Sometimes, after applying wood stain, the finish becomes sticky or tacky. Why does this happen and how to fix it?
To fix a sticky wood stain, apply mineral spirits over the coating that isn’t drying. The mineral spirits will dissolve the coating making it easier to wipe off the excess.
Since most of the wood stain is removed, the remaining will dry easier and the finish won’t be sticky anymore. However, if the coating is still sticky, it means there’s something wrong with the surface. If that’s the case, remove the entire finish, inspect the surface, and re-apply it.
Why Does This Happen?
The 3 main reasons why this happens are:
1. The Excess Wasn’t Wiped Off
The main reason a finish turns sticky is that there’s too much of it on the surface and the solvent can’t evaporate. This is why you should always remove the excess 30 minutes after applying it.
Wood stain by design doesn’t sit on wood, instead, it penetrates the grain. So, if you apply too much of it, the excess will not penetrate the grain, instead, it will stay on the top layer. Since the stain isn’t designed to sit on the wood, it won’t dry properly regardless of how long you wait.
So, if you apply wood stain, always ensure to wipe off the excess 30 minutes after applying it.
2. High Humidity
The wood stain should be applied in a room or environment where the humidity is not more than 50%. If the humidity levels are higher than 50, the coating won’t dry because the solvent can’t evaporate. The high moisture content in the atmosphere will settle on the coating as it starts to dry making it wet.
The coating will eventually dry, but it will take 2 times more than usual.
3. Re-Coated Too Soon
If you re-coat too soon, the finish will turn tacky. That’s because the existing coating is still wet (the solvent hasn’t evaporated yet), so if you apply a new coating over it too soon, the solvent will be stuck between two layers and prevent the finish from drying.
Will Sticky Wood Stain Dry Itself?
Depending on the cause, some sticky wood stains can dry themselves and some can’t.
If the stain is not drying because you re-coated it too soon, the finish will eventually dry, but it will take longer. That’s because once the coating is exposed to increased heat, the solvent stuck between the two layers will evaporate, and the finish will dry. However, the finish won’t be smooth.
However, if the finish is tacky because there’s something wrong with the surface, then the problem won’t fix itself. That’s because if the surface is wet or there’s something preventing penetration, the finish will remain wet. This usually happens when the wood stain turns sticky after drying.
If a surface is wet, it means the wood pores are already filled with water, so the stain won’t be able to penetrate it. In this case, the coating stays over the top layer of wood and remains wet. To fix this, you must remove the entire finish, fix the issue (dry the surface), and re-apply it.
How To Fix Sticky Wood Stain?
The fix depends on the cause. If the wood stain turns sticky after drying, it means there’s something wrong with the surface. If it turns sticky while applying it, it means there’s something wrong with the stain and not the surface.
1. Use Mineral Spirits
If there’s too much wood stain on the surface, you must remove the excess so the remaining can dry. To do so, use a paint thinner or mineral spirits.
The paint thinner will dissolve the excess making it turn liquid. In its liquid state, the excess stain can then be easily wiped off the wood. The remaining will be left on the surface and will dry properly
To do this, you’ll need:
- A paint thinner (preferably mineral spirits)
- A pair of gloves
- Clean rags
- An angled paintbrush.
Here are the steps for this method:
- Apply Paint Thinner – Damp a rag with mineral spirits and use the dampened rag to wipe the surface repeatable. You won’t need to douse the surface with mineral spirits, just apply enough to dissolve the coating.
- Wait 10 minutes
- Wipe The Excess – Once the coating liquefies, use a clean rag to remove (wipe off) the excess. After you wipe it off, the remaining will stay on the surface and dry properly.
2. Apply More Stain
Adding more wood stain to the surface will just add more solvent (water or oil) over the existing coatings. This makes the coating liquefy, making it easier to wipe off the excess.
However, you should only apply the same type of wood stain (oil or water-based) as the existing one.
Here are the tools you need:
- A paintbrush
- The same wood stain that was applied
- Clean rags
- Wood stain thinner (optional)
Here is how to use this method:
- Thin It (Optional) – You should only do this if you thinned the first stain coating that you applied.
- Apply The Wood Stain – Apply wood stain over the existing coating, and wait 5 minutes. The new coating will add more solvent to the existing stain and liquefy it.
- Wipe Off The Excess – Once the coating starts to liquefy, wipe off the excess.
- Leave The Remaining To Dry – The stain that has penetrated the wood pores should be left to dry naturally. Once it dries, you can add one or two more coats.
1. Allow Enough Dry Time
If you re-coat too soon, the existing coat won’t dry properly because its solvent hasn’t evaporated. Since the solvent hasn’t evaporated yet, the existing coating will still be wet. The moisture (or solvent) will later bleed through the new coating, making it wet.
Not just that, the whole finish will appear blotted and there will be varying color patches on the wood. So, always leave enough dry time between coats.
2. Wipe The Excess
Wipe the excess 30 minutes after applying the wood stain. In 30 minutes, the stain will penetrate the wood pores, so the remaining stain is just extra and doesn’t have enough space to penetrate the wood. The remaining stain is usually the one that always turn sticky. So, if you remove it, the finish will dry properly.
3. Mix It
You need to properly mix the wood stain before you apply it. The pigments are usually at the bottom of the container, so mixing it will give you an even application.
How Long Will It Remain Tacky?
If you don’t wipe the excess or fix the issue, the finish can remain tacky for weeks. The needed wood stain will penetrate the wood and leave the unnecessary (extra) stain on top of the wood surface, if you don’t remove it it will stay there for weeks.
Stain Types That Won’t Turn Sticky?
All penetrating wood stains will turn sticky if you don’t wipe them out. However, if you use applying thin coats you will get a darker color that won’t turn sticky. The trick here is to add very thin layers.
You can also use topical finishes, such as gel stain. Gel stain doesn’t penetrate a surface to stick — instead, it stays on top of the layer until it dries, therefore it won’t turn sticky.
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,