Can You Stain Wet Wood? (How-To)

Staining dry wood is easy. But, can you stain wet wood?

You shouldn’t apply stain over wet wood. The stain won’t stick to wet wood because of the high levels of wood tannins, oils, and moisture in the wood. This makes it almost impossible for the stain to stick to wet wood.

Oil-based stains especially don’t stick to wet wood because the moisture in the wood will repel the oils in the stain. However, some water-based stains can be applied over damp wood, but the results won’t be as smooth or colorful as if the stain was applied on dry wood.

This post reveals more about staining over wet wood, including a 5-step procedure to carry out the task. Let’s dive in.

Why Doesn’t Stain Stick To Wet Wood?

Does Stain Stick To Wet Wood?

Wood stain doesn’t stick to wet wood because wet wood contains a large deposit of wood oils and tannins. If the wood was recently washed, there would also be moisture (or water) in the wood. All these substances in the wood make it very difficult for the stain to stick to the wood.

For the wood stain to stick, the stain needs to penetrate the wood grain through the pores (tiny holes in the wood). If the wood is wet, wood pores and grain are already filled with water or moisture, so the wood stain won’t be able to penetrate and stick to the wood. 

Unlike paints, stain soaks into the wood grain and changes the color of the wood. While paint stays at the top and only changes the color of the top layers of wood. 

Since the wood grain is filled with water, wood stains can’t penetrate the wood pores and won’t stick well.

Oil-based stains especially don’t stick to wet wood at all. This is because the solvent of oil-based stains is oil (synthetic or natural), and the solvent (oil) isn’t compatible with the moisture (water) in the wet wood, so the stain won’t stick.

What Happens If You Stain Damp Wood?

If you try to stain damp wood, you’ll encounter several problems. Let’s check out what happens when you stain over wet wood.

Difficulty in Prepping The Wood

Before you apply wood stain over wood, you need to prep it. The prep work involves cleaning and sanding the wood, but you can only clean and sand dry wood. 

If the wood is wet, you can’t clean it because the rag will be filled with wood oils. Also, you can’t sand wet wood because the sandpaper will get clogged up. This makes prepping wood difficult. 

Poor Adhesion

If you try to stain wet wood, the stain won’t stick. This is because the high moisture level in the wood fills the wood pores, so the stain can’t penetrate to stick or adhere well.

Staining and Bleed Through

Tannins, oils, and moisture in the wet wood will bleed through once the stain gets dry. This will make the finish appear blotchy as the color will be uneven. When this happens, you may also notice yellowing in the finish.

Longer Dry Time

If you try to stain over wet wood, the stain will take longer to dry. This is because of the moisture in the wood. For the stain to dry, the solvent has to completely evaporate. But with moisture in the wood, the stain will remain wet, so the solvent won’t evaporate completely. 

Tacky or Sticky Stain

If the stain doesn’t dry properly, it will turn sticky or tacky. Oil-based stains will also continue to smell for several days.

Bleed-through, poor adhesion, and tacky stain mostly happen when you apply oil-based stain over damp wood. Water-based stains perform better than oil-based stains on damp wood, but the result will still be inferior to if the wood was dry before it was stained.

How Long Should Wood Dry Before Staining?

How Long Should Wood Dry Before Staining?

On average, you should wait at least 24 hours for the wood to dry before applying a stain. Large wooden surfaces like walkways, patios, and decks should dry for 3 days before applying stain. This gives the wood enough time to dry so the wood pores can absorb the stain.

However, the exact time to wait for wet wood to dry depends on the type of wood, the moisture content in the wood, and the ambient temperature. For example, hardwood is porous and absorbs more moisture than other wood types. So, hardwood takes longer to dry than other types of wood.

The more absorbent the wood is, the more moisture it absorbs and the longer it will take to dry. Popular types of hardwood include Oak, Maple, and Pine. Softwood will dry quicker and can be stained within 24 hours since the grain isn’t as absorbent as hardwood.

Types of Stain To Use on Damp Wood

You should only use water-based stains on wet wood. Water-based stains perform better on wet wood than oil-based stains because water-based stains are dissolved in water. So the stain is more compatible with the moisture in the wet wood.

Some deck stains also work on damp wood. That’s because deck stains are usually formulated to be moisture-resistant, so if used on damp wood, the deck stain will stick.

However, the finish you will get from applying stain over damp wood will be inferior to the finish you’ll get if the wood was allowed to dry. 

How To Stain Wet Wood?

Staining over damp wood is easy, but the task can be time-consuming and messy due to the moisture content in the wood. So you’ll need the following tools and supplies to make this task less messy:

  • A hairdryer
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Stain-blocking paint primer
  • A can of water-based stain
  • A paintbrush or spray gun
  • Drop sheets
  • Waterproof sandpaper
  • A pair of gloves

1. Prep The Work Area

Prep The Work Area

Staining over wet wood can be messy, so you must prep the work area to avoid the mess. Place a large drop sheet on the floor around the wet wood to do this. The sheet will help to collect tannins and filth that fall off the wood.

As a part of prep work, you can wet-sanding the wood. Dry-sanding can’t be done on wet wood, but wet-sanding will help make the wet wood smoother. You’ll need waterproof sandpaper for wet sanding.

2. Dry The Wood

Dry The Wood

To speed up the wood drying time, increase the ambient temperature around the wet wood. You can use a hairdryer for this. Turn on the hairdryer and move it over the wet wood to increase evaporation.

You can also expose the dry wood to sunlight. So if you can, move the wood outdoors. The increased heat, exposure to sunlight, and dry air will make the wood dry faster.

3. Apply Stain-Blocking Primer

Apply Stain-Blocking Primer

When the wood has dried a bit, apply a stain-blocking primer on the wood. Stain-blocking primers, such as shellac primers, are designed to prevent moisture in the wood to affect the wood stain.

Using a paintbrush apply 2-3 coats of stain-blocking primer. The stain-blocking primer should be compatible with the type of stain you apply.

4. Scuff The Primer Coating

Scuff The Primer Coating

When the primer coat has dried,  scuff it with fine-grit sandpaper. The sandpaper will smoothen the primer coating and create tiny scars for the stain to penetrate through.

After sanding, remove dust nibs from the surface so they don’t create bumps in the finish.

5. Apply The Water-Based Stain

Apply The Water-Based Stain

The final step is to apply the stain. Only apply water-based stains over wet wood because water-based stains perform better. Apply the stain using a spray gun as this helps to ensure more coverage. Also, spraying the stain is faster.

You can also use a paintbrush, but the damp texture of the wood can stop the paintbrush from moving smoothly across the surface.

After applying the stain, use a hairdryer to dry it for a few minutes. This makes the stain dry faster. Then, leave the stain to dry for at least 24  before using it.

How Do You Know If Wood Is Dry Enough To Stain?

The following signs will indicate when the wood is dry enough to stain:

Wood Doesn’t Smell

When the wood is wet, it will have a musty smell. This tells you that there is still moisture in the wood. However, when the wood is dry enough for stain, you wouldn’t perceive any musty smell from the wood.

Wood Feels Dry and Hard

When the wood is dry enough for stain, it will feel dry and hard. When the wood is still wet, it will feel moist. So the wood texture lets you know when and when not to apply stain.

Raised Wood Fibers or Splinters

Moisture or water tends to raise wood fibers causing splinters in the wood after the wood has dried. So if you can spot splinters in the wood, the wood has dried enough for sanding.

If the wood is still wet, splinters will not appear because the wood fibers will be wet and soft. Keep in mind that you are required to sand the splinters to make the wood smooth.

Moisture Content Is Lower Than 15%

Wood is dry enough to be stained when the moisture content in the wood is lower than 15%. To know the moisture content of the wood, you can use a moisture meter.

You’ll need to insert the needle-like antennae meter into the wood. The meter will then display the moisture content of the wood telling you if it can be stained or not.

You can also weigh the wood as it dries. The lighter the wood gets, the lower the moisture content and the sooner the wood can be stained.

You Can Sand

When you can sand the wood smoothly without the sandpaper getting stuck, the wood has dried enough for staining.

How Long After Rain Can You Stain Wood?

You should wait at least 3 days after rainfall before you stain a wet wood or deck. Especially, if the wood doesn’t have any moisture-resistant layer on it.

If there is a moisture-resistant layer on the wood, let the wood dry for 24 hours before staining. The moisture-resistant layer on the wood prevents the wood grain from absorbing high moisture content. So the wood will dry faster and can be stained sooner.

Final Words

Overall, you can stain over damp deck or wood. But, only use water-based stains because oil-based stains will not stay on wet wood. Also, try to dry the wood as much as possible to remove moisture before staining it.

This helps the stain to stick better and dry smoother on the damp wood. A coat or two of a stain-blocking paint primer over the damp wood will also prevent tannins and oils from affecting the stain.

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