Can You Mix Stain With Polyurethane?

Stain and polyurethane are widely known as materials that give your woodcraft a better finish. Can you mix stain with polyurethane? The answer is yes.

Although using one finish is enough, some people find that the colors of stain are kind of limited, therefore, mixing the materials will give them the appearances they want.

We are glad to share with you what you need to know once you decided on using these two formulas together.


Definition Of Stain And Polyurethane

Can You Mix Oil Based Stain With Oil Based Polyurethane

1. Stain

A type of coloring paint that changes the natural color of the wood.

Basically, staining is a method used to protect the wood against environmentally damaging elements.

However, nowadays, woodworkers apply this compound for decorative purposes than the protective bit of it.

Before you start, take a look at what kind of wood you are going to make-over.

However, it is suggested that rare wood such as maple, mahogany, aged pine, rosewood, etc. should not be applied because they are most valuable in their natural color.

There are many types of wood color finish you can choose from:


This is the most popular and the easiest type that comes into people’s minds when choosing their wood pigment.

Before the formula dries, the binder made of linseed oil and varnish allows you a lot of time to remove the leftover.


This water-based binder substitutes water for organic thinner.

Thanks to that, this one dries faster than others, also leaves less pollution, and is easy to clean.


This type is mostly oil-based, which is thicker than the others.

However, it is kind of messy to apply.

Therefore, gel-type is usually used in big problems of wood finishing.


Unlike others, this type only uses varnish as the binder.

Therefore, it dries more slowly than the gel one does.


 This type is preferred by many professionals because it can be applied within 15 minutes.

Especially, instead of choosing lacquer as the binder, lacquer uses ultra-fast drying binders and solvents.

According to Business Insiders, below are the top-rated wood stains on Amazon:

2. Polyurethane

A versatile material in crafting, applying as the finish coat will cover, protect surfaces from cracks, and avoid exposure from water. It also increases the longevity of your wood furniture.

It is available in both oil-based and water-based forms.


This type is easier to apply, less temperamental, thicker, and contains more solids than the water-based one.

However, it dries longers, which leads to the possibility of getting dusk before it dries.

Oil-based polyurethane is usually used for light-color wood species such as white oak maple, birch, etc.

On the other side, the water-based type is generally used to add a neutral or clear coat since it turns clear as it dries.


Although water-based polyurethane dries quicker than the other, it tends to leave grain on the wood and be easier to be temperamental.

Below are the best polyurethane protective coatings:

How To Mix Stain With Polyurethane?

difference between solid stain and paint

Below are some frequent step-by-step guidelines on how to apply the mixture on wood surfaces.

First of all, for a perfect finish, you should prepare your surface to make sure no dust, wax, existing grain, or irregularities left.

Before mixing, make sure that these two finishes are stirred carefully.

Step 1: Stir the stain until it achieves a consistent color.

Step 2: Stir the polyurethane with a stirring stick.

This step must be done in a room with proper ventilation.

Step 3: Put even sections of the two formulas into two different containers.

Step 4: Stir the combination until the color is even.

Finally, cover and mark the container with the color of pigment for future references. If you keep the mixture for several days, before using it you must stir it thoroughly again.

Now, Let’s check the video below to answer: How To Mix Stain With Polyurethane?

Can You Stain Polyurethane Molding?

lightly sanding polyurethane

Step 1: Clean First

Cleaning is paramount to good adhesion of gel stain.

Dip a scouring pad into a 5-/50 solution of denatured alcohol and water.

Scrub the surface to remove dirt, grime, wax, or any other contaminate from the wood. Allow it to dry for two hours.

Step 2: Sanding Lightly

Sanding the surface lightly by hand with 400-grit sandpaper.

Serves to rough up the body, allowing the gel stain to stick to it better. Wipe off the residue with a dampened rag and allow it to dry.

Step 3: Apply the Gel

Apply the gel stain to the wood with a soft cloth.

Provide a consistent, even coat by continuously folding the fabric, using a dry portion of it for each pass.

Step 4: Time

Allow the gel stain to dry for at least 24 hours.

Forty-eight hours is best. If the color isn’t covering well or it’s too light, repeat adding another stain coat.

Follow up with another coat of polyurethane.

Check out this video for a simple demo of faux wood finish on molding:

Polyurethane Over Natural Wood

Polyurethane works fine on unstained, natural wood.

Sanding it beforehand with 120-grit sandpaper is sufficient. For a glassier finish, rub it with progressively finer grits up to 220-grit.

Some woodworkers go with even higher spirits, but it’s unnecessary and can result in the closing of wood pores, making polyurethane less effective.

Can You Mix Oil-Based Stain With Oil-Based Polyurethane?

Yes, you can mix oil stain with oil-based polyurethane to create special effects like faux antique age spots.

Step 1:

Put the amount of oil-based vinyl you need into a white tray.

This white color of the tray allows you to see the exact color of the protection layer you mixed.

Step 2:

Add some drops of oil stain to the polyurethane tray.

A tip is that using a color that is much darker than the wood color for a streaky, sloppy shade, rather than a lighter color will be invisible over that darker one.

Step 3:

Mix the formulas until the pigment is distributed.

Continue to add tint and stir until you are comfortable with the tone.

The finish should still be transparent.

Step 4:

Take a small amount of the mixture and test on an inconspicuous area of the surface and let it dry.

If it satisfies you with how the surface looks, you can apply the finish to the entire piece.

Otherwise, add more stain or polyurethane case-by-case until you get the finish you need.

If those mixing steps are too complicated, you can choose products that combine stain for beautiful colors with polyurethane for protection in one.

Today there are varieties of this kind of product for people who do not want to spend time painting with one product and protecting with another.

Common Asked Question About Mixing Stain And Polyurethane

how to use polyurethane

1. Can You Mix Stain With Polyurethane?

Both stain and polyurethane make good finishes on your wooden surfaces. Unlike paint, polyurethane provides a finish with more gloss.

However, these two can be transparent such that they allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through by exposing the grains.

What if you have these two finishes at your disposal, you can mix stain into polyurethane.

Stains exist in limited colors, which can be a shortcoming if you look for a specific color.

Therefore, you can mix the stain and polyurethane so that you get the shade that you want.

If you have decided on mixing the two, ensure that you stir the two formulas properly before you proceed to combine them in one place.

2. What Kind Of Stain You Can Mix With Polyurethane?

Can You Mix Gel Stain With Polyurethane

There are so many types of wood stain that you can mix with polyurethane. Some of them are:

Oil Stain

They are the most widely available and are the ones that first come into people’s minds when they think of staining their projects.

It’s relatively easy to mix oil stain and polyurethane because the linseed oil (occasionally a mixture of linseed oil and varnish) binder gives you a lot of time to do away with the excess stain before the formula dries—even on large projects.

You will most likely need solvents such as mineral spirits (paint thinner) to clean a stained surface.

Water-Based Stain 

These types of stains use a water-based finish as the binder and replace the organic thinner with water.

Therefore, these stains come with less pollution.

They do not irritate when they come into contact and, above all, are easy to clean compared to the first two stains above.

These stains dry very fast, faster than most of the other dyes.

Gel Stain

Gel stain doesn’t work with varnish, lacquer, or shellac — only polyurethane.

If it’s an older finish, test it to make sure it’s polyurethane.

Dip a cotton ball in fingernail polish remover — acetone — and dab it on the finish.

If it sticks to the finish, it’s varnish, shellac, or lacquer, and you can’t use gel stain on it.

If it doesn’t stick, it’s polyurethane. So that why you can mix gel stain with polyurethane

3. What Kind of Polyurethane You Can Mix With Stain?

Can You Mix Wood Stain With Polyurethane

You could mostly say that polyurethane is a plastic in the form of a liquid before it dries.

You will find polyurethane in both water and oil-based options available in varieties such as satin to glossy.


Water-based polyurethane is the most popular because it contains low odor and a small number of toxins.

So you can easily mix stain with water-based polyurethane.

It goes on and dries clear without adding a slight color, unlike the oil-based versions. Water-based polyurethanes dry much faster.

As with shellac, the water-based polyurethane does not hold up well to heat plus chemicals.

Therefore, it’s suitable for surfaces that do not experience extreme conditions such as bookcases, side tables, desks, and picture frames.

They are not as durable as an oil-based polyurethane; however, they are preferred because they produce less odor and dries faster than the oil-based.

When using this formula, you don’t necessarily have to worry about your working area’s ventilation as it produces less toxic fumes.

You can easily clean it with a simple use of water and soap.


These types of polyurethane demand that you apply them in well-ventilated areas because they produce toxic fumes.

They are durable compared to the water-based ones, and you can mix oil-based stain with oil-based polyurethane.

4. Can You Stain Polyurethane Wood?

It’s not a common practice, but you can apply stain — if it’s gel stain — over polyurethane. It won’t penetrate like a stain so that you won’t get the same grain patterns.

Think of gel stain as a type of opaque paint. If you want to change the color without stripping, a gel stain can do it.

5. Can I Mix Stain With Water-Based Polyurethane?

If it is a water stain, the answer is yes.

However, oil stain can not be mixed with water-based vinyl because the oil separates from water.

However, you can use an oil-based stain over the water-based polyurethane as the former coat.

The underlying finish has to be dry before being coated with a water-based protection finish.

6. Can I Mix Gel Stain With Polyurethane?

Yes, but you should thicken the gel stain with a penetrating stain before mixing.

You can mix Minwax stain with polyurethane to get the best result, as suggested by many buyers on Amazon.

7. Why The Stain Or The Protective Finish Takes So Long To Dry?

There are many factors that affect the dry process, for example, poor ventilation, unstable temperature, thick coats, humidity in the air, etc.

Since humidity is the #1 problem causing a longer time, working in a ventilated atmosphere room will allow it easier to dry.

If the surface doesn’t cure after a long time, you remove the excess surface finish with a lint-free rag the reapply the coat again.

Remember to use very thin coats!

When it is in the drying process, be careful not to leave any puddles and make sure that the atmosphere is above 500c with good airflow and humidity under 80%.

8. Should I Be Concerned About Grain Raising?

It depends on personal preferences.

The grain has a more textured feel rather than a rough feel.

In other words, the pattern of the wood can be felt through the finish.

Many people like to experience wood, while others do not.

When multiple layers of lacquer are used, the grain is not a problem because the lacquer will stick to the elevated grain, thus creating a smooth surface.

Some rules to remember if you want to mix stain into polyurethane:

  • You can not mix water-based formula and oil-based formula or vice versa.
  • Oil-based finishes amber over time so do not use with light or white colors.
  • Be careful with how long you leave the pigment layer on the wood. The longer the compound is left on, the darker the color will be.
  • Test any color or layer you are considering on an unimposing spot to ensure the final pigment match with the natural color of the wood to produce to the color you desire.


Stain and polyurethane give your wooden structure a beautiful finish and, above all, protection.

Paints come in limited colors, which is a drawback, especially to people who love colors on their structure.

So, the straight answer to the question, “can you mix stain with polyurethane?” is yes; you can mix the two to achieve your desired shade. Above all, the two give you a one-off application, which saves you time. I hope you found this article helpful; kindly share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Further Reading:

Tags: stain and polyurethane finishes, acrylic paints, applied 3 coats, stain color, seal the wood, step stain and polyurethane, existing finish


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