Gel Stain Isn’t Drying? (Here’s How To Fix it)

Gel stain has a jelly-like and thick flow, making the finish dry slower. But, if the finish doesn’t dry within 24-48 hours, there’s a problem. Why does this happen, and how to fix it?

Gel stain won’t dry if you re-coat too soon or apply too much stain. That’s because this stain dried through evaporation, and if you re-coat too soon or add too much, the evaporation process is slowed down (or stopped). This causes the finish to remain wet and turn sticky.

To fix it, remove excess stain or increase the temperature around the coating. Increasing the temperature will also increase the evaporation rate, and speed up the drying process.

Why Does This Happen?

The main reason gel stain won’t dry is if you didn’t remove the excess stain after application. That’s because there will be too much stain on the surface that can’t penetrate the wood, leading to an increased dry time and a wet (or sticky) coating.

However, before you conclude that the finish isn’t drying, wait 24-48 hours. If it doesn’t dry after 24-48 hours, the finish will remain tacky and won’t dry itself.

Here are other reasons why this happens:

1. Humidity or Moisture

All types of finishes are affected by moisture — the more it is exposed to, the longer it will take to dry. Moisture can come from water, spills, leaks, cracked pipes, or rainfall. If the finish is exposed to these elements, the water (or moisture) will keep it wet and prevent it from drying.

The soaked water will add the amount of solvent to the coating. So, this becomes a never-ending cycle where some solvent evaporates, but constant exposure to water adds more solvent. And, until the solvent is evaporated, the coating won’t dry or become rigid.

2. The Weather and Temperature

If the weather is too cold, the finish won’t dry because the temperature and humidity levels will be too high. If the humidity levels are too high, there’s water in the atmosphere that reduces the evaporation rate of the solvent. This increases the drying time.

However, if the weather is warm, the coating will dry faster because the evaporation process will be completed faster.

3. Improper Surface Preparation

Before applying Gel stain, you must sand and clean the surface properly. If you don’t, the stain won’t dry because the dirt (or dust) underneath will prevent it from drying.

4. Too Many Coats

If you apply too many coats, there will be too much Gel stain on the surface, and wood can’t absorb all of it. So, the extra or excess stain will remain wet since it can’t stick or penetrate the surface. Also, the excess stain will prevent the underneath coatings from drying because too many coats will reduce or stop the evaporation process.

Wait 48 Hours

If the sticky finish is caused because you added too many coats or re-coated too soon, the finish will dry itself. That’s because when the temperature rises, the evaporation process will be completed faster, and the finish will dry or become rigid.

However, if it doesn’t dry within 24 or 48 hours, it won’t fix itself. That’s because Gel stain dries within 12-24 hours in normal conditions, and it can take up to 48 hours under moist or humid conditions. But, if the 48 hours have passed, something is preventing the solvent from evaporating, and it won’t fix itself.

Also, if the tacky finish is caused by a wet surface, improper preparation, or exposure to constant water, the finish won’t dry itself. That’s because there’s an external factor causing the finish to turn sticky, and unless you fix it, the finish will remain wet. In this case, you must remove the stain, find and fix the problem, and re-apply it.

How To Fix Gel Stain That isn’t Drying?

If the Gel stain isn’t drying, you must find out the problem so you know how to fix it. Below is a list of problems and their fixes.

1. Wipe Excess Gel Stain

Wipe Excess Gel Stain

Since Gel stain is thick, you must remove the excess stain 30 minutes after applying it. If you don’t, the excess stain will prevent the stain underneath from drying, causing the finish to turn sticky.

Here are the tools you need:

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

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Pour mineral spirits into a clean bowl.
  2. Damp a rag with mineral spirits.
  3. Use the dampened rag to wipe the stain repeatedly.
  4. Wait 10 minutes.
  5. Wipe excess stain from the surface.
  6. If the finish becomes too light, apply one more coat.
  7. Leave the finish to dry.

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

2. Use a Hairdryer

If the finish isn’t drying because the room temperature is too low or the humidity levels are too high, use a hairdryer and dehumidifier.

The hairdryer will increase the temperature around the coating, increasing the evaporation rate and speeding up the drying time. The dehumidifier will lower the humidity levels and also increase the evaporation rate.

Here are the tools you need:

  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. Turn on the dehumidifier and place it near the coating. Don’t turn it off unless the finish dries.
  2. Turn on the hairdryer, use medium temperature, and direct it to the coating.
  3. Move the hairdryer around the coating for 5 minutes.
  4. Allow the coating to dry naturally.

You shouldn’t use a hairdryer to fully dry a coating because the paint particles will dry too fast and won’t have enough time to harden naturally. This causes a weak finish.

3. Re-Apply It

Re-Apply Gel Stain

If the finish isn’t drying because of an external factor such as a wet surface, improper preparation, or a water leak, remove the finish and fix the problem before re-applying it. After removing the finish, ensure to sand and clean the surface before applying it. If the surface is wet, apply stain-blocking primer.

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 mineral spirits into a bowl.
  2. Damp a rag with mineral spirits.
  3. Use the dampened rag to wipe the surface repeatedly.
  4. Optionally, pour mineral spirits directly over the surface.
  5. Wait 20 minutes.
  6. Use a paint scraper to scrape the stain off the wood.
  7. Re-apply mineral spirits for leftover Gel stain.
  8. Inspect the surface, find the problem, and fix it.
  9. Clean and sand the surface.
  10. Apply stain-blocking primer.
  11. Re-apply the Gel stain and leave it to dry.

Tip: If you find gouges or holes in the wood after removing the gel stain, seal them with a wood conditioner before re-applying it.

Other tips you can use:

  1. Open the windows and doors to increase the airflow — this also increases the evaporation rate.
  2. Leave enough dry time before re-coating.
  3. Thin Gel stain before applying it.

Final Words

In summary, Gel stain won’t dry if you re-coat too soon, add too much, or if you don’t prep the wood properly. To fix it, increase the evaporation rate using a hairdryer, use a dehumidifier to decrease the humidity levels, wipe excess stain, or remove the finish and re-apply 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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