How Long Does Wood Stain Take To Dry? (According To A Pro)

 If your deck starts to look faded and old, then it is time to pick out a high-quality deck stain to help it look a little bit better.

Many homeowners may not be familiar with the exact steps they must use to help stain their deck. They may even wonder how long it takes for stains to dry on their deck. 

Let’s take a look at some of the different factors that we can consider when figuring out how long it takes for natural wood grain or wood stains to dry properly.  

Stain will typically take between up to 12 hours to dry, depending on the heat, the humidity, and the type of wood you are using.

When you plan to tacky stain an item, it is best to wait the full 12 hours or more before you decide to put on second coat of the stain after previous coat. 

For projects that need oil, wax, or apply polyurethane varnish, you should wait for at least 24 hours instead.  

stained wooden fence

The drying time will depend on the type of stain and wood conditioner that you choose to use on your wood. 

There are different wood stains types that can enhance the appearance of the wood project you want to do, but each one has different directions on how to apply and what steps you can take to make it dry completely. 

Some things to consider when waiting for the stains to dry include: 

1. Water-Based Wood Stain 

When the project needs to be done quickly and you can't wait for the stain to dry, then water based stain is the best choice. 

Water based stains only take a few hours to dry in the right weather. You need to be prepared to lay water based wood stains and wood conditioner down quickly, though.

Water based stain dries fast enough that in the right weather, you have to apply wood stain promptly with natural bristle brush to avoid splotches and uneven coating.  Wipe off the excess stain with lint free cloth.

2. Oil Based Wood Stains 

Oil based stains are one of the most common types of wood stain that you will use. oil based stain is available in all hardware stores. Oil based stains penetrate deep into the wood and will last a long time. 

Wood stain drying time varies between one to two hours for this wet stain to dry. But you should wait for another two to three for wood stain dries before adding another coat of oil based stain. Wait a minimum of 8 hours before applying the oil based stains finish you want to use.  

3. Varnish Wood Stains 

This type of stain will rely on varnish to be the binder. It includes polyurethane in it to help protect the wood from chemicals and heat.

If you use this type of wood stain, there is no need to add a finishing coat. Wipe off the excess stain before wood stain dry. This stain will dry quickly, so you will need to work fast to avoid splotches on the beautiful wood piece.  

4. Lacquer Wood Stains 

This is one of the fastest types of stains to dry, usually only taking 15 minutes to dry after application.

It has a strong odor, so you will need really good ventilation around the work, or you will need to wear a mask to stay safe while using it.  

5. Gel-Based Wood Stains 

Gel stain or gel based wood stains are new to the market and will provide a strong type of stain that looks great on many wood surfaces. Because of the thickness of gel stain or wood stains, though, you need to wait for long for wood stain to dry. 

Exterior wood stains or gel stains are not a good option if you need the project to get done quickly becuase you need more time for wood stain to dry. However, gel stain  will not drip easily, so it works well for things like wooden table legs.  

6. Water-Soluble Aniline Dye Stains 

This is one of the oldest staining wood techniques. These dye stains are synthetic and were originally used to stain wood properly. The amount of dye that you dissolve into hot water will determine the wood colorants  that you get. 

This dries quickly but will often need a second coat to get the intense coloring that you would like.  

stained wood floor

How Long Does It Take For Wood Specifc Deck Stains To Dry? 

Deck stains can feel dry to the touch in just a few hours. They are not completely done at this time, though. Wait at least eight hours for most stains to determine whether they are all the way dry before adding the polyurethane finish or other touches to it.  

If the day is really humid or you have lower temperatures, be ready for the wood stain take to dry a little longer too. Completing the work inside can be helpful when the weather is bad, but it will be slower and will take longer than expected for the exterior stain to dry.  

The most common type of stain used on wood is oil-based wood stain. This wood stain can dry pretty quickly, though not as fast as the water based stains. However, it penetrates deep into the wood, looks nice, has many great colors and shades to choose from, and can last a long time, which helps it work great for all types of wood.  

roller skates on stained wooden deck

What Affects The Drying Time Of The Stain? 

As you are planning out the work that you would like to do on your deck or another wood's surface, one factor to consider is how long the stained surface will take to dry. 

You need to get the stain applied and dried before the weather gets wet or too cold. A deck stain sprayer or lacquer thinner or any other paint thinner can help speed this process up.

There are different factors that will determine how long it takes the stain to dry. Some of the most common factors include: 


Humidity will slow down your stain drying time. If it is hot and humid outside when you lay the stain down, the stain drying process will take longer than expected.

When it is possible to do so, bring the wood project inside on a humid day to speed it up and avoid the other issues that humidity can bring.  


The temperature can speed up the drying process. For example, a wooden deck out in the sun on a hot day will dry faster than a table inside with the air conditioning on.

If you want to get the stain to dry a little faster than average, you must make sure that the temperature is higher to encourage the drying.  


If you plan to stain an item in your home, such as a table and chairs, you will need to give it more time to dry.

Homes typically do not have the same amount of ventilation inside as they do outside, which can slow down the process. If you move them outside, or you have a deck you are staining, it will typically dry faster.  

The Type Of Wood 

The type of wood on the deck will help influence how long takes wood stain to dry. Some woods will soak up the stain and can get the stain to dry faster. Other woods will have the stain sit there and take a little longer.

Homeowners should learn what type of pressure treated wood is on their decks and then make a decision on how long the drying will take.  

The Type Of Stain 

Some stains are faster than others for drying. Lighter coats or thin coats may need less time.

If you need to do two or three thin coats of the stain to get the desired results, each individual coat is likely to dry a little faster than those that are thicker and need fewer coats.

You can look on the back of the packaging of the stain you choose to see what the recommended stain's drying time is. Always remeber that don't apply stain right after finishing pressure washing. 

How Long Should You Let Stain Dry Before Polyurethane Application? 

It is best to let the stain dry for up to 24 hours, sometimes more, before you try to spray on the polyurethane to the wood.

If polyurethane as a synthetic liquid resin application is placed onto the wood too early, it can lift the stain off and make the wood look bad. 

You will then need to strip it all down and start fresh. Giving the stain dry a minimum of 24 hours and set into the wood first will ensure the final product after stain dry looks amazing.  

Common Stain Drying Questions Answered

What are some pro tips when applying stain? 

Some tips for applying staining include: pick the right day, choose right color, consider drying time, work on one section at a time.

Will stains darken as it dries? 

No, most stains will lighten as they dry on the wood. When the stain is applied, it is darker in color. It will slowly dry and appear to be lighter than before. 

How do you know when a stain is dry? 

You can touch the stain to see if it is dry or not. If it is sticky or leaves a mark behind, this is a sign that the stain is still wet. 

How can I make wood stain dry faster? 

To make wood stain dry faster, pick a hot and non-humid day. Leave the wooden items out in the sun to let them have a chance to warm by the sun. You can also choose a stain that does not take as long to dry as the others.  


Applying stain to your wood project can be a great way to enhance the color, change up the look, and protect the wood for many years to come. Doing it the right way includes giving the stain plenty of time to dry too.

Take a look at some of the tips above to see just how you can get this done and have a project that looks amazing too.