How to Darken Stained Wood? (3 Methods)

I get it. There is a wood stain finish on your wood but you just don’t like the light shade of the finish. So, you are wondering if there is any way to darken the stained wood? Here is how:

You can darken stained wood by applying one or two coats of wax over the existing stain. When dry, the wax will make the existing finish darker.

You can also darken already stained wood by applying a darker shade of the existing wood stain color on the stained wood.

This will retain the color of the finish but give it a deeper or darker shade. For both of these methods, you’ll need to sand the existing stain with very fine sandpaper.

This post explains more about darkening stained wood including other products that work. Let’s dive in.

Can You Darken A Stained Wood Without Stripping It?

You can darken a stained wood without stripping the existing stain. To make an existing stain darker, you can buff it with liquid or paste wax and leave it to dry. If you don’t want to strip the existing finish, you can also make it darker by applying a darker shade of the finish. Both of these methods will make your stained wood darker and you don’t need to strip the existing finish.

When you want another finish or look on your wood, the old method homeowners used was to strip the existing wood stain and apply a darker stain. You don’t need to do that anymore. You can easily make your stained wood darker by using wax or applying another coat to the existing stain.

Stripping the old stain should only be done if the old stain is ruined. If the existing stain is wet, dented, or worn out, you’ll need to strip it before applying a darker coat. This is because the old stain is not in a good condition to support another coat.

You should know that though stripping the old stain isn’t required to darken the finish, you’ll still need to sand lightly before applying a new coat. This is to remove filth and bumps on the old stain. Using sandpaper will remove the filth but not the stain.

Does Wood Stain Get Darker Over Time?

Does Wood Stain Get Darker Over Time?

Wood stain does get darker over time and this is primarily caused by an accumulation of dirt and oily stains on the wood stain finish. Some wood stain colors also get darker over time due to the exposure to heat and water exposure. Wood stains that were applied on busy surfaces like countertops and floors tend to get darker quicker since these surfaces are frequently used.

Regardless of the type of wood stain that you apply, one thing that is sure to happen over time is that the wood stain will change color – most times, the wood stain turns darker. The main reason for this darker appearance is filth. Over time, your wood stain will be exposed to dust, oily stains, dirty finger and palm prints, food and drink spills, and the like. All of these will leave filthy residue on the wood stain that will make it appear darker than it is.

Heat also makes wood stains darker. When you install a wood stain on a wooden surface close to a heat source, the wood stain will turn darker due to the heat. Wood stains have a simple formula that responds to temperature changes very quickly causing the heat to change the color of the wood stain. Long-term water exposure can also cause the wood stain to turn darker over time.

To prevent your wood stain from getting darker quickly, ensure to seal the wood stain finish with a clear top coat like polyurethane.

Will Second Coat Of Stain Darken Wood?

A second coat of stain darkens the wood because there are more pigments, dye, and color in the wood stain creating a deeper appearance than the first coat. The more coats of wood stain that you apply, the darker the finish will get but it’s not recommended to apply more than 3 coats of wood stain.

When you apply the first coat of stain on wood, the appearance that it creates on the wood is often lighter than the color that was indicated on the wood stain container. This is because you don’t have enough pigments on the wood to create the exact shade on the container.

Applying a second coat will give you a better and darker shade because there are now more pigments and colors on the wood causing a darker tone. Applying a third coat of wood stain will also give a darker tone than the second coat.

With wood stains, the more coats you add, the darker the wood will get but it’s generally advised not to apply more than 3 coats of wood stain. Next, let’s find out how to darken stained wood.

How To Darken Stained Wood?

There are different methods to make a stained wood darker but here are the top 3 easiest methods to try out:

  1. Apply another or a darker coat of the stain
  2. Use wax
  3. Apply dark gel stain

This guide will show you how to use each of these methods, how they work, and what you’ll need in each case.

1. Apply Another Or A Darker Coat Of The Stain

Apply Another Or A Darker Coat Of The Stain

The first method to try out is to apply another or a darker coat on the existing stain. If the existing wood stain finish is not dark enough, applying a new coat will darken the existing finish.

You can also apply a darker shade or tone of the existing finish to make it darker. For this method, you’ll need to sand the existing coat, remove dust, and apply a darker fresh coat.

Here are the tools and supplies that you’ll need:

  • Very fine sandpaper
  • A duster or brush
  • Paintbrushes
  • Wood stain (a darker tone from the last one)
  • Water-based polyurethane (optional)

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Wipe the existing stain with a clean rag to remove dust nibs and stains
  2. Scuff the existing stain lightly with very fine sandpaper – if there is a sealant on the existing stain, you’ll need to sand the gloss off of the sealant
  3. Remove dust on the wood
  4. Apply a darker tone of the stain on the wood and leave it to dry – you can apply two coats
  5. When dry, the new wood stain should look darker but to protect the new finish, seal it with water-based polyurethane. This step is optional.

2. Use Wax

Use Wax

You can also make a stained wood darker by buffing the existing stain with wax. Wax is a thick sealant that will make the existing stain darker.

The dark tone of wax also helps to hide stains and imperfections on the wood surface. However, you should know that wax takes a while to dry.

Here are the tools and supplies that you’ll need:

  • Fine sandpaper
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Wax for wood
  • A vacuum or duster
  • A turning stick or paint mixer

Here are the steps for this method:

  1. Wipe and clean the existing wood stain to remove dust and oily residue
  2. Scuff the stain with very fine sandpaper – sand in direction of the grain
  3. Remove dust from the wood using a vacuum
  4. Stir the wax properly to loosen clumps
  5. Apply the wax on the wood stain using a clean lint-free cloth – you should apply the wax in a circular motion
  6. Wait about 30 minutes for the wax to dry and then wipe off the excess wax on the wood
  7. Leave the surface for at least 24 hours to fully dry and darken the wood stain.

3. Use A Dark Gel Stain

Use A Dark Gel Stain

The final method to make stained wood darker is to use a dark gel stain on the wood. Just like wax, gel stains also create a deeper tone on the wood stain. Using a dark-colored gel stain on wood will make the wood stain darker.

For this method, you’ll need these:

  • Fine sandpaper
  • A vacuum
  • Gel-stain
  • Sponge paint brushes
  • A lint-free rag
  • Wipe-on polyurethane

Here are the steps for this method:

  1. Sand the existing wood stain with fine sandpaper – you should sand manually because power sanders will leave marks on the wood stain
  2. Wipe the stain to remove dust – you can also use a vacuum
  3. Prep the gel stain based on the manufacturer’s instructions – some gel stain brands can be applied directly from the can
  4. Apply the dark gel stain on the wood – you can apply two coats
  5. Leave the gel stain to dry for a few minutes and wipe the excess
  6. When the gel stain is fully dry, you can seal it with wipe-on polyurethane.

Other Products You Can Use To Darken Stained Wood:


You can darken a stained wood with coffee. To do this, you’ll need to brew a large pot of coffee and leave it to cool – it’s important to make the coffee a bit thick so it doesn’t pool on the wood.

When cool, you’ll need to sand the wood using fine-grit sandpaper and apply the coffee to the wood stain using a paintbrush. You should know that applying coffee to wood stains isn’t a very good idea.

Though it works, the coffee will turn moldy and go bad because it’s not a natural wood stain. Coffee is a beverage that will eventually go bad if used to stain wood.


Vinegar can make a stained wood darker but not alone. You’ll have to mix the vinegar with iron usually from steel wool to make the wood stain darker.

You should know that this is not a good idea because vinegar is a mild acid and mixing it with iron will age the wood. It’s better to use other methods to darken the wood than vinegar.


You can use Tea to darken stained wood. To do this, you’ll need to mix a few spoons of tea in hot water and mix till it becomes thick – not too thick. After sanding the wood, wait till the tea gets cold and then wipe it on the wood stain. Leave for at least 3 hours to dry.

You should know that using tea to darken wood is not the best idea because tea is a beverage and will eventually go bad. If the tea contains sweetened additives, using it on your wood will attract pests and insects on the wood stain.

Products That Won’t Make Stained Wood Darker:


Polyurethane rarely gives a dark tone to wood because polyurethane is a clear sealant. If you apply polyurethane on a wood stain, the polyurethane will make the wood stain vibrant or lighter because polyurethane is transparent and will allow light to reflect on the existing stain creating a lighter tone.

You should know that oil-based polyurethane tends to make wood stains slightly darker due to its yellowish tone. However, it takes several months before oil-based polyurethane turns yellow so this is not a quick fix to make your wood stain darker.

Clear Stain

Clear stains don’t darken wood because the finish is transparent. Instead, clear stains make wood stains lighter since the transparent finish allows light to reflect on the wood stain.


Lacquer will not darken wood as much as you’ll want. Lacquer like polyurethane is a clear coat and as such can’t make a wood stain darker.

Though lacquer may develop orange or yellowish tints that can produce a darker tone on the wood, it takes several weeks for these yellowish tints to appear. Even when the yellow tints appear, there usually isn’t much difference between the existing color and the new tone.

Final Words

In summary, you can make stained wood darker by using any of the methods above – just consider which is convenient for you and follow the steps under the method.

Remember not to use harsh chemicals to darken the wood – beverages aren’t the best idea either. Finally, you should never apply a new stain on an existing wood stain that is damaged or wet.

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