Can You Stain Over Polyurethane?

Having polyurethane-coated woodfloors can cut two ways. You get the protective features and a glossy finish, but if you ever want to stain your wood again, it becomes much more challenging.

Now, suppose you’re renovating and want to give your wood another color that matches the new decor, or your wood starts chipping off and losing color. Does this mean you’re forever stuck with the original color? Or can you stain over polyurethane? Read on to find out!

Staining Over Polyurethane – Can It Be Done?

The short answer is yes, you can stain over polyurethane, but only if you use specific stain types. Regular wood stains soak into wood pores, giving it a new, attractive color. However, they won’t work with polyurethane-coated wood simply because they won’t be able to penetrate the protective coating.

An excellent type of stain that’s suitable for staining over polyurethane is gel stain.

But how can you stain over polyurethane using gel stain?

can you stain over polyurethane

6 Steps to Stain Over Polyurethane Using Gel Stain

Gel stain might not give you colors as rich as water-based and oil-based stains, but it’s your best option if your wood is coated with polyurethane. Luckily, the staining process couldn’t get any easier. So here are the steps you should follow to make your wood look as good as new.

Gel stain might not give you colors as rich as water-based and oil-based stains, but it’s your best option if your wood is coated with polyurethane. Luckily, the staining process couldn’t get any easier. So here are the steps you should follow to make your wood look as good as new.

1 – Prepare the tools & floor

To stain over polyurethane, you’ll need a can of gel stain, clean rags, a paintbrush, sandpaper, white vinegar, and a pair of gloves. On top of that, if you’re staining over a large surface, you’ll need a palm sander.

Before you do anything though, make sure you vacuum your wood floor, mop it if necessary and if it’s squeaky or damaged at all, repair it before even thinking of applying a stain.

2 – Wipe the polyurethane clean

Before applying gel stain to your coated wood, you should clean it to remove any oils or grease that might repel the stain. To clean your polyurethane, pour a small amount of white vinegar on a clean rag, and wipe the wood with it. Don’t use a large amount of any cleaner because you might damage the coating.

If you don’t have any white vinegar, you can use rubbing alcohol instead. After you apply the cleaner, leave it for a few minutes to dry.

3 – Sand the polyurethane

Polyurethane coating is protective, so it won’t absorb any stains unless you sand it a bit. You can do so using fine-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge. They’ll smoothen your wood and prepare it for staining but won’t completely scrub the coating.

A piece of advice, though; always sand your wood in the direction of the wood grain. This way, you won’t leave any sanding marks behind.

After you sand the polyurethane, clean the dust and wipe the wood with a clean rag. Make sure not to leave any tiny particles behind because they’ll affect your stain finish.

4 – Apply the new gel stain

Now, it’s time to adorn your polyurethane-coated wood with gel stain. For this step, you can use a paintbrush, clean rag, or foam brush.

Apply only two or three gel stain coats if you want a light-colored finish on your wood. After each coat, wait for a couple of hours till the applied one dries. If you’d like to go extra and give your wood a rich-colored, chocolatey finish, then you can apply five gel stain coats.

After each coat, wipe the excess stain gently with a microfiber cloth. When wiping, ensure you distribute the stain evenly and along the direction of the wood grain.

5 – Leave the newly stained wood to dry

After giving your wood the desired stained look, you should leave it to dry. Ideally, you should wait about a day or two before using the wood, especially if you plan on giving it a last clear top coat.

6 – Apply a protective top coating

Unfortunately, gel stain isn’t as durable as polyurethane. So for the best results, you should apply a protective top coat to your wood after you stain it. You can use polyurethane, lacquer, or shellac.

Polyurethane gives the best glossy finish and is easiest to clean, while lacquer and shellac are easier to repair. The choice ultimately depends on your preference.

Why Other Stains Won’t Work

To begin with, for stains to work, they need to penetrate and soak into wood pores, unlike paint. Paint sticks to the material’s top layer and doesn’t need pores to soak through.

This becomes an issue for polyurethane-coated wood as it has a protective layer that prevents any regular stain from entering through pores. However, topical stains, like gel stains, work like paint, so they can stain the wood without needing to soak into its pores.

polyurethane wood stain

Frequently Asked Questions

What Happens If I Sand Wood Against the Grain?

Sanding wood against the grain will leave you with a scratched surface that looks far from perfect.

While you can fix it by sanding again, it’ll be a hassle to deal with and won’t look the same.

How Can I Identify My Wood Finish?

If you don’t know what finish your wood has, dampen a cotton swab with acetone, and pass it over a small hidden area. If the finish beads, then you have polyurethane.

But if the cotton swab sticks and the finish fades, you have lacquer or shellac.

Can I Stain My Wood a Lighter Shade Than the Original?

Yes, you can, but we don’t recommend it. To stain your wood a lighter shade, you’ll need to completely sand off your old stain first so that the new color shows.

Applying a light stain over a dark wood shade won’t make any noticeable effect.

It’s A Wrap

Polyurethane coating, while highly protective, prevents regular stains from passing through wood pores and staining it. This poses a problem when wood chips off or its color becomes old-fashioned.

However, a magical solution to this issue is a can of gel stain. It’ll give your wood an elegant finish and a rich color. Not to mention, you can apply it at home without the help of a professional.

So what are you waiting for? Give your wood a new shade with gel stain today!

For a good video on how to apply gel stain, have a look check out the video below from the team over at The Weathered Door. Be sure to give them a like and subscribe, their channel is full of informative DIY tips and tricks.

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