Skip to Content

Does Stain Lighten as it Dries?

Does Stain Lighten as it Dries?

Wood stains improve the appearance of the wooden surfaces as it makes them look brighter and more attractive than they were before. Whether you are a newbie or expert, there are some crucial questions you need answers to before you are ready to stain your furniture. Continue reading to find out if wood stains will get lighter and much more.

Does Stain Lighten or Darken as It Dries?

While paints take darker tones when dry than when wet, Wood stains lighten as they dry. All wood stains, especially water-based, lighten as they get dry. These stains then return to their darker tone when the finishing is applied.

You should focus on the color of the wood when damp to determine the color it will take after the finish; the only exception to this is oil-based wood stains.

Does Wood Stain Lighten as It Dries?

After applying your wood stain, wait for the wood to dry before making any further decisions. Upon initial application, the shade of the wood stain is usually the desired shade or a relatively dark shade. After hours of application, it appears lighter.

If you do not want it to get lighter, you can apply multiple layers to keep the darker shade.

However, it is vital to give it time as the lighter appearance is only temporary, with the initial ‘wet shade’ returning after you apply the final coat of the finish, which is much thicker than the stain.

So don’t panic. It is part of the process for the wood to appear lighter. You can also reapply the final coat and more coats if it is still not satisfactory. Applying the finish brings back the original color of the stain when wet.

Will Vinegar Lighten Wood Stain?

It is not uncommon to find yourself with the wrong shade, especially if this is your first time staining wood. If you want to lighten the wood further, you can use vinegar. Vinegar is an everyday go-to when looking to lighten unintentional dark stains because it would not warp or damage moist wood.

However, you might need to exercise caution when using vinegar on hardwood floors as its acidic nature has the potential to dinge the wood.

How to use vinegar:

  1. Apply a fresh mix of oxalic acid solution
  2. Add a small amount of vinegar to the wood.
  3. Spread it out on the wood using a paintbrush or a rag.
  4. For vertical surfaces, rub with a cloth saturated with vinegar.
  5. After rubbing consistently, now use a damp cloth to wipe clean
  6. Let it dry.

The best results are guaranteed when working with mild stains or dye, with vinegar giving the added advantage of polishing the wood for a shimmery aesthetic. You should note that you will get the best results with water-based wood stains as it is less effective with oil-based wood stains.

Will Household Bleach Lighten Wood Stains?

Bleach has become the top choice for lightening wood. However, you must be cautious when choosing the right bleach for your wood stain. The right bleach to use will be wood bleach, as other types might be too harsh for the wood, damaging the wood and wood stains alike.

Household bleach is not exactly wood bleach. However, it has been frequently used to lighten the wood. According to the American Chemistry Council, the typical household bleach contains 5.25% regular strength and 6% ultra-strength.

How to use this household bleach:

  1. Apply the bleach to the good stain with a paintbrush or rag.
  2. Allow it to rest for some time and then remove it.
  3. After using the bleach rinse the wood thoroughly to ensure that no bleach is left on the wood.

These household bleach generally removes stains or dyes. However, using them does not guarantee that the wood color will be altered or lighter. You might need more potent chemicals like; oxalic acid, Two-Part Bleach, Chlorine bleach and others.

Will The Stain Get Darker With Polyurethane?

The effect on the wood stain depends on the type of polyurethane used on the wood. While  Oil-based polyurethane darkens wood stains, Water-based polyurethane has no effect.

Oil-based polyurethanes are made with mineral solvents. This finish has a chemical structure that oxidizes, giving your wood stain an orange, dark brown or yellow color. Throughout its lifespan, this finish/seal will continue to darken. 

On the other hand, Water-based polyurethanes do not affect wood stains. As it dries, it creates an illusion of brighter wood due to the shine in the polyurethane.

How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry?

While planning when performing a woodwork project is always helpful, you must remember that each project is different, and its drying time depends on different factors.

A common rule is waiting for one to two days for the stain to dry before applying polyurethane. However, you can choose to wait 72 hours to be extra careful. You should note that the drying time of a wood stain largely depends on the type of wood stain used.

For instance, water-based stain dries faster than other stains. In comparison, gel-based stain takes the most time to dry. While water-based stains take about 1-2 hours to dry before the second coating, oil-based stains last for about 6 – 24 hours before drying.

Apart from the type of wood stains, other factors also come to play when drying.

These include but are not limited to the following:

  • The type of wood
  • The temperature
  • The ventilation
  • Humidity

Does Oil-Based Stain Lighten as It Dries?

Oil-based stains take about 6 to 24 hours to dry before you can apply a finish. This timeframe depends on the weather conditions. The oil-based stain should take just 8 hours to dry and be ready for polyurethane on good weather days.

As the oil-based stains dry, it lightens in color, giving the wood a faded look. However, when finishing is applied to these stains, they return to their damp color. As a result, it is crucial not to rely on the color of the wood stain when drying.


When making wooden furniture, wood stains help change the color of the wood. However, wood stains will lighten as they dry. This does not determine the final look, as the stain darkens when a polyurethane seal is applied.

While paint layers rest on each other, wood stain penetrates the wood. The more coats you apply, the further the stain seeps into the wood and the darker the finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I do if my wood stain is too dark?

If you discover that your wood stain is too dark after drying, you can lighten it using any of the following:

Wood bleach
Mineral spirits

You can apply any of the above-listed chemicals to the wood using a paintbrush or rag. Leave for some minutes to seep into the wood and clean up using a damp cloth. This easy-to-follow process would lighten your wood stain.

Is it better to stain or paint wood?

While paint remains on the top coating of the wood, Stain sips into the wood allowing the dark tone to last longer. A wood stain helps to preserve the beauty of your wood. It also wears away slowly and allows re-coating, while paint requires vigorous scraping.

Do you sand after you stain wood?

After staining your wood, you need to sand the wooden surface. This helps to even out the surface and remove scratches and other flaws. Sanding your wood also opens up the wood allowing the stain to sip in easily. If left out, the wood might not absorb the stain properly.

What wood is best for staining?

The best wood for staining is Oakwood because of its characteristically large pores. These pores allow the wood stain to penetrate quickly and adequately. Cedarwood is also recommended as a good wood for staining.

How many layers of stain should I put on wood?

You will need about 2 to 4 coats to stain regular wood properly. Fresh wood features large pores, meaning you might need just three coats of stain to stain fresh and unfinished wood properly. The first coat penetrates the wood, and the second and third reveal the finish.