How To Prepare Wood for Stain in 5 Simple Steps

Despite plenty of alternative deck and furniture materials out there, nothing compares to the natural beauty of wood. Natural beauty comes at a cost—it takes a bit more hands-on care and maintenance to help it look its best. But, believe us, it's worth it.

If you want to breathe life into your wood flooring or furniture with some new color, you first need to know how to prepare wood for stain. This guide will help you achieve the best results and leave that wood surface looking flawless. 

Step 1: Repair

It's not the most glamorous part of the job, but it's necessary! Before you think about applying that eye-popping new color to your furniture or flooring, it's of utmost importance to make sure the surface is in good shape. 

Nicks, scratches, and dents all become even more apparent after applying stain. Fill in serious divots with a quality wood putty or filler after sanding off problem areas.

Step 2: Sand

Next up is sanding the entire surface. 

Sanding your wood before staining removes any protective coatings while opening up the pores for maximum stain penetration. The result is a richer, more vibrant color that lasts longer while keeping the wood protected.

The final sanding grit for WOCA Master Color Oil is in the 100-120 range. WOCA Diamond Oil Active is in the 120-150 range.

Please take into consideration: The recommended final sanding grit is really important. Using a higher grit will seal the wood so that it won’t accept any stain. A final sanding with a lower grit will open the pores so much the wood will soak in a lot more stain, therefore you'll use more stain than expected. This can also happen with distressed or reclaimed wood.

Step 3: Clean

Once you’ve sanded the desired area, it’s time to clean. No matter what surface you’re working with, your wood needs to be completely clean, dry, and free from dirt and grease before applying your oil. 

That being said, make sure to use the right cleaner for your surface to avoid damaging it.

For interior surfaces, use WOCA Intensive Wood Cleaner. This cleaner washes away dirt and oils, neutralizes surface tannin, while opening up the grain to ensure maximum penetration from the oils. 

With outdoor surfaces, you’ll need a cleaner that’s safe for plants yet tough enough to penetrate molds, stains, and green growth—the perfect job for WOCA Exterior Cleaner. This cleaner is excellent for restoring old furniture or décor made from teak, rosewood, mahogany, and any other outdoor wood.

Step 4: Pretreatment

Though this step is optional, you may want to consider using pretreatments like pre-color or lye, especially for interior surfaces. 

Pre-color treatments prime unfinished or newly sanded interior woodwork and set the foundation for a bolder, more lively finish. Combined with a quality stain, it’s the best way to achieve deeper colors, more defined grains, and longer-lasting durability. 

Lye pretreatments have the opposite effect, designed to create a washed-out color effect while minimizing the natural yellowing of woods. There are general, mild types of wood lye and lye specialized for wood species and finishes like antique oak, driftwood, and softwood such as pine. 

Both pre-color treatments and lye will usually need about a day to dry, so be sure to consider to schedule for this before starting pretreatment.

Of course, no matter which pretreatment you use, always follow all recommended safety precautions to ensure a safe and seamless result.

Step 5: Apply

When you’re ready to start applying your stain, double check that you’re choosing the right stain for your surface. The first step? Know the difference between interior and exterior stains!

Exterior stains are designed with durability in mind. After all, they're designed for surfaces that are constantly exposed to the natural elements. They also contain additional chemicals like fungicides that protect from algae and other green growth. Some exterior stains may also produce fumes or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be dangerous in enclosed spaces. That's why choosing an option that's low VOC, plant-based, and eco-friendly such as WOCA Exterior Oil matters.

WOCA Exterior Oil will penetrate deep into the wood and harden from the inside out—giving your deck or outdoor furniture superior strength against the harsh outdoor elements. 

Interior stains, on the other hand, are safer for indoor use. To plan accordingly, you’ll want to find a stain (like WOCA Diamond Oil Active) that offers the best in protection while still providing a premium finish. 

For even more vibrant interior stain color options, check out the 11 pigmented oils offered in WOCA Master Color Oil.

After determining which stain fits your wooden surface best, apply the stain in even coats, working it into the wood with a roller, brush, other applicator. Work in sections until all areas have been polished and remove any excess oil with lint free cloths.

Refer to the specific product for drying and curing times. Avoid exposing the wooden surface to any water during this time!

Properly Prepped Wood Means a Gorgeous Finish

Though working with wood takes a bit more TLC, the naturally stunning results are well worth the effort. When you follow these steps, take the time to prep your surfaces carefully, and use only high-quality products, your wood flooring or furniture will be left with results you're sure to love.

Learn more about WOCA’s cleaning and woodcare products (both for interior surfaces and exterior surfaces) to keep your freshly-stained furniture or flooring clean, shining, and in pristine condition.

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