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

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

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 wood stains. Regular wood stain needs to penetrate wood pores to stick, but if you apply a primer coating the pores will be filled.

Topical stains don’t need to penetrate a surface to stick, they can stay over an undercoat and stick there (just like paints do).

So, 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. 

Note: If you must use an undercoat under a wood stain, use a wood conditioner instead of a primer.

Does Wood Stain Adhere Over Primer?

Wood stain doesn’t adhere over primer as it can’t penetrate or soak into the surface pores. The finish will turn sticky or peel off if the wood stain doesn’t penetrate the surface as there will be a weak adhesion.

The purpose of a primer coating is to prep the surface before painting by providing a smooth base for the next coat to stick into. Paints stick over a primed surface as they need a smooth surface to stick to.

Wood stain is a penetrating finish and doesn’t need a smooth surface to stick to, it needs to penetrate the surface to stick. Its purpose is to soak (penetrate) the wood grain and change its color. But, if apply a primer first, the stain won’t penetrate the grain and will turn sticky.

However, penetrating stains, such as gel or lacquer stains, don’t need to penetrate a surface to stick. They stick the same way paints do. So, you can apply topical stain over a primed or painted surface.

Note: A primer coating won’t bleed through a wood stain coating. It will only bleed through if the primer coating is wet.

How To Stain Over Primer?

To stain over primer, do the following.

  1. Sand the Surface.
  2. Apply the Primer Paint.
  3. Apply the Stain.
  4. Wipe the Excess.
  5. Leave the Finish To Dry.

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.

Which Types of Wood Stain Can You Use Over Primer?

The types of wood stains you can use over primer are listed below.

1. 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.

2. Lacquer Stain

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

3. 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 base coat and apply fewer coats so the stain can have good adhesion to the surface.

Which Types of Wood Stain You Can’t Use Over Primer?

The types of wood stain you can’t use over primer are as follows.

1. Regular 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.

2. 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.

Which Types of Primers Can You Stain Over?

The types of primers you can stain over are the following.

1. 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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 a water-based coat from sticking. 

4. 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. 

5. 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.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

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.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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