Reasons Why Wood Stain is Sticky After 7 Days

One of the dozen things that can go wrong after staining wood is the stain failing to dry. Even when the weather conditions are ideal, and you give the wood time to cure, the stain still gets sticky. But, you may look for answers to why the wood stain is sticky, what causes this, and how do I fix it?

That’s what this article is about. We will cover the causes of tacky stains and the possible remedies.

Why Is My Wood Sticky After Staining?

Why Wood Stain is Sticky

An oil-based wood stain gets sticky if you fail to wipe away excess stain after application. Another cause would be waiting too long before wiping, and in case the wood is oily.

To fix the tacky stain, apply another layer of stain on top or sand the surface bare and start all over.

Reasons Why Wood Stain is Sticky and Fails To Dry

1. Failure to wipe excess wipe after application

This happens mostly with beginners. If you don’t know it, you are supposed to wipe away any excess stains after application. If the excess stain is left on the wood, it will get sticky.

How does wood stain work?

If you are dealing with a penetrating wood stain, the stain penetrates into the wood through pores. The stain then bonds to the wood fibers, enhancing the color of the wood.

However, not all of the stain applied on the surface gets absorbed into the wood through the pores. If you fail to wipe the stain that was not absorbed, the stain will get sticky since it remains on the surface of the wood.

Note: Unlike wood and water-based stains that penetrate the wood, wiping stains like gel stains does not get absorbed.

Instead, it forms a protective layer on the wood surface, similar to paint. That’s why it’s possible to apply gel stain to an already stained piece of wood without sanding it. It does not need to soak to protect the wood.

How do you wipe the excess stain, and after how long?

Obviously, the first step is applying the stain correctly.

Start by prepping the wood surface. This involves sanding the surface, starting with coarse sandpaper and finishing with finer sandpaper.

Start with P100 or P120-grit sandpaper, move to P150, and finish with P220-grit sandpaper. Use a tack cloth between each sanding to remove all the dust.

Tip: Avoid using very fine sandpaper since the fine dust can clog the pores, which will prevent the stain from penetrating.

Apply oil- or water-based stain in sections with a cotton rag, pad applicator, foam brush, or natural bristle brush. That is, start with a small section, apply the stain, give it time, and wipe it using a piece of cloth.

2. Waiting for too Long Before Wiping Excess Stain off the Wood

Another reason why wood stain is sticky is waiting too long before wiping the excess stain. You should not wipe the excess stain too early or too late.

How Does Wood Stain Dry?

Wiping Excess Stain off the Wood

Now, just like paint, wood stain is made up of pigment or dye, solvent/carrier, and binder. On the wood surface, the solvent in the stain evaporates, leaving the binder and pigment, which become sticky. 

After applying the final coating and wiping off excess stain, give the stain up to 24 hours to dry. If the humidity levels are above 80%, give the stain up to 72 hours.

How Long Should You Wait Before Wiping off Excess Stain?

The specific time to wait before wiping excess stain off wood depends on the stain brand you are using. Generally, it ranges between 5 and 15 minutes. The longer you wait before wiping the stain, the darker the stain will be.

Have a couple of rags and repeatedly wipe until the rag remains clean even after wiping.

Tip: Remember to wipe the excess stain in the direction of the grain.

When Should You Stop Adding Another Coat of Stain?

Stop wiping when you have your preferred color. Unlike other finishes, stains are for coloring wood.

Note: Stain does not entirely protect the wood. Adding a new coat does not mean better protection; Instead, it just adds color to the wood.

That is why it’s recommended to finish the wood with varnish, lacquer, or shellac after the stain has dried.

3. Not Enough Time for the Stain to Dry

Now: Except for gel stains, water- and oil-based wood stains are not supposed to sit on the wood surface.

That’s why you should wipe the excess stain after a few minutes—only after the wood has absorbed enough stain. Even after wiping, there is still a layer of stain left on the surface, and it can feel sticky if it has not dried.

Note: In this case, don’t do anything. Give the stain more time to dry.

Factors Affecting the Drying Time of Stain

I/ Number of coats of Wood Stain applied

If you apply several coats of stain, it will take longer for the stain to dry. Remember to allow up to 1 hour before applying another coat, or it will take even longer to dry.

II/ Humidity and Temperature

The room temperature and humidity also determine a stain’s dry time. The ideal humidity for most stains is around 40–70%. The temperatures should be warm. Higher or lower humidity and colder temperatures will slow down the drying of the stain.

Tip: Don’t keep the stained wood in direct sunlight. It can cause uneven curing. If you apply stain in direct sunlight, the stain will dry before enough stain has been absorbed.

This also means that when you are wiping away excess stains, they will have dried and become sticky.

III/ Air circulation

When there is sufficient air circulation in the room, the evaporation rate is high, leading to a faster drying time.

4. You are Dealing with an Oily Type of Wood

Oily types of wood are a challenge to stain. Apart from having high oil content, others are tight-grained, making it difficult for the stain to soak through the pores.

After application of the stain, some stains may bleed back to the surface. This means that even if you wiped away all the excess stain, some of it would bleed back and become sticky.

Examples of such trees include teak, rosewood, cocobolo, cumaru, kingwood, and verawood.

5. Incorrect application of Stain

I mentioned this earlier, but I will explain it again. When applying stain, don’t apply the whole surface at once.

What do I mean?

If you are staining a cabinet, don’t stain it all at once.

Stain the top and wait for 15 minutes to wipe off the excess stain. As you give the stain time to get absorbed, stain another small section that will take less than 15 minutes.

The challenge with staining the entire cabinet at once is that some sections will dry faster, and if you fail to wipe the excess stain within 5–15 minutes, it will get sticky.

How To Fix Sticky Wood Stain

Wood Sticky After Staining

Before getting into how to fix sticky wood stain, let’s discuss whether sticky wood stain gets dry.

The answer is yes. If the temperatures and humidity levels are favorable, the stickiness will dry off, but it will take longer. However, even if it dries, you should not apply a sealant or finish to such a surface.

Remember: Except for gel stains, oil-based and water-based stains are not supposed to sit on the wood surface.

1. Give the Stain More Time to Dry

If you are sure you did wipe off the excess stain after application, then you should let the stain dry. This is common during low temperatures and high humidity levels.

A few ways to make stains dry faster include

●      Open the windows or set up a portable fan to increase the airflow

●      Use a space heater to heat the room

●      Turn up the thermostat or air conditioner

●      If the humidity levels are high, use a dehumidifier

2. Apply Another Layer of Stain

The first remedy you should try when wood stain is sticky is applying another coat of the same stain and letting it sit for up to 10 minutes.


If you recall, stains dry when the solvent in the stain evaporates, leaving the binder and pigment.

When you apply another layer of stain, the solvent is reintroduced, and this will allow you to wipe off the excess stain that you just applied and the old sticky stain.

Don’t let the new stain stay on the wood for too long since some will get absorbed.

Allow enough time for the old sticky stain to dissolve before wiping it away.

Tip: If only a few sections of the wood have a sticky stain, apply it to those specific areas instead of the whole surface.

3. Use Mineral Spirit to Remove the Excess Stain

Another way to remove the sticky stain is to use mineral spirits or thinner.

But first, what’s the difference?

Mineral spirit is primarily made for thinning oil-based finishes. It’s heavily refined and contains 100% petroleum distillate without any additives. It is also used for cleaning varnishes, stains, and oil spills. The main advantage of mineral spirits is that it is less toxic and less smelly.

On the other side:

Thinners are less refined and contain a wide range of other compounds. They can contain mineral spirits, acetone, and turpentine. Thinners contain a huge amount of VOCs, which makes them very smelly and toxic. When it comes to cost, paint thinners are cheaper.

How to Apply Mineral Spirit or Thinner

  • Pour the mineral spirit into a container.
  • Dip a piece of cloth into the thinner and then apply it to the sections with sticky stains.
  • Wait for about five minutes, then wipe off the excess stain.
  • If the sticky stain is coming off, proceed with the rest of the surface.
  • The key thing when applying mineral spirits is to be quick. This will allow you to remove only the sticky mess.
  • Remember to wipe in the direction of the grain and avoid making circular motions.
  • When the piece of cloth gets dirty, change to another one.
  • The amount of mineral spirits to let soak on the cloth will depend on the amount and stickiness of the stain.

Tip: If you are dealing with a water-based stain, you will need water to wipe off the sticky stain instead of using mineral spirits.

4. Sand and Stain all Over Again

Sand and Stain all Over Again

You can also sand the sticky stain, starting with coarse-grit sandpaper and finishing with finer-grit sandpaper.

While it’s more demanding, starting afresh will allow you to do a better job.

Sanding is important since it opens the wood pores again, making it easier for the stain to get absorbed. If you don’t have sandpaper, you can also use a steel wire to remove all the accumulated sticky stains.

How to Avoid Dealing with Sticky Wood Stain

1. Always wipe away the excess stain after application. Allow the stain to soak into the wood for up to 10 minutes before wiping it with clean rags.

Wipe aggressively until the rag is clean. Ensure you are wiping in the direction of the grain.

2. Before applying the second coat of stain, let the first coat dry. Let the stain sit for up to 1 hour before re-coating.

Remember, an additional layer of stain does not offer better protection since it doesn’t form a protective film. Adding a new coat darkens the color.

3. The best time to stain wood is when humidity levels are between 60 and 80%. The temperatures should also be warm. Don’t apply under direct sunlight since that will result in fast evaporation, leaving the stain with no time to soak into the wood.

4. Mix the stain before applying it and every ten minutes during application.

5. When staining wood, work in sections. Don’t stain the entire surface all at once.

Wood Stain is Sticky- In Conclusion

There are several reasons why wood stain is sticky after application. First is failing to wipe excess stains from the surface. Secondly, it’s when the stain hasn’t gotten enough time to dry. Thirdly, it is when you stain an exotic wood with high oil content. The oils inside the wood can push the stain back after application, resulting in bleeding. If this stain is not wiped off, it gets sticky after some time.