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Our Awesome Guide: How to Paint Over Stained Wood

stained wood before being able to paint over stained wood how to paint over stained wood

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Painting over stained wood takes a little more time than it would paint on ordinary wood. Although it’s a slow process, if enough effort, time, and patience are put into painting your stained wood, then the outcome will be rewarding and well worth the time.

Depending on the stained wood, light or dark, or painting kitchen cabinets, the steps you need to follow may vary slightly.

Note: If your cabinets are laminate then refer to this post instead!

This article will explore and explain how to paint over stained wood yourself by following a few simple steps.

Is it possible to paint over stains?

The simple answer is yes; you can paint over-stained wood.

Stained wood is attractive to look at, but it’s one of those styles that doesn’t appeal to everyone, leaving people wondering if you can paint over it.

A few factors determine the type of method you chose to paint the stained wood, such as the state of the wood, the type of stain used, if you’re working with furniture or whether you’re painting the interior or exterior surfaces. 

Ultimately, proper preparation and the amount of time you allocate to the project are essential components to get the best possible outcome.

Also, if you are wondering how often to paint your house, both the interior and exterior, then check out this post.

How to determine the type of wood stain:

Before you begin any preparation- you must figure out the type of wood stain- oil or water-based- you are dealing with before you start to prep your wood.

You can do this by gently sprinkling plain water on a small patch of the wood surface and letting it sit for around one minute.

Once the minutes passed if the water beads up, the stain is oil-based; if not is a water-based stain.

Another option is to wipe the surface about to be painted with methyl hydrate or mineral spirits (paint thinner). Methyl hydrate will remove acrylic coatings but not oil-based coatings. Mineral spirits will remove oil-based coatings but not acrylic coatings.

If you use either solvents, wear rubber gloves and follow the instructions carefully for handling and storing.

Experts Tip: Always apply your test on an inconspicuous area – e.g., behind or under a cabinet door

What you’ll need to paint over stained wood:

  • For interior cabinets and other furniture – 150 grit sandpaper is often used to prepare the word before painting. You’ll want to lightly scuff the surface prior to painting. If you own a sheet sander, this will speed up the time you spend sanding down the wood. For exterior projects, tools and grit of sandpaper used for sanding will vary.
  • Tarps: You’ll need to purchase a tarp or canvas drop sheets to cut down on mess and help keep your work area clean.
  • Primer: Buying a high-quality paint primer will help to disguise any blemishes as well as reducing the number of coats you’ll need to apply. Also, the primer will secure the wood by preventing the paint from soaking into it.
  • Paintbrushes: You’ll need a new brush for the priming and painting steps, so make sure you get multiple brushes. Depending on the size of your project, you can use both foam applicators or a traditional synthetic bristle brush. Foam applicators are good for smaller projects, while bristle brushes are more productive – but also a lot heavier!
  • Paint Rollers: Depending on the size of your project, you can use small hand-held “whiz” rollers or large 9 inch wall cages and sleeves to apply the paint. Again, depending on the surface or substrate you’re painting you can use a lower 5mm nap for delicate and smooth finishes or a 10-15mm nap for larger applications.
  • Vacuum: It’s best practice to paint with a clean environment. We recommend vacuuming your work space to eliminate airborne particles from contaminating your finished coat.
  • Tack cloth: (This is important for interior projects) A particular type of cloth that is made for woodwork. You’ll need a set to clean up excess paint and dust off the wood, it’s affordable, and you usually get a few in a packet.
  • Polycrylic Protective Finish: (This is for specific projects) The type of finish you get is all in the product you buy. Choose a well-known brand that lasts a long time and dries quickly.

Experts Tip: To make the sanding easier on your hands – consider using a sponge, a sandpaper brick, or a power tool palm sander.

Experts Tip: Before you start your project, determine if you want a brushstroke, roller nap, or spray finish on the surface.

Seven simple steps to paint over the stain:

Step 1: Clean, Clean, and Clean

Make sure the stained area is immaculate. Use some soapy water and ensure any dirt, dust, or cobwebs are removed before you begin. For exterior surfaces, you’ll likely need stronger cleaning solutions that remove moss, mildew, and other surface grime.

Step 2: Sand Down Your Wood

For delicate interior cabinets or furniture, you’ll want to lightly sand the surface with 150-grit sandpaper to a dull finish for the best possible results. You’re just trying to remove the shiny surface (if any).

You should sand in the direction of the grain to prevent any marks in the finalized product.

Step 3: Clean and Wipe Down the Area

After vacuuming all dust and debris, use your tack cloth and wipe down the wood to remove any particles and residue left from the sanding process. It would be best to use a tack cloth; using an alternative like a paper towel will not work.

Step 4: Apply a Coat of Primer

Using an oil-based primer when painting over wood is generally better than water-based primers. It helps to protect the wood surfaces more effectively.

When applying the primer, use a roller or brush to obtain the best results. This should usually take approx. one hour to dry. 

Step 5: Light Scuff and Wipe Down the Area, Again

Once the wood is primed and completely dry, it’s good practice to quickly scuff the surface to remove any raised wood grain or contaminants, and then take a clean tack cloth and wipe away any dust or debris.

Step 6: Paint Your Wood

Now that the wood is primed and scuffed, it’s time to start painting. Use a fresh foam roller or paintbrush for interior cabinets or furniture, and apply at least two coats six hours apart of your latex-based paint. Hybrid alkyds and traditional oil-based paint generally take longer to dry before re-coating.

Professionals usually apply to paint in multiple ways for exterior painting, including brush and roller or spray application. The spray application is good; however, it’s best practice to back roll behind the sprayer.

Pick your paint depending on what object you are painting. Also, remember that paint comes in interior and exterior products, so it’s best to consult a professional painter or store representative before purchasing the paint.

Acrylic latex paint and Enamels are usually used for doors and cabinets because it doesn’t leave a strong odor behind when you’re finished.

Another popular interior paint product used on kitchen cabinets and furniture and found in most paint retail stores is the hybrid waterborne alkyd paint. Benjamin Moore developed Advance while Dulux has their X-pert line of waterborne alkyds.

For exterior surface areas like decks and porches, oil-based paint is preferred. It lasts a lot longer and offers maximum protection from outdoor factors.

Another option for painting overtops exterior stain surfaces is using a hybrid stain like Superdeck. This acrylic latex solid color coating is fortified with a super-bonding alkyd resin that provides priming and penetration in one product. A topcoat and primer combination is perfect for new projects and a solution for recoating old applications.

Related Fact: While your wood is drying after each coat, look to see if there are clumps of paint residue that need to be removed. Take a clean tack cloth and remove it before the paint is fully dry if you notice any.

Key Insight: When sanding, you aim to make the surface rough enough so the paint has something to bond with. You are not trying to strip the entire stain off the wood.

Step 7: Apply Your Finisher

Once you have applied a primer coat and at least two coats of paint, you should be good to go. However, if you want superior protection on top of your paint coating, you could use a protector to preserve the finish.

One of the best options is to use a Polycrylic Protective Finisher. Depending on your purchased brand, it can be applied either with an aerosol spray or a cloth.

How To Paint Over Dark Stained Items

Painting over darker stained wood differentiates slightly from a typical lighter stain.

There is a higher possibility that tannin stains will bleed through the paint with darker stained wood, leaving an unprofessional look.

Dark wood texture. Background dark old wooden panels.

Here are some key steps you can follow to prevent any blotchy stains.

Step 1: Repair and Sand

Look at the piece of wood or furniture you are revamping. If there are any missing pieces or loose trim, fill them with wood glue and wood putty.

Using 120-grit sandpaper or 150-grit sandpaper, lightly sand over the wood to smooth out any deep gouges in the wood.

Make sure you wipe the area clean with a tack cloth to remove any dust residue.

Did You Know: You can paint over your IKEA furniture that you want to revamp as long as you closely follow the steps laid out in our guide.

Step 2: Remove the Gloss

Thoroughly removing the gloss and cleaning your dark wood surface is a key step in preparing your wood for paint.

It helps to remove any build-up of dirt and take the shine off the old finish. If this step is done correctly, it will prepare the surface to allow the paint to bond to the wood well and last a long time.

Step 3: Prime (Two Coats)

Dark wood and stained wood are known for tannins bleeding through new paint and light paint.

Apply your primer with a paintbrush first if you have any intricate areas that need covering. For bigger areas- you can use a foam roller.

Step 4: Apply Two Coats of Paint

In the same way, you applied the primer, add two coats of your desired paint to your furniture.

Adding two coats of primer, two coats of paint then sealing the paint with satin wax ensures good quality, long-lasting finish.

Tip: Sanding in between coats, with 400-grit sandpaper, can help to remove any unwanted blotches.

How to Paint Wood-Stained Cabinets

Preparing the surface properly and choosing a quality primer are key components to the success of painting cabinets.

Painting your cabinets will open a broad color pallet, so you can create the look and feel you want for your kitchen area or any other areas for that matter.

stained wood cabinet

This section will lay out a simple guide to get you started on your painting- as well as the tools you’ll need.

Things You Will Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Rags
  • Liquid ‘deglosser’
  • Sanding tools
  • Tack cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes
  • Primer
  • Latex paint


Start by removing the cabinet doors and drawers and then tape off around the edges of the cabinet.

Remove the hinges from the cabinet doors, and remove all drawer pulls from the doors and drawer fronts, as well as all door handles. This will protect your hinges and handles from being painted over.

Be sure to spread a drop cloth on the floor and spread another over the work surface to layout the doors and drawers.

Before you begin to sand down your wood surface, remove the top layer of gloss from the door and drawer fronts and the cabinet itself. You can do this with a liquid’ de-glosser.’

Sand lightly over the surface and remove all dust with a tack cloth.

Priming then painting

Using an oil-based primer, apply one coat to the cabinet and cabinet doors and drawers. Follow the grain pattern and work in long, straight strokes, and spread as evenly as possible.

Keep a close lookout for any drips or clumps. These can be corrected while the primer is still wet with your paintbrush or by gently wiping the area with a clean tack cloth.

Let the primer dry for at least two hours.

Again, when applying your chosen paint, work in long straight strokes and cover the entire surface of the cabinet, drawers, and doors.

According to the manufacturer’s directions, check the paint tin for the recommended dry time, then apply a second coat following the same technique.

Finally, reinstall the hinges and handles to your doors and drawers but make sure the paint is completely dry before doing so. Add the doors and drawers to the cabinet and remove the tape and cloths.

Paul, Founder of Trusted House Painter, explains how to paint over stained wood

Did You Learn How to Paint Over Stained Wood? Here’s the Bottom Line

Patience, effort, and attention to detail are key factors to painting over the stain correctly.

If you feel independent and don’t want to take your stained wood to a contractor, follow closely the instructions set out above.

Check the equipment list to make sure you have the right tools and materials.

For optimum results, leave a six-hour break between each coat of paint, and keep an eye out for paint splodges or defects to wipe away.

Set aside at least two days to complete the process, from start to finish

If you think you’ve mastered how to prepare your stained wood, and now want to move on to painting unstained wood we have a separate guide on how to paint wood furniture.

Can you paint directly on stain?

Paints and stains are two different products and are used for different purposes. If you decide to apply to paint overtop of a stain it’s best to use a primer prior to painting. Also, depending on the type of stain you will want to consider whether to use an oil-based or water-based primer. Lastly, if you want to ‘paint’ overtop of stain consider using a ‘solid stain’ to eliminate the primer coat. Solid stains look and act like paint products however can be applied over the top of existing clear or semi-transparent stains. This topic does require expertise so it’s best to consult your painter or retail store for best practices.

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