The Best Rags for Staining Wood

Last Updated on October 18, 2023 by Ernest Godia

Various methods for staining wood are available, including spraying, paintbrushes, paint pads, and rollers, but rags are the fastest and most effective.

Even if you apply a wood stain with a brush or any other method, you must still use a rag to wipe off the excess. This underscores just how crucial rags are in staining wood. 

However, not all rags are created equal. Some work more effectively than others. Using the best rags for staining wood can significantly simplify your work and improve your results. 

This article reviews the six best rags for staining wood and provides a detailed buying guide to help you get the best fit for your next project. 

Reasons for Rags: Why Use Rags for Staining Wood? 

  • Applying stains with a rag allows you to be more precise with your application. Rags make it easy to avoid and prevent dripping and runs, improving your results. 
  • Rags are ideal for wiping off the excess stain before it dries. Wiping is an essential part of the staining process as it prevents oversaturation and pooling of the stain in one area, which could result in blotching.
  • Applying the stain with a rag also allows you greater control over how much is applied to the wood at every point. Less is more in such situations. 
  • Rags soak up and carry more of the stain at a time and transfer it to the wood surface more evenly, reducing how frequently you must re-saturate the applicator.  

Six Best Rags for Staining Wood Reviewed

This section provides a detailed review of the best rags for staining wood on the market today. 

 1. Regency Wraps Natural Ultra-Fine Cheesecloth – The Best Overall

If you want an absorbent applicator that carries a lot of wood stain at a time, reducing how frequently you must re-saturate the applicator, try cheesecloth. 

With these clothes, you won’t need to constantly dip them into the stain bottle because they absorb and hold a lot of the stain and releases it over a large area at a time. This saves you a lot of time and effort required to finish your staining job.

Many users also love how durable these clothes are. You can use one piece countless times before it wears out. 

Additionally, it doesn’t matter what kind of wood you plan to stain; the texture of these clothes significantly contributes to improved stain coverage. You can rely on them to create an evenly stained wood surface regardless of the wood type. 

The only drawback to these clothes is their unfinished edges. You may have to hem these edges before using the clothes to prevent the threads from coming out.


  • The clothes ensure a tidy application since they are lint-free
  • They are perfect for staining all sorts of wood due to their texture
  • They are cost-effective and come in large numbers per bunch
  • They absorb a lot of liquid
  • They comprise 100% natural cotton


  • You have to hem the edges of these clothes before using them; otherwise, their unfinished edge threads will come off.

 2. Premium Tack Cloths, Bond Crystal Brand – Best Multipurpose Option

Tack cloths are popular as the best wiping tools for sanding dust, but that’s not the only task for which they are particularly effective. These clothes work wonders when applying wood stains and wiping the excess. 

Premium tack cloths from the Bond Crystal brand feature high-quality, lint-free cotton fabrics, which makes them perfect for distributing the stain on your wood surfaces.

The clothes do a great job of getting the stain into all the pores on the wood surface, whether you are dealing with softwood or hardwood.

The only limitation of these clothes is that they require washing before using them to apply water-based stains. However, this is not the case with oil-based products.


  • It is possible to clean and reuse these elegant tack cloths 
  • The tack cloths have several uses. Before washing and applying the stain, you may use them to remove tiny dust particles from the surface.
  • The cloths are effective on virtually any wood type
  • They are easy to use
  • They are inexpensive


  • They require washing before applying water-based stains with them

 3. Nabob Wipers Premium Knit Rag – Most Eco-friendly Option

The Nabob Wipers Premium Knit Rag is the best rag for those who want an eco-friendly option. Even though these rags are multipurpose, staining is one task where they shine.

The rags are made of 100% cotton. This offers several advantages. First, the rags can absorb a lot of fluid quickly, so you can remove the excess stain in a single motion rather than wringing the cloth and repeating the procedure several times.

Also, since the rags are made of cotton, they are exceptionally soft. These rags’ suppleness helps them uniformly spread wood stains throughout the wood surface.

And, as with other products made from natural cotton, these rags are incredibly durable. You can use and reuse them for an extended period without worrying about buying a replacement. This saves you money.

The only thing that some customers complain about regarding these rags is that they are overly thin and lightweight.


  • Lint-free rags that offer a spotless finish
  • They are strong, so they are suitable for heavy-duty tasks
  • They are intended for a variety of duties
  • They are affordable and of high quality


  • Some customers have pointed out that the rags are so thin and lightweight

 4. Trimaco SuperTuff Sponge, 2-Pack Staining Pad – Best for all Stain Types

The Trimaco SuperTuff Sponge staining pad can be the perfect choice if you need a highly absorbent rag for applying all types of wood stains. These applicators are made of a porous material encased in a heavy terry cloth to help absorb the maximum amount of liquid.

This well-crafted tool works wonders when staining wood. You won’t have to worry about spills and runs messing up your wood surface.  

Also, thanks to its high absorbent quality, you will not have to keep dipping this applicator in the stain bottle. Dipping it once will allow you to stain a large surface, saving you the time required to complete your staining project.

You’ll be glad to learn that the Trimaco SuperTuff sponge staining pad works with all wood stains and sealers, making it a go-to solution for your applicator needs. 

And, with one purchase, you get two pads. So, you can set aside one pad for staining and another for sealing the stained area. 

Their only drawback is that they take longer to dry after washing.


  • The sponge pack is inexpensive
  • It is very versatile. The applicator can spread wood stains, sealants, varnishes, waxes, polyurethane, and other substances.
  • You can use the applicator to stain any wood type.
  • The applicator absorbs a lot of the stain, holds it, and then releases it when you want it to for a neat, even finish.
  • The ideal sponge for wood staining
  • Since it takes a lot of stain with each dipping, it saves time.
  • A lint-free rag covers the sponge, guaranteeing a spotless stain finish.


  • Some customers find the long drying time of these pads a bummer. 

 5. Pro-Clean Basics T-Shirt Cloth Rags – Perfect for Messy Environments

Are you looking for rags to use in chaotic environments such as schools, mechanic shops, car washes, or even factories? If so, you should try the Pro-Clean Basics T-Shirt Cloth Rags.

The high absorbency of these rags ensures you won’t ever have to worry about a stain spilling and ruining your workplace or the task itself.

The rags are made of cotton material and vary in size. They are also highly affordable and can be washed and reused.


  • High-quality rags suitable for messy environments
  • Easy to wash and reuse
  • Affordable option
  • They can be used on any wood type


  • Some customers complain that the rags are not smooth enough
  • Some buyers find the rags not as white as they appear in pictures

 6. Valengo Fabrics New Lint Free Rags – Best for Staining Large Surfaces

If you work on larger surfaces to clean and stain the wood, you will require large rags. The ideal rags in such a case are the Valengo lint-free rags. 

These rags are perfect for broad wood surfaces because of their vast cut size, which can absorb a lot of finish. They are made of 100% soft cotton, which won’t harm the surface of the wood. 

The Valengo Rags are also simpler to wash because all you have to do is throw them in the washer, and the stain will be entirely removed. These rags do not shrink after washing, unlike many other rags. Additionally, they dry quickly, allowing for fast reuse. 


  • Made from only pure cotton, 
  • This product is incredibly absorbent and lint-free
  • Ideal for painting and staining projects
  • You can use these rags on any surface.


  • The rags are pricey compared to other staining rags available
  • The rags are thinner than similar-priced rags from other brands

Factors to Consider When Buying a Rag for Staining Wood

Below are some of the factors you should consider before buying the best rags for staining wood:

Rag Size

Choosing a suitable rag size is crucial before starting your staining work. This is because it affects how easy and fast the staining process will be. 

If you plan to stain a small wooden surface, use smaller rags. But if you plan to handle massive staining projects, choose the large-size rags.


Typically, cotton is the material of choice for staining tasks. This material is frequently lint-free and is quite absorbent.

A cheesecloth material made of 100% cotton is a premium option. This is because, when used to stain surfaces, this material leaves the surface clean and evenly colored. 

Other materials ideal for staining include cotton blends and microfiber cloths.


The material typically determines the quality of the rag. For instance, the best quality rags for staining wood are often made of firm cotton. A combination of cotton and various synthetic materials comes next in the hierarchy. 

Even though the products that include synthetic materials are less absorbent, they still do an excellent job of staining wood.  

Durability and Absorbency 

Staining wood requires more effort than other household chores do. You can not, therefore, use a regular household cloth to complete this task. A sturdy, absorbent rag is required to finish the stain job without imperfections.

Even though such rags are expensive compared to regular household clothes, that should not worry you. After finishing your staining project, you can use the rags for other household chores.


Not all rags suitable for staining are washable. However, you must select a washable rag if you want one to reuse. 

This is because stain residues from the previous project should not be carried to the next one. So it would be best to have a rag that can be washed to drain the stain to allow you to use it with a different color in your next task.

Different Types of Rags to Use for Staining

When staining, you need a piece of cloth that will properly spread wood stain across the surface of the wood without leaving lint or other debris that could damage the finish.

The lint-free cloth can be loose such as a towel, or attached to a sponge to serve as a pad. 

A) Amber Knit Rags

These are relatively sizable, very absorbent cloths that have been washed and are ready for stain application. Usually, they are sold in uniform, lint-free pieces that can be divided into two smaller ones and used independently. 

Even after use, you can wash the rags and use them to apply the stain again. 

B) Reclaimed White Polo

These rags were created with recycled white polo shirts. They are usually economical stain applicators, making them the best choice if you’re looking to save money. 

These polo rags are white, so they won’t bleed any color that may change how your stain looks.

Another option is to use recycled gray t-shirt rags. Due to their gray color, these rags are substantially less expensive than white polo rags and will not bleed. 

C) Disposable and Paper Wipes

Disposable and paper wipes are possibly the most economical stain applicators. Although they can’t be reused, they don’t leave a lot of lint on the stained wood surface.

Additionally, they comprise identical pieces that are economical enough to allow buyers to save money on their purchases.  

D) New Cotton White T-Shirts

These rags are an excellent choice for taking on significant staining tasks. They are also typically the most widely used variety. This is mainly due to their white color, which allows users to see the actual color of the stain easily.

How to Apply Stain Using a Rag: Step-by-Step

You may complete your staining project more quickly and effectively using the best rags for staining wood. The steps for applying stain to the wood surface using the proper rag are listed below:

Step 1: Sand the Wood.

A critical step in getting the wood ready for stain is sanding it. This aids in opening the wood pores, particularly on less porous surfaces, to ensure the stain can permeate after application.  

Sand the wood in the direction of the grain. 

Use a vacuum or brush to remove the sanding dust from the surface after it has become smoother. To remove every ounce of the wood dust, use a moist rag or tack cloth, then give the wood time to dry.

Step 2: Start Applying the Stain 

When the wood surface has entirely dried, gently dip your rag into your stain container and remove it. Next, gently rub the rag over the wood surface. 

We advise working with a small part at a time to ensure that you apply the stain evenly. 

Step 3: Remove Extra Wood Stain by Wiping

Applying stains with a rag leaves very little to no extra stain on the surface. However, to guarantee that you’ll have an even and lovely finish, wipe the surface with a clean, absorbent cloth to eliminate spills or extra stains. 

Step 4: Leave the Stain to Dry

Allowing the stain to dry completely is crucial because it affects the quality of the finish. The stain’s drying time varies depending on the type. 

It is important to note that the stained wood should not be exposed to direct sunlight to speed the drying process, as this can affect the stain’s adherence. 

Step 5: Add Another Coat of Stain, if Necessary.

Check the stain’s color and overall appearance once it has completely dried. If you prefer a darker shade, apply another coat of stain using the same method you used to apply the first coat. Let the stain completely dry to keep the lovely finish before putting the wood to use.

Here is an article explaining in detail when to apply a second coat of wood stain. Enjoy.

Best Rags for Staining Woods: FAQs

Is it Better to Stain Wood with a Brush or Rag?

Using a lint-free rag is the best way to apply wood stain compared to using a brush. This is because a rag offers you control over the amount of stain you apply and can also be used to wipe off the excess stain.

Can I Use a Microfiber Cloth to Stain Wood?

Yes. Microfiber cloths are mainly used to do cleaning chores at home. However, microfiber cloths are also suitable for applying a range of wood oils, wood waxes, stains, and dyes.

How Many Coats of Stain Should You Apply?

Applying up to two coats of stain on the wood is advisable. However, always apply as much stain as the wood can absorb. The more coats, the darker the finish will be.

Can I Use Paper Towels to Wipe Off Stains?

Yes. You can use a paper towel to remove excess wood stain immediately after applying it. Paper towels are an excellent option due to their high absorption. However, their downside is that they can not be reused.

Can You Stain Wood with a Towel

Yes. All you need to do is dip the small square of a towel into the stain and then rub it on your wood project. A towel gives you more control over the amount of stain you can apply and can also be used to wipe off the extra stain.

Best Rags for Staining Wood: Final Take

Staining can give your wood a more distinctive appearance and also protect it from elements like UV light and rain. While you’re at it, using the correct tool will help you save time and money while guaranteeing the best results.

This is why picking the best rags for staining wood for your project is crucial. This guide discusses the six best rags for staining wood and the steps required to stain wood using a rag.

We sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading this guide and that our review will help your upcoming stain project be a success.  

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