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A Guide to Painting Over Stained Wood

Do you have some stained wood furniture pieces that need some sprucing up? Maybe you don’t like the color anymore, or you feel like it’s time for a change. Whatever the reason, it might be time to try out painting over stained wood!

After a while, stained wood can look dull and faded. And this look can develop faster if the wood sits in a sunny area for extended periods. Luckily, painting over stained wood is an easy process you can do at home to improve its look. So, keep reading to learn how to paint stained wood the right way, along with the materials you’ll need!

Painting Over Stained Wood

Can You Paint Directly Over Stained Wood?

While you can paint directly over stained wood, it isn’t the best idea. Stained wood is often smooth to the touch. This is great for decorative purposes but not for painting.

Most paints have a difficult time sticking to extremely smooth surfaces. They need a slightly grippy or rough surface to stick to. So, if you paint directly over your smooth, stained wood, it can lead to issues. The paint can get scratched off or damaged easily, which defeats the purpose of painting over stained wood. You’ll need to go through a few steps to prevent your paint from doing this. And it all starts with cleaning and sanding your stained wood!

Materials and Tools Needed For Painting Over Stained Wood

Before beginning the painting process, you’ll need to gather some materials. You’ll need much more than your desired paint color. So, take a look at the materials list, get what you already have, and make a shopping list!

Microfiber Cloth

One of your first steps to painting over stained wood is to clean off your wood piece. A microfiber cloth is excellent for this, as it can get in all the nooks and crannies. You don’t want debris or dust lingering before you get your painting project started.

Sandpaper and a Hand Sander

If you don’t have some already, grabbing some assorted sandpaper sheets will be vital to this project. These will help you get the stain off and make a rough surface for the paint. You may need to play around with the grits within the sandpaper package. Some work better than others, depending on the wood you’re sanding.

Attaching your sandpaper to a hand sander can also aid in the process. It’ll give you a handle to hold onto and aid in even sanding. Using just your hand and sandpaper usually leads to uneven pressure on the wood. Not only this, but it can also make your hand and arm sore. A hand sander will help relieve some of that excessive pressure.

Tack Cloth

Sanding often creates a massive mess. And you can’t simply paint over this dusty mess. So, a tack cloth can come in handy when clearing off your painting surface. These cloths have a sticky texture, which will help pick up all the wood dust.

Wood Filler and a Putty Knife

Before painting over stained wood, you’ll need to make any needed repairs. These often come in the form of dents or missing chunks of wood. Applying some wood filler with a putty knife can quickly fix these issues. These two materials will make your wood flat and level, allowing for a smooth painted surface.


Using a coat of paint primer isn’t necessarily required when painting over stained wood. But it can help further smooth out your stained wood surface and cover any stains. It can also help your first layer of paint stick better to the wood.


The most crucial material you’ll need is a beautiful paint color. Pick a color that you think you’ll enjoy for years to come. Paint is the star of the show for this project! It may be good to test the paint on a small section first to ensure you like it. Then, you can continue from there or pick another color.


You can’t apply your primer or paint without a good set of paintbrushes! Some assorted brushes will help you get the perfect coat every time. It’s a good idea to get a set with multiple sizes so you can paint large areas and hard-to-reach places.

painting over stained wood

How To Paint Over Stained Wood

After you gather and purchase all your materials, you can finally get into the project! Follow these steps to create some beautiful painted wood.

1. Clean the Stained Wood

Before you dive into painting over stained wood, you need to make sure the wood is clean. Dust particles and stuck-on messes need to be wiped off. But you don’t need to go crazy with the cleaning, as you’ll be sanding in the next step. Simply get your microfiber cloth and soapy water to wipe down the wood. Ensure the surface is dry before moving on to the next step.

Sometimes, you might not even need the soapy water. A simple dusting with the microfiber cloth can be just fine. It depends on what’s on the wood.

2. Sand Your Stained Wood

Once the wood finishes drying, it’s time to grab your sandpaper sheets. This can take some trial and error. You may need to try out different grits of sandpaper until you find the right sheet. But a good place to start is typically with a 60 or 80-grit. These two grits are perfect for medium sanding and great for stripping wood of stain and other thin layers.

Before you get into sanding, you need to know the proper way to do it. Here are some tips when sanding your painting over stained wood project:

  • You’ll always want to sand in the direction of the wood grain, as it’ll prevent visible scratches under the paint.
  • Use a hand sander for even pressure and a better grip.
  • Don’t over-sand the wood, as this can lead to unevenness.
  • Always take your time and don’t rush the process, as this can lead to wood damage.

3. Wipe Off the Loose Wood Particles

After you finish sanding, you’ll probably have a huge mess. But don’t simply dust off the wood with your hands. This won’t get the job done correctly. Instead, you’ll need to grab a tack cloth and wipe down the entire wooden surface. The tack cloth will pick up all the tiny wood particles due to its sticky surface.

It might help to use a hand-held vacuum first to suck up as much of the wood dust as possible. Then, you can go in and wipe the wood down. But a vacuum isn’t required. Without it, you might need to wipe the wood more than once. Just ensure the wood is almost spotless before moving on to the next step in painting over stained wood.

4. Repair Any Visible Damage To Create a Flat Surface

Damage becomes more visible after you finish sanding. You might notice nicks, scratches, and even chunks of wood missing. This can be previous damage or damage that happened during sanding. Either way, you’ll need to fix these things before painting.

Using wood filler and a putty knife will do just the trick at filling in all those cracks. Simply scoop some filler out with the putty knife and drag it across any blemishes. Be sure to run the putty knife over each blemish a few times to ensure they’re completely full of filler. This will also ensure the filled blemish is level with the surrounding wood.

After filling any cracks and holes, you’ll need to let the wood filler dry. This will take a few hours, but the exact amount of time depends on the filler you choose. Once the filler dries and hardens, you can move on to the next step in painting over stained wood.

5. Prime the Wood

Now it’s time to grab your paintbrush and some primer for your painting over stained wood project. Dip the brush into the primer and apply an even coat to the wood. After the first layer dries, you can paint one more coat on top. These two layers of primer will help further paint adhesion in the next step. They’ll also help cover any dark spots that might peek through the paint. This is especially true if you’re using white or another light-colored paint.

6. Paint the Wood

It’s finally time to paint! Ensure one last time that your wood filler is completely dry. You can do this by touching it lightly. If it feels hard, you can get your brushes and your paint ready. Dip your brush into the paint and apply an even coat. Make sure to cover every curve, nook, and cranny.

Now, it’s time to wait for the first coat of paint to dry. It’ll probably take somewhere between four and six hours, depending on your paint. When the first coat dries, you can add another layer of paint. Let that dry, and your painted wood should be ready for whatever use you have planned! Just touch it up as needed going forward.

painting over stained wood

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you don’t sand stained wood before sanding it?

Sanding is a vital step before painting over stained wood. Without it, you can expect delamination. This means the paint can peel or separate from the wood easily if it gets nicked or scratched. It happens if the wood is too smooth before paint application. Remember that paint needs a rough surface to stick to, which sanding provides.

Is there an alternative to sanding stained wood with sandpaper?

If your stained wood has a glossy finish, using liquid sandpaper could be an alternative option to sandpaper. This can help chemically remove and roughen the surface of the wood. It’ll probably take 30 minutes at a minimum for it to work. So, it can extend the painting over the stained wood process. But it can also save you all the hard work and strength that sanding entails.

Can you put white paint over dark stained wood?

You can paint darkly stained wood white as long as you go through the sanding and priming process. Removing as much stain as possible will aid in the bright white appearance you’re going for. And again, sanding is vital for the paint to stick.

Time to Paint Over Stained Wood!

Painting over stained wood is a great way to spruce up panels, furniture, and any other wooden items you have! Luckily, the process is quite simple with a few materials you can get at your local hardware store or online. So, follow the above steps, and you should have some stunning painted wood in no time!

Do you need to do the opposite of painting and get rid of a current paint layer? Check out our post on The Best Paint Stripper For Furniture Stripping!