Do You Need To Seal Wood After Staining It? (& Tips)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

It’s a common practice to seal stained wood when the wood stain gets dry. But do you have to?

You should seal wood after staining if it will be subjected to high traffic, moisture, friction, weathering effects, and other factors that can damage it and the stain finish.

The purpose of the sealer is to form a hard-protective coat on the stained wood to protect it from these factors. If the stained wood wouldn’t see frequent use, you don’t have to seal it.

When Should You Seal Stained Wood?

You should seal stained wood if the surface will see a lot of use, traffic, friction, and weight. The sealer forms a hard layer over the surface that prevents external and environmental factors from damaging the finish or the wood.

Sealers like Polyurethane and Varnish are popular for their ultra-thick protective coating on surfaces.

Here are other cases where you need to seal it:

Reflective Finish

Many homeowners want their stained wood to be shiny when dry. This is commonly referred to as a “Mirror Finish”. The best way to achieve this finish is with a high-gloss wood sealer.

When the sealer dries, it will reveal a clear film on your stained wood that will be reflective and shiny, especially when light bounces off it. Common sealers used to achieve the mirror finish include water-based Polyurethane, Polycrylic, and Shellac.


Outdoor furniture is often sealed after staining to protect it from weathering effects. The sealers used for this are usually exterior-grade because they have additives like UV-blockers and silicone compounds that limit the effects of the outdoor weather in the surface.

If the furniture is exposed to rainfall, sunlight, dust, and ice (or snow), it will degrade and peel off faster. It can also develop mold and start smelling. An exterior-grade sealer prevents this from happening.

Heat Resistance

Homeowners are advised to seal their wood if the surface is exposed to hot items like hot pans, pizza boxes, and food and beverage spills. This is common with kitchen furniture.

In this case, the sealer will offer heat resistance so the surface doesn’t warp. Sealers used for this often have silicone compounds in their formula.

Pro Tip: Before you seal stained wood, ensure to sand it with ultra-fine sandpaper to make it smooth for the sealer.

What are The Benefits of Sealing Stained Wood?

Benefits of the Sealant

Having a wood sealer coat on your stained wood has many benefits. Here are some of them:


The sealant makes the surfaces water-resistant.

Water damage can be severe on wooden surfaces. If the wood is constantly exposed to high moisture content, either from rain, a leaky pipe or roof, or spills and splashes in the kitchen or bathroom, it will absorb the water because it is porous.

The moisture will cause the wood to warp and buckle. After a while, it will also develop mold. A waterproof sealer like polyurethane or varnish can protect it from water damage.

When dry, the sealer forms a waterproof coating that repels water, spills, and leaks.

Durability & Beauty

The sealant ensures the wood stain lasts longer. This is because factors that can affect the finish are repelled by its protective coating.

The wood will also look more attractive. Most sealants have a transparent and shiny appearance that makes the surface look more attractive especially when exposed to light.


A sealed surface is easier to clean and maintain. That’s because you can use liquid cleaning without worrying about water damage or the surface absorbing it.

The protective layer of the sealant allows you to use liquid cleaning as it prevents them from penetrating the surface. This makes the cleaning easier.

Also, removing dirt and dust from a high-gloss finish is easier.

UV and Weathering Protection

A weather-resistant sealant will protect outdoor surfaces from different outdoor elements. Without it, the outdoor furniture will get damaged by rain.

When Shouldn’t You Seal Stained Wood?

Sealing stained wood is often encouraged as it ensures the surface is protected. However, in some cases, you don’t have to do it.

If the surface wouldn’t get much use or traffic, you don’t have to apply a sealant over it. Wall frames, drawers, shelves, flower vases, and bedroom furniture don’t need a sealer because these items aren’t exposed to factors that can damage them or ruin the finish. As such, sealing it isn’t necessary.

Also, if you want to retain the finish (look) of the wood stain, you don’t need to seal it. When you apply sealant, the original finish of the wood stain is altered. In most cases, the wood will look shiny. If you don’t want a shiny appearance, you don’t have to seal it.

Usually, decorative furniture, indoor objects, and low-traffic areas of the home aren’t sealed after staining since these areas don’t get much use.

How Long Must Wood Stain Dry Before Polyurethane?

It’s generally advised to allow your wood stain dry for at least 24 hours before sealing it with polyurethane.

If you applied the wood stain in cold temperatures, you should leave it to dry for about 48 hours (or 2 days) because it takes longer for it to dry in cold conditions.

The stain must dry completely (or cure) before it can be sealed. If you rush the process seal it too soon, you’ll ruin the finish because there will still be moisture in the finish that would be trapped under the sealer. This can cause bleed-through and cause the finish to dry very slowly.

Also, sealing it too quickly can cause you to wipe off the wood stain while applying the sealer, especially if you are using a paintbrush or sealer to apply the sealer.

Which Types of Sealer Can You Use Over Stained Wood?

Benefits of the Sealant

Here are the top 4 sealants to use:

  1. Polyurethane
  2. Varnish
  3. Lacquer
  4. Shellac

Let’s check out these wood sealants and why they are a good choice for stained wood.

1. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is one of the best and most popular choices among homeowners. This is because the sealer has amazing water-resistant properties and can withstand wear and tear. There are two types of polyurethane; water-based and oil-based polyurethane.

Water-based polyurethane is the more popular choice because it doesn’t alter the finish of wood and is easy to work with. Another alternative to water-based polyurethane is polycrylic.

Oil-based polyurethane is stronger and more resistant to factors that can damage stained wood.


  1. Moisture-resistant — it will protect the surface from water damage.
  2. Elastic — It will contract and expand to cope with temperature changes.
  3. Beauty —  It enhances the look of the surface, especially when used on colors like yellow and brown.
  4. Easy to apply.
  5. Durable.
  6. Easy to maintain and clean.

2. Varnish

Varnish is a household name when it comes to sealants so you’ll get many options to choose from. You should apply varnish lightly when applying it over wood stain because it has a very thick flow since it’s an oil-based sealant.

You’ll need 2-3 light coats of varnish for adequate protection. You should know that varnish “air-dries” or “oxidizes” when applied. This means it solidifies based on exposure to dry air or oxygen, so it should be applied in a well-ventilated area.


  1. Tough and durable — It can withstand high traffic without giving way.
  2. Water-resistant.
  3. Indoor and outdoor usage. It also has additives that offer weathering protection outdoors.
  4. Enhances the look of your surface.

3. Lacquer

Lacquer is a great sealant for high-traffic surfaces, such as floors and countertops. It is a hard and shiny coat that can be applied over different surfaces.

The sealant is easy to apply as long as you have a high-volume-low-pressure (HVLP) paint sprayer. It has a thin flow which makes it a great choice for stained wood. It also dries fast so you can complete your application in one afternoon.


  1. Fast dry time.
  2. Easy to apply — you need an HVLP sprayer.
  3. Easy to repair, clean, and maintain.
  4. Water-resistant.
  5. Tough sealant — it can even be used on floors.

4. Shellac

Shellac is a sealant for homeowners and Do-It-Yourselfers that need an easy-to-apply sealant. It is a natural sealant gotten from the secretion of the female lac beetle. You can use it for indoor use and kitchen furniture.


  1. It doesn’t yellow over time like other sealants – It remains clear for years.
  2. It blends well with wood stains and can even be mixed with one.
  3. Fast dry time.

Pro Tip: Ensure the sealer you choose is compatible with the applied wood stain before using it. You should use water-based sealers for water-based stains and oil-based sealers for oil-based stains.

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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