How Many Coats of Wood Stain? (Different Types)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

The number of coats for wood stain refers to the quantity of layers you must apply to achieve the desired color, coverage, and protection. So, how many do you need?

You need two (2) coats of wood stain for most surfaces. Wood stain penetrates a surface to stick, so you can only apply as much as the material can absorb.

Most surfaces (or materials) such as wood can only absorb 2 (two) coats. Three (3) coats will be too much for most types of wood as you need to wipe off the excess. However, some types of surfaces require more than 3 coats, such as hardwood floors.

Why Does The Number Of Coats Matter For Wood Stain?

Why Does The Number Of Coats Matter For Stain?

The number of coats matter for wood stain because they determine the quality, durability, and coverage of the finish.

The finish will be bright, durable, and properly cover a surface if you add enough coats. But, the vibrancy will be dull, the finish won’t be durable and it won’t properly cover a surface if you don’t add enough coatings.

Wood stains are designed to penetrate the pores and cover the entire surface. But, if you don’t use enough coatings, most of the surface won’t be covered.

Wood stain protects wood from dust, debris, and handling only. So, adding fewer coatings will expose the wood to these elements.

Adding too many coats isn’t good either as it can cause waste and a sticky finish. After applying the wood stain, wipe off the excess to prevent a sticky or tacky finish.

When to Apply the Second Coat of Wood 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. 

What Happens if You Don’t Apply Enough Coats of Wood Stain?

If you don’t apply enough coats of wood stain, the surface won’t get properly covered, the finish will be weak, dull, and streaky.

Since wood stain penetrates a surface deeply to adhere, applying fewer coats of it means most of the surface will be left uncovered and the finish will be weak. The first coat of stain soaks deeply into the wood, so you need 2-3 more coats to create a layer over the surface.

The finish will have a dull and streaky appearance as fewer coatings mean the pigments won’t be over the top of the surface. The streaks in the finish will appear because there isn’t enough stain to hide imperfections.

What Happens if You Apply Too Many Coats of Stain?

If you apply too many coats of stain, the finish will be streaky, and sticky, remain wet for too long, or peel off.

Too many coats means too much stain will be over the surface, creating a streaky appearance. The color will be blotchy because some parts will penetrate the surface deeper while some won’t, making the finish appear uneven.

Applying too many wood stain coats will lead to a longer dry time and wastage. The more coats you apply, the longer the stain will take to dry since the solvent will take longer to evaporate.

Also, you must remove the excess stain from the surface after you apply it. If you apply too many of it, you must wipe most of it, leading to wastage.

How Many Coats For Different Types of Wood Stain?

Different Types of Stains: How Many Coats

The number of coats for different types of wood stains is listed below.

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 (1) 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.

How Many Coats of Wood Stain For Different Types of Surfaces?

The number of coats of wood stain for different types of surfaces is listed below.


You need two (2) 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, while the second reveals the finish.


You need 2 light coats of stain on most decks. This is because the wooden materials 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

You need three (3) coats of wood stain on hardwood floors. 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.


You need three (3) coats of oil-based wood stain on stairs. 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 need 1-2 coats of wood stain on the legs and underside of the table, and three (3) coats of it on the rest.


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 2 (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 stain will 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 Wood Stain Too Soon?

If you re-coat wood stain 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.

How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry?

It takes wood 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.

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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