How Long Does It Take Wood Stain to Dry?

Once you know what you’re doing, staining wood is a relatively easy process. The problem comes when you want to move, touch, or just use the wood that you have stained. This is when you want to know how long does it take wood stain to dry?

Depending on the type of wood stain you use, and how many coats you applied, on average it should take around 24 to 48 hours for wood stain to dry.

This will of course vary. So we recommend waiting at least 48 hours before touching the wood. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Otherwise, you will find yourself with wood stain on yourself. And you will have potentially ruined all of your hard work.

Waiting Between Coats

When it comes to applying multiple coats, the length of time is generally the same.

In some cases, you might be okay applying a second coat within 18 hours. But, again, it’s best to leave it for around 24 hours, just in case.

Drying vs Curing

Before we get started on the wide range of different drying times, let’s go over exactly what we mean by “dry time”. You will likely have heard the word “curing” used in reference to wood stain a lot. But it isn’t just jargon for drying. Curing is slightly different.

The drying time for wood stain refers to how long it takes the wood stain to be dry enough for another layer. This might be surprising once you see the long periods of drying time referenced below.

Curing is the time it takes for the wood to be ready for everyday use. This will take a little longer than the average drying time. This will also depend on the type of object you’re working on.

If you’re staining something that is a display item, then you won’t need to wait too long. But, if you’re working on a coffee table that will see a lot of use, then you will need to wait a little longer.

How to Tell if Wood Stain is Dry

So, you’ve waited your 48 hours, how can you be sure that the wood stain is dry? This mostly depends on the type of wood stain you use.

If it’s oil-based, then it won’t be tacky when touched. But, as mentioned above, you can spoil a stain or get the product over yourself if you touch it when wet.

So, if you are so unsure that you don’t want to risk touching it, then it’s a sign that you should leave it a little longer.

Protecting the Wood From Getting Wet

If you have stained something that sits outside, such as wooden decking, then there’s a chance that it might get wet within those 24 to 48 hours.

If the wood gets wet before the stain has dried, then there’s a chance it will spoil the finish.

If it rains before the stain has time to dry, then the wood will begin to absorb the water. This will displace the wood stain and cause it to move. This will result in a blotchy and uneven finish.

If you’re so unlucky that it rains right after you have applied the wood stain, then the stain will start to peel off.

To stop this from happening, try to cover the wood. This could be a little tricky depending on the size and shape of your decking. But, a tarp with some rope should do the job.

Different Types of Wood Stain

As already mentioned, the drying process will differ depending on the type of wood stain you use. But, this won’t just be the feel of the finish. The drying time will also vary depending on the type of wood stain you use.

There are three main types of wood stains. These are oil-based, water-based, and gel. These all have different consistencies. And so will dry at different speeds. Here’s a quick rundown of these different dry speeds.

Oil-Based Wood Stain

Due to their thick consistency, oil-based wood stains usually take the longest to dry. On average, it should take around 48 hours for oil-based wood stain to dry. But, in some cases, it can take up to 72 hours to dry.

This can be a little frustrating. But, if you think oil-based wood stain is the best option for what you’re working on, then it will still be worth it.

Water-Based Wood Stain

Water-based wood stains are generally the quickest to dry. Depending on how much you apply, as a general rule, some water-based stains can dry in just 3 to 4 hours. This is much faster than the average 24 to 48 hours. But, there are some drawbacks to this speed-drying stain.

Compared to oil and gel, water is much thinner. But, this means that water-based stains provide the thinnest finish. This also means that water-based stains provide the weakest finish.

If you need a stain for a piece of indoor furniture that won’t be handled much, then a water-based stain is fine.

But, if you’re staining decking, outdoor furniture, or even indoor furniture that will get used a lot, then a water-based stain won’t be quite strong enough.

Gel Wood Stain

Gel wood stain is a bit of a rogue option. On average, gel stains will take up to 8 hours to dry. But some can take as long as 24 hours.

So it will all depend on the brand you choose, the type of wood you’re working with, and how much you apply.

But, as with the other two wood stains, if gel seems like the best option for the wood you’re working with, go ahead and use it.

Interior vs Exterior Wood Stain

We have already been over the importance of keeping outdoor stained wood from getting wet before it dries.

But it isn’t only the elements that you need to consider. As well as different bases and consistencies for wood stains, there are also different stains for outdoor and indoor wood.

This is mostly down to the need to protect outdoor wood from the elements. Most outdoor wood stains will have additional ingredients, or be different entirely, in order to provide the outdoor wood with a level of defense.

This will mostly be to waterproof the wood. This will stop the wood from rotting and becoming generally damaged.

Speeding Up the Drying Process

So, you’ve seen that your wood stain might take up to three days to dry. This probably isn’t the most convenient thing in the world and probably isn’t the information you were hoping for.

But, if you have the time to leave the wood to dry for three days, then do. Don’t try to speed it up if you don’t need to.

But, if you’re in a rush and trying to stain your decking to smarten it up for a party you have in a day or so, you do have some options.

The two main ways to speed up the drying process are air and heat. But, be warned, speeding up the drying process can result in the finish being blotchy. This is especially true if you use heat.

So, you can move the furniture next to a radiator. Or you can just use a hairdryer. If you’re working on outdoor furniture, then we recommend you work in a sunny space.

Then, when you’re finished, try and keep it in the sunshine. If you’re working on outdoor decking, your options are quite a bit more limited. Overall, it’s much better to give yourself plenty of time.


Depending on the type of wood stain you use, the drying time can take anywhere from three hours to three days. This can be a little frustrating.

So it’s important to be prepared if the wood stain you’re using is going to need some time to dry.

If you’re working on furniture indoors, make sure to keep the furniture well out of the way. Especially any other furniture or soft furnishing so they don’t become stained.

If you have children, take special care to make sure the furniture is out of their reach. Otherwise, you might find the finish slightly altered by some tiny handprints.

If you’re working on wood outdoors, then tarpaulin will be your best friend. But, only if you think that there is a chance of rain.

If there is a chance your decking will get rained, then it’s really important to make sure the wood doesn’t wet by covering it or moving it into a sheltered area.

Dean Luoma

As a long-time homeowner, Dean has been working on his own home projects for over 30 years. He is a licensed real estate agent in the state of Minnesota, helping clients with the buying and selling of their homes.

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