How to Paint Over Stained Wood (The Complete Guide)

Updated 3/9/23

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Have you seen what homes are selling for lately?

It’s crazy!

Buyers are competing in bidding wars over homes due to low inventory.

And because of low inventory, existing home sales are skyrocketing.

There’s never been a better time to sell your home. Haven’t you been thinking about how great it would be to downsize?

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Ok, so you’ve decided to sell. Now what? You want the best price you can get for your home. Renovations are costly and may not result in a more significant profit margin.

So, what can you do to make your home more appealing to potential buyers and increase value simultaneously?

If you own a home that’s over 30 years old, chances are the woodwork is stained. Staining was “a thing” way back when, but not what buyers look for today.

Should you replace your stained woodwork? No! Paint it.

Can you just paint over stained wood? The short answer is no. So, what can you do?

See how to paint over stained wood by following this ultimate guide and get the results that will freshen up the looks of your home and start a bidding war of your own!

Let’s get started!

The types of Interior Stain

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Generally speaking, two types of stain are applied on interior woodwork, oil and water-based.

Are there other types of stains?

Yes. Varnish, lacquer, Gel stain, and Dyes are other interior stains commonly used on furniture.

Can you just paint over stained wood?

No. There’s a simple process to follow to paint over stained wood.

An attempt to go over stain with paint without preparation will lead to horrible results that could hurt your home value.

Should I hire a Pro to paint my stained wood?

Hiring a professional is one option for painting your stained woodwork.

You should know that the most expensive part of any paint job is the trim work. Painting trim and woodwork is more detailed than painting walls and is more costly.

But, painting woodwork is not rocket science. Following the steps in this Ultimate Guide will explain how you can do it yourself and pocket the savings.

For more info, check out Home Improvements in 2022 (Should You DIY or Hire a Pro?)

How do you paint over stained wood?

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I will show you how to paint over stained wood by following a few simple steps.

  1. Sanding
  2. Priming
  3. Set Nails & Patch Holes
  4. Caulking
  5. Paint the First Coat
  6. Paint the Final Coat

We will expand on each step so you can get professional results and save a ton of money.

Before you begin

Determine which areas you will start in. Try to limit traffic in these areas during the process.

Less traffic is good quality control.

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Vacuum the room and the woodwork to remove dirt, dust, pet hairs, and cobwebs. Cleaning is a crucial component in producing the best results.

Materials you’ll need

  • 150 and 220 Grit Sandpaper
  • Dust Mask
  • Acrylic Latex Painters Caulk
  • Lightweight Spackle
  • Oil-Based Primer
  • Paint Thinner
  • Painters Rags
  • Painters Tape
  • Roll of Masking Paper
  • Acrylic Latex Trim Paint (satin or semi-gloss)
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Tools you’ll need

  • Caulking Gun
  • Nail Set
  • Hammer
  • 1-inch Spackle Knife
  • Dust Brush (old paint brush or chip brush)
  • Paint Stirring Sticks
  • 4-inch Roller Frame with Roller Covers (mohair and lint-free)
  • 4-inch Roller Trays
  • 2-inch Angle Paint Brush (natural bristle)
  • Paint Pot
  • Drop Cloth
  • Scissors

Steps on how to paint over stained wood

Clear away furniture and area rugs from the work zone. Place a drop cloth on the floor below the section where you will be working.

Step #1.

Sand every inch of the stained woodwork with 150 grit sandpaper. Sand with the direction of the woodgrain and dust off the wood as you go. Wear a dust mask while sanding.

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Step #2.

Prime the stained wood with an oil-based primer using the 2-inch paintbrush. Apply primer in the same direction as the woodgrain for each piece. Carry a painter’s rag dipped in paint thinner to wipe up drips and spatters,

Prime doors and casings using the 4-inch roller. Roll with the wood grain for each separate piece. Be sure not to “cross brush” onto an adjoining piece of trim with an opposite wood grain.

Pro Tip: Oil-based primer is the best choice for stained wood. You could use latex primer, but it’s not the best for priming knots and glue residue. Oil primer adheres better and provides a stronger bond.

Step #3.

Check the primed wood for holes, imperfections, and protruding nails. Use the nail set to “hammer in” the nail heads slightly below the surface of the wood. Apply lightweight spackle to holes with the 1-inch spackle knife. Use enough spackle to cover the holes but not too thick.

Go back and sand the patches when the spackle has dried, and spot prime the repairs.

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Step #4.

Vacuum the woodwork and surrounding areas.

Caulk all the baseboard and casings to the walls with the acrylic latex painter’s caulk. Make sure to caulk the grooves where two pieces of trim come together. Use a dampened rag (water) to wipe off the excess caulking.

Pro Tip: Door panels should be “floating” and not caulked. They are designed to expand and contract with temperature changes. Caulking them will lead to cracking over time and will create an eye sore.

Step #5.

Apply latex trim paint on the primed woodwork. Paint the same direction as the wood grain and maintain a wet edge. Use long brush strokes to complete each trim piece.

Cut in the routed edges of door panels with the brush and then roll flat door panels and casings with the 4-inch roller.

Pro Tip: Cut strips of masking paper and place them under the doors. Masking paper replaces the need for drop cloths, which bunch up and interfere with door painting. Use painter’s tape to secure the paper.

Step #6.

Lightly sand the first coat of finish with 220 grit sandpaper after it has dried.

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Vacuum and wipe down everything one more time.

Apply the final coat of latex trim paint.

Pro Tip: Acrylic Latex trim paint comes in multiple sheens (shine levels). Satin and semi-gloss sheens are better for trim and doors. The shinier the paint, the more visible the imperfections appear.

Inspect your work and look for missed spots and areas where the top coat did not fully cover the stain. Apply additional coats if needed.

Pro Tip: If you have the wall paint for the areas you are painting in, use it to touch up spots where the trim paint got on the walls.

Painting Success!

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You did it.

You’ve just brought your home into the 21st century and eliminated the aged look of stained wood.

By following the ultimate guide on how to paint over stained wood, you’ve made your wall colors pop and saved a bunch of money!


On to the next project.

More DIY tips here Home Improvements DIY

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Can you paint over stained wood without sanding?

Yes and No. You can apply primer over stained wood without sanding. The primer seals the stain and provides a paintable surface for top coats. But, you should sand stained wood first to remove dirt, dust, and cobwebs before priming. Sanding first gets better results.

Can you use chalk paint over stained wood?

Some professionals use chalk paint as the first coat over stained wood. This procedure is used mainly on furniture when seeking a faux-type finish. A clear coat of polyurethane is applied over the chalk finish to seal it. Chalk paint does not have stain sealing properties, so using an oil-based primer is the best option for stained trim and doors.

How to paint over dark stained wood?

Two coats of oil-based primer may be necessary to seal dark-stained wood. The primer is less expensive than finish paint and a better option than additional top coats.

Pro Tip: primer can be tinted to match the top coat, which provides better coverage.


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