We all know that wood stain goes deep into the surface, so it can really be hard to cover. But, it’s not impossible! If you want to refresh the look of your furniture or floors, and you don’t even know where to begin, I’ve got you. Here’s my step-by-step guide to the best way to paint over stained wood.

What is Wood Stain?

Stain is a type of paint that is used on wood for adding a final touch. It can change the color of the wood as well as add an extra layer of protection. The largest number of stains come in colors of natural wood such as walnut and oak. That’s because their main purpose is to enhance the color and make it more vibrant.

Can You Paint Over Stain?

Since the wood soaks up the stain, painting over it can be difficult. This type of paint can make it harder to achieve a smooth surface with an even color. That is why a lot of people hire a professional for the job.

Painting Over Stained Wood: A Step-By-Step Guide

You’ve decided to make painting over a stained wood your own DIY project? That’s great! However, you should know that the process isn’t the easiest one, and you’ll probably spend days or even weeks doing it.  But, if you follow my step-by-step guide, you will give your floor or furniture a fresh, new look in no time!

Here’s how to paint over stained wood:

1. Prep the room

If your woodwork is on the floor, you should remove everything from the room. That way, it will be easier for you to go over every part of the floor in one go.

In case you’re not working with the floor, you should protect it by covering it with a tarp sheet. You can also cover furniture, as well as any other objects that you’re not planning to remove from the room.

2. Remove everything from the wood

The next step is to remove everything from the wood. You should remove any handles or door knobs. Furthermore, in case you’re painting a closet or a cabinet, you should remove drawers and metal bars from the object.

In case you’re having trouble with taking off some of the hardware, don’t worry about ruining them. If some paint or primer accidentally gets onto something, you can easily wipe it off before it dries out. You should use a paint thinner for oil-based paints whereas just a simple wet cloth works for latex-based ones.

3. Wash the wood and remove the grease

You want to make your painting process as easy as possible. That is why you should do everything in your power to make the surface that you’re working with smooth.

Firstly, you should use a wet cloth and soap to wash the wood and remove any dust and dirt. That way, you’ll ensure that sanding the wood goes without problems.

Secondly, in case you notice that the wood is greasy, you should remove the grease in order to make sure that the paint and primer stick to the surface. You’ll achieve that with a trisodium phosphate solution, commonly known as the TSP.

The first step is to put on gloves. In case some of the TSP gets onto your skin, you should rinse it off with water and soap immediately. The next step is dipping a sponge into the TSP and going over the wood.

Then, you’ll have to leave the solution to soak for a couple of minutes and then scrub the wood with the same sponge. The last step is to rinse off everything thoroughly so that the TSP doesn’t come in contact with the paint.

4. Remove the gloss and sand the wood

Sanding the wood is a crucial step in this process. You can use anything from 60-grit sandpaper to the 120-grit one, it’s up to you. But, keep in mind — higher the grit, the finer the paper.

The amount of sanding that you’ll have to use depends on the state that the wood is in. Thus, you should carefully examine it in order to determine how much sanding it needs.

You can also add 120-grit sandpaper or a higher one as a finishing layer. That will help you remove any bumps on the surface and make it more even.

In case you want to avoid using sandpaper, you can use a deglosser. You’ll need to paint it over the wood and leave it to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, you should wipe down the surface with a wet rag.

A deglosser comes in the form of liquid, and it’s much easier to use. However, it contains dangerous chemicals. So, you should put on a mask and gloves when you’re using it. Furthermore, you’ll have to ventilate the room for a couple of hours when you’re done and keep pets away from the area.

5. Apply a stain-blocking primer

Now it’s time to apply a primer! To ensure that the stain is covered effectively, you should ask for a stain-blocking primer when you go to the store.

In case you’re working with doors, it’s best that you hang them. If that’s not possible, then you’ll have to prime one side, wait for a couple of hours, and then flip the door and go over the other side. Furthermore, you should paint the backside of the door or parts that are less visible first. That way, you’ll be able to practice your brush strokes a bit before going over the most visible areas.

You should read the primer’s instructions to see how long you should wait for it to dry. I have an article on how to wait between primer and paint that you can check out. The waiting time also depends on the humidity and ventilation in the room. Thus, you should take extra steps to speed up the drying time.

Another important step is sanding between coats. This step isn’t necessary, but it will really make a difference when you finish painting.

There’s one more thing I need to mention. If you’re painting plywood, you should use a special primer in order to prevent the resins from bleeding through the paint. A great primer for plywood is KILZ Over Armor Smooth Wood/Concrete Coating. It will effectively even out the surface. You’ll probably need two coats and you should wait for about six hours before applying another layer.

The best stain-blocking primers

When it comes to stain-blocking primers, I can recommend three that I’ve found to be the best ones. The first one is KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer.

The KILZ primer is great for wood as well as plaster, wallpaper, metal, brick, paneling, and drywall. You’ll probably have to apply at least two layers of this primer, but it only needs about an hour to dry out. Thus, the whole priming process won’t take up too much of your time.

You can also check out Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer Sealer. This primer dries down quickly and it will easily stick to the surface. What’s more, it will effectively cover stain and leave a glossy finish on the area where it’s applied.

Another great product is Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Quart Latex, Flat Gray Primer. It’s water-based and it can be used for various surfaces such as wood, metal, ceramic, and plaster. This primer will dry out in an hour or two, and the smell isn’t too strong, which is certainly a big plus.

6. Fill in the cracks

As I previously mentioned, a stain is used for making the color more even. In addition, it helps with making the surface smooth. As a result, you won’t see any imperfections on the wood until you finish sanding. That’s when all of the cracks will become visible and they’ll affect the appearance of the new paint unless you fill them in. There are two ways to fill in the cracks.


The first way to fill in the cracks is by caulking. Caulking is something that many professionals can’t agree on. Some say that it isn’t necessary, while others think that it really improves the appearance of the wood.

I personally find caulking useful in the process of covering wood stain. The wood looks much better when I cover every imperfection before painting. But, whether you want to do this step or not is entirely up to you.

If you do decide to caulk the wood, it’s best that you do it after priming. That way, the caulk will stick to the wood better. But, you can also do it before this step in case you find that way easier.

However, you can’t caulk before sanding. That’s because dried caulk can’t be sanded. So, you’ll have to be extra careful and make sure that you do the job as neatly as possible because you can’t smooth it out with sanding.

Using wood filler

Another way to fill in the cracks is to use wood filler. Wood filler provides you with an easy way to fill the holes in the wood. It can be sanded, so you don’t have to worry too much about making it perfect and neat.

In addition, there are fillers that can be stained to match the color of the wood, which is useful if you’re a neat freak. However, most wood fillers are beige, so they won’t stand out from the wood too much.

7. Paint the surface

We have reached the main event — painting the surface. The first choice that you’ll need to make is between oil-based and latex-based paints. I would recommend the latex-based one for smoother surfaces that are easier to work with. Latex paints dry out faster and they are easier to clean. Thus, they should be your first choice.

On the other hand, oil-based paint is perfect for doors and other rougher surfaces. The downside of using this kind of paint is the wait time. In most cases, you’ll have to wait for a day before applying another layer of paint.

After following the instructions that the primer came with and making sure that it has completely dried out, it’s time to paint the surface. In case you are going with a latex-based paint, you don’t have to worry about the type of brush or roller that you use. However, if you opt for an oil-based one, it’s best that you apply the paint with a brush with natural bristles.

The amount of time you should wait before applying the second coat depends on the surface and the paint that you use. I advise you to read the instructions carefully in order to avoid messing up the paint. If you want some tips on speeding up the drying time, you can read my article on how long to wait between coats of paint. It contains easy steps on making the whole painting process quicker.

You can apply as many coats as you want. But, you’ll need to make sure that every layer is completely dry each time you want to add a new one.

8. Put everything back in place

After you ensure that the surface is dry, you should put back any hardware or drawers that you’ve removed. Then, you can remove the tarp cover from the floor and furniture. Since the sandpaper can make a lot of mess, you should also take time to sweep the area.

If you’ve used the latex-based paint, you’ll be able to clean your brushes easily. On the other hand, as I mentioned before, the oil-based one will be a bit harder to wipe off, but not impossible. The best way to clean your brushes is to use a paint thinner or mineral spirits. Both are easy to use, but paint thinner is a bit cheaper, so you should go with that one.

In case there’s any paint left, you should carefully put the lid back on and reattach it using a mallet. It’s best that you leave the can in a dark and cool area.

Guess what? You’ve successfully painted over a stained wood!


How to paint over stained wood:

  1. Prep the room and remove everything from the wood
  2. Wash the wood
  3. Sand the wood
  4. Apply a stain killing primer
  5. Fill in the cracks
  6. Start painting
  7. Put everything back in place

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