The main reason the regular stains don’t stick is that regular stains need to soak into the surface and primer doesn’t allow that. However, topical stains don’t need to penetrate the surface to stick.

But, there’s more to this. We explained everything you need to know down below.

What Happens If You Put Stain Over Primer?

If you put a stain over a primer coating, the stain will not stick well to the primer coating. This is because the stain will not penetrate or soak into the surface. This will cause weak paint adhesion and the stain will turn tacky or sticky.

Primers are used as a part of prep work before applying paint. The primer provides a smooth base coat for the paint coating to bite and stick to. Primers work well for paints because paints need to bite and stick to a smooth surface. Stains however don’t need to stick to a smooth surface. Stains need to penetrate the surface to perform well. This is why stains are common on porous surfaces like wood and furniture.

When you apply a coat of stain over wood, the coat soaks into the wood grain where it sets and changes the color of the wood. So if you use a primer coating on the wood, the primer will prevent the wood stain from penetrating the wood. This will cause weak paint adhesion and the stain will turn sticky. However, you should know that this doesn’t happen with every type of stain.

While it’s true that regular stains don’t need a primer coating, topical stains like gel and lacquer can be used over primer since topical stains don’t have to penetrate. Topical stains mirror the features of regular paints so they will stick when used over a primer. Other types of stains should not be used over paint primer.

Another thing to know is if primer bleeds through stain? Let’s take a look at that.

Does Primer Bleed Through Stain?

Paint primer will not bleed through stain. Paint primer will only bleed through stain if the primer coating is wet. This happens when you don’t leave enough dry time before staining over the primer coating. As long as you leave the primer coating to dry, it wouldn’t bleed through the stain.

Paint primer can also bleed through stain if you don’t use a stain-blocking primer. If you don’t use a stain-blocking primer, any grease, oil, or stain on the surface will bleed through the primer coating and the stain.

You should also remember not to put regular stains over primer. The stain doesn’t need a primer coating so there is no reason to even worry about primer bleed through. You should only be concerned about bleed-through if you plan on applying a topical stain.

Now, let’s find out how to stain over primer.

How To Stain Over Primer?

Before we go on with this task, you should remember that you don’t need a primer coating to apply a stain. In most cases, this task will result in a failed paint job.

You should only stain over primer with a topical stain. For this task, we’ll use gel stain over primer paint in 5 simple steps. First, we need a few tools and supplies:

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

Here is a 5-step guide on how to apply topical stain over primer paint:

1. Sand The Surface

Sand The Surface


The first step is to sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper. The sandpaper will remove imperfections and bumps on the surface. Then use fine-grit sandpaper to smoothen the surface. Remember to repair and fill cracks in the surface. For cracks and holes in wood, use a wood filler.

2. Apply The Primer Paint

Apply The Primer Paint

Usually, a single coat of a stain-blocking primer is enough for proper coverage and protection on the surface but you can apply two coats of primer. Ensure to allow each coat of primer to dry enough before re-coating. You can apply the primer with a paintbrush.

3. Apply The Stain

Apply The Stain

When the primer is dry, apply a few coats of gel stain on the primer. Ensure to apply thin coats along the wood grain.

4. Wipe Excess Stain

Wipe Excess Stain

After applying the stain, you’ll need to wipe off the excess to prevent the stain from getting tacky. Use a clean rag to wipe off the excess. You need to do this before the stain starts to dry.

5. Leave The Stain To Dry

Leave The Stain To Dry

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

Types of Stains to Use Over Primer?

Here are some types of stains that you can or can’t use over primer:

Gel Stain?

You can use gel stain over primer because gel stain is a topical stain. This means that the gel stain doesn’t need to penetrate the surface to stick.

So putting a primer coating on the surface will not prevent the gel stain from adhering. Instead, it makes the gel stain come out smoother. The extra protection that gel stain gives makes it a good sealant too.

Wood Stain?

You shouldn’t use wood stain over primer. This is because wood stain is designed to penetrate wood grain to adhere and set properly. If you use wood stain over primer, the primer coating will prevent the stain from penetrating the wood well. This will cause weak paint adhesion and a poor finish.

Solid Stain?

You can apply solid stain over primer but you should know that most solid stains will not stick well on primer paint. This is because solid stains also penetrate the material although not as deep as regular stains. Solid stain only needs to soak in the wood grain a bit to adhere.

So if you put solid stain over primer paint, the solid stain will stick better than regular stain but not good enough to last on the surface.

However, solid stains will stick to some primers like shellac and latex primer. But, you’ll have to thin the primer coating and apply fewer coats so the solid stain can have good adhesion to the surface.

Deck Stain?

You shouldn’t use deck stain over primer. This is because deck stain is usually designed to reveal the wood grain.

So if you put the stain over primer paint, the primer coating will prevent the deck stain from showing the wood grain. Also, since deck stains need to absorb the wood, the stain will not stick properly if used over primer paint.

Lacquer Stain?

You can use lacquer stain over primer because lacquer is a topical stain. Like gel stain, lacquer stain doesn’t need to penetrate the material to adhere well. Lacquer sits on and protects the surface so it will work well on primer paint.

Now that you know the types of stains that you can and can’t use over primer, let’s check out the types of primer you can and can’t stain over.

Different Types of Primer You Can Stain Over

Here are some different types of primer that you can or can’t stain over:

Kilz Primer?

You can stain over kilz primer but the stain will not adhere properly. Kilz primer is a stain-blocking primer that is designed for paints.

This primer will prevent your stain from penetrating leading to weak adhesion. However, you can use topical stains and in rare cases, solid stain over kilz primer.

Shellac Primer?

You can stain over shellac primer but you’ll have to seal the stain with a top coat to create a glazed finish. Among painters, a “glaze” is a common finish where you trap color or stain between two identical protective layers.

Water and oil-based stains perform well on shellac. This is because shellac has amazing adhesive features. But if you stain over shellac primer, you have to seal with a clear top coat.

If you use just the stain over shellac primer, the finish will not be durable. So in a way, stains will only perform well on shellac primer if you opt for a glazed finish and you should know that a glazed finish will not reveal the wood grain.

Oil-Based Primer?

You shouldn’t stain over oil-based primer. This is because oil-based primers usually have a natural sheen that will prevent any form of penetration by the stain.

As such, the stain will never stick. The only type of stain that can stay on an oil-based primer coating is oil-based gel stain.

Latex Primer?

You can stain over latex primer only if you use a water-based solid stain. The water-based nature of latex primer paint makes it compatible with a water-based solid stain.

Oil-based stains will not adhere to latex primer. Topical stains will also stick to latex primer.

White Primer?

You can stain over some white primers but you should know that if you stain over a white primer coating, the wood grain will never show.

So if you want the wood grain to be revealed through the stain, don’t use white primer. You should also know that topical and solid stains are your best bet on white primer.

Final Words

Overall, you can stain over primer but you shouldn’t. In most cases, doing so will just create a problem of sticky stain since the stain wouldn’t penetrate. You should only apply topical stains like gel and lacquer over primer since these stains don’t need to penetrate the surface to stick.

You can also try using a solid stain but ensure the primer coating will accept the stain. For the best finish, don’t use a primer before staining unless you want a glazed finish.

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