Wood stain is a great way to add depth and color to a number of surfaces made of this natural material. However, when it comes to applying colorants to metal surfaces, are wood stains an appropriate choice?

You can use wood stain on metal, depending on what type of stain it is. Traditional wood stains are far too thin to be used effectively on less porous surfaces; however, gel stains are much thicker and are appropriate for use on a number of other materials.

In this article, we will take a look at why traditional wood stain isn’t effective for use on metal and what makes gel stain effective. We will also point out some gel stains on the market and how to apply these finishes to a metal surface. If you are looking for a unique alternative to paint to use on metal, read on.

Gel vs. Liquid Stains for Metal

There are many benefits of using stain over paint, the subtle tones that are created by the semi-transparent option being one the most appealing.

The traditional wood stains that many of us have used are liquids that add rich color and a protective layer to wood. They work by soaking into the deeper layers of the wood, unlike paint that simply coats the outside of the surface. Unfortunately, the low viscosity of these stains means that they are not effective for coloring metal.

They are also inherently inappropriate for use on metal because of the fact that they must be absorbed to provide their color and protection, an action that is impossible on dense materials like metal.

Gel stains, on the other hand, are far thicker than liquid stain varieties. Many of these gel stains are designed for use on surfaces other than wood, often specifically for use on metal. Minwax is an example of a product that is appropriate for wood and metal and can even recreate the appearance of wood grain on metal surfaces.

Old Masters also produces a line of gel stains that can add color to a wide variety of materials, including wood, fiberglass, and metal.

Now that we understand the need for this specific type of stain for use on any surface besides wood, we can take a look at how to apply these colorants. Staining a metal door provides the perfect example to demonstrate this simple process.

How to Stain a Metal Door

Now that you have decided on using a gel stain for your metal door and have picked a brand and color that you like, we can get down to the business of applying the stain.


You will need a few specific bits of material to complete this process:

  • Drop cloth
  • Paint roller
  • Wedge paint brush
  • Two empty, clean plastic cups
  • Gloves
  • Vinegar
  • Gel stain
  • Clean rags
  • Steel wool

Staining Metal: Step-by-Step

  1. The first step is to lay your drop cloth (this stuff can be messy) outdoors or in a well-ventilated room and place your door on top of it.
  2. Use the steel wool to thoroughly scuff the entire surface of the door. Use a rag to brush any shavings off the door when you’re finished.
  3. Pour a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water in one of your cups. Put on your gloves and use a fresh rag to wipe the door clean with the mixture. The gloves will keep your fingerprints from marking the surface.
  4. Open your gel stain, stir it thoroughly, and pour approximately 1 cup into your second container.
  5. Using your roller, paint a layer of the gel onto the door, making sure to go with the grain of the steel. Use your paintbrush to get in the tight spots. It is important that you work quickly, as most stains will set within a couple of minutes, and if you brush over a partially set stain, it will come off the door before it is fully dry.
  6. Allow the stain to dry for around 5 minutes, then wipe it down with a clean rag removing the excess stain.
  7. Wait 24 hours. If you want to apply a second coat, paint the stain on at 90° to the first coat. Most brands recommend at least two coats.
  8. Allow the gel to cure for the time period suggested by the manufacturer, usually 48 hours.

You’re now ready to reattach the hardware and hang your newly stained metal door back in its frame.

Related: Wood Stain Vs. Varnish Vs. Paint: The Pros and Cons


As you can see, using wood stain on metal is a simple way to revitalize a boring surface and add a bit of color to your home or any other piece of metal, as long as you are using the right product.

Luckily there are a number of gel stains on the market, so you are sure to find a color and brand that suits your needs.

If you want to remove paint from metal, check out this article for more information.

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