Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

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How to Solve Problem of Wood Stain Not Drying


I stripped my cabinets and applied three coats of stain, but the cabinet doors still feel sticky after two days of drying. Should I go ahead and apply the polyurethane finish and hope for the best? -Lauren

Hi Lauren,

If you used a penetrating oil stain, you may have allowed the stain to build up too thick a coat on the surface of the wood. Penetrating wood stains are not intended to be a surface finish. If applied too thickly, they won’t dry properly and will remain tacky to the touch. This can also happen if the wood wasn’t stripped and sanded completely down to bare wood, since the stain will sit on the surface rather than soaking into the wood.

To remove excess oil stain from wood, simply apply another coat of stain, allow it to soak in for a few minutes, then wipe it off. Any excess stain will redissolve and come off, leaving only the stain that penetrated into the wood.

If almost all the stain comes off when you wipe it, the surface probably wasn’t sanded enough. Remove the remaining stain by wiping the wood down with mineral spirits or naphtha (be sure you have plenty of ventilation and don’t work around open flames), followed by wiping with a clean cloth. Allow the wood to dry completely, sand the piece down to bare wood, and apply a coat or two of stain, wiping off any excess.

If you applied the stain correctly, and it still remained tacky, it could be due to rainy weather or high humidity. Give it a few more days to see if it improves. Another possibility is that the stain was old or came from a bad batch.

In either case if the tackiness doesn’t go away, wipe the wood down with mineral spirits or naphtha to remove most of the stain, let it dry thoroughly, then try again using a fresh can of stain.

Good luck with your project,


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52 Comments on “How to Solve Problem of Wood Stain Not Drying”

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  1. Crystal Says:
    November 27th, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Hi. I bought miniwax polyshades stain to use on a dresser I got off craigslist. I stained the whole dresser and it came out fine but this one side. The first time I did it I put it on too thick so i had to strip it and resand. I have now put another coat on and this time there were a few thick spots, so I went over them with a brush that I dipped in paint thinner. I let the side dry but it’s been 2 days and it’s still tacky. How can I solve this?

  2. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Hi Crystal,
    Miniwax polyshades is little more than tinted polyurethane, so your drying problem has to do with the varnish type finish not drying rather than the stain. My guess is that either the can of finish was bad or that it was very humid when you applied it. Your best bet is probably to strip the side again and apply a fresh, thin coat of polyurethane from a new can when drying conditions are favorable. Good luck with your project!

  3. Tod Hank Says:
    April 14th, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I applied three coats of minwax oil based stain to quatersawn oak sanded boards. My last coat looks great and matches my fireplace. The only thing is it is a little tacky, but not wet – sticky. I am going on vacation for three weeks. Will it be dry by then. Has a shinny finish, but want to use polyacrylic satin to dull the finish. Do not want to strip it, since the color matches perfect. What to do? Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Hi Tod,
    As noted in the article above, wood stain is made to soak into wood, not sit on top of it. Time will probably not make the tackiness go away. Minwax stain should dry flat, if it has a shiny sheen, it was put on too thickly. If you try to finish over it with a brush, some of the stain will probably come off on the brush and give the surface an uneven look. You could spray several light coats of finish over the stain, but the adhesion between the finish, stain, and wood will not be very high. Your best bet is to go over it again will another coat of stain, then wipe it off lightly with a dry cloth while the stain is still wet. If it’s not dark enough, use a darker stain, or mix two stains together to get the color you need. Once it dries, topcoat the surface with polyurethane. If it’s still not dark enough, apply one or two coats of the proper shade of Minwax PolyShades, which has colorant in it. PolyShades will make the grain opaque the more coats you apply, so limit it to one or two. Good luck with your project!

  5. Bill Says:
    January 20th, 2012 at 8:43 am

    I thank you and wish I had researched @ your site first.
    New to doing it myself and trying toi learn. You were very helpful.

  6. shelby Says:
    April 17th, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    We recently wanted to refinish our hardwood floors. We used Minwax oil based stain after all the necessary sanding was done. We did probably 800 square feet. In some places it has absorbed into the wood and other placed it is shiny, but dry and not tacky to the touch. Which is better in this case as we did a larger area? Mineral spirits or applying new stain and wiping?

  7. Jon Thompson Says:
    May 22nd, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Hi, we just moved into a house where they stained the hardwood floors with minwax. The stain did not absorb into the wood because the floors already had some kind of seal on them. The surface of the floors is tacky and you can scrape the stain off with your finger… We have a 8 month old baby and I’m concerned about the fumes of the unabsorbed stain and if she crawls around on them. I don’t notice a smell coming from the stain but I’m not sure. Should I be concerned about this??

  8. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    June 4th, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Hi Jon,
    Your question was answered in the second hour of our June 2nd Homefront radio show. You can listen to the show on our website at http://www.todayshomeowner.com/homefront/2012/06/02/homefront-radio-show-for-june-2-2012/

  9. Rudy Wimmer Says:
    July 22nd, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for the advice it’s the best, the most believable of all. I’ll let you know how it works.

  10. Cassie C Says:
    July 27th, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    We bought a house and found hardwood floor under all the carpets, so naturally we pulled up the carpet and stained it. We then decided to go over the stain with Deft lacquer instead of poly because it dries faster. Our problem now is when we walk on the floor the stain is showing on our socks!!! It doesn’t cause any issues with the floor itself, but we have pets and before we move them into the house, I need to figure out what we can do to stop the stain from continuing to pull up. I’m not sure what we did wrong, but now we have to just fix this issue asap! HELP!!!!

  11. Roberta Says:
    August 31st, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I put pecan satin minwax stain and poly 1 step on cubard doord. Wrong color. I boughy=t med oak . How do I take off the first color?

  12. dave Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Hello, i recently bought what looked to me to be an old viola from an auction house, when i recieved the item it certainly looked old and needed a clean as it was very dusty. I used some baby wipes to clean and to my surprise i found the stain was coming off onto the wipes, would this tell me that it has only been stained more recently on an item which has been made to look old or would this stain come off if it had been stained lets say 80-90+ years which is how old i thought this item was, many thanks in advance.

  13. Kim Says:
    September 18th, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    We discovered hardwood under our carpets after we moved into our house in 1997. We sanded the floors, cleaned up the mess, then placed stain. After the stained dried, we placed a clear hard coating. Now 2012 I’m seeing these circles and they are sticky and I can take my finger nail and scrap them off. Is this from cleaning my floors with a steamer?? Help please!!!

  14. Laura Says:
    September 24th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    we sanded our kitchen cabinets and put our stain on everything looks greaat but I think they are a little to shinny. What can i do to tone it down a little?

    November 7th, 2012 at 4:44 pm


  16. BLPatton Says:
    November 28th, 2012 at 11:50 am

    We just built a breakfast nook and the last coat of stain was very sticky. Read your article, added a coat of stain and took a towel to it and it pulled it off beautifully. I am now looking at a completely finished non-sticky breakfast nook. THANK YOU. All other sites said to sand and use a thinner. Have a great day.

  17. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    November 28th, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Hi BL,
    Glad to hear Danny’s article was of help!

  18. Silvia ramos Says:
    December 11th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    After waiting a couple of days for the stain to dry on my newly built floating shelfs I did some research. All other sites said to use mineral spirits to remove the stain and restain. Your site said to restain and wipe off after a few minutes, this sounded much easier and less expenvise. I finally have nonsticky/ non tacky floating shelfs! Thank you so much!

  19. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    December 11th, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Silvia,
    Glad we could be of help, and thanks for the feedback!

  20. donna beaudoin Says:
    December 13th, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I think I goofed up big. I decided to refinish bottom cabinets. I don’t know if they were lacquer or poly. I sanded where they wer worn but not down to bare wood every where but all were sanded some. I apply stain and shortly after I applied poly fast drying but it had been in garfge for awhile.I don’t think stain was dry now 18 hrs later cabinets are still sticky look nice but sticky what can i do

  21. Richard Says:
    December 21st, 2012 at 9:48 am

    We built a desk using new wood. We sanded and stained it and allowed it to dry. The next day we put on polyurethane clear coat. After about 20 hours it is still tacky. The desk is in the garage and I understand it may take longer to dry since its cold but is it normal to still be tacky? Will the tackiness go away if we just allow it to dry longer?


  22. Melissa Diamond Says:
    April 18th, 2013 at 3:40 am

    I used a minwax stain poly mix on a 5 yr old dresser, sanded the dresser down and then applied two coats per the directions, allowing for drying in between and doing the whole thing on my outside deck. I allowed 12 hrs of drying time outside before moving it inside to my bedroom. The chemical stain is completely dry and looks great, but the smell is terrible and I just woke up with a sore throat. Is there anyway to resolve this or should I strip it and use a different product??

  23. Lessa Clayton Says:
    July 21st, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    I used Minwax Satin Polyshade and the first three chairs are perfect. However, the next chair was darker and the last one was darker still. These were done a day later. I think the mix is becoming thicker and so darker when applied. Can I add mineral spirits to the can to thin it out?

  24. Michelle Says:
    November 13th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Yesterday I sanded down a raw wood toy box/ book case, then after cleaning the sand dust from the surface, I applied one light coat of Minwax Polyshades Espresso. I applied as thin of a coat as I could, though corners retained more stain. I was sure to read and follow the directions very carefully. This particular stain, unlike others I’ve used in the past, did not say to wipe off any excess stain. I thought due to this being a polyshades product- that it may need to be left on. I figured that May have something to do with the poly part of the product. Therefore, I have now allowed it to dry for about 20 hours (6was required according to directions). In some areas, the project still feels slightly tacky. It is unusually cold here yesterday and today- therefore I have not opened the windows for additional ventilation. The nursery is approx 13×15 and the house temp has ranged between 50-63 degrees F during this time. Should I just allow more time to dry? I really want to apply a second coat. The first coat looks great (though some areas look a little more dull than others). I’m praying you don’t tell me I’d have to start over! Thank you in advance for your helpfulness! :)
    6 Months Pregnant :)

  25. Donna Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I sanded and cleaned my kitchen cabinets, I applied stain and notice they have a white film on them. What can I do to fix this?

  26. Rick Johnson Says:
    January 2nd, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I have two oak cabinets in a laundry room. I sanded both to bare wood and stained them the same stain can (minwax english chestnut). One came out with a wonderful reddish tone and the other did not, more brown. They look like different colors of stain. Both cabinets are oak. Why the difference, or how do I prevent this?

  27. Mike Danaher Says:
    January 21st, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    has anybody ever heard of being able to walk on newly applied oil stain without leaving any footprints? My neighbor ,who’s going to help me come spring, says you can but only if there are puddles left over not being wiped away.

  28. Mike Danaher Says:
    January 25th, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    I stained my decks this spring and fell in a spot that was very much so over applied. There was a lot of good stain remaining around the spot I made. I simply took some of that stain and tried smoothing it out. It looked really good but someone in the know said come fall I will see problems with it. Do you think I’m okay?

  29. Donna Says:
    January 28th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    I painted my floors with floor paint and most of its dry but still feels a bit sticky in some areas

  30. Vicki Says:
    April 21st, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I started a project that I think I did totally incorrect. My kitchen table stains easily so my goal was to touch those areas up, but I gathered in order to do that I would have to touch up the whole table. I brought Minmax Polyshades stain & Polyurethane. I used a medium size paint brush, I stroked the table back and forth and I noticed on one side of the table it was darker in some areas and dry spots in other areas. Currently there is streaks of gloss in some areas, streaks of dull spots in some areas, as well as some areas are darker than others- don’t have a smooth look. What can I do to correct this problem and bring my table back to life.

  31. Gabrielle Rowe Says:
    May 12th, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I sanded, stained & varnished an old bathroom cupboard recently but noticed one drawer was still sticky days after the other parts were dry. I assume it is because that drawer gets the most use & the oil of many hands wasn’t sanded off properly, preventing the stain from being absorbed.

    I have re-sanded & wiped with spirit & hope once stained & varnished again it will be ok. Any other suggestions?

  32. Donna Says:
    May 22nd, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Hey there, I have stained my hardwood floors with Low VOC Penofin Verde (penetrating oil stain). I was careful not to “flood” it, in fact I rubbed it in well, buffed as I went and did another buffing after approx 30 mins. I watched the humidity, the floor was sanded thoroughly. Granted we have had a fairly humid period, but I stained when the humidity level was well below 70%.
    So, it has been a few days now since staining and we had a fairly warm day or two between the humidity. There remains some tacky areas, but no stain is coming up – that I’m aware of…
    I want to seal it with a waterborne varnish, WoodShield Clear Varnish. How should I continue? Should I wait longer for it to dry, or should I wipe down with laquer thinner, or carry on and apply a thin coat of the varnish?
    I have spent months on this project, long story, and really want to get it done, but without error, as it has cost me alot of time and money. Thanks so much!

  33. maria Says:
    May 23rd, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    we stained with a darker color all the chairs in our new restaurant 100 chairs and then had the reupholstered. everything looked great. stain is dry to the touch but when you rub the wood with a napkin it is staining. we have had a few customers with stained cothing during food trials. We open in a week. How can I solve this problem without damaging upholstery. is there any leaner that might remove excess stain-

  34. Andrea Says:
    June 4th, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I am working on building a drawer with fresh wood and like the original poster had to leave quickly before wiping excess stain off the drawer facing. Its more than 24 hrs later and still tacky so I followed the advice above and applied a new coat of stain – only it didn’t help to dissolve the excess from the first application when I wiped off the excess. Is using mineral spirits the only option left? Its still sticky/ tacky / shiny. Sad thing is, its the perfect color and a darker stain isn’t available – if it weren’t for being stick/ tacky/ shiny (and even streaky) I’d just put the finish on it. Sigh. The rest of the pieces all turned out beautifully, if only i’d have wiped the excess off this piece too! I’m a bit concerned that using mineral spirits will lead potentially to an even bigger mess or that the color won’t be close to the other pieces in the set.
    Thank you for any help you can offer!

  35. C.Lones Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    A few days ago we stained the mantle and it remained sticky. Tried the re- stain and wipe off. We will see if this works. Thanks,

  36. jocelyn Says:
    July 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am

    I used Polyshades on the top of a cabinet I am refinishing. It covered the grain more than I wanted and looks thick. I want to remove it NOW without the benefit of letting it dry overnight. Is this possible?

  37. Stefanie Says:
    July 16th, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Hello…we finished staining our closet door amd trim…it has been 4 days and is still sticky…can i put the sealer on and it will be ok??? Or no?

  38. Cathy Says:
    August 6th, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I lightly sanded my medium oak bathroom vanity and stained it with Minwax stain and finish yesterday. It was still shiny and sticky today. I googled and found all kinds of complicated fixes. Your suggestion to apply another coat of stain and wipe off seems to be doing the trick. It looks great! Thank you so much.

  39. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    August 6th, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Cathy,
    Glad our solution worked for you!

  40. Dorothy Says:
    August 18th, 2014 at 5:28 pm


  41. Robin C. Says:
    September 16th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    I have taken on a rather daunting project. I have stripped my stairwell treads down to the bare wood,sanded very well and now have stained most of the treads. Since I still need to live in the house, I’ve had to stain every other tread so I can still go up and down. Now that I have the upper half stairs stained when I look down I see a few spots that need to be darker. Do I do the restain, wipe off process? Because of high humidity in Honolulu, my stain has taken 4-5 days to dry. That’s normal for my house location. Hope to hear from you soon.

  42. Wayne M. Says:
    September 29th, 2014 at 4:44 pm


    I am writing to let you that I have an antique oak table top project that I restained the 3rd coat before the 2nd coat had dryed.I had stained with a brush without any wipeoff. OK so after 4 days only approx 2% looked to dry.
    I read your advice here and today restained (this logic seemed to go against the grain (pun seems to work here) being that too much stain was the cause of this problem) but trusting in experience I went ahead brushed on a liberal amount and wiped off immediately with my cats. The table is now drying normally and not shiney wet look anymore. It was an easy fix that I am very grateful to you all for. Thank you very much.

    p.s. (Ok so I didnt use the cats but it sure sounded funny when I read it back) ;)

    Thanks again.

  43. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 30th, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Glad to hear our advice helped! I don’t recommend using cats to wipe off excess stain, since their fur can shed.

  44. alan sugar Says:
    October 22nd, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    I also experienced a problem with a stain that remained sticky to the touch after about 8 hours. This “sticky” surface was the second coat, and I realized that I had put on the second coat too generously– rather than leaving a smooth surface. (I applied the stain with a rag– which I prefer to a brush.) I didn’t stop to look for any advice online. Instead, I immediately took a slightly used rag (from the original staining process), and I rubbed down the sticky surface– until it once again felt slick and smooth. I plan to wait overnight (about 12 hours) and then I’ll apply one last coat– sparingly & “care-ingly”! Well, I wish I had checked into your information first, but I think this will work out for me. In the future, I’ll make sure to apply the stain in a very thin layer–. And I’ll refer to your website for more advice as well. Successful staining is very absorbing.
    Thanks so much! And BTW– the coffee table is looking great.

  45. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    October 22nd, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Alan,
    Good point. Wiping tacky oil based stain back down with a rag soaked in stain will usually dissolve the excess stain, since the stain contains solvent.

  46. Ciara Says:
    October 24th, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    My husband and I are staining a dresser for our baby due in March. We used a minwax stain and applied the minwax pre stain conditioner prior to staining. Tonight, after about 24 hours, the dresser is still tacky and is not as dark as we’d like. We planned on using another coat or two of stain to darken the color, but since it’s humid where we live, and we’re doing this in our garage, I’m afraid of getting similar results. We applied the first coats with a cloth. Should we try a brush? Any advice is appreciated for us first time strainers.

  47. Randolph Says:
    November 7th, 2014 at 11:52 am

    My problem with Minwax is that, applied thinly enough to dry, it doesn’t stain very much and certainly cannot equate to the surface color I am attempting to restore.

  48. William Patton Says:
    January 1st, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    We are having a problem with oil based stain drying in my room on the floor now then what could be the problem??

  49. Bonnie Wirgau Says:
    January 28th, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    I have taken a end table and sand it down to the wood, the stain did not take all over like it should of, so I put it on thicker and it did not dry. so I put more stain on and wiped it like they suggestetd above. what do i need to do to even the stain all over. the stain i used is wood finish.


  50. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 28th, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Bonnie,
    It sounds like the wood may not have been sanded down enough and pores in the grain may still be sealed and are keeping the stain from penetrating. Another possibility is the wood itself. Some close grained woods, like birch, don’t absorb penetrating stain very evenly. You could try wiping the table down with mineral spirits to remove any excess stain, then allow it to dry and apply several coats of a tinted polyurethane (such as Minwax PolyShades). The tint will obscure the wood grain some, but since it’s a surface finish, it won’t absorb unevenly into the wood like penetrating stain can.

  51. Angela deangelis Says:
    February 10th, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    We replaced old stairs with the kit you buy at homedepot, we stained, looks great but stairs are still sticky It left foot marks, its a high traffic area, we have not yet put on shine how do we remove foot marks?? Have we ruined the stairs:(

  52. Kim Paulley Says:
    February 25th, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    I’m staining my floors and staircase with your stain. My house was built in 1890. The floors and stairs had been painted and I have removed all the paint. The floors have done great however I’m just staining the stairs and it seems so dry it soaks up immediately and really shows no grain. Is there something I should do to condition the wood before staining?

    Thank you

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