How Many Coats of Stain? (Different Types)

You must apply the correct number of coats to get a bright and beautiful finish. So how many coats of stain do you need?

Generally, you only need 2 coats of stain. This is because stain is known to penetrate the material, so you should only use as much the material can absorb.

Most materials, including wood, can only absorb two coats. Three coats will be too much, and you’ll need to wipe off the excess. However, the number of coats depends on the type of stain, the type of finish envisioned, and the surface being.

Why Does it Matter?

Why Does The Number Of Coats Matter For Stain?

The number of coats matters if you want a bright finish and proper coverage and protection. If you add less than required, the vibrancy of the finish will appear dull or streaky. 

The right number of coats will also provide proper coverage. Stains are designed to penetrate and cover the entire surface they are used on. If you use less than required, you won’t get good coverage as parts of the surface will still be exposed.

While wood stain doesn’t protect the wood as much, adding less of it won’t give you proper protection. A low amount of it will get washed off easier and will expose the surface to different elements. Adding the right amount of it will give you better wood protection.

The number of coats also matters to prevent waste. After applying, you are required to wipe off the excess. If you apply too much of it, you’ll most likely end up wiping off more from the surface.

When to Apply the Second Coat of Stain?

How Do I Know If I Need A Second Coat Of Stain?

You’ll need a second coat of stain when you notice any of these:

  1. First Coat Looks Dull – Stain is used to tint or change the entire color of a material. This means that it has a very deep color shade. So if the first coat looks dull or faded, you’ll need to add another one to improve the vibrancy and color shade.
  2. Protection – If you want proper protection, you need to apply two coats as only one isn’t enough. 
  3. Sealing – You need to apply 2-3 coats if you want to seal the surface afterward. Adding just one isn’t enough as the cracks and holes won’t be covered (filled). 
  4. Outdoors – For outdoor surfaces, you must apply more wood stains to get proper coverage. That’s because the finish will be exposed to weather elements that can damage it. 
  5. Streaky – If the finish is looking streaky, add more stain on the surface. 
  6. Existing Finish – If there’s an existing finish, you must apply more coats to cover it and prevent bleed-through. 
  7. Patched Surface – For repaired or patched material, you need to apply at least two coats of stain. This is because there will be marks and imperfections on the surface that need to be covered. 

If You Don’t Apply Enough Coats:

If you don’t use enough coats of stain, you will get a dull and poor finish. This is because the color of the finish will not come out well.

You also won’t get proper coverage, since the stain is known to penetrate a surface deeply. So, the first coat soaks into the wood, and you need a few more (2-3) to create a layer over the surface. If you don’t, some parts of the surface will be exposed (uncovered). 

You will also end up with a streaky finish. The streaks in the finish will appear because there isn’t enough stain to hide imperfections. It also means the surface won’t get proper protection. For a finish to protect a surface, it must properly cover the surface and have multiple layers over it. So, if you don’t apply too much of it, the wood won’t be protected.

If You Apply Too Many Coats:

When you use too many coats of stain, the finish will become streaky. This is because the coating will become gummed up on the surface giving off a streaky appearance. The color will also become blotchy because some parts will be deeper than others while some will be lighter than others. It makes the finish appear uneven.

You’ll also be wasting it if you use too much of it. This is because after applying it, the excess is required to be wiped off. So if you use too many coats, you’ll be wiping off a lot more stain, leading to wastage.

Also, if you apply too many coats, the stain will have a longer dry time because the coating will become too thick to dry quickly. So for each coat you apply, you will have to wait at least 30 minutes to 1 hour of extra dry time.

The finish also remains wet and sticky if you apply too much of it. This is because the finish won’t dry quickly. 

Different Types of Surfaces:

Different Types of Stains: How Many Coats

Gel Stain

You need 2 coats of gel stain because it doesn’t penetrate the wood. Instead, it stays on the surface. Since there is no penetration, you need fewer coats to completely cover and seal the material.

Semi-Transparent Stain

You need one coat of semi-transparent stain. This is because the second coat won’t penetrate and as such will make the finish blotchy.

Varnish Stain

You need 2-3 coats of varnish stain for complete coverage and durability. You can apply 2 coats of it for low-traffic surfaces. For high-traffic surfaces, you need 3 coats. High-traffic surfaces include tables and chair arms, chair legs, furniture, etc. 

Wood Stain

You need 1-3 coats of wood stain on the wood. Apply 2 coats if you want to change the color of the wood grain. Apply 3 if you want proper coverage. 

Lacquer Stain

You need at least 3 coats of lacquer stain for proper coverage and protection. This is because lacquer by design is a very thin finish. So you’ll need more coats to seal and protect a surface. However, lacquer is not common on vertical surfaces as the finish is thin and can easily drip off the surface.

Different Types of Surfaces


You need 3 coats of stain on fresh and unfinished wood. This is because fresh wood is usually porous and sometimes, contains tannins. The first coat is often sucked deep into the wood. The second and third coats reveal the finish.


You need 2 light coats of stain on most decks. This is because the wooden material used to make decks are usually very hard. The wood is reinforced to be hard to protect the deck from the elements and moisture.

Given the hard nature of the deck, it becomes difficult for the stain to penetrate deeply into the wood grain. So you should only apply as much as the deck can absorb.

Hardwood Floor

On hardwood floor, you’ll need at least 3 coats of stain. This is because the floor needs as much protection as it can get.

Also, one or two coats will produce a lighter shade of the finish. If the finish is light, it will be quickly ruined when you walk or move objects over it. It’s better to get a darker tone on floors; you can only get that if you apply more stain.


On stairs, you need 3 coats of oil-based stain. That’s because stairs are exposed to trampling, running, and foot traffic. 


You need 2-3 coats of stain on pines. You’ll need to prime the pines properly before staining them to seal holes in the surface.


You can only apply 1-2 coats of stain on parts of the table like the legs and underside. This is because these parts wouldn’t see much use or handling.

But on the tabletop, you need at least 3 coats of stain and possibly, a sealant. This is because the tabletop will see a lot of action, spills, and the likes.


You need 2-3 coats of exterior stain on a fence. This is because the fence will be exposed to the elements, dust, debris, and rainfall.

All of this can damage the finish very quickly. So you need enough coats for protection. Also, always use exterior stain for fences as you’ll need stain that has weather resistance.

Wood Trim

You need two coats of stain on wood trim. But, first, you’ll have to sand the trim as wood trim is usually riddled with dust, debris, and filth. All of these will not allow the stain to penetrate.


You need 2-3 coats of stain on oak. Oak is a softwood that absorbs more stain than most types of wood. So, the first coat will penetrate deeply into the oak surface. You need 2 or 3 coats to cover an oak wood properly.


Will Stain Get Darker with More Coats?

The more coats you apply, the darker the finish will get, especially if you use gel stain. Gel stain is known to darken the surface more than other types. More coats mean more paint pigments that will give the finish a darker look.

What Happens If You Re-coat Too Soon?

If you re-coat too soon, the finish will become sticky. If the first coat hasn’t dried properly, you shouldn’t add a second one as it will prevent the finish from drying properly.

Dry Time

It takes stain 1 hour to dry enough for a re-coat. But, its dry time depends on the type of stain, room temperature, humidity levels, and surface type.

Final Words

Overall, the number of coats required to stain a surface depends on the surface, the type of stain being used, and the weather conditions.

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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