How Long Does Stain Take To Dry?

Published on December 08, 2020

From a distance, the painting seems like a fun thing; a mere play of colors on a surface. It is only after setting out to do it yourself or observing it closely that you will notice that it is a complete science and craft in itself. There is so much that goes inside which turns out in the form of vivid colors and patterns that we have come to love and adorn our buildings and properties with. If you are a novice just starting to try your hand at painting, you will come to know certain things that are not obvious when you see the process of painting from a distance.

In the preparation of the medium and surface on which you need to apply the coat of colors, there are certain steps to make it ready for each succeeding step in the way. In the case of coloring and varnishing wood, you need to follow certain protocols in order to preserve the wood.

Staining is the process in which a wooden article is applied with a compound that will seal all the pores. This will help the paint to adhere to the surface and remain functional for a long period of time. Staining has been in use for millennia in different forms and types. It protects the surface from rot and decay and helps in long life by reducing the atmospheric effects on the article.

It is important to know how long does it take for a stain to dry on a medium, such as wood before you can process it further. If you are invested greatly in the condition of the final product, you should know the optimum time and conditions for perfect staining. There are chances of completely ruining the finish if you apply the next layer, say polyurethane, without waiting for the stain bit to dry properly.

The type of stain you use is directly proportional to the time it will take to dry. The brands and manufacturers also play a great part in determining the right time for drying. In the list below, you will find the minimum drying time against each popular brand of stain:

• You will need at least 12 hours of drying time when you use staining from Minwax-oil based products.

• When you use Varathane, it will take over 8 hours before you can think about applying the topcoat.

• If you use Behr staining products, you will have to wait around 72 hours.

• Cabot needs at least a day to dry properly.

• You need around 12 hours for drying time when you use Osmo staining.

For water-based staining compounds:

• Water-based “Minwax” takes around 3 hours for complete drying.

• General finishes need 3 to 4 hours for complete stain drying on wood.

There is a lot of time difference between water-based and oil-based stains, especially the time they need for perfect drying. A common wood stain, irrespective of the base, requires around 24 to 48 hours before you can progress further to applying Polyurethane as a topcoat.

Related: Unique And Funny Gift Ideas For People Who Love Woodworks

To be on an absolute scale, give the medium around 72 hours for the best results and no worries at all.

There are some atmospheric factors, such as temperature and humidity, that will affect the time wood needs to dry the stain completely. For instance, if you are living in an area with lower humidity levels and higher temperatures, the general time for drying the stains and recoating will be shorter. Contrarily, if your atmosphere has more humidity levels and lower temperatures, you will need more time for the stains to thoroughly dry.

Now, we will go through stains from these manufacturers and analyze them one by one in detail.

Oil-Based Stains

It is important to make a distinction between oil-based and water-based stains in order to get optimum time for drying. There are many differences when it comes to the core used in the production of stains. Usually, oil-based stains require more time to dry out completely. But they are widely used because they are more durable and remain on the surface for a long time.


It is one of the leading brands that offer a wide collection of oil-based stains to its customers. At a Minwax section, you will find stains:

• In liquid, aerosol, and gel forms.

• Standard Stains.

• Performance Stains.

As for the standard and performance stains, they both come with explicit time they need to dry completely. This should be followed in earnest if you need the best results.

No matter which type of stain you use, you need around 8 hours before setting a recoat. After you are done with recoating, the time varies based on the brand you use. The general range goes from 2 to 12 hours.

There are agents that you can use to shorten the drying time. For instance, you can use dewaxed shellac like Zinsser 2 to 3 hours after the staining. Then, you can apply a water-based polyurethane which will take a fraction of time to completely dry as compared to oil-based stains.

The gel stains take much more time. In some cases, a day at least before you can recoat the medium.


Varathane is another leading brand. It offers stains in three forms:

• Standard (liquid form).

• Gel-based.

• Aerosol.

When you are using Varathane stains, it is recommended that you use a controlled environment with temperatures around 70 to 80 degrees. The percentage of humidity is best set around 50%.

Standard Stains – it is characterized as one of their premium staining products. You will need around 2 hours to dry and will be able to handle and touch further work after 1 to 2 hours of recoating.

Gel Stains – this also takes around 2 hours to dry. When you are done with a recoat, it takes another hour or two before you can touch the surface.

For the application of polyurethane, you need at least 8 hours for complete drying.


Behr is consistent across the board when it comes to the drying time of the staining products.

For the stain to be dry enough to touch, you need around 2 hours at the minimum. At that time, you can have a recoat if you want to. For complete drying of stain, it needs around 72 hours to become resistant to smudging.


There are a lot of oil-based stains that this company manufactures. Per recommendations, you get around the same time-cap for drying stains. Still, there are some that need around a day for proper drying out while others may take double to that, like Australian Timber Oil.

Here is the rundown of some of the oil-based stains by Cabot that are dried after 24 hours:

• Cabot Gold

• #1400 Series Cabot Semi-Solid Color Oil Deck & Sliding Stain

• #7600 Series Cabot Solid Color Oil Deck

• #17400 Series Cabot Semi-Solid Deck & Sliding Stain


As far as the drying time for Osmo stains goes, they need around 12 hours with a temperature around 73.4 degrees and humidity around 50%. If the humidity is higher than the recommended figure and the temperature is lower, you may need extra time for drying.

Olympic Elite

This stain is one of the highest quality stains available in the market. On a normal day, it takes around a day to two to be completely dry. There are also other things you need to take into account while determining the minimum drying time, such as the health of the wood from where the deck is extracted.

Water-Based Stains

Water-based stains are a little different from their counterparts with oil as a base. The difference mainly stems from the time they require for complete drying. Water-based stains are especially ideal when you need swift results. Using these, you can cut the drying time by more than half with that of an oil-based stain. It is thinner in consistency and does not last longer than the oil-based stains.


Under the recommendations by the manufacturer, you need 70% humidity and around 70 degrees temperature. Then, it will take around 3 to 4 hours for the stain of this company to properly dry. When the temperature and humidity levels are not optimum, you need more time for the medium to absorb the stain thoroughly. Higher temperatures and harsh air is always a supporting factor in cutting the drying time short.


For the “touch time” or to apply another coat, you need around 2 hours at least. Under favorable conditions, this stain needs over 3 hours for proper drying. In the case of dense application, it will require extra time to dry out. You can get on with the application of polyurethane when the stain is all dried up.

Drying Time For Interior & Exterior Stains

You cannot take the drying time granted for the same staining product if you are covering surfaces in both interior and exterior environments.

Interior Staining

The air is moderate for interior stains which can be controlled with a lower humidity level. This depends on the locality and the atmospheric variables at play. Generally, you will need around 6 to 24 hours for stains to completely dry out for interior staining products.

Exterior Staining

From 24 to 72 hours, the exterior stains take a lot longer than those of interior stains. The main reason behind this is the temperature fluctuations in the outdoors, which could be around 20 degrees or more in some cases. During dawn and dusk, the humidity index in the exterior areas is also higher as compared to that of the indoors.

Drying Time For Wood Stains

If you compare the two, you will find that exterior stains come in different types and forms. Thus, it is only natural that they have a varying range of drying times.

When we deal with the types of stains, there are some with penetrative properties that make a seal over the wood. It is very thick and lasts longer than its counterparts. When on top of the surface, they dry really fast. In some cases, they take around 24 to 48 hours for complete drying.

Contrary to the thicker, penetrative seals, there are variants that are thinner and more fluid. They do not penetrate and remain on the surface, thus leading them to take weeks before they are completely dried out. These are not ideal when you are dealing with the work in the nick of time. it is because if you need to apply a second coat, it would take you weeks.

There is a third stain type – latex stains. They are one of the longest-lasting stains and with added protective properties. They are not very common and favorable for routine work because they take a much longer time for complete moisture removal. Essentially, they take around 2 to 3 weeks before you can think about going for a second coat.


Mixing stain into the polyurethane is not a good idea. The two do not mix well and that will seriously affect the end result of your job. So, before applying poly to the surface, give stains ample drying time to ensure their segregation.

The bonding ability between poly and stains is not of the highest quality. This can seriously affect the final finish of the product. The drying time for stains depends on many factors, including the brand you use and the manufacturing base of the stain, which could either be oil or water. Water-based stains take a much shorter time span to dry. On the other hand, oil-based stains take from several hours to days before they are ready to take a second coat.

It also depends on where the staining takes place. As a rule of thumb, interior stains take lesser time for complete drying out when compared to that of exterior stains. The reason is the fluctuation in the atmospheric conditions including temperature and humidity among others. In some cases, depending on where you live, the exterior staining can take around 3 to 4 days!

When it all boils down to the brand you use for staining, you will find that the range runs from 24 to 72 hours.

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