Can You Stain Over Polyurethane? Learn How to Update Your Furniture Like a Pro!


Staining wood is a popular way to enhance its natural beauty and bring out its unique character. However, what do you do when you have a piece of furniture or a floor that has already been coated with polyurethane? Can you still stain over polyurethane, or will the new stain not adhere properly?

The short answer is yes, you can stain over polyurethane. However, it’s not as straightforward as staining raw, untreated wood. There are several factors to consider, such as the type of polyurethane used, the condition of the surface, and the type of stain you want to apply. In this blog post, we will explore the topic of staining over polyurethane in-depth, covering everything you need to know to achieve a successful outcome. From the best techniques and products to use to potential pitfalls to avoid, we will give you the information you need to confidently tackle this DIY project. So, if you’re ready to transform your polyurethane-coated wood into a stunning, custom piece, read on.

What Exactly is stain over polyurethane?

Stain over polyurethane refers to the process of applying a new layer of stain to a piece of wood that has already been coated with polyurethane. Polyurethane is a clear, protective finish that is often used to seal and protect wood surfaces, such as floors, furniture, and cabinets. While polyurethane provides excellent protection against moisture and wear, it can also make it challenging to change the color of the wood underneath.

Staining over polyurethane involves adding color to the existing polyurethane layer, which can alter the appearance of the wood without removing the original coating. This technique is often used to update the look of old, worn furniture or to match a new piece to an existing decor scheme. However, staining over polyurethane requires careful preparation and application, as well as the use of specific products designed to adhere to the polyurethane surface.

Why should you stain over polyurethane?

Staining over polyurethane can be a good option for several reasons. First, it allows you to update the color of an existing piece without having to completely strip and refinish the wood. This can save you time, money, and effort compared to the process of removing the old finish and starting from scratch.

Additionally, staining over polyurethane can help you achieve a more consistent and uniform finish than trying to stain raw wood that may have natural variations or imperfections. This is because the polyurethane layer acts as a barrier, preventing the stain from penetrating too deeply or unevenly.

Finally, staining over polyurethane can be a good choice if you want to preserve the protective qualities of the original finish while adding some color or depth to the wood. Polyurethane is a durable and long-lasting coating that can help protect the wood from damage, so staining over it can be a way to achieve both aesthetic and functional benefits.

Can You Stain Over Polyurethane Overview

One product that I’ve found to be particularly effective for staining over polyurethane is General Finishes Gel Stain. This product is specifically designed to adhere to surfaces that have been previously coated with polyurethane or other finishes, and it comes in a range of beautiful colors. The gel formula is easy to work with, and it allows you to achieve a uniform finish without any drips or mess.

To prepare the surface for staining, I recommend using a fine-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge to lightly scuff the polyurethane layer. This will help the new stain adhere better and create a more even finish. After sanding, I like to use a tack cloth to remove any dust or debris from the surface before applying the stain.

When it comes to application, I prefer using a foam brush or a lint-free cloth to apply the stain. It’s important to work in small sections and to blend the stain well to avoid any streaks or uneven patches. I also recommend applying at least two coats of stain, with ample drying time between coats, to achieve a deep, rich color.

Overall, staining over polyurethane is a fantastic way to update the look of your furniture or flooring without the hassle of completely refinishing the wood. With the right products, methods, and materials, you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting finish that will enhance the natural beauty of your wood surfaces.

Polyurethane Staining Methods in Comparison of Methods for Staining Polyurethane Stain

Method 1: Sanding and Stripping

One of the most straightforward methods for staining over polyurethane is to sand down the existing finish and start from scratch. This approach involves using a coarse sandpaper or a chemical stripper to remove the polyurethane layer before applying a new stain.


  • This method allows you to completely remove the old finish and start fresh, which can result in a more even and consistent finish.
  • It can be a good option if the existing polyurethane layer is heavily damaged or worn.


  • Sanding and stripping can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.
  • This method can damage the wood if not done carefully, and it may require additional steps to repair any scratches or dents.

Method 2: Using a Deglosser

Another option for staining over polyurethane is to use a deglosser or liquid sandpaper. This product is designed to break down the top layer of the polyurethane finish and create a rougher surface that the new stain can adhere to.


  • Using a deglosser can be a faster and less labor-intensive approach than sanding or stripping.
  • It can be a good option if you don’t want to completely remove the old finish, but still need to create a better surface for the new stain to adhere to.


  • A deglosser may not be as effective at removing the polyurethane layer as sanding or stripping, particularly if the existing finish is very thick or glossy.
  • There is a risk of the deglosser damaging the wood or leaving a residue behind if not used correctly.

Method 3: Using a Stain and Polyurethane Combo

Another method for staining over polyurethane is to use a combination stain and polyurethane product. This approach involves applying a single product that combines both the color and protective finish in one step.


  • Using a stain and polyurethane combo can be a convenient and time-saving approach, as it eliminates the need for multiple steps and products.
  • It can result in a uniform and consistent finish, as the color and finish are applied together.


  • A stain and polyurethane combo may not offer as much control over the color or level of protection as separate products would.
  • It may not be the best option if you need to make significant changes to the color or look of the wood.

Method 4: Using a Gel Stain

Finally, using a gel stain is another effective method for staining over polyurethane. Gel stains are thick, oil-based products that can penetrate the existing finish and provide a rich, even color.


  • Gel stains are designed specifically for use over existing finishes, making them an ideal option for staining over polyurethane.
  • They can provide a deep, rich color and are easy to apply without drips or mess.


  • Gel stains can be more expensive than other types of stains, and may require more coats to achieve the desired color.
  • It can be difficult to achieve a light or subtle color with a gel stain.
Sanding and StrippingCompletely removes old finish for a consistent finishTime-consuming and labor-intensive; can damage wood
Using a DeglosserFaster and less labor-intensive

Equipment to Work With Stain Over Polyurethane

SandpaperCoarse, medium and fine grit sandpaper for sanding the existing polyurethane layer.
Chemical StripperA chemical solution used to strip the existing polyurethane finish. Be sure to choose a stripper that is safe to use on your specific type of wood.
PaintbrushesDifferent sizes of paintbrushes for applying the new stain or polyurethane finish. A foam brush can also be used.
Rags or ClothsSoft, lint-free rags or cloths for wiping down the surface before and after staining, and for applying the stain or finish.
Tack ClothA tack cloth is a sticky cloth used to remove any dust or debris from the surface before staining or finishing.
Protective GearGloves, goggles, and a face mask are recommended to protect yourself from the chemicals and dust that may be generated during the sanding and stripping process.
Stir Sticks or Mixing ToolsUsed to stir the stain or polyurethane finish to ensure an even color and consistency. A drill with a mixer attachment can be helpful if you’re working with large quantities of product.
Drop Cloths or Plastic SheetsTo protect the surrounding area from drips and spills.
Sanding BlockUsed for sanding small, hard-to-reach areas.
Paint SprayerAn alternative to using brushes, paint sprayers can provide a more even and professional-looking finish. Be sure to choose a sprayer that is suitable for use with your specific type of stain or polyurethane.
Palm SanderA power tool that can make the sanding process faster and more efficient.
Vacuum or BroomUsed to clean up any dust or debris generated during the sanding process.

Note that the specific equipment you’ll need may vary depending on the method you choose and the size and complexity of your project. It’s always a good idea to read the instructions carefully and ensure that you have all the necessary tools before starting.

Step-by-Step Instruction on Stain Over Polyurethane

Materials needed:

  • Medium-grit sandpaper (around 150-180 grit)
  • Chemical stripper
  • Paintbrush
  • Drop cloth
  • Gloves
  • Respirator or mask
  • Rags or cloth
  • Tack cloth
  • Stain
  • Finish
  • Sanding block


  1. Prep your workspace: Place a drop cloth over your work area to protect it from spills and drips.
  2. Sand the polyurethane: Sand the existing polyurethane finish with medium-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface and allow the new stain to adhere better. Use a sanding block to ensure even sanding. Be sure to wipe away any dust or debris with a tack cloth.
  3. Apply chemical stripper: If the polyurethane finish is particularly thick or difficult to sand, you can use a chemical stripper to remove it. Apply the chemical stripper according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using a paintbrush. Be sure to wear gloves and a respirator or mask to protect yourself from the fumes.
  4. Remove the old finish: After the chemical stripper has had time to work, use a scraper or steel wool to remove the old finish. Wipe away any residue with a rag or cloth.
  5. Apply new stain: Once the old finish is removed and the surface is smooth, apply the new stain using a clean paintbrush. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application, and be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. Use a rag or cloth to wipe away any excess stain.
  6. Apply finish: After the stain has dried, apply a finish coat to protect the new stain and give it a durable finish. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying time.
  7. Sand and repeat: If you’re not happy with the color or finish, you can sand and repeat the staining process until you achieve the desired result.

And that’s it! By following these steps, you should be able to successfully stain over polyurethane and achieve the desired result. Be sure to take appropriate safety precautions when working with chemicals or power tools, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any products you use.


Can you stain over polyurethane without sanding?

It’s not recommended to stain over polyurethane without sanding first, as the new stain won’t adhere well to the smooth surface of the polyurethane. Sanding the polyurethane with medium-grit sandpaper (around 150-180 grit) will rough up the surface and allow the new stain to adhere better.

How do you know if the polyurethane needs to be removed before staining?

If the existing polyurethane finish is in good condition and not too thick, you may be able to sand it down and stain over it. However, if the finish is peeling, cracking, or has a lot of buildup, it’s best to remove it with a chemical stripper before staining.

Can you use any type of stain over polyurethane?

Not all types of stain are suitable for use over polyurethane. Look for a stain that’s specifically formulated for use over previously finished surfaces, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

How many coats of stain should I apply?

The number of coats of stain you should apply will depend on the color and finish you’re trying to achieve. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application, and don’t apply too many coats as this can result in an uneven or blotchy finish.

Do I need to apply a finish coat over the stain?

Yes, it’s recommended to apply a finish coat over the stain to protect it and give it a durable finish. Look for a finish that’s specifically formulated for use over stained surfaces, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Can I use a water-based stain over polyurethane?

Yes, you can use a water-based stain over polyurethane. Just be sure to sand the polyurethane first to allow the new stain to adhere better.

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