How To Fix a Bad Stain Job Fast

Last Updated on June 17, 2022 by Ernest Godia

A bad stain job can be daunting.

Uneven coloring, stain drips, and bald areas take away the natural elegance of your wood and make it look messy.

Some of the reasons you may not have achieved your intended results and ended up with a bad stain job include:

  • You didn’t apply wood conditioner
  • You applied uneven stain coats
  • You didn’t sand your wood at all after staining
  • You didn’t sand properly

But don’t worry, you can certainly fix your mistakes, and we’ll show you how.

In this article, we’ll show you how to fix a bad stain job on wood, resolve your staining mistakes, and give your wood a desirable look again.

What You’ll Need: Tools and Materials

To follow this tutorial and effectively fix your wood staining mistakes, you’ll need the following tools and materials:

  • A proper brush or an applicator (e.g. Stain pads)
  • A wood stain of your choice (gel stain, water-based stain, or oil stain)
  • Wood conditioner
  • Stain thinner
  • Chemical striper
  • Wood paint 
  • Mineral spirits
  • Sandpaper (Coarse and fine grit)
  • Gloves
  • Cotton rags
  • Safety goggles

The materials you’ll use will depend on the extent of the staining mistake and how you decide to fix it. For instance, you may not need wood paint if your stain job is not so grievous that you’ll need to cover it with paint. 

A chemical stripper may also not be necessary if you’re not planning to remove all the stains from your wood for a complete rework.


1 – Evaluate Your Piece to Assess the Mistake

The first step toward fixing a bad stain job is to identify the root cause of the problem. Is it a major mistake that requires an overhaul or a minor mistake that you can easily fix? 

You may have put so much stain that it dripped, used the wrong stain color, or made some parts darker than others. 

The method you’ll use to fix your stain job will depend on the type and extent of the actual staining mistake. 

2  – Sand the Wood to Remove Stain

If you don’t like the staining outcome and want to change it completely, use coarse-grit sandpaper to sand off the stain, wipe off the dust, then sand again using fine-grit sandpaper.

Sanding will help remove any scratches on the wood surface or uneven stain that makes the wood look blotchy. 

After removing all the stains, wipe the wood with a damp cotton rag, apply wood conditioner and let it dry. You can then stain your wood again to achieve your originally desired look.

3 – Use a Chemical Stripper to Remove the Stain (For Gel Stain and Glaze)

Instead of sanding, you can also use a chemical stripper to strip off the stain and redo the whole staining process. 

Chemical stripping is suitable for film-forming wood stains like gel stains and glazes. It is particularly effective if your piece of wood has some tight spaces that you can’t reach easily using sandpaper.

Apply a thin layer of your chemical stripper throughout the wood surface from which you want to strip the stain. 

Let it sit for some time (as recommended by the manufacturer), and then wipe the stripper off the wood. The stain will come out with the striper.

Finally, use mineral spirits to wipe off any excess stripper from your wood.

The table below will help you see the difference between sanding your wood and using a chemical stripper to strip off the stain.

Removes stains faster and with less energyTakes time to remove all the stain and is labor-intensive
Prevents your wood from damageYour wood is prone to surface scratches if not carefully sanded
Removes stain evenly and reaches tight spacesMay not penetrate some nooks and crannies, hence may leave uneven surfaces
Effectively removes old stainMore effective for newer stain

As you can see, it may be safer to strip than to sand when fixing a bad gel stain job.

4 – Apply More Stain to Darken Lighter Areas

If your stain job left some faces of your wood lighter than the rest of the wood surface, it may help to apply more coats of stain to darken the lighter sections as soon as the stained wood dries.

Apply additional coats of wood stain (the same stain color and product you used) and observe to see if you have achieved the desired color. If the color still looks lighter, consider adding another coat until you are happy with the depth and coverage. 

This step will help you fix a lighter stain color and give your wood a deeper and more even look.

5 – Use a Thinner to Lighten Darker Areas

Your wood staining may have left your wood darker than intended or left some areas darker than the rest of the wood.

In this case, use a stain thinner to wipe off and lighten the stain. Notice that the thinner will not remove all the pigment because wood stain penetrates the wood pores, but this is how to fix stained wood that is too dark.

It should remove enough color from the wood surface to give you the desired shade.

Damp a cotton rag into the stain thinner and use it to carefully wipe off excess stain from the darker areas.Be careful not to overlap into lighter areas that you wish to maintain, as this will affect the appearance of your wood.

After wiping, give it some time to dry before wiping out more since wood stain tends to be lighter after drying.

6 – Apply One More Layer of Stain If You Forgot To Wipe

What if you forget to wipe the excess stain and only realize this mistake after the surface is tacky?

In this case, the best thing to do is apply one more stain coat of the stain on the entire wood surface to wet the stain and even out the color.

Use your paintbrush or applicator to apply one layer of the same stain and spread it evenly on the entire wood surface and then wipe the excess stain before leaving it to dry.

That extra coat will refresh the initial coat and allow you to wipe the excess and even out the look. This minor tweak should give your wood a nice, uniform look when it dries.

7 – Cover the Entire Mess

Finally, you can fix a bad stain job by simply covering it all up! 

This is a perfect option if your stain job just looks horrible and the above methods wouldn’t fix it enough. Phew! Doesn’t that sound like a huge relief?

There are two ways you can cover a bad stain job:

  • Dark staining: Cover the entire surface using a darker stain color like black or dark brown. Applying gel stain over blotchy wood is a good option here.
  • Painting: You can paint over the stain with a closer but darker color or opt for a different paint color altogether. Paint it layer by layer until the paint coat covers your entire wood surface.

Remember to sand the wood lightly and apply wood conditioner before dark staining or a primer before painting.

Covering the entire stain will give your wood a whole new elegant look, and no one would ever tell that a stained mess existed.

In the video below, Mike Montgomery shows you how to undo blotchy wood stain to make the stain job look excellent again.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can you redo stain?

Yes, you can redo the stain by adding a layer to darken the tone or removing a layer to lighten it. You can also cover it by applying a darker stain color, like black or dark brown, on top of the original stain.

Can you sand off stain?

Absolutely! You can sand off a stain to fix a bad stain job. Sand off the original stain using medium-grit sandpaper followed by finer grit sandpaper. You can then apply your new stain coat on your wood.

Notice that sanding will work better for film-forming stains like glaze or gel stain over blotchy wood. Penetrating wood stains like oil-based and water-based stains may not entirely come off. Some of the pigment that penetrated the wood pores will remain after sanding.  

how to fix a bad stain job

How do you get an uneven stain out of wood?

You get an uneven stain out of wood by sanding it off using coarse and then fine-grit sandpaper. After sanding, apply a wood conditioner and stain the wood once again.

Applying the pre-stain wood conditioner will help distribute the stain better and create a more even look on your final stain job.

Can you sand wood after staining?

Yes, you can sand wood after staining as this will help remove any stain bubbles and raised grain to even out your wood surface. However, note that this is a light sanding, and you should use fine-grit sandpaper.

What happens if you stain over stain?

If you stain over wood stain, you get a darker stain color. However, ensure you wipe off the excess stain to avoid ending up with a tacky surface. 

Since the excess stain does not penetrate the wood, it may remain tacky on your wood surface and may never really dry over time.

Can I stain over stain without sanding?

Yes, you can stain over stain without sanding. However, your finishing may not look so good since sanding helps the stain adhere better to the wood and gives it a smoother look. 

Alternatively, you can strip the stain instead of sanding it. For a detailed guide on staining over old wood stain, read our article that provides three ways to stain over stain.

Fixing a Bad Stain Job Couldn’t be Easier

It’s not uncommon to make mistakes while staining your wood. 

However, if you identify your wood staining mistakes early enough, you can fix them and give your project the intended outcome.

Since your staining mistake may be different from another person’s, use this guide to help you identify your mistake and learn how to fix a bad stain job with ease.

Did you enjoy this tutorial? If so, let’s know what you think in the comments section and ask any questions you have about wood staining. 

We’ll certainly get back to you.

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