Can You Stain Over Paint? (Everything You Need To Know)

Regardless of how durable the paint is, it will fade after a while. When this happens, can you stain over the paint?

You can stain over paint, but only for small-scale tasks and quick fixes. For large-scale projects, you must strip the paint first. If you apply stain directly over it, it won’t stick. That’s because it won’t be able to penetrate the wood pores due to the presence of paint. 

Also, the finish will have a rustic old appearance. Since the stain doesn’t penetrate the wood, the colors will not be absorbed, so the pigments will evaporate, creating a bad finish.


Stain doesn’t stick well over a painted surface because it can’t penetrate the wood pores. Since it can’t penetrate the pores, the stain, which is a penetrating finish, won’t stick. 

Since the wood stain doesn’t stick well, it will get damaged by moisture and heat, and the finish will look dull. Wood stain needs to penetrate the wood so the color can be set. Since it can’t, the color can’t soak into anything, which means the pigments will evaporate, and the finish will look dull.

However, this happens only if you apply stain directly to the paint. If you sand and prime the finish first, the stain will stick to the paint and have a colorful finish. 

Related Read: Can You Paint Over Stain?

Do You Need to Sand?

In most cases, you can’t stain over paint without sanding first. The purpose of sanding is to create tiny ridges in the finish that the new coating can penetrate. If you don’t sand, you risk poor adhesion and premature peeling of the finish. 

When you sand, you remove small paint pieces and create tiny gaps in the finish that the stain can sift through to reach the wood underneath. This will guarantee both, good adhesion and a bright finish.

You can skip sanding if you are using topical stains. Topical stains don’t need to penetrate a surface to stick, they will stick over finished surfaces and dry over the top layer. 

Types of Stains You Can Use

Types of Stains You Can Use Over Paint

Gel Stain

Since gel stain is a topical finish, you can use it over finished surfaces. Gel stain can be considered a sealer because it sticks to the finished surface. You also only need one coat because it has good coverage and will cover holes, cracks, and imperfections on the surface. 

However, you must wipe off the excess to prevent the finish from turning sticky. This is because gel stain has a gooey or jelly flow that takes a long time to dry. So if you don’t wipe off the excess, the finish will turn sticky.

Related Read: Stain vs Paint

Wood Stain

You can apply wood stain over painted wood only if you scrape and sand the surface first. That’s because wood stain is designed to penetrate a surface to stick, and if there’s paint on the surface, it won’t stick. 

Deck Stain

You must remove the paint first before applying deck stain. That’s because it needs to penetrate the surface to stick. Once it penetrates the wood, it will create a coating that protects the deck from the elements, foot traffic, and weight.

Lacquer Stain

Lacquer stain can be used over water-based paints. However, you must remove oil-based paints before applying it.

How To Stain Over Paint?

Putting stain over paint isn’t hard, but you need a few tools:

  • A drop sheet
  • Sandpaper
  • A soft brush
  • A paintbrush (preferably, a synthetic-bristled brush).
  • Paint Mixer
  • A bucket
  • Paint stripper (optional)

1. Test The Stain

Test The Stain

First, prepare your workspace. Place a large drop sheet or nylon on the floor. The drop sheet will prevent splashes and dust from falling to the floor.

Next, test the stain. Apply it directly to a painted area on the wood. You should apply it on a concealed area of the wood so it wouldn’t be obvious if there is any fault. This lets you know if you must remove or sand the paint before applying it.

After applying it, leave it to dry for a few hours, then check if there are any faults in the finish. If the stain takes too long to dry, becomes tacky, gets lumpy, reveals blisters, or looks dull, you must remove the paint before applying it. On the other hand, if it dries well, you don’t have to remove the existing coating; you can just sand it.

2. Strip Or Sand The Paint

Strip Or Sand The Paint

After testing the stain, you’ll know if you need to remove or sand the paint. To remove the paint, use a scraper or a paint stripper. To sand the wood, use medium-grit sandpaper.

However, you don’t have to sand the entire painted surface. Instead, you must sand only the stress areas of the wood (parts of the wood that are used the most). For instance, on a chair, a stress area will be the arms. On a table, a stress area will be the tabletop.

The stress areas are where the stain will start to fade or come off first. When you sand the stress areas, you’ll remove the existing finish there. This allows the stain to penetrate those areas and stick better, so the finish doesn’t come off.

3. Mix The Stain

Mix The Stain

You must stir and mix the stain before applying it. This makes every coat have the same consistency and color. 

4. Apply The Stain

Apply The Stain

Next, apply 2 coats of stain using a synthetic-bristled paintbrush. After you apply it, wipe off the excess so the finish doesn’t turn sticky. 

Types of Paint You Use

Latex Paint

You can use water-based stain over latex paint. Since latex is water-based, it will be compatible with a water-based stain. If you want to use an oil-based stain over it, you must strip or sand the existing finish first, especially if it’s exterior latex. 

You can also use gel stain over it. 

Chalk Paint

You can stain over chalk paint only if the finish isn’t sealed or waxed. Chalk paints are water-based, so the wood stain will adhere to it. However, you shouldn’t use oil-based stains over it. 

To improve the adhesion, distress the finish first. 

Acrylic Paint

You can use water-based stain over acrylic paint because they are compatible since both are water-based. However, you can’t apply an oil-based stain over it.

Types of Paints You Should Avoid:


You can’t stain over polyurethane. That’s because polyurethane is a clear plastic that won’t allow any type of liquid to penetrate or over it. So to stain over polyurethane, you’ll need to remove the polyurethane first.

Enamel Paint

You can’t apply stain over enamel paint because enamel paint is oil-based and dries hard. When dry, it becomes hard and glossy and prevents any liquid from penetrating its coating. 

Spray Paint

You can’t stain over spray paint because the spray paint penetrates the word pores deeply and strongly. So, the stain won’t be able to penetrate its coating or stick. 

Here are some other types of finishes you must avoid:

  • Exterior paints. These paints have additives and chemicals that will repel stains.
  • Sealants. These paints are usually hard and non-porous, meaning that stain will never penetrate.
  • Metal paints. Staining over metal or engine paints like Rust-oleum paint is not recommended. These paints usually contain compounds like cellulose that will repel them.

Final Words

Staining over paint is possible, but if you want better results, you need to clean and strip or sand the existing finish first.

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

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,

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