After staining wood do you have to seal it? You could battle with t.his question like many DIY enthusiasts if you are new to woodworking. 

Stain can do an excellent job highlighting the wood grain, but it will not protect it. As such, stained wood remains susceptible to damage from accidental scratching and discoloration from human and animal activity. 

So, do you have to seal stained wood?

Read along to learn whether you should put a sealer over stain and how to go about it. 

After Staining Wood do You Have to Seal it?

Yes, sealing wood after staining it is essential to protect it from damage and discoloration from foods, liquids, human touch, and piercing objects. While wood stain may seal the pores and offer some protection from moisture and water damage, its primary purpose is to color natural wood.

Why Seal Your Wood After Staining 

Sealing may mean putting in some extra work on your wood project, but the benefits far outweigh that slight disadvantage. 

Sealing offers protection against wear and tear. 

As already mentioned, wood stains offer little protection to wood. Its primary role is to color the wood and enhance its natural grain. The stain will also enter the wood pores and close them, offering some protection against moisture and water damage.

Unfortunately, the pores on stained wood remain partially open because the stain does not form a film on the wood surface. As a result, water and other liquids can still damage the wood, especially when the stain begins to wear out. 

Sealing provides a protective finish impervious to water, moisture, and other liquids, including chemicals. The hard surface also forms a scratch-resistant buffer on the wood surface. 

A sealer helps prevent discoloration

Exposure to constant spills, foods, human touch, and pet activity can leave marks on the stained wood surface. A sealer can prevent that. 

A protective sealer forms a hard coat that acts as a barrier between the piece of wood and the outside. With this layer of protection, outside elements will not reach the wood and taint it. 

The glossy sheen on the wood surface is also easy to clean. The slickness means much of the dust, grease, and grime coming in contact with it will not stick. As such, you can maintain the wood surface in immaculate condition with simple routine wiping and dusting.  

Sealing protects against fading

A sealer helps lock in the color of the stained surface. This means the wood can keep its color even with exposure to weather elements as long as it is sealed.

Sealing can enhance the wood aesthetics

By providing a polished look, a clear coat helps make the wood look better. And since the wood is safe from scratching and denting, this pristine look can remain for long. 

How Long to Let the Stain Dry Before Sealing it?

After Staining Wood Do You Have To Seal It

Various wood stain brands have different drying times. Often, the manufacturer will indicate the amount of time to wait between coats and before sealing it. Usually, this time can be as little as four hours or 24 to 48 hours. 

Most of the time, you will need to wait 8 hours or overnight before applying a clear coat over stained wood. Consider touching your stained surface to check if it’s ready. You can proceed with clear coating if the wood no longer feels tacky to the touch.

What influences wood stain drying time? 

Even stains with quick drying times may take longer to dry based on the stain type, substrate moisture content, and environmental conditions such as the weather. 

You can expect your stained wood to take longer to dry if the weather is cold or humid or if the wood’s moisture content is high. 

Consider the weather and follow the manufacturer’s specific recommendation. It is better to err on the side of caution and wait for as long as 72 hours than seal the wood before it is fully dry.

If you’re patient enough, you can learn how to dry wood stain faster and effectively.

Dangers of sealing stained wood before it is dry 

There’re two dangers to sealing a stained surface before it is completely dry. First, you risk wiping or streaking the stain while applying your clear coat if you use a foam brush, tack cloth, or pad. 

Second, the sealed surface will likely take longer to cure due to the wetness beneath it. 

Of course, spraying the clear coat can help you avoid the first risk (streaking or wiping out the stain), but you still might have to wait much longer for the sealed wood to cure. And you could end up with a blotchy surface. 

How many coats of sealer should I apply over stained wood?

Two coats of sealer are usually sufficient to close the pores on the wood and offer adequate protection for a sealed wood. However, you can apply more coats if you prefer more protection and a more solid layer on your wood. 

In any case, ensure you let each coat of sealer dry completely before adding any subsequent coat. The amount of drying time for the sealer should be available on the product label. 

Do You Have to Put a Clear Coat Over Stain?

Coating over stain is not obligatory, but it’s necessary for the protection of the stained wood. While staining wood creates richness and depth of color, it provides no long-term protection. Regular contact with water, chemicals, food, or sharp objects could damage stained wood if it does not have a topcoat. 

The Best Clear Coat to Use Over Stained Wood  

Several options are available for clear coating a stained wood. This section looks at the best choices based on various considerations like clear coating kitchen cabinets

Polyurethane

Poly is an oil- or water-based plastic resin that exists as a liquid and dries to form a super-tough protective film over wood or other substrates, including concrete and metal. 

It consists of specially formulated molecules that bond tightly when the product dries, creating an impervious layer on the substrate exterior. This formulation makes a wood finishing much more resistant to moisture, solvents, abrasion, and other kinds of impact.

Pros and cons of polyurethane 

Pros

  • The product is easy to apply by spraying. 
  • Polyurethane offers the best gloss and protection compared to the other clear coats in this guide. 
  • The product is durable and reliable. 
  • Water-based poly retains its clear coat without yellowing over time. 
  • New DIYers can achieve a professional-looking finish with a spray-on poly. 
  • There’re numerous different types of polyurethane to choose from, so customers have more options. 
  • Poly is great for outdoors, unlike lacquer or polycrylic. 

Cons

  • Polyurethanes, especially the oil-based versions, take longer to dry since the constituent plastic polymers take time to harden.  
  • Oil-based poly tends to yellow over time. 

Minwax Polycrylic

Polycrylic Protective Finish is a water-based, crystal clear topcoat. It is an excellent product to use over a water-based wood stain. It can also go on paint or bare wood. 

Pros and cons of Polycrylic 

Pros

  • The product is easy to clean since it is water-based.
  • It has no smell and is ecologically friendly with no toxic fumes. 
  • It is ultra-fast-drying, helping you save on application time 
  • Polycrylic is easy to apply using a paintbrush, lint-free rag, or spray gun. 
  • It remains crystal-clear without yellowing over time. This makes it perfect for clear coating over both tinted and light-colored wood stains. 

Cons

  • Since Polycrylic dries pretty fast, it can be challenging to use on larger woodworking projects. 
  • It has a loose consistency that can make its application challenging unless spraying on the surface.  
  • It is unsuitable for use outdoors. 

Lacquer

Lacquer is a popular wood finishing product across the woodworking community. It is comprised of shellac dissolved in synthetic substances or alcohol. The product dries to form a hard protective finish on substrates such as wood or metal.

The product is available in various forms for use via different methods. Like the other clear coating products in this list, you can apply lacquer using a paintbrush or spray it on your project. 

Since the finish dries almost instantaneously, spraying is the most commercially viable way to apply it on large projects. Brushing lacquer on is challenging even on small projects. 

Pros and cons of lacquer 

Pros

  • Lacquer dries faster than polycrylic. This can help you save time on application. 
  • It’s priced, and only a few spray cans should be adequate to complete a mid-sized project. It’s relatively inexpensive if you buy the larger tin can options.
  • It forms a durable finish for indoor projects.
  • Unlike polyurethane that takes several hours to dry and can trap dust in the process, lacquer dries almost instantly. This way, it leaves no room for dust to get trapped in it during the drying process. 

Cons

  • Lacquer dries pretty fast. Unfortunately, this means it can be extremely challenging to use a brush-on lacquer on a large project. 
  • Lacquer has a strong odor that may be difficult to handle without a respirator. You also need that protection when using lacquer because it produces fumes that can be toxic to inhale.
  • Lacquer does not hold too well to direct sunlight. Therefore, you can only use it on indoor projects.

Considerations For a Clear Coat Over Stained Wood 

Selecting the most suitable clear wood finish requires understanding what to look for in a product and whether it is compatible with your stain. 

You want to pay attention to the sealer’s drying time, ease of application, toxicity, and yellowing. Let us look at these factors in detail.

Your project size 

The first thing to determine the clear coat to use and its application method is the project size. If you are working on a large project, it will be a bad idea to use a brush-on lacquer or polycrylic. So while this application option is on the table, it may not be viable.

Both sealers dry pretty quickly, so it becomes difficult to keep a wet edge as required while applying the product.

Keeping a wet edge, in this case, means ensuring the last roll does not dry before overlapping it with the succeeding roll. This is necessary for you to achieve even coverage whether you are painting or applying a sealer. 

So, the viable option, especially if you are a new DIYer, is spraying. A paint sprayer will allow you to apply the product much easier and quicker and keep up with its fast pace of drying. 

Location of your project—indoors or outdoors 

Do you have to seal a piece of stained furniture for outdoor use? If yes, you immediately rule out lacquer and polycrylic finishes; the two are not suited to the outdoor environment. Exposure to direct sunlight can damage a lacquered or polycrylic coat much sooner than expected. 

For example, if you are working on patio furniture, your best bet will be to use oil-based polyurethane. The product is resilient enough to hold well against weather elements. It also offers better wood protection against sun damage. 

The use of your project 

Other than the location and size, how you intend to use the stained piece also matters. For instance, you don’t want to seal a kitchen dining table top with polycrylic. While the product forms a durable topcoat, it does not hold too well against heavy usage. 

Polyurethane is the ideal choice for heavy-use furniture like the dining room or kitchen table. It is not only durable but sturdy enough to withstand stress. 

Ease of use

You do not want frustration while applying your sealer coat. You can apply slow-drying clear coat finishes like polyurethane using a brush or lint-free cloth for staining wood. However, fast-drying options like lacquer require spraying. 

If you want to get the job over with quickly, consider lacquering it or using Minwax Polycrylic. If you prefer to take it slow and wait for several hours between coats, opt instead for a slow-drying sealer like polyurethane. 

Wood and stain color

Light-colored stains will require clear thin coats that are not yellow. Water-based products such as polyurethane and polycrylic are the winners in this case. 

Lacquer or oil-based poly may yellow over time, tinting the color of your finished surface. If you mind that amber tint, then consider using a water-based poly or polycrylic finish for your project.  

Water-based or oil-based stain. 

Water is not compatible with oil. So, you may want to ensure you seal a water-based stain with a corresponding water-based sealer and an oil stain with an oil-based sealer. 

On the other hand, lacquer should work for both types of stain and gel stain as long as you clean and prep the surface before sealing it. 

Woodworking Tips for Applying a Sealer Over Stain

Here are some of these essential woodworking tips you will want to keep in mind to help you seal stained wood. 

  • Use a clean, high-quality brush or paint roller at all times when working with a brush-on sealer. Tiny particles of dirt or lint on the sealed surface can become noticeable when the surface has dried. 
  • Always use a paint sprayer when working with a fast-drying sealer like lacquer. And work quickly and carefully to ensure every inch of the surface is uniformly coated. 
  • Always apply thin layers of finish. They will dry quicker and look more even than thick layers. In other words, there’re fewer complications and imperfections to expect when you use thin coats. 
  • Buy a reputable brand with a decent track record of manufacturing quality products when selecting your finish. The chances of surprises are minimal that way.  
  • Always practice on a scrap piece of wood before your project if you are new to sealing wood like MDF. 
  • Always let the stained wood dry completely before sealing it. Work with the manufacturer’s recommended drying time or longer if the weather is not ideal.  
  • Always brush the sealer or wipe it with the grain. Following the direction of the grain helps hide any brush marks or streaks that might slip through the cracks. 

After Staining Wood Do You Have To Seal It FAQs

Does stain seal wood?

No, wood stain is not a sealer and therefore does not seal the wood. Instead, its role is to darken or tint wood by adding pigments onto it.

When you use stain on wood, it will soak into its pores and bring out the grain pattern in a clearer and more enhanced way, giving the wood a more dramatic appearance. Any excess stain will be wiped off to let the stain dry.

What happens if you don’t seal stained wood?

If you leave stained wood without a sealer on top, it will gradually lose its moisture content and dry out. Over time, the wood may look dull and lifeless as the stain wears out due to the lack of wood sealing and protection. 

Do you have to put polyurethane over stain?

You don’t necessarily have to seal stained wood with polyurethane. There’re several other sealers and clear coats for stained woods, such as lacquer and Minwax Polycrylic, that you may use over stain.

A polyurethane topcoat is one of the best protective clear coats available for use on stained wood. In any case, it should be top on your list when considering a sealer for use on outdoor wooden furniture or other exterior projects. 

Read: Can You Mix Stain With Polyurethane

How long after staining can I polyurethane?

In general, you need to wait between 24 and 48 hours for the stained wood to dry before sealing it with polyurethane.

However, if the weather is chilly or humid, the stained wood might require more time to dry completely. So as a general rule, always consider the weather and touch the surface to ensure you’re not applying polyurethane over tacky stain.

When should I use stain sealer?

Consider using a stain sealer as soon as your wood stain has dried and you have smoothened the surface by scuff sanding it. Wood stain is designed to color or darken the wood and not to protect it. So, any wood stain should go with a pre-stain wood conditioner and then sealer for protection. 

What is the best way to seal stained wood?

The best way to seal stained wood is to use a compatible sealer. First, prepare the surface by scuff sanding it, then apply a thin layer of the compatible sealer by brushing or using a sprayer. Let the coat dry completely before adding another sealer coat.

Repeat the same steps if you wish to apply multiple coats of the sealer, allowing adequate drying time between each layer. 

How long after staining wood can I seal it?

The wait time for the stain to dry before sealing varies based on the weather. You should wait for one to two days if the weather is warm and dry.

However, you might have to wait for up to a week or ten days if cool or damp. Alternatively, you can seal stained wood with de-waxed shellac after 2-3 hours to shorten the wait before applying a water-based poly.

What is the best sealant for stained wood? 

The best sealant for stained wood is polyurethane. The product is durable and can withstand heavy usage and high traffic areas such as a stained wood deck. Additionally, polyurethane finishes hold well against weather elements like UV rays.

So, Do You Have to Seal Stained Wood?

You have probably struggled with the question regarding whether you should put a sealer over stain. And we hope this article helped answer your question on- “after staining wood do you have to seal it?”.

Well, stain is only meant to color the wood, hence the name.

As such, sealing is always necessary to ensure your wood is protected against water and other damaging elements.

Check out our recommendations on the best sealers for PT wood.

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