How Many Coats of Stain? (Different Types)

You must apply the corrent number of coats for the stain to come out bright and beautiful. 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 the number of coats the material can absorb.

Most materials, including wood, can only absorb two coats of stain. Three coats will be too much, and you’ll need to wipe off the excess.

However, the number of stain coats depends on the type of stain, the type of finish envisioned, and the surface being stained. So why does the number of coats matter for stain? Let’s find out.

The Number of Stain Coats: Does it Matter?

Why Does The Number Of Coats Matter For Stain?

The number of coats matter for stain for several reasons. For starters, you need the right number of coats for the finish to come out bright. The wrong number of coats can affect the vibrancy of the finish making the stain appear dull or streaky.

You also need the right number of coats for proper coverage. Stains are designed to penetrate and cover the entire surface used on. The wrong number of coats wouldn’t give you good coverage as parts of the material will still be exposed.

The number of coats matters for the stain to give proper protection. Stains don’t only beautify, the finish is designed to protect the surface from dust, handling, and weight. The wrong number of coats will not give the surface good protection as the finish can easily be smeared. Multiple coats of stain give you better wood protection, 

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

So in a nutshell, the number of coats matters to prevent wastage and allow the finish to come out smooth and fine.

When to Apply 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:

When The First Coat Looks Dull

Stain is used to tint or change the entire color of a material. This means that stain has a very deep color shade. So if the first coat of stain looks dull or faded, you’ll need a second coat to improve the vibrancy and color shade.

When You Want To Protect The Material

You need at least 2 coats of stain when you want to protect the stained surface. One coat isn’t enough to shield the material from dust, handling, or even moisture.

When You Are Sealing

You need 2-3 coats of stain when you want to seal the material with stains like gel, varnish, and lacquer. This is because one coat of stain isn’t enough to completely seal the material.

To seal a material, you first need to fill the cracks and holes in the material. The first coat of stain will do this. The second and third coats will then seal and cover the surface.

When Applying Stain Outdoors

You need 2 or more coats of stain if you are staining outdoor surfaces or materials. This is because the stain will be exposed to the elements when used outdoors.

The UV rays of the sun, rainfall, dust, and heat can all affect the stain’s finish if you apply just a coat. Therefore, while applying stain outdoors, it’s better to use multiple coats of a weather-resistant stain rather than a regular stain.

When The First Coat Looks Streaky

When a stain looks streaky, it means you didn’t apply enough stain. In such cases, you’ll need a second and more coats of stain.

When Staining Over A Previously-Finished Wood

You need 2 coats of stain when staining a finished wood. 2 coats will be enough to cover the existing finish on the wood.

When Staining A Patched or Repaired Surface

When staining a patched or repaired material, you’ll need at least two coats of stain. This is because there will be marks and imperfections on the material from when it was repaired. These imperfections need to be sealed and covered; one coat of stain can’t do this.

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

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

When you don’t use enough coats, you won’t get enough coverage because the stain is known to penetrate deeply. The first coat gets sucked into the material and if that’s all you applied, the top layer of the material will look bare and unfinished.

You will also end up with a streaky finish. The streaks in the stain will appear because there aren’t enough coats of stain to hide imperfections.

Not enough coats of stain also mean you don’t get enough protection on the surface. For stain to protect the surface material from damage, there need to be enough coats of stain.

What Happens If You Use Too Many Coats Of Stain?

When you use too many coats of stain, the finish will become rough. This is because the stain will become gummed up on the surface giving off a rough appearance. The color will 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 the stain if you use too much of it. This is because after applying the stain, the excess stain 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 of stain, the stain coating will have a long dry time because the coating will become too thick to dry quickly. So for each coat of stain you apply, you will have to wait at least 30 minutes to 1 hour of extra dry time.

With too many coats, the finish can also remain wet and sticky for hours. Again, this is because the stain will not dry quickly.

Different Types of Stains: How Many Coats?

Different Types of Stains: How Many Coats

Let’s check out some common types of stains and how many coats you need for each:

Gel Stain

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

Also, gel is commonly used as a sealant over paints and stains. Being a sealant, you only need two coats of it since an undercoat is already on the surface.

Semi-Transparent Stain

You need one coat of semi-transparent stain. This is because the second coat will only stay on the first coat. It won’t penetrate and as such will make the finish blotchy. For a smooth semi-transparent finish, lay one thin coat of stain.

Varnish Stain

You need 2-3 coats of varnish stain for complete coverage and durability. You can apply 2 coats of varnish stain for low-traffic surfaces. For high-traffic surfaces, you need 3 coats of varnish stain. 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 coats of wood stain if you want a 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: How Many Stain Coats?

Here we listed different types of surfaces you can use stain on and the number of coats:

How Many Coats Of Stain On Wood?

You need 2-4 coats of stain on wood. 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 of wood stain is often sucked deep into the wood. The second and third coats reveal the finish.

How Many Coats Of Stain On Deck?

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 stain coating as the deck can absorb, usually two coats. Some decks will take only one coat of stain.

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 of stain on hardwood flooring will produce a lighter shade of paint. If the stain coating 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 with 3-4 coats of stain.


On stairs, you need 3 coats of oil-based stain.  You need to use oil-based stain because stairs are high-traffic areas which mean a lot of trampling, running, and foot traffic on the stain. Oil-based stains can cope better with this high traffic than water-based stains.


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 2-3 coats of stain on a table. However, 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 stain 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 of stain 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 of stain. More coats of stain mean more paint pigments that will give the finish a darker look.

What Happens if You Apply Second Coat of Stain Too Soon?

If you apply a second coat of stain too soon, the finish will become sticky. If the first coat of stain hasn’t dried properly, you shouldn’t add a second one. The second coat will prevent the first coat from drying properly, and the finish will become tacky and blotchy. 

How Long To Wait Between Coats of Stain?

You should wait 1 hour before you apply the next coat of stain. But, the wait time depends on the type of stain, and the weather conditions. For example, water-based stain dries faster than oil-based stain.

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.

After applying a stain on any material, you should wipe off the excess to prevent the stain from turning sticky or tacky.

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