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How Long to Let Stain Dry Before Polyurethane? (Answered)

Polyurethane finish completes the work. Without the finish, you can not think of a smooth surface and can not protect it as well. Meanwhile, stain helps to give a new look to the wood. The natural wooden color is always preferable. 

A variety of wooden suitable stains can give a proper appearance to the furniture.

By following the below tips and information you can know more about the drying time of stain and when to apply polyurethane over it.

How long to let stain dry before polyurethane?

You should at least let the stain dry for 24 hours. Time varies for different stains. Only water-based stains take less time to dry. Other paints may take around 24 hours to completely dry. Applying polyurethane before drying stains would cause damage to stain and polyurethane will not get along. 

Stain takes a lot of time to dry depending on the formula. Even the texture determines the time of drying of the stain. Stains are not usually absorbed by the wood in a short time. It can take even 1 hour and even 24 hours. 

It is better to leave them for 1 day before applying polyurethane over them.

Gel stain: 

Gel stain generally takes about 24 hours depending on how thick the application of stain is. Well, you may need more than one coat to get the preferred appearance on the wood. Gel stains take a lot of time to dry. 

And you can not apply polyurethane over it unless it is fully dried. 

Floor stain: 

Most stains take 24 hours to dry completely and so does the floor stain. If you are applying several coats of stain, you need to wait longer to apply polyurethane. Because each coat needs to be dried separately before the application of another coat. 

After 24 hours you can even step on the stained floor. 

Minwax stain: 

Minwax stain dries within 8 to 1hours. Though the drying time is short, you need to wait for 24 hours before applying polyurethane. Before applying polyurethane finish, you need to cure the stain. Otherwise, the polyurethane will not adhere and pull off the stains from the surface. 

Varathane stain: 

Varathane stain takes a shorter time to dry completely. It is about 1 to 2 hours. You can apply coats of stain in between. Yet, before applying polyurethane, the surface needs to be cured. You can either apply after 1 hour or even after 24 hours. 

It is better to wait for 24 hours to get a proper finish. 

Oil-based stain: 

Oil-based stains are thick in texture. They particularly take almost 24 hours to dry. Well, in 8 hours it can get dried as well depending on how many coats you have applied. The drying time can even take 48 hours. You need to check the stain if it is dried before applying polyurethane.  

Wood stain: 

Wood stain can be also dried within 24 hours or 48 hours. Well, the stain may get dried fast too. Still, you should let the stain set. Otherwise, polyurethane can not adhere to the surface and the finish would look uneven.

How long to let stain dry before water-based polyurethane?

Water-based stains usually get dried in between 1 to 3 hours, but it becomes suitable for the application of polyurethane after 8 to 24 hours. Well, it might take less time than 24 hours. Sometimes, the water-based stains get ready within 3 hours.

You can also apply polyurethane right away after drying the water-based stain. Still, it is more suitable to keep the stain and let it cure. Waiting for 24 hours is not tough if you want a beautiful finish.

As long as the stain is dried, you can apply polyurethane even after 3 hours. As the time can vary, you should either check if the paint is dried or not. Otherwise, give the stain to cure after it’s dried. 

What happens if you apply polyurethane before stain is dry?

Applying polyurethane without drying the stain completely can lead to disaster. Well, polyurethane protects the stain from damage. It protects the stain from getting deteriorated, scratched, marked, and even from water damage. 

Certain things which may occur if you do not dry the stain before applying polyurethane are given below.

Does not give adhesion:

If the stain is still dry, the polyurethane can not adhere to the surface. There is a chance that the polyurethane would damage the stain. It can cause deterioration in the formula of stain and make the color unapproachable. 

The color will not remain the same and the stain can be discolored as well.

Becomes less durable:

The effectiveness of polyurethane stands when it is durable to withstand water damage and UV damage. As a result, the wood lasts for a long time without getting damaged. As polyurethane can not get enough of the surface, it would not be as durable as it should be.

Unable to provide enough protection:

Polyurethane provides protection against UV light and also water damage. Apart from that, it also prevents the wood from getting scratched and marked. If the application of polyurethane is not proper, it can not give enough protection to the wood. 

It would have deteriorated already due to application on wet stains. 

How to tell if the stain is dry for polyurethane coat?

Drying the stain before even applying the polyurethane coat is necessary to get a smooth finish. Or else the stain will get removed and the color will not be as same as you want. When the stain becomes, it is quite obvious. 

You can see a flat surface where it seems like the stain is attached to the material.

It will not have a watery texture anymore unless the stain is oil-based. You can slightly touch the side to see if the stain is dried. When the stain is dried, it will not feel watery and sticky while touching it. It will look flat and smooth. 

You can feel the texture of the stain. Even if the stain is dried, you should rather wait until 24 hours. Because it is the average time for the stains to get dried and cured.

3 factors that determine the stain drying time

All stains do not take the same amount of time to dry. Some take more than 2 to 3 days, meanwhile, others can take almost 1 hour as well. The quality of the stain does not depend on the drying time.

Instead, it depends on how good it looks on the surface. Certain reasons which determine the drying time are included below and it is not related to their quality. 

The formula of the stain:

The formula of the stain determines how the stain is going to be. Well, oil-based stains are thick in texture, they can last even longer. Meanwhile, water-based stains take less time. They have a watery texture that is not concentrated. 

As a result, the water-based stains take less time than oil-based paints to dry.

Apart from that the components added to the stains also differ with brands. This can also influence the drying time of the stain. 


Temperature highly influences the drying time of the stain. At the normal temperature, most stains take 24 hours to dry. While in the cold it will dry slowly. Even in the outer environment, the stain dries at its own rate.  

Air ventilation:

The airflow rate in the room can also influence the drying time of the stain. You can let the stain dry by itself. Or else put a fan to ensure proper ventilation of air. 

How long does it take stain to dry outside?

It takes almost 24 hours and varies with different stains. 24 hours is the average time for drying a stain. Though keeping the wood outside makes a little difference to it, you should still try to maintain a normal temperature.

At normal temperature, and humidity the stains can be within 24 hours. 24 hours is stated to define the time for curing as well. Any stains become suitable for the use of polyurethane after 24 hours. In varying weather conditions, the stain will take a longer time to dry. 

Final thoughts

Overall, you should not apply polyurethane over the stain without letting it dry. The drying time of different stains varies, yet it is an average of 24 hours. The drying time may increase, depending on the formula of the stain, the number of coats applied, and even on the environment.