Can You Paint over Stained Wood?

Last Updated on October 14, 2023 by Ernest Godia

Staining is a timeless option when it comes to finishing wood surfaces without concealing its grain patterns and texture.

However, when the stained surface wears out and it’s time to revamp it, do you re-stain, or can you paint over stained wood?

If that’s your dilemma, stay put. The advantage of staining wood is the ease of crossing over to paints whenever you change your mind.

So, whether you’re looking to refresh your outdated furniture or add a personal touch to a new piece, read on to learn how to paint over stained wood like a pro.

Can you paint over stained wood?

Yes, you can easily paint over stained wood. The process involves preparing the surface with cleaning, sanding, priming, and then painting. While it requires a bit of elbow grease, you can successfully update the look of your stained wood furniture, deck, fence, or any other surface.

What types of stains can be painted over?

Wood stains are usually water- or oil-based, penetrating, or film-forming. These stains can also be transparent, semi-transparent, or solid stains.

Regardless of the stain type on the wood, you can paint over it with enough prep work. Note that lighter or faded stains may require less preparation compared to darker or heavily pigmented ones.

Types of paint suitable for painting over stained wood

If you prep the surface well, you can color the stained wood surface with any of the following paint types:

  • Acrylic paint
  • All-in-one paint
  • Chalk paint
  • Epoxy paint
  • Latex paint
  • Milk paint 
  • Mineral paint
  • Oil-based Paint
  • Spray paint
  • Water-based Alkyd paint

When choosing the appropriate paint for your project, remember to consider the specific requirements of your project, such as the desired finish, durability, and the condition of the stained wood surface. Consult with a professional when in doubt.

How to paint over stained wood

Whether you want to refresh your interior or revitalize your outdoor spaces, this comprehensive guide will help you achieve stunning results. Let’s dig in.

What you’ll need to paint over stained wood

  • Sandpaper (120-180-grit)
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Top coat sealer (optional)
  • Drop cloths
  • Tack cloth
  • Safety gear (goggles, gloves, and masks)
  • Paint thinner

Painting over stained wood, step by step

First, ensure adequate ventilation in your workspace, then don your safety gear. Also, have all your supplies within reach and protect unaffected surfaces with drop cloths.

Step 1: Clean the wood surface

Start by thoroughly cleaning the stained wood surface to remove dirt, grease, or dust using a mild detergent and water solution.

If you’re working on re-facing a worn, stained deck or fence, you may need to use a special wood cleaner or TSP treatment to brighten discolored wood. After cleaning the wood surface, allow it to dry completely.

Step 2: Assess the wood surface for damage 

Take time to thoroughly examine the wood surface for any signs of damage, such as cracks, gouges, or splinters.

Minor imperfections can add character to vintage pieces, but significant damage should be addressed immediately to avoid further deterioration.

Look out for wood rot or termite damage on exterior stained wood, as these may need professional intervention.

Step 3: Repair any damaged or uneven areas 

If you notice any gaps that need filling, use wood filler or wood putty to patch them. Once the filler dries, sand the surface smoothly to ensure it is level with the rest of the wood. Also, be sure to use paintable filler for easier blending.

Fix loose joints, and countersink lifted screws or nails. This step reinforces the structural integrity and aesthetic value of the wood surface.

Step 4: Sand the wood

Lightly sand the stained wood to help the paint adhere better. Use fine-grit sandpaper (such as 120 or 150 grit) to gently sand the surface, removing the gloss or shine from the stain.

Always sand with the grain to avoid leaving pronounced scratch marks on the wood surface. Finish sanding with 180-grit sandpaper before painting to ensure the surface is smooth but rough enough to hold onto the paint.

Vacuum the dust and wipe further with a tack cloth or damp rag to guarantee the surface is clean and debris-free.

Step 5: Apply primer

Choose a primer compatible with the type of paint you’ll be using—oil-based or water-based.

Brush or roll an even coat of primer over the sanded wood. Wait for it to dry completely. This can take anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes, following the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Once the first coat of primer dries, lightly scuff with fine-grit sandpaper and wipe off the dust. Apply the second coat and wait for the recommended drying time before you start channeling your inner Picasso.

Step 6: Paint the wood surface

Prepare the paint by stirring to distribute the pigments evenly. If necessary, thin it to improve the viscosity and aid in easier application. 

Transfer the amount you need into a paint tray and brush or roll a thin layer of the paint on the primed wood. If you’re covering a large surface, like a wood fence, it might be convenient to spray paint it. 

Wait for the first coat of paint to dry fully before recoating; two to three coats will be enough. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying times between coats.

Step 7: Seal the painted surface (optional)

Consider applying a clear topcoat or sealer over the painted surface for added durability or protection. This step is particularly important for high-traffic areas like cabinets or surfaces exposed to moisture, like decks and fences.

Check out our articles if you need help choosing the best varnish or polyurethane sealant for your paint project.

TL;DR? Watch the following video detailing the steps we just covered.

Can you spray paint over stained wood?

Yes, spray painting is a viable option for painting over stained wood. It is fast, efficient, and relatively easy to achieve flawless results. However, creating a mess is equally easy if you’re not careful. 

Remember that you can’t spray paint directly on stained wood without the prep work discussed above; otherwise, you’ll set yourself up for failure. 

When painting over exterior or heavy traffic areas, it’s important to use waterproof spray paints.

Can you paint over the stained wood fence?

Yes, you can paint over a stained wood fence. Follow the same preparation steps discussed earlier, such as cleaning the surface, sanding, and applying primer.  Then paint your fence using a suitable outdoor paint and consider adding a protective top coat for enhanced longevity.

Can you paint a clear coat over stained wood?

Sure, you can paint a clear coat over stained wood. Applying a clear coat over a previously stained surface is an excellent way to add an extra layer of protection and create a polished, professional finish.

Ensure to prep the surface well before refinishing it; otherwise, the clear coat will highlight the surface flaws.

Can you paint over stained wood without sanding?

While sanding is generally recommended for optimal adhesion, some products allow you to paint over stained wood without sanding. Look for specifically formulated paints like chalk or mineral paint. 

These paints adhere well to glossy or smooth surfaces, providing full coverage and durable coats.

Recommended read: Can you stain over painted wood?

Safety tips when painting over stained wood surfaces

  • Always wear goggles, gloves, and a mask to protect yourself from fumes and chemicals.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area with proper air circulation.
  • Ensure your working area is clear of any tripping hazards.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for specific applications and drying times.
  • Keep children and pets away from the painting area.
  • Store leftover paint well and dispose of the waste appropriately. 
  • Also, promptly clean paintbrushes and other tools after use to prolong their lifespan.

Pro tips and tricks for flawless paint over stained wood 

  • Take the time to prep your piece correctly for a flawless transformation
  • Test the paint and primer on a small, inconspicuous area before proceeding with the project.
  • If you’re covering a dark stain with a lighter color, consider using a tinted primer to reduce the number of paint coats required.
  • Apply multiple thin coats of paint for better coverage and a smoother finish as opposed to a single thick coat.
  • Don’t rush the process, and allow each layer – primer, paint, and sealer – to dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next. 
  • For a flawless result, always clean your brushes properly between coats.


Can I paint over stained and varnished wood?

Yes, you can paint over stained and varnished wood. To do that, you must commit to proper cleaning, sanding, and priming before painting. Only then will the paint adhere well to the surface. 

A piece with paint over stained wood

Can you paint over a stained wood deck?

Yes, you can paint over a stained wood deck. However, preparing the surface properly and using high-quality paint designed for exterior wood is important. This will help ensure that the paint job will last for years.

If your bare wood deck is ready for a finish, read our article to determine whether you should paint or stain the deck.

How long does it take for the paint to dry after painting over stained wood?

Paint drying times will vary depending on the type and environmental factors. To be safe, allow the paint to dry for at least 24 hours before recoating or handling the painted surface.

What paint should I use over stained wood without sanding?

Use chalk paint to paint over stained wood without sanding. This type of paint is easy to apply and dries quickly, offering a gorgeous and durable matte finish. It’s gaining popularity for adhering effortlessly to finished wood, regardless of the finish type.

What is the best type of paint to use over stained wood?

This depends on the project, but water-based paints like latex paint are great for stained cabinets, dressers, bookshelves, trims, and other indoor surfaces. On the other hand, oil-based or acrylic paints are most suitable for outdoor or high-traffic areas like stair railings.

Can you paint white over stained wood?

Yes, you can paint stained wood white. But remember that lighter colors like white may require multiple coats to achieve full coverage. You can also use a stain-blocking primer to help minimize the number of coats you’ll need for full coverage.

Can you paint over the stained exterior wood?

Yes, exterior stained wood can be painted with suitable outdoor-grade paint. However, before picking up the paintbrush, ensure proper surface preparation. This is crucial for sturdy paint adhesion and preventing premature peeling and cracking caused by erratic weather conditions.

Final Thoughts on Painting Over Stained Wood

So, can you paint over stained wood? Absolutely! Painting over stained wood may seem daunting, but you can easily transform any piece with the right tools and steps.

Remember, preparation is key, and patience will bring you the best results. Here’s to your next DIY project and seeing your old wood in a whole new color!

Happy painting!

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