The Best 16 Stains for Furniture

Woods used in furniture making mostly look good in their natural state; however, they aren’t all equally good looking. Therefore, stains are used on furniture pieces to transform their appearance, make old ones look new again, or make common furniture made from affordable wood look more exotic. What are the best stains to choose from?

The best stains for furniture depend on the look you’re going for, among other factors. Water-based stains dry faster and don’t have overly strong odors. Oil-based stains take longer to dry, but they deliver a richer color and make the furniture more resistant to water damage.

The rest of the article will look at the best stains for furniture in the market today. 

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General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain

This is one of the most popular furniture stains around right now. The formula is designed to penetrate below the surface of the wood and leave an alluring finish. You don’t have to worry about spills or lack of uniformity when using it as a gel stain. You can apply it with a standard staining brush or a sponge.

General Finishes Oil Base Gel Stain, 1 Pint, Candlelite
  • This is the stain that has the most "finishing feel" of all General Finishes' products
  • Woodworkers love the lustrous finish that shows up
  • Heavy-bodied, and so does not penetrate as deeply into the wood as liquid oil-base stains do

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The shading and coloring will leave a professional-looking result, which requires a minimal touch-up. A single coating will look good, but you should consider applying at least three coats for maximum richness. The typical drying time per coat is eight hours.

The Java color of this stain is very dark and rich. It also combines well with furniture paints if you intend to use some paint on it. It does an excellent job of bringing wood rain to life. However, when applying this stain, you should avoid putting too much in one coat due to its thickness.

Minwax 220904444 Wood Finish

Minwax is a trusted brand in the furniture and woodworking world in general. This stain penetrates deeply into the wood on your furniture to bring the grain to the fore. You can count on it to uniformly highlight all the best features and the styles of the wood. This product is designed to be used with a sealer to give your furniture a high-gloss finish.

1/2 pt Minwax 22090 Natural Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.

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This stain will penetrate deeply into the wood, requiring minimal sanding. This can be applied with a foam brush, standard brush, or cloth rag. You only need one or two coats to get a uniform color. If you want to get a lighter tone, you can thin the stain with some mineral spirits.

This is a liquid stain, so it’s not easy to apply with a roller. If you’re using a brush, you need to pay extra attention to avoid a spill. If the furniture pieces you’re staining have been around for long, you may need to apply a copious amount of the finish to get a good result. This is because the stain doesn’t show up properly when applied to dehydrated wood. Additionally, you should avoid applying the stain onto an existing finish.

Rust-Oleum 260143 Ultimate Stain

Rust-Oleum is another reputable brand known for making quality stains and paints trusted by many furniture makers. The major selling point of this stain is its fast drying time and the fact that you only need a single coat to get good results.

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It also comes with a utility coating that’s been rubberized. Its medium-bodied thickness means that you can count on it to provide protection against water and help fill out any existing cracks in your furniture. You can apply this Rust-Oleum stain using a typical brush. A normal application of the stain will dry within an hour.

Minwax 66060000 Gel Stain

This Minwax gel stain is known for the formula that’s easy to use. It also doesn’t lead to drips. It’s another heavy-bodied stain that you can apply using a standard roller, cloth, or brush. You also won’t need multiple coatings to get even coverage with it.

1 qt Minwax 66060 Walnut Gel Stain Interior/Exterior Gel Stain
  • WOOD GEL STAIN – Minwax Gel Stain is specifically designed to give you full control over the staining process and help you achieve beautiful results. Recommended uses include woodwork, furniture, doors, molding, trim, cabinets, and accessories.
  • UNIQUE NON-DRIP FORMULA – The non-drip formula of this gel stain for wood makes application easy, even for vertical surfaces. It’s thick-bodied, so it stays more towards the surface of the wood, allowing for greater color control during application.
  • DELIVERS EVEN COLOR – Minwax interior wood stain delivers color evenly on wood and non-wood surfaces, such as metal, veneer, and fiberglass. Pre-treat bare wood with Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to ensure you get the most uniform color.

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However, if you intend to use a sealer with this product, you may need to have multiple sanding sessions. This stain isn’t one of those where you can use mineral spirits to thin down the color. Such a mix will lead to uneven coloring. Wipe away any excess stains to avoid leaving streaks on the furniture.

This gel stain can withstand a lot of wear and tear, making it a good option to use for furniture pieces that see a lot of use every day.

General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain

Water-based wood stains like this one have strong odors and don’t contain toxic fumes or harsh chemicals. It’s a medium-bodied stain that has been designed to be easy to apply and clean in the event of any spills.

General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, 1 Quart, Whitewash
  • High-quality pigments produce rich, dark colors; Can be hand-applied or sprayed.
  • Indoor use only; Formulated to provide workability similar to oil based stains
  • Low odor, low VOC, water cleanup and noncombustible

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Unlike some water-based stains that are usually watery, this General Finishes model is thick. You can apply it with cloth rags and sponges. A roller can also work, but you’ll have to stain slowly. With the thick formula, you can be sure of getting an even coating without much sanding between the various coats. This stain can be mixed with mineral spirits to get a thinner appearance, and it works well for both softwoods and hardwoods alike.

Cleaning spills of this stain only requires using soap and water. The downside to this stain is that it can attract smudge and may not withstand regular traffic. This is why you should consider using a sealer on top of it for certain furniture pieces. You should also be ready to apply multiple coats if your furniture is made of darker woods.

Using this stain without a sealer is a great way to give your furniture a rustic or traditional appearance.

Varathane 269394 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain

This is one of the fastest-drying oil-based stains you can find today. The formula contains microscopic pigmentation particles which ensure a deep tone on all kinds of hardwoods and softwood furniture. Whether you’re staining cabinets, dressers, or chairs, you can count on the Varathane 269394 to deliver great results.

Varathane 269394 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain, Quart, Weathered Gray
  • Ideal for use on all interior wood projects: furniture, cabinets, doors, trim and paneling
  • One-coat coverage, fast-drying oil based formula
  • Dries to the touch in just 1 hour and covers up to 275 square feet

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It only takes an hour to dry to the touch, and you can use thinning solutions with it when necessary. It can be applied using a roller or brush, and cleaning up afterward is straightforward. This stain’s pigmentation, however, isn’t the strongest. This means that you’ll need several coats if you don’t want a dull appearance on your furniture. 

You also have to sand the wood properly using finer grit sandpaper before you apply the first coat. It’s an affordable solution if you want to get the job done as quickly as possible.

SamaN Interior Water Based Stain

The SamaN water-based stain is a translucent wood stain trusted by many furniture makers. The manufacturers provide more than three dozen color options to choose from, ranging from cherry shades to walnut. If you want slightly different colors, you can go with lime, azure, raspberry, turquoise, and other such options.

SamaN Interior Water Based Wood Stain & Natural Furniture, moldings, Wood Paneling and cabinets Stain (Golden Wheat TEW-111-32, 32 oz)
  • 20 YEARS OF NORTH-AMERICAN EXCELLENCE: SamaN is the preferred choice of professional woodworkers and DIYers in North America. We promote greener products and help the integration of people with intellectual disabilities and pervasive development disorder.
  • SAFE & NATURAL PRODUCT: Odorless, risk free for health of the users, pets and the environment.
  • HIGH-QUALITY PRODUCT: Durable stain that protects and elevates wood’s beauty for all your renovation, decoration or DIY projects.

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When using SamaN stain, you don’t have to worry about buying a conditioner or going through applying it before using the stain. You only need one coat of the stain to get the results—making it affordable and fast-acting. The constituents of the stain mean it’s odorless and eco-friendly.

However, using this stain is that it doesn’t always look good on furniture made from low quality, cheap wood.

Rust-Oleum 241413 Varathane Wood Stain

This is another translucent wood stain option designed to help bring life to your furniture. With its soy-based formula, you’ll get a deeper penetration into the wood grain, delivering crisper colors overall. The stain comes in two-dozen natural wood colors include oak, pine, mahogany, maple, pecan, and cherry.

1/2 pt Rust-Oleum 241413 Black Cherry Varathane Oil-Based Interior Wood Stain
  • Perfect purchase for a gift
  • Rust-Oleum
  • Black cherry - 1/2 pint

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The product also features anti-settling technology, which means you don’t have to worry about stirring and remixing the product while working. This stain also dries to the touch within 1-2 hours. However, to get a vibrant color, you need to apply 2-3 coats of the stain, leaving enough dry time between each coat.

So, the product may not appeal to you if you’re looking to exert the least effort and avoid buying multiple cans of the product. Also, the traditional wood color means it’s not an option to consider if you’re looking for something a bit more unusual.

Old Masters 11916 Wip Stain

The Old Masters stain is a heavy-bodied option designed to be slow-drying and easy to control. It can be used on all kinds of wooden furniture, including new, bare, and previously finished wood. Some people have been able to use it outside of traditional furniture applications to give other materials a wooden appearance.

OLD MASTERS 11916 WIP Stain, Cedar
  • This product adds a great value
  • Easy application and superior Color control
  • For interior use and suitable for exterior use when top coated with a protective clear finish

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There are 19 wood grain colors to choose from, including walnut, pecan, pine, maple, and more. All of these are natural, designed for easy application, and also deliver superior color control. 

The only downside to using this product is that it doesn’t dry quickly enough, so you should consider other options if you’re looking for a stain that can deliver results in under a couple of hours.

Minwax 70009444 Wood Finish Penetrating Stain

The Minwax 70009444 is one of the most affordable wood finish stains you can find today. However, moderate pricing doesn’t take anything away from the overall efficacy of the product. It should be high on your list if you’re looking for a stain that can restore your old furniture with a finish that has aged over the years.

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1 qt Minwax 70009 Cherry Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.

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This stain is one of the thinner options around, so you’ll need multiple coats to get the job done. There are also two dozen tone colors to choose from.

General Finishes Oil Based Gel Topcoat

The General Finishes SQ Gel Topcoat stain comes with wipe-on urethane, ensuring you get a finish with extra shine. It’s another option you can count on when you need to bring back drab wooden furniture to life. At the end of the project, you’ll get a shimmering surface as your reward.

General Finishes Oil Based Gel Topcoat, 1 Quart, Satin
  • Oil based penetrating finish
  • Darkens/ambers with time
  • Dry Time: 12-24 hours Cure Time: 30 days

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When you apply this stain on furniture, you’ll enhance the sheen, darken it and give it an amber appearance over time. Most users love the product, thanks to how it covers surfaces without leaving any build-up or streaks.

The application process for the product is relatively straightforward. You should, however, use an old rag instead of a paintbrush for it.

KILZ L832211 Exterior Waterproofing Wood Stain

This is a semi-transparent wood stain you can count on to transform and protect your furniture. It’s an option to consider when you’re thinking about staining exterior furniture. The acrylic formula will protect your furniture adequately from the natural elements.

KILZ Waterproofing Wood Stain, Exterior, Semi-Transparent, Redwood, 1 Gallon
  • A good exterior wood stain offers long-lasting protection, waterproofing that maintains the integrity and beauty of wood in variable outdoor conditions
  • Our 100% Acrylic formula protects wood from rain, snow and sun damage. This stain is warrantied up to 3 years on decks and up to 5 years on fences and siding (see label for details)
  • Use on properly prepared new to moderately weathered and unsealed exterior wood surfaces (0-10 years exposure) including decks, shingles, wood patio furniture, railings, siding, shakes and fences

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The product comes in nine colors, which are modeled close to traditional wood grain color hues—even if the manufacturers don’t explicitly name the colors as such. This is a stain to consider if you’re thinking about revamping furniture that’s seen a lot of exposure.

THOMPSONS Transparent Woodland Cedar

This is an interesting product that is marketed as both a wood stain and sealer all at once. You’ll save money and time when using the product because it removes the need to look for a protective layer for the furniture after it’s been stained.

Thompsons Waterseal 41851 Gl STN Tran Woodlnd Cedr
  • Protection: Prevents water damage
  • Use: Use this product on decks and fences, outdoor furniture, exterior wood
  • Color: It is a bright ‎Woodland Cedar color

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The stain comes in five different natural wood colors. Apart from making your furniture look good again, this stain also has some waterproofing capabilities and can also prevent UV damage. These features make it another fantastic option to use for pieces of furniture you use outdoors occasionally. The product is fast-drying, so you can expect a coat to dry properly in under a couple of hours.

Rust-Oleum Parks Super Glaze 241352

This stain comes in a small container, making it an excellent option when you’re working on a small piece of furniture, such as your coffee table or bar top. Its crystal clear appearance means you can count on a glossy finish.

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Rust-Oleum Parks Super Glaze, 241352 Ultra Glossy Epoxy Finish and Preservative Kit, Clear 32 Fl Oz
  • Durable and waterproof
  • Ideal for table and bar tops, crafts and refinishing furniture
  • Can be used on almost any interior surface

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It doesn’t deliver deep, dark stains commonly seen on conventional furniture, but what you’ll get is enhancing the wood grain on the furniture piece. The Super Glaze is easy to apply, but it’s not thick enough to work with one coat. You’ll need multiple coats for the best results, and you also have to take precautions to avoid spills.

DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Wood Stain

This is a water-based stain that features an environmentally friendly formula. It leaves a matte-finish natural look after drying. The stain comes with high-quality resins, making it more durable against scratching, spills, and the elements. The zinc nano-particles in the mix reduce the chances of mold growth.

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DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Wood Stain, Cedar Tone 1 Gallon
  • Water-Based Semi-Transparent Wood Stain – This water-based deck stain allows the wood grain to show through with a beautiful semi-transparent, natural matte finish. It's great for staining wood decks, fences, siding, playsets, outdoor patio furniture, and more.
  • Fortified With Zinc Nano-Particle Technology – It’s like sunscreen for your wood. Tiny zinc particles dispersed throughout the stain reflect damaging UV rays, preventing premature graying and color loss.
  • Durable Quality That Lasts – DEFY Extreme wood stains are made with the highest quality resins available that have better resistance to fading and darkening.

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Applying the stain is easy. You can use a standard brush for the process, and there is no sanding necessary. You also don’t need to strip the stain when you need to put a maintenance coat on the furniture later on. However, it’s important to note that you can’t apply this stain on a piece of furniture with a finish that’s not made by DEFY.

Ready Seal 125 Stain

This stain is one of the options that don’t require the use of a primer first. This is an oil-based combination of sealant and stain. It comes in a one-gallon can, so it’s an option to consider for sizable projects. It delivers an above-average color and is a medium-bodied formula that’s easy to apply.

Ready Seal 125 1-Gallon Can Dark Walnut Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer
  • Requires no primer. Ready Seal is darkest when first applied. It reaches its true color in approximately 14 days. Do not apply Ready Seal over painted or newly stained surfaces. Sealed surfaces inhibit penetration.
  • May be applied using sprayer, roller or brush onto the woods surface.
  • Requires no back brushing and will nerver leave runs, laps, or streaks.

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Furniture makers and other woodworkers love this product because of its streak-free formula. New woodworkers and hobbyists will also find it very easy to use. The sealant penetrates wood deeply, giving your furniture a new level of resistance to the elements, as well as protection against mold and mildew. It’s also designed to offer protection against UV rays and can prevent fading for your furniture.

With this product, you don’t have to worry about sanding. However, it’s a good idea to sand the furniture if you want a professional-looking appearance. The downsides to this stain include the fact that you can’t thin it down without degrading the entire formula. It’s not easy to clean up, so you have to exercise caution when applying it.

FAQs on Staining Furniture

What Is the Most Popular Stain Color for Furniture?

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific stain color as the most popular. Still, most of the top-ranked products come in natural wood colors like maple and walnut. With most of the stains we’ve covered above, you’ll find that these two color options or variants are typically offered first in online stores. Non-wood colors like gray or white are also fairly popular.

Should You Go With Oil or Water Based Stains?

Both options work quite well if you stick to the instructions for using them. However, just like it is with paints, more people are gravitating towards water-based stains. The lack of harsh fumes and chemicals, easy cleanup process, and faster dry time are some of the reasons why these stains have become a preferred option. Water-based stains also have a wider color or shade range to pick from.

Should You Stain or Paint First When Working on Furniture?

It’s always a good idea to stain first before painting your furniture. This is because it’s easy to correct any stain problems with a lick of paint, but applying stain over paint is a lot more difficult as you’ll have to sand and strip again.

However, some people have no problems with doing the opposite. Regardless of what approach you choose to take, you should ensure the surface has completely dried before covering up the surface. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining the good work you’ve done.

Is It Normal to Have Bubbles in the Stain?

There are a couple of reasons why you’d have bubbles in your stain. It’s possible that you shook the can when mixing the stain for use. That’s bound to cause froth or bubble, which will prevent an even appearance when you dip your brush in and start the staining process. This is why you should stir gently but thoroughly before you start using the stain. This way, you can spread the pigment evenly without letting in extra air.

The second reason for bubbles in a stain is using a foam brush during the application process. As we’ve seen above, some stains are best applied with rags. So, be sure to use the best application tool for your chosen stain.

What Is the Best Application Tool for Stains?

The best application tool to use when applying stains is dependent on the product. While a natural bristle brush is best for most water-based stains, it’s often a good idea to use a rag or old socks to apply thicker gel stains.

This is important because gel stains need to be rubbed into the wood as you work, while the water-based stains can seep into the wood easily without any extra help. However, this is not set in stone. You can experiment and see what works best for you.

Is It Important to Test a Stain First?

The final color of a stain will vary from what you see in the brochure. This is why you should test the stain on a corner of the furniture or on identical wood to see results first before you proceed to use it all over the furniture piece. For example, a stain with pine color will look different on pine furniture than on maple or walnut wood furniture. So, test the stain and allow it to dry properly to be sure you like what you see.

Is a Wood Conditioner Necessary When Staining Furniture?

This will come down to the type of wood furniture you are working on and the appearance you are looking for. Pine, for example, is known for having blotchy stain finishes. The softer parts of the wood, especially the knots, will slightly stain the rest of the wood, leading to the blotchy stain appearance. Using a wood conditioner in this scenario will ensure you get a more even stain.

However, if you’re a bit more open in terms of the final look, you don’t need to use a wood conditioner. This is especially true when you’re working on antique furniture where a perfect stained look is unnecessary. The uneven outcome can enhance the look and feel of such furniture pieces.

Should You Let Stain Sink In or Wipe It Off?

Regardless of the type of stain, it’s always a good idea to wipe off the stain in the grain’s direction after applying it. The stain has to be absorbed by the wood, not sit on top of the wood. If you are looking to achieve a dark look, you can leave the stain for a while before wiping off.

The exact length of time will be covered in the instructions. However, it would be best to remove the stain a few moments after applying it for a lighter effect. Please don’t leave the stain on the wood and then start waiting for it to dry. It will take ages, and you won’t get the appearance you’re looking for.

Is a Top Coat Stain Necessary?

Oil and water-based stains will give your furniture a magnificent color, but they don’t provide any protection at all. This is why you need a sealant or topcoat to ensure the furniture is protected from oil, dirt, and spills. 

So, unless the stain you’ve chosen is marketed as a stain and topcoat in one, you need to think about protecting the look of your furniture with wax, varnish, polycrylic, shellac, and polyurethane (which may cause yellowing after a while).

The protective finishes come in oil-based and water-based variants, so you should pay attention. It’s possible to use a water-based finish on an oil-based stain, but you should pay attention to ensure that you’ve allowed enough dry time.

What’s the Best Way to Make Stain Dark Enough?

If you apply a coat of stain and don’t get the rich dark color you intended, all you need to do is wait for a while for the product to dry and then apply another coat of stain. It takes around 2-3 coats of stain to get the result you’re looking for in many cases.

Is It Okay to Mix Different Stain Colors?

Many DIY enthusiasts don’t have any problems with mixing stains to get a unique look. Some mix different stains in one can; others apply the various stains in layers. If you choose to apply the stains directly to your furniture, you should start with the lighter one first and then apply the darker one next.

Whatever option you choose, you should take the time to make a note to be sure you can replicate the mix when necessary. It’s also a good idea to mix different stain colors from the same manufacturer to prevent any adverse chemical reactions.

Conclusion

You’ve seen a roundup of the best wood stains you can consider for your furniture remodeling projects or new constructions. The best option to choose will come down to your project specifics, as well as other factors like the dry-time and ease of application.

When applying the stain, don’t forget to wear vinyl or latex gloves to protect your hands from getting stained. Most of these can be hard to wash off, especially oil-based stains.

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