Gel Stain Is Not Drying? (Here’s How To Fix it)

The jelly-like and thick nature of gel stains makes the finish dry slowly but when the gel stain is not drying after 24 hours, it’s an indication of a problem.

So why is your gel not drying and how do you fix a gel stain that isn’t drying so it dries faster? The answers to these questions and more will be revealed in this post. Let’s dive in.

Why Isn’t Gel Stain Drying?

The main reason for a gel stain not drying is that you didn’t wipe the excess gel stain after application. When you don’t wipe off excess gel wood stain after application, there will be too much gel stain on the surface leading to an increased dry time for the gel stain finish.

However, before you can conclude that your gel stain isn’t drying, you must wait 24-48 hours. If the gel stain doesn’t dry in less than 48 hours, then it will remain tacky and will not dry.

Here are other reasons for a tacky gel stain:

1. Humidity or Moisture

A common reason for tacky gel stain is high moisture (water) content. Like other wood finishes, gel wood stain is easily affected by moisture – the more moisture the gel stain is exposed to, the longer the finish will take to dry.

Moisture can come in form of water or drink spills on the gel stain, leaks in the wall, cracked pipes in the ground, or rainfall. When the gel stain is exposed to moisture from any of these sources, the water is absorbed in the stain making the gel stain wet and soaked with water.

The water soaked in by the gel stain adds to the amount of solvent already in the gel stain. This causes the solvent level to increase and since the solvent has to be evaporated for the gel stain to dry, the dry time of the finish will take longer.

2. Contamination

Contamination can also cause the gel stain to stay sticky. It takes gel stains an average time of 12 hours to dry between coats.

While waiting for each coat to dry, dust and debris will settle on the existing coat leading to the contamination of the gel stain. When the gel stain gets contaminated, the dust and filth in it will cause it to dry very slowly, and sometimes, the gel stain wouldn’t dry at all.

You should know that contamination can also happen if the wood surface underneath the gel stain is filthy or dusty. This is why it’s advised to sand and clean the wood before applying gel stains.

3. The Weather and Temperature

The jelly-like nature of gel stain makes the finish easily affected by the temperature and weather. If the weather is too cold, the gel stain will not dry because the temperature and humidity levels will be too high.

However, if the weather is warm, then the gel stain will dry quickly because the temperature is high. It’s advised not to apply gel stain when the weather temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Improper Surface Preparation

If you don’t prep the wood surface properly, then the gel stain will not dry. Before gel stain is applied, you need to sand and clean the wood.

Sanding is to smoothen the wood so it absorbs the stain and cleaning is done to remove the filth. If you don’t sand and clean the wood, the filth and oils on it will contaminate the gel stain causing it to get tacky and not dry.

5. Too Many Coats

Your gel stain can also stay wet and sticky if you apply too many coats. On average, you only need 2-3 coats of gel stain for proper coverage. If you apply more than 3 coats, the extra coats after the third one will stay sticky and will not dry.

Will Gel Stain Dry itself?

If your gel stain has turned tacky or is still not drying after 48 hours, the gel stain will not dry itself. In normal drying conditions and temperature, gel stain takes 12 hours to dry and you can recoat in about 24 hours.

When the weather is cool, the gel stain can take about 48 hours to fully dry but if the gel stain remains wet or sticky after 48 hours, it will not dry itself. Gel stain that remains sticky after 48 hours will need to be fixed and dried manually.

When gel stain is to be used, manufacturers often recommend the stain to be applied in a dry environment and temperatures above 40 degrees so the stain can dry properly. Under these conditions, water-based gel stain will dry for recoat in 12 hours while oil-based gel stain will dry enough for recoat in 24 hours. But, when the weather is cool, the gel stain regardless of if oil-based or water-based can take up to 48 hours to fully dry.

If the gel stain remains wet after 48 hours, then it won’t dry itself and you’ll need to fix it. This is because the gel stain would have accumulated contaminants and turned filthy in the last 48 hours. Oil-based gel stains especially accumulate dust faster than water-based gel stains. Since the gel stain is contaminated, it won’t dry itself.

So how do you fix a gel stain that isn’t drying? Let’s find out.

How To Fix Gel Stain That isn’t Drying?

There are a few ways to fix gel stain that isn’t drying but this guide will show you the best method to use and other tips that can make your gel stain dry faster. You’ll also learn how to fix some common gel stain problems.

When your gel stain isn’t drying, the first thing to do is to find out what is causing it. As explained earlier, there are a few reasons gel stain isn’t drying and you need to find out what the problem is to know how to fix it. Below is a list of problems causing gel stains not to dry and how to fix the sticky gel stain.

1. Wipe Excess Gel Stain

Wipe Excess Gel Stain

If you didn’t wipe off the excess gel stain after application or you applied too many coats of gel stain on the wood, here is how to fix the sticky gel stain.

To fix the excess gel stain that is not drying, you need to dissolve the gel stain, wipe off the excess, and allow the stain to dry. For this fix, you’ll need the following tools and supplies:

  • Clean rags
  • Mineral spirits
  • A plastic bag or nylon
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • A clean bowl

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Pour some mineral spirits into a clean bowl.
  2. Soak a rag in the mineral spirits.
  3. Use the damp rag to dab the gel stain repeatedly – you can also pour small mineral spirits directly on the tacky gel stain.
  4. Wait about 10 minutes for the gel stain to be dissolved.
  5. After 10 – 15 minutes, wipe off the excess gel stain on the surface into a nylon.
  6. Touch up the area with a fresh coat of gel stain and wipe after.
  7. Leave the gel stain to dry.
  8. Seal with water-based polyurethane after 24 hours (optional).

Tip: Though the polyurethane coating is optional, it helps the gel stain to become more durable.

Related Read: Sticky Wood Stain? Here’s The Fix

2. Use a Hairdryer

If your gel stain isn’t drying because the room temperature is cool or the gel stain is being exposed to moisture, here is how to fix it.

To fix a sticky gel stain caused by a moist environment, you need to stop the source of the moisture, turn on the dehumidifier and use a heater or hair dryer to dry out the moisture in the gel stain. For this method, you’ll need these tools and supplies:

  1. A dehumidifier
  2. A hairdryer
  3. Rags
  4. Wood caulk
  5. Gel stain
  6. A paint tent (optional)

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Find the source of the moisture and fix it. If it’s a leak or broken pipe, you need to seal it. If the moisture is caused by rainfall, you need to provide a tent for the gel stain to shield it from the water
  2. Turn on the humidifier – The dehumidifier will absorb the moisture in the air and replace it with dry air.
  3. Leave the dehumidifier on for several hours.
  4. Set the hairdryer heat to medium and hover it around the gel stain – Do this frequently and the gel stain will dry gradually.

Tip: You should know that if the gel stain has been severely affected by moisture, you’ll need to remove it and fix the source of the moisture before reapplying the gel stain.

3. Re-Apply Gel Stain

Re-Apply Gel Stain

If your gel stain isn’t drying because you didn’t sand or clean the wood before applying the gel stain or because the gel stain has been contaminated by dust, here is how to fix it.

If dust accumulates on the gel stain, then the coat is contaminated and will not dry itself. Also, if you didn’t sand and clean the wood, the dust on the wood will contaminate the gel stain. To fix the contaminated gel stain, you need to remove the gel stain, prep the surface, and reapply the gel stain.

For this method, you’ll need these:

  • Sandpaper
  • Rags
  • Mineral spirits
  • Acetone
  • A paint scraper
  • A duster
  • Gel stain

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Pour some mineral spirits on the tacky gel stain.
  2. Let the mineral spirits sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Wipe off the gel stain from the surface.
  4. For the leftover gel stain that has dried underneath, you should apply acetone directly on it to dissolve it.
  5. After 20 minutes, use a paint scraper to scrape off the leftover gel stain.
  6. Wipe the wood with mineral spirits.
  7. Sand down the wood with 180-grit sandpaper and 220-grit sandpaper.
  8. Remove dust and wipe the wood.
  9. Reapply the gel stain by following the manufacturer’s guide.

Tip: If after removing the gel stain, you find gouges or holes in the wood, you should seal them and use a wood conditioner before reapplying the gel stain.

Other tips to make gel stain dry faster:

  1. Open the windows and doors to allow increased airflow in the room – this makes the gel stain dry faster.
  2. Use a hairdryer over the gel stain immediately after applying it – do this for about 5 minutes after applying the stain.
  3. Apply a maximum of 3 gel stain coats – more than 3 coats will take longer to dry.
  4. Don’t apply another coat of gel stain if the existing coat isn’t dry enough for a recoat.
  5. Turn on a dehumidifier or heater while applying gel stain.
  6. Thin the gel stain before application.

What Happens If You Add Another Coat Of Gel Stain Too Soon?

If you apply another coat of gel stain too soon, the finish will not dry in time. Gel stain will turn tacky and accumulate dust if you apply another coat before the existing coat is dry enough for another coat. This is because there will be moisture or solvent trapped in the existing coat.

The trapped solvent has nowhere to go since you applied another coat and this will cause the existing coat to stay wet. After some time, the wet undercoat will also affect the second coat causing it to turn tacky and smelly.

Final Words

In summary, gel stain will not dry if you don’t prep the wood properly before applying the gel stain and if the drying conditions are not ideal. When applying gel stain, ensure the room temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and don’t apply gel stain in cold temperatures or it will not dry in time.

When you spot that the gel stain isn’t drying, find out the cause of the problem and use the matching fix in the guide below. Finally, ensure to always wipe off excess gel stain after application so the wood stain doesn’t turn tacky.

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