How to Fix Sticky Tung Oil? (3 Methods & Prevention Tips)

Tung oil is commonly used for its waterproofing and honey tone finish on wood but when the Tung oil turns sticky, you don’t get any of these qualities. So how do you fix a sticky Tung oil finish?

If the sticky Tung oil is still wet, you can fix it by increasing the air current and heat around the Tung oil coating. This can be done using a fan and hairdryer.

However, if the Tung oil has dried in its tacky state, you should dissolve the sticky Tung oil with turpentine and wipe off the excess oil after. For extreme sticky situations where the sticky Tung oil has been contaminated, you need to strip off the Tung oil with a solvent-based paint stripper.

This post reveals more ways to fix a sticky Tung oil finish including expert tips to prevent the Tung oil from turning sticky. Let’s dive in.

Why Is Tung Oil Sticky?

The usual cause of sticky Tung oil is unfavorable drying conditions. Tung oil is a natural wood oil finish that is very picky when it comes to its ideal drying conditions. Tung oil must be applied on a dry, sanded, and clean wood.

Asides from this, the room temperature needs to be between 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity levels need to be below 40%. If you apply the wood oil without meeting any of these drying conditions, chances are the Tung oil will turn sticky.

For instance, if the Tung oil is applied on wet wood and not dry wood, the moisture in the wood will dampen the Tung oil causing it to remain wet and turn sticky. Also, if the humidity (level of moisture in the air) is more than 50%, the Tung oil will not dry and will turn sticky. However, this isn’t the only cause of a sticky Tung oil finish.

Here are other possible causes for your sticky Tung oil finish:

1. You Over-Applied The Tung Oil

Tung oil needs many coats for proper protection and durability on the surface. When working with raw Tung oil, you need at least 5 coats. When working with polymerized or heated Tung oil, you need at least 3-4 coats for a good finish. The reason for needing many coats is to allow the wood to fully absorb the wood oil.

Since many coats of the Tung oil are needed, it becomes easy to get carried away and over-apply the finish. When you over-apply the wood oil, there will be too much oil on the wood than the wood can absorb. The excess Tung oil that isn’t absorbed in the wood will remain on the wood surface and turn gummy or sticky.

2. You Applied Raw Tung Oil

Raw Tung oil contains no metalized dryers, quick-drying additives, or solvent which means that the raw Tung oil dries very slowly.

The Tung oil takes about 3 days to fully dry so if you applied raw Tung oil, this is the reason your finish is sticky. If you want a quick-drying Tung oil finish, you should apply polymerized Tung oil finish.

Polymerized Tung oil finish contains metalized dryer additives and petroleum-based solvents like mineral spirits that make the finish dry in a few hours.

3. You Didn’t Wipe Off The Excess Tung Oil After Application

Being a wood oil, Tung oil needs to be fully absorbed in the wood pores to stick and dry properly. However, it’s difficult to agree on a certain number of coats that will fill all types of wood pores.

Since the porosity of wood varies from wood to wood, manufacturers recommend applying several coats of Tung oil on a surface and waiting 30 minutes for the wood to absorb as much oil as it can.

After 30 minutes, the wood pores will be filled and you can wipe off the excess wood oil that is on the surface. If you don’t wipe off the excess Tung oil after the wood has absorbed its maximum oil, the excess oil on the wood will gunk up and turn sticky.

4. You Applied The Tung Oil Over A Sealed Surface

Tung oil needs to penetrate the wood to stick and dry. If the surface is sealed with polyurethane or any other sealant, the Tung oil will not be able to penetrate as it should because the wood pores would have been sealed by the sealant. Since the Tung oil can’t penetrate, it can’t stick and will not dry. Instead, the Tung oil will stay on the sealed surface where it will gunk up and turn sticky.

Will Tacky Tung Oil Eventually Dry?

Will Tacky Tung Oil Eventually Dry?

If the wood oil stays tacky after 24 hours, it will not dry unless the Tung oil you applied is raw. If the Tung oil is raw, it can stay tacky for up to 3 days and still dry eventually. But, for polymerized and commercial Tung oil finishes, the Tung oil will not dry if it stays tacky after 24 hours. In this case, you’ll need to fix the cause of the stickiness and leave the Tung oil to dry.

Ordinarily, polymerized Tung oil takes 12 hours to dry but can stay sticky up to 24 hours before it dries especially if the Tung oil was applied in a moist or cold environment. If the polymerized Tung oil remains tacky after 24 hours, it will not dry. However, if the tacky Tung oil is raw, it can stay tacky for up to 3 days and still dry eventually. This is because raw Tung oil takes up to 3 days to dry.

If the maximum dry time (24 hours for polymerized Tung oil and 3 days for raw Tung oil) has passed and the Tung oil is still tacky, it will not dry itself. In this case, you’ll need to find the cause of the stickiness and fix it to allow the Tung oil to dry. Next, let’s find out how to fix a sticky Tung oil finish.

How To Fix Sticky Tung Oil? (3 Methods That Work)

Here are three ways to fix a sticky Tung oil finish:

  1. Use a hairdryer
  2. Dissolve the Tung oil in mineral spirits and wipe off the excess Tung oil
  3. Remove the sticky Tung oil

This guide will show you how to use each of these methods, when to use them, and how they work. Let’s dive in.

1. Use A Hairdryer

Use A Hairdryer

The first fix for sticky Tung oil is to dry the Tung oil manually. Like all other types of wood oil finishes, Tung oil dries based on evaporation or heat and it cures based on oxidization or air current.

So, if you expose the sticky (or non-drying) Tung oil to heat from a hairdryer and air current from fans, it will dry and cure faster.

This method should be used within 24 hours after applying polymerized Tung oil and within 2 days after applying raw Tung oil. If the sticky Tung oil is allowed to solidify in its sticky state, this method will not make the Tung oil dry.

For this method, you need these:

  • A hairdryer
  • Fans
  • A pair of gloves
  • A face mask

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Tap the Tung oil with your fingers to know the wet and sticky parts.
  2. Plug-in and turn on the hairdryer.
  3. Set the heat to medium (or 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. Move the hairdryer around the sticky parts of the Tung oil for 5 minutes (do this at an interval of 15 minutes for an hour).
  5. Turn on the fans in the room and direct them to the sticky Tung oil coat.
  6. Turn off the hairdryer but leave the fans on as long as possible.
  7. Leave the Tung oil to dry and cure.

Tip: Do not over-use the hairdryer because doing so can cause the Tung oil to dry on the surface but remain wet underneath.

2. Dissolve and Wipe Off The Excess Tung Oil

Dissolve and Wipe Off The Excess Tung Oil

The next method to fix a sticky Tung oil finish is to dissolve and wipe off the excess wood oil from the wood surface.

This method works for tacky Tung oil that has solidified in its tacky state. If the maximum dry time for the Tung oil has passed and the Tung oil remains tacky, this is the method to fix it. Also, if the tackiness is caused by excess Tung oil application, this is the fix to use.

The idea here is to dissolve the tacky Tung oil with mineral spirits and when the oil is dissolved, you can wipe it with a clean rag. This will reduce the amount of Tung oil on the wood and allow the surface to dry normally.

For this method, you’ll need these:

  • Mineral spirits or turpentine
  • Clean rags
  • Plastic bags
  • A pair of gloves
  • A face mask
  • A natural-bristled paintbrush
  • Polymerized Tung oil

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Wear a face mask and a pair of gloves before using mineral spirits, turpentine, or acetone.
  2. Pour some mineral spirits or turpentine into a clean bowl. You can also use 90% acetone for this but be very careful because acetone can remove the entire Tung oil finish.
  3. Soak a rag in the solvent.
  4. Sprinkle some of the mineral spirits directly over the sticky parts of the Tung oil.
  5. Leave the Tung oil to absorb the mineral spirits for 30 minutes. This will dissolve the sticky Tung oil.
  6. When the Tung oil has been dissolved, use the damp rag to wipe off the excess wood oil.
  7. Swipe across the wood surface in the direction of the wood grain twice to remove the excess Tung oil.
  8. Touch up the Tung oil with a light coat of polymerized Tung oil.
  9. Wipe again and leave the surface to dry.

3. Remove The Sticky Tung Oil

Remove The Sticky Tung Oil

The final step to fix a sticky Tung oil finish is to remove it. This is the last resort and should be used when all other fixes have failed.

Professional painters reserve this method for sticky Tung oil that has been contaminated by stains, filth, and water. In this case, you can’t restore the Tung oil so the best option is to remove it.

Here are three ways to remove a sticky Tung oil finish:

  1. Strip the Tung oil with a solvent-based paint stripper.
  2. Sand the Tung oil off of the wood with sandpaper, sanding block, or sanding pad.
  3. Use acetone and steel wool to dissolve and remove the sticky Tung oil.

Do You Have To Wipe Excess Tung Oil From A Surface?

You need to wipe off excess Tung oil within 30 minutes after application. If you don’t wipe off the excess Tung oil, it will turn gooey and sticky. After a few days, the sticky Tung oil will get contaminated and will begin to smell foul. Not to mention that you won’t get the type of Tung oil finish that you expect.

The reason for this is that the wood would have absorbed as much Tung oil as it can within 30 minutes. So, the wood oil that remains unabsorbed on the wood needs to be wiped off. If you don’t wipe off the excess, the wood will not absorb it. Instead, it will remain on the wood, turn gooey and get sticky.

What Happens If You Re-Coat Tung Oil Too Soon?

If you recoat Tung oil too soon, the Tung oil will turn sticky. This is because there will be solvent trapped in the existing coat. The trapped solvent will dampen the next Tung oil coat causing it to stay wet and turn sticky after a few hours.

DIYers are advised to wait 2-4 hours between coats of polymerized or commercial Tung oil and 24-72 hours between coats of raw Tung oil. This is to give the Tung oil coat enough time to dry and harden before a recoat.

If you recoat the Tung oil too soon, solvent (or oils) will still be present in the first coat, and recoating too soon means you’ll trap the solvent between the first and second coat. This will stop either coat from drying and after a while, the Tung oil will turn sticky.

How Do You Know When Tung Oil Is Cured?

Here are expert signs that indicate when the Tung oil has cured:

  1. The Tung oil is waterproof – Tung oil only becomes fully waterproof when the oil has cured.
  2. The Tung oil has a honey-like tone on the wood – This tone only shows when the oil has cured.
  3. The Tung oil is no longer sticky or gummy.
  4. The Tung oil doesn’t smell anymore – Even after the Tung oil has dried, you’ll still smell the natural oils but this stops when the oil cures.
  5. The Tung oil is hard and durable – Tung oil only reaches its peak strength and durability when the oil has cured.

How To Prevent Tung Oil From Turning Sticky?

  1. Leave enough dry time between coats of the Tung oil.
  2. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying Tung oil.
  3. Apply the Tung oil only in optimal drying conditions.
  4. Wipe off the excess Tung oil after application.
  5. Wipe, clean, and sand the wood before applying Tung oil.

Final Words

In summary, Tung oil turns sticky for many reasons but sticky Tung oil can be fixed. You just need to find out the cause of the stickiness and take the right step from those discussed in this article to fix the sticky Tung oil.

You should know that preventing the Tung oil from turning sticky is better than finding a fix for it when it turns sticky. So, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and leave enough dry time between coats of Tung oil so it doesn’t turn sticky.

Leave a Comment