Can You Paint Over Stained Wood? Solved! - Bob Vila

By Andreana Lefton and Bob Vila | Updated Sep 5, 2023 9:14 AM

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Can You Paint Over Stained Wood? Solved! - Bob Vila

Q: My childhood dresser is beautiful but the wood stain looks faded. I’d love to update it with fresh paint and new hardware, but I’ve heard that you can’t get good results painting over stain. Is that true—and if not, what’s the best way to paint over wood stain?

A: Kudos to you for doing right by a family heirloom! And you certainly can paint over stain, choosing the method that best suits the type of stain on the surface and the kind of paint you wish to use. Keep in mind, however, that proper prep is essential; skimp on these steps and tannins from the stain would likely bleed unattractively onto the fresh paint. Read on to learn how to get great results when painting over wood stain.

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Before you prep, determine the type of wood stain (oil- or water-based) that you’re dealing with by lightly sprinkling water on a small patch of the wood surface. If the water beads up after about a minute, the stain is oil-based (oil repels water). Then, follow these general preparatory steps for painting over stain:

Paint adheres well over water-based stain, so after completing the prep steps outlined above, apply a water-based latex primer with a brush or a roller. To ensure the best results, ask your paint store to tint the primer a similar color to your top coat. Apply two coats of latex paint over the primer for complete coverage. Always wait before the first coat is completely dry—typically overnight—before applying a second coat.

It’s possible to cover oil-based finish with either latex paint or oil-based paint, but additional surface prep is needed. First, don safety goggles and gloves, and turn on a fan to circulate the air in your work area. Next, dissolve a quarter-cup of trisodium phosphate (TSP) in one gallon of warm water. Dip a soft sponge into the mixture, wring out, and wipe down the surface, soaking up all dirt and grime. Repeat and let the surface air dry. Sand all rough areas and wipe clean with a damp rag. Now apply a bonding primer—a water-based formula designed to adhere to glossy and other hard-to-paint surfaces (such as varnish and polyurethane)—following product directions carefully. Finally, apply two coats of paint. For indoor projects, use interior paint. For outdoor projects, choose an “interior/exterior” formula, which will resist rot and extreme weather.

Chalk paint is a water-based formula that will stick to almost anything. It is perfect for updating antiques, creating a matte finish that can easily be distressed for a “shabby chic” feel. First, patch-test the chalk paint on an inconspicuous spot and let dry eight hours. If the paint adheres without bleed-through, you can paint without priming. If, however, you notice streaks, prime with a bonding, stain-blocking primer such as Valspar’s primer/sealer (available at Lowe’s).

Follow the basic steps of clean, sand, prime, paint. Wait overnight for the first coat of chalk paint to dry, then apply a second coat. Because chalky surface can scratch more easily, protect your paint job with a polyurethane top coat. Wait seven days for the painted surface to fully cure, then apply a thin coat of matte polyurethane such as Rustoleum’s Ultimate Polyurethane (available on Amazon) to the surface. Allow it to dry overnight, then lightly sand any rough areas with a 220-grit sandpaper. Repeat this step if necessary, applying a second thin polyurethane top coat and sanding any rough areas the next day.

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Can You Paint Over Stained Wood? Solved! - Bob Vila

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