Can You Paint Over Stained Wood? (How To Beginners Guide)

A stain or varnish can bring new life to beloved heirlooms and suit a range of decor styles.

So when these pieces need a facelift, can you paint over stain on wood?

We have everything you need to know about painting stained wood, along with a few tips, down below.

In short, it is possible to paint over a stain. However, it depends on the type of stain used on the stained wood, the type of paint you are using, and the state of the wood itself.

Using a stain or varnish is designed to protect the wood requires and can make it difficult for paint adheres to the surface.

When it comes to dealing with a stained surface, proper preparation is critical.

If you do not prepare the stained furniture correctly, your paint job could experience stain bleeding over time, leaving your piece with a dark stain color like dark brown you cannot remove without undoing your hard work.

To remove the stain, you will need to either sand or chemically remove the old stain, which can be quite an intensive task.

Can I paint over stain without sanding?

Some stain-blocking primer types can allow you to skip some preparation steps and get straight to painting over stained wood, but I would recommend doing the job right from the beginning.

sanding off stain

Supplies You’ll Need

Your local hardware store or paint store will have all the supplies you need to get started.

  • Items and pieces to painting
  • Tarps and drop cloths
  • Tack cloth or clean rags
  • Painter’s booth (optional)
  • Fan
  • Toolkit
  • Painter’s tape
  • Warm soapy water
  • Power washer - if dealing with a large outdoor project
  • Sponges and microfibre cloths
  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) - if dealing with oil-based stains
  • 60-150 grit sandpaper[1]
  • Liquid sandpaper or de gloss - for oil-based stains
  • Power sander - if dealing with large or many items
  • Wood filler
  • Water-based primer - for water-based stains
  • Oil-based primer - for outdoor pieces and oil-based stains
  • Water-based paint
  • Oil-based paint (oil paint)
  • High-quality brushes or rollers in various sizes[2]
  • Paint sprayer (optional)
  • Water-based or oil-based polyurethane topcoat (optional)
  • Safety mask, goggles, gloves, and clothing

How To Successfully Paint Over Stained Wood (11 Steps)

Step 1: Prepare The Area

Before you can begin to paint over stained wood, you need to prepare your area.[3]

This project will most likely take a couple of days, so you need to find a well-ventilated space where you can keep everything in one place.

Most people end up choosing their shed or garage depending on what they have available.

If you need to work outside on a deck or fence, make sure to find a time when the weather will be nice for a few days.[4]

And keep in mind that, as with most things in life, a little patience can go a long way!

Lay down tarps and other protective sheeting across the floor and over anything you do not want to get painting on accidentally.

If you are indoors, make sure to open the windows and doors and set up a fan to help move air through the room.

Gather everything you need and put on your protective gear before continuing.

Step 2: Wipe Down The Wood

Next, take the pieces apart and, if necessary, remove any hardware that you do not want painting. If it does not move, you can cover it with painter’s tape.

Once done, clean the stained wood pieces either by hand with soap and warm water or with a power washer, depending on your needs.

This will help remove any dust, cobwebs, and dirt that may have settled on your pieces over time. Let everything dry completely before continuing.

Step 3: Degloss And Sand The Wood

Now that your items are ready, it is time to start removing the stain with the sanding process. If you have a stain-blocking primer that allows you to skip this step, move on to Step 5 using the same process.

If you are using liquid sandpaper or a power sander over a water-based stain, start at 60 grit and slowly work your way up, doing some light sanding that goes with the wood grain as you do.

If you are dealing with a glossy surface or semi gloss surface of oil-based stain, we recommend either using TSP or de glosser according to packaging instructions.

The fumes and sanding dust will spread, making it vital that you wear protective face and hand gear in a ventilated area.

Step 4: Wipe The Wood With a Cloth

Once you have finished sanding, wipe down the entire surface with a damp microfibre cloth or tack cloth. Cleaning after each sanding is vital to ensure that your final coat is smooth and even.

This is also the time to repair any broken or stuck areas of your piece; this will prevent you from damaging your paint job or painting job trying to fix these problems down the line.

Plus, it is worth knowing that the final coat really is the last step to a perfect finish.

Step 5: Caulking

While you are in the repair zone, we recommend filling any uneven spots or holes in the bare wood with wood filler or caulk to ensure that you have a smooth as possible place to start furniture painting.

Step 6: Sand And Wipe Again

Once your wood filler and other repairs are completely dry, it is time to do some more light sanding over those spots. Once done, wipe it down as before.

Step 7: Apply The Primer

Using either a brush, roller, or sprayer, apply a coat of primer as smoothly and evenly as possible to the required wood surfaces.

Once the first coat has dried completely, inspect it for any color changes.

If your bonding primer is darker than it should be or matches the stain below it, you need to apply bonding primer at least one more coat to ensure the stain does not leech further.

Some people choose to lightly sand and wipe each dry layer of primer and painting until the topcoat from here on out.

This gives more for the paint to stick to and allows for a more professional finish, but this is not always necessary.

Step 8: Painting Your Wood

Once your oil-based primers are dry, you can begin painting over stained wood.

Prepare your wood paint and your brushes, foam roller, or sprayer according to instructions, and painting with the grain.

Oil-based paints and latex based paints (latex paint) will need at least two coats for proper coverage.

Let each coat of paint dry completely before moving on, wiping any excess painting away with a rag.

You will need more than one coat of paint to get the right coverage and color, but you can choose to add a little water or paint thinner to your paint cans for a lighter shade.

Drying times vary, with spray paint over stain coats (two coats) typically drying the fastest and oil-based paint taking the longest.

Step 9: Apply Your Finish

Now is the time to apply your top coat. You can get top coats in a range of finishes, including a matte finish, glossy finish, and semi-gloss.

Using a finish helps protect your DIY projects from wear and damage over time.

We highly recommend using a protective final coat for high-wear items like cabinet doors and kitchen cabinets, as well as outdoor furniture and fences.

Let your finish dry according to manual instructions before moving on.

wood paint spraying

Step 10: Reassemble The Pieces

Once everything is dry, you can reassemble the hardware and other elements of your painted pieces. You may need proper tools like screwdrivers to help you in some areas.

Remove any painter’s tape and wipe the hardware with a damp rag or clean damp cloth or tack cloth to remove any dust or dirt as you go.

Step 11: Apply The Primer

Now that you are done, it is time to put away your materials and clear up your workspace.

You may need to dust or vacuum any remaining sanding dust and wash some cloths as part of the cleanup process.

Please seal your paint cans properly to ensure that each type of paint, chalk paint, acrylic paint, latex-based paint (latex paint), or others, does not go bad in storage.

Chalk paint is a retro type of paint that was largely forgotten when petroleum-based paints took over the market. However, the recent move away from petroleum products and a desire to explore vintage styles has brought chalk paint back into fashion.

Why Paint Directly Over Stain? (Benefits Explained)

There are plenty of reasons to paint stained wood.

From updating your decor color scheme to giving old heirlooms a new lease of life, the painting process can brighten up wood surfaces like kitchen cabinets.

Any wooden furniture, doors, or trims can involve painting wood stain for protection and aesthetic purposes.

Interior Stain

Interior items like stained furniture and doors are some of the more common pieces that require you to paint over stained wood.

You will typically find that these are covered in a water-based stain that is matte, making it much easier to simply sand and prime.

By painting indoor heirlooms and trim, you can freshen up your decor or protect your favorite pieces over the course of only a couple of days.

Exterior Stain

Exterior furniture, sheds, and fences are highly likely to be covered in furniture wax, making it more difficult to painting over.

This is because outdoor items tend to need added protection against UV rays, water, and other hazards like mold.

Oil-based stain is good at helping prevent those things from damaging the furniture but is tough to remove without heavy hitters like TSP.

Oil Vs Water-Based Stains: How They Differ For Painting

How Do You Tell Which Stain It Is

Before you can get started collecting what you need to get started, you need to know what kind of wood stain you are dealing with.

Finding out is simple enough - sprinkle some water over the stained wood surface. If the water stains beads up over the wood stain, it is an oil-based stain.

If the water does not bead up, it is most likely a water-based stain.

However, this is a general rule, and we recommend trying a solvent like Goo Gone to top expand child menu on the stained wood if you are unsure.

oil stain

How To Paint Over Water-Based Stains

Dealing with water-based stains is relatively simple - simply clean, sand, clean, prime, and painting the pieces. T

his is because water-based stains sink into the wood, leaving the upper wood grain still exposed.

Using a water-based primer and paint will ensure that the paint sticks correctly, leaving little room for cracking or peeling over time.

How To Paint Over Oil-Based Stains

Oil-based stains are trickier to deal with. This is due to the varnish or topcoat sitting on the top layer of the wood, preventing moisture and other elements from penetrating the surface.

This smooth surface does not allow the paint to stick easily, meaning you need to remove it before priming stained wood.

This means that stripping or sanding the stained wood is key before you prime and paint over stained wood.

The chemicals or sanders used are dangerous and require you to wear face and hand protection.

painting over stained wood FAQs

Can I paint acrylic over wood stains?

Acrylic paint can be used on water-based stains with a water-based latex primer. However, it is not recommended to use it on oil stains as water and oil do not mix.

Can you paint over stains and polyurethane?

It depends on the type of stain, wood, and paint primer used. High-quality primer can eliminate the need for sanding, but following recommended steps is advised for optimal results.


Can you paint over stain wood furniture? Yes, you can paint over wood furniture with the right preparation.

Painting over stained wood may seem intimidating, but modern advancements in home renovation can help make the job go smoother.

Remember to always wear your protective gear and ask a professional painter in your local paint store if you need clarification on anything.