Can You Mix Stain with Polyurethane?

Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by Ernest Godia

Wood stain and polyurethane are popular wood finishes, but each of them has its unique benefits. For this reason, woodworkers often apply polyurethane over the stain to leverage the benefits of both finishes. 

However, can you mix stain with polyurethane to create a one-step stain-polyurethane finish for wood? 

One-step finishes comprising wood stain and polyurethane are common today and allow woodworkers to apply both products in one go and save time.

In this blog post, you will learn everything there is to know about mixing stain with polyurethane to get the best of both worlds in one simple step. 

Can You Mix Wood Stain with Polyurethane?

Yes, you can mix stain and polyurethane to create a stain-poly blend. Consider mixing the two finishes in a 50:50 ratio. You’ll need to start by stirring each product in its container before mixing them in a third container.

After mixing the wood stain and polyurethane, stir the mixture continuously to make it consistent before covering it with a lid for storage.

What Stain Can I Mix with Polyurethane?

Generally, oil-based stains produce the best results when mixed with oil-based polyurethane. The resulting blend is durable and can create unique colors or special effects on floors, walls, and other surfaces. 

What are the Benefits of Mixing Stain with Polyurethane?

There are numerous benefits of mixing stain and polyurethane. 

Here are four main reasons you should consider mixing the two when working on your wood projects.

  • Saves You Time and Energy: It takes more time to stain wood and wait for it to dry before applying polyurethane. However, when you mix the two, you’ll only finish your wood in one step, saving you time and energy.
  • Enhanced Protection: The stain-polyurethane blend is more durable than covering your furniture with stain alone. It, therefore, offers more protection to your furniture and wooden surfaces.
  • More Color Options: The mixture of oil-based poly and oil-based stain allows you to create special effects and unique faux colors on wooden surfaces such as walls and floors.   
  • Enhances the Wood’s Natural Beauty: The stain-polyurethane mixture highlights the wood’s natural grain better. This will make your wood appear more natural and visually appealing.

What is the Ratio of Mixing Stain with Polyurethane?

How much stain and polyurethane do you need to mix to achieve a good balance? 

While there’s no standard ratio for mixing stain and polyurethane, a 50:50 stain to polyurethane ratio is generally accepted. 

Mixing stain and poly in equal portions produces a mixture with the best consistency.

Polyurethane is thicker than stain, so adding too much wood stain will drastically thin the mixture. The more the stain, the thinner the resulting blend. Similarly, the more poly, the thicker the combination will be.

For various shades, you can try different ratios on scrap pieces of wood to see how they turn out before applying them to your furniture. 

How to Mix Stain with Polyurethane Step-by-Step

Mixing stain and polyurethane is straightforward if you know the steps to follow. You don’t require any specialized skills to complete the task. Let’s dive right in.

What You’ll Need 

  • Your stain of choice
  • Polyurethane
  • Plastic sheeting or drop cloth
  • Mixing containers
  • Stirring sticks
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Mask (optional)

Procedure for mixing Stain and Polyurethane

Once you have all the necessary tools and materials, prepare your workspace by covering the floor with plastic sheeting or drop cloth to protect it from spillages.

After that, follow the following steps to mix your stain and polyurethane correctly. 

Step 1: Prepare the stain.

The pigments in wood stains tend to settle at the bottom of the container. You will need to stir the stain to bring up the pigments at the bottom and create a uniform suspension.  

Step 2: Prepare the polyurethane.

As you did with the stain, stir the polyurethane gently but thoroughly to make it homogenous. 

You don’t want to introduce air bubbles into the liquid, so ensure you are gentle with the stirring. Also, ensure the room is well-ventilated to allow sufficient airflow. 

Some polyurethanes, especially oil-based ones, produce fumes that may be harmful to inhale in a poorly ventilated area. 

Step 3: Pour the stain and polyurethane into one container and mix

After deciding how much product you need, transfer the required amounts of the wood stain and poly into a third container, preferably a larger one, for mixing. 

Pour equal parts of wood stain and poly to achieve a 50:50 mixing ratio and stir gently to mix. You can observe the resultant consistency. If you are happy with it, you can use it as it is. 

However, consider adding more polyurethane if you prefer the mixture thicker or the stain if you like it thinner. More importantly, ensure you stir it well after every new addition. 

When dealing with smaller amounts, you can use a kitchen scale to get the quantities and ratios right. 

Step 4: Cover the mixture and mark the container.

After achieving your desired consistency, use a tight-fitting lid to cover the container. 

Mark the container to help you identify it easily in case you store it among other containers. If you store the mixture for several days, you’ll need to stir it thoroughly before using it again.

Precautions to Take When Mixing Stain and Polyurethane

While stains and polyurethane are less hazardous than most industrial chemicals, you still need to handle them cautiously to avoid accidents.

can you mix stain with polyurethane?

The following are the precautions you’ll need to take when mixing stain and polyurethane:

  • Stay clear of ignition sources. Solvent-based products are highly flammable liquids. Avoid smoking and any possible fire sources in the workspace to prevent fire breakouts. 
  • Work in a well-ventilated area. When mixing stains and polyurethane indoors, ensure you open the windows to improve air circulation and avoid the accumulation of toxic fumes within that space.
  • Wear safety goggles and a respirator. Since stains and polyurethane release fumes that might irritate the eyes, ensure you wear protection for your eyes and nose. A respirator should help you avoid inhaling the fumes while safety goggles protect your eyes. 
  • Check for product compatibility. Products with the same bases blend better. So, if the stain is solvent-based, it will blend better with solvent-based polyurethane and water-based stain with a water-based poly.  

Mixing Stain with Polyurethane FAQ

Can I tint my polyurethane with stain?

Yes. You can tint polyurethane with stain to give it a deeper color. Tinting polyurethane with stain will also help highlight the natural wood grain and make your furniture look more beautiful.

Does polyurethane make the stain look better?

Absolutely! Polyurethane can significantly enhance the appearance of the stain while protecting the surface from scratches and physical damage. Polyurethane helps introduce a sheen that makes the stained surface look more appealing. 

Will stain dry over polyurethane?

Applying a standard wood stain over polyurethane is not a common practice. However, you can use a gel stain over poly, and it will dry naturally because the product forms a film on the surface without necessarily penetrating the grain. 

How long after staining should I apply poly?

Most commonly used wood stains take about 12 to 24 hours to dry completely, so it is good practice to wait a full 24 hours before applying polyurethane over a stained wood surface. 

Different stains take different periods to dry. For instance, water-based stains can take 3-4 hours to dry compared to oil-based stains, which take at least 24 hours to dry. 

Can You Mix Stain with Polyurethane? Final Thoughts

Staining and protecting your wood projects doesn’t have to be daunting. By following the simple instructions in this write-up, you should create a stain-polyurethane blend that you can apply to your project in one step. 

Did you find this tutorial helpful? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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