Stain Won't Penetrate Wood? Read This

A furniture surface will inevitably become scuffed, scratched or dirty over time. Many people end up trying to redo the surface by applying a stain so that the flaws are not visible and the item looks like new.

However, many people who try to apply a stain to wooden furniture or other items find that the stain doesn't penetrate.


It can be frustrating, and a waste of time and material, when you apply the stain in several layers and it does not penetrate the wood. It's important to understand the reasons why this is occurring so that you can take steps towards fixing it.

Potential Causes

Some of the reasons for staining related problems are listed below:

  • the pores in the wood are closed 
  • the wooden surface has been sealed due to a previous treatment with a wax, finishes, coatings, and so the stain is not being absorbed
  • the wood has been sanded to the veneer layer which does not absorb the stain
  • the existing oil-based stain or coating is displacing the water-based stain, which is not being absorbed

Stain Penetration Solutions

Have a look at this video on how to apply stain to wood properly:

Most people will spend some time applying stains to the surface before they realize that the stain is not penetrating. The best way to fix the problem is to check the surface on which the stain is applied. If the surface is sealed or has some kind of wax or other coating, it is advisable to use sandpaper to remove the top layer of the surface which is coated.

It doesn't matter if you've previously used power tools to build a wooden structure, although there are recommendations.

With that said, care should be taken while stripping the top layer of the wood to ensure that the veneer layer (which doesn't absorb stain) is not reached.

Some people recommend using a toner or lacquer while applying the stain to the surface so that it will adhere to the surface more. Another option is to use a water-based stain which will be absorbed by the wood better than an oil-based stain.

Final Thoughts

A little bit of investigation will go a long way in troubleshooting why your stain won't penetrate wood. Above I've discussed the common culprits.

Still having an issue? Leave a comment below and let me know about it.