How Long Does It Take Wood Stain to Dry?

How Long Does It Take Wood Stain to Dry?

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If you own a home with an outdoor wood deck or wood siding, chances are that you’ve already heard the importance of regularly staining and sealing those wood fixtures. Of course, performing both of those maintenance tasks is easier said than done, especially if you live a busy lifestyle.

As such, you may be wondering precisely how long it takes for the wood stain to dry before planning a wood stain application job.

In truth, not all wood stains dry in the same amount of time. Today’s market is filled with a wide variety of wood stain types, including formulas optimized for outdoor or indoor uses. Moreover, these formulas may be based on oils, gels, or water – all of which affect the stain’s eventual dry time.

This guide will help you understand all of these nuances.

How Long Does It Take for Wood Stain to Dry?

Let’s start by making one thing clear – in almost all cases, no two wood stains dry with the exact same degree of efficiency.

As a result, their drying times can vary from a few hours to a few days. But that being said, the general rule of thumb is to wait for 18 – 24 hours between coats. For the best results, though, you should always check and follow the drying recommendations set forth on the stain can’s instructions.

Also, it’s worth emphasizing that a wood stain’s environment and previous condition can have a major impact on its drying time.

Wood Stain Drying Time in Outdoors

For example, a damp or humid environment (such as a deck outdoors in summer) will cause a stain to dry extra slow due to the presence of excessive air moisture. On the reverse end, though, a sunny, dry environment can cause a wood stain to dry faster than expected.

Also, if you’ve already applied one or more coats previously, you may find your new stain’s drying times to be more varied. This is because many stains are designed to partially soak into the wood. If that wood is already coated, of course, that process will take longer.

In any case, you should plan ahead accordingly and ensure that your wood staining environment is as efficient as possible.

Interior vs. Exterior Wood Stain Drying Time

Wood stains can be used on practically any kind of wood fixture, whether it is indoors or outdoors.

However, in order to account for these vastly differing settings, wood stain manufacturers make different stain formulas with differing properties. As it relates to the topic at hand, these formulaic differences result in differing drying times between these two settings.

To start, interior wood stains are typically made with a similar basic formula. While this formula may be based on oil or water, they typically are designed to allow for fast drying. This is because indoor environments tend to be fairly stable in terms of temperature and light exposure.

As such, many blends and brands of indoor wood stain can be expected to dry in as few as 2 hours.

Interior Wood Stain Drying Time

Outdoor woods stains, meanwhile, have a lot more variety in terms of their material makeup. As a result, their drying times tend to be more varied.

For example, at the very least, an outdoor wood stain will require you to wait at least 12 hours between coats. However, some extra-strong blends require full 48 hours before a successive coat can be applied.

In any case, you should always check your can’s drying requirements before proceeding.

Oil vs. Water vs. Gel Wood Stain Drying Time

When it comes to determining the drying time of your chosen wood stain, the most important factor is to consider that stain’s chemical makeup.

Gel Stain Specifically, it is important to figure out if your wood stain is oil-, water-, or gel-based. This is most often printed directly on the label, making it easy to differentiate between them while shopping. Also, the texture of each is noticeably different, with water-based stains being the thinnest and gel-based stains being the thickest.

As far as drying is concerned, water-based wood stains tend to dry the quickest in a controlled environment. They tend to be the weakest, too, requiring multiple coats to achieve the desired effect.

Gel-based stains occupy the middle ground and require a moderate amount of drying time.

Oil-based stains almost always take the longest, but may not require a second or third coat as a productive tradeoff.

Most major wood stain brands today make at least one blend that falls into each of these categories. However, products made by Behr, Miniwax, and Cabot tend to be the most reliable (not to mention the most readily available when shopping at your local hardware store).

Can the Stain Drying Process Be Sped Up?

As it turns out, there are a few ways that you can speed up the wood stain drying process. Though your results are not guaranteed, these are just few tips to consider when setting up your wood staining environment.

Whether you’re working indoors or outdoors, wood stain drying almost always goes faster if there is a reliable breeze. While this can come naturally through a proper cross-surface wind, you can also create your own breeze with a nearby fan. Be sure to move the fan about regularly, though, to prevent your wood stain from drying unevenly.

At the same time, be sure to account for the ambient moisture in your environment before beginning the wood staining process. This is because the wood stain drying process requires moisture to escape from the stain and into the air.

If that air is too humid to begin with, your stain may never dry properly. If at all possible, bring a dehumidifier with you to keep your staining environment as dry as possible.

By the same token, heat can make the stain drying process run quicker. Sunlight, of course, is the best option on this front if you are working outside. However, a warm indoor environment can also foster a quicker-than-average wood stain drying process.

However, if you do choose to speed up your wood stain’s drying, keep in mind that it can affect its surface quality. Usually, this comes in the form of streaking caused by the stain moving about on the wood’s surface.

In any case, your stain can’s instructions will likely provide drying recommendations appropriate to its formula.

Drying vs. Curing: Is a Stained Surface Ready to Use Once Its Dry?

When it comes to wood stain, drying and curing are noticeably different. In fact, they are different enough that your chosen stain’s can should list different times for each.

So, be sure to take note of each process’ time requirements and take into consideration the differences between each process.

To that end, “drying” in this context refers to the amount of time before a stain coat can be covered with another stain coat. In other words, a “dry” coat of stain signals that it is time to add another layer to achieve the desired effect.

Meanwhile, “curing” refers to the process that makes a stain ready to receive day-to-day wear. This often takes noticeably longer than drying, especially as successive coats are applied.


As you can see, the process of drying a wood stain is not necessarily cut and dry (no pun intended).

In many ways, the length of time needed to dry a stain depends on what ingredients are included in that stain, as well as the environmental conditions around its application.

If all of these factors are accounted for and optimized, you’ll find yourself with a dry stain coating on your home’s wood fixtures in no time. Then, all you need to do is wait for that stain to cure and it’ll be ready to take the wear of day-to-day use.

In case you are wondering how long it takes normal paint to dry, check this article.