Can You Paint Acrylic Over Stained Wood?

Image of stained wood but Can You Paint Acrylic Over Stained Wood?Many homeowners prefer painting over stained wood to change or enhance the look of their structures. However, several questions arise regarding the type of paint that can provide long-lasting beauty and protection for stained wood. Questions regarding the types of paint that are compatible with different wood stains, like can you paint acrylic over stained wood?

Yes, acrylic paint is an excellent product for coloring stained wood as it is affordable and dries quicker than most paint types. However, you will have to take extra steps to prepare the wood the right way for the paint to adhere properly. Preparation includes cleaning of the surface and light sanding to help improve paint adhesion. Moreover, you will need to seal the paint to create a long-lasting finish.

The key to the successful painting of a stained wood surface includes the following, proper surface preparation, choice of the right formula, painting time, and the right painting procedures:

How Do You Get Acrylic Paint to Stick to Stained Wood?

Follow the steps below for the best results possible:

Step 1: Prepare Your Working Area.

Any project that involves painting over stained wood will take a few days to complete; therefore, you must set up a workspace. It is best to avoid moving the wood around during the painting process, so I recommend finding a space where you can leave things undisturbed for days. Also, ensure that the space is fairly large with good ventilation. 

Step 2: Determine the Type of Stain On the Wood.

Before you start working, it is best to determine the stain you have on the wood. Doing this will determine how much preparation your surface needs before painting.

Woods with oil-based stains will require additional preparation because they are heavy and can easily resist the paint. On the other hand, water-based stains require little preparation, and some even allow you to paint over them without sanding.

To find out the type of stain you’re dealing with, spritz some water on the wood. If the water forms some beads, then the stain is oil-based.

Step 3: Clean the Surface 

  • Start by removing any fittings on the wood. If it is a door or a cabinet with hinges, handles, or any other non-wood fittings, you need to remove them at this stage. Otherwise, they will be covered in paint, and you will have to clean them later, thus prolonging your project.
  • Dip a clean rag in warm water mixed with dish soap to clean wood with a water-based stain. Wring out the rag, then wipe down the surface to remove grease and dirt. 
  • For oil-based stains, dissolve ¼ cup of Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) in a bucket of water. Next, dip a sponge into the solution, wring it out then wipe down the wood. Repeat until the surface is clean, then let it dry before proceeding.

Step 4: Sand the Surface 

Sanding stained wood makes the surface rugged enough for the paint to adhere properly. It is best to sand in the same direction as the wood grain to achieve great results.

For smaller projects, sandpaper works fine, but you may need an industrial sander for large-scale projects. No matter the size of your stained wood, always choose sandpaper between 150-220 grit. This level of grit is ideal for roughening up the surface without damaging the wood.

After sanding, clean the wood with a tack cloth to remove sanding dust and dirt.

If sanding seems like too much work, you can achieve the same results using liquid sandpaper quickly. To do this:

  • Apply the deglossing agent to the surface using a firm synthetic paintbrush, then let it dry as instructed by manufacturers. Finally, wipe down the surface to remove any traces of the liquid sandpaper and dirt, then your surface is ready for priming.

Step 5: Apply a Sealant.

After sanding, apply a coat of glossy acrylic medium on the surface to seal it. These products soak into the wood fast, and they minimize brushstrokes and textured feels on the finish.

When the first coat dries, your surface will feel coarse because the first layer of sealer always raises the wood grain. So, scuff the surface with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface. 

Next, vacuum the surface to remove dust, wipe it with a slightly damp rag then apply a second coat of the sealer.

Step 6: Prime

Apply two coats of primer to your wood after the last coat of sealer is dry to the touch. Several kinds of surface primers are compatible with acrylic paint; however, I recommend priming your wood with gesso before applying acrylic paint to it.

A good quality gesso will increase the adhesion strength between your sealed wood and the first coat of acrylic paint. Ensure to apply the gesso in thin coats allowing each layer to dry before putting on the next.

Step 7: Paint the Wood.

Once the primer cures properly, wipe down the wood with a tack cloth to remove any dust, then start applying the acrylic paint. Apply the paint in thin, even layers going in one direction to avoid creating brush marks on the wood. 

Put on two coats of acrylic paint as you did with the primer, then leave it for a few hours to dry. Once dry, apply a clear sealant over the acrylic paint to make it last longer.

Does Acrylic Paint on Wood Need to be Sealed?

Yes, sealing acrylic paint is a very important step. You do not have to do it, but if you want the acrylic paint to stay vibrant for longer, you have to seal it after the final coat.

When a fresh coat of acrylic paint starts to dry, its surface becomes dull and chalky. Because of this, we seal the paint to transform the overall finish of the surface. Depending on your taste, you can use a sealant with a matte, gloss, semi gloss, or satin finish for your project.

Sealants also protect acrylic paint from scratches or chipping. They shield the acrylic paint from elements that cause the paint layers to deteriorate, such as chemicals, water, and UV rays.

Furthermore, sealants make it easier to clean surfaces painted with acrylic paint. If you touch unsealed acrylic paint with wet hands or a wet cloth, the moisture will leave a colored residue on the surface. But with a sealant, you can keep your painted surface clean without the constant worry of damaging the paint.

What Is the Best Sealer for Acrylic Paint On Wood?

  • Polycrylic

Polycrylic is a water-based protective finish that works well on acrylic paint. It dries into a hard enough coat to resist mechanical and weather damages that could destroy the acrylic paint.

Polycrylic dries quickly, and it does not tint the color of the paint over time. It also self-levels so there is no risk of leaving brush marks on the wood, and since it is water-based, you can clean polycrylic using soap and water. Furthermore, this product is more affordable compared to most protective finishes.

  • Polyurethane 

Polyurethane is the most common protective finish that painters and woodworkers use to protect surfaces. It cures into a water-resistant hard film and shields wooden surfaces from abrasions, bad weather, and UV rays.

There are two types of polyurethane that you can use to seal acrylic paint.

Water-based polyurethane is the best option of poly to protect the acrylic paint. It dries fast and clear, so it will not alter the color of your paint over time. Even though it is strong, water-based poly won’t last very long on outdoor projects, but it will surely keep your paint from flaking.

On the other hand, oil-based polyurethane is more durable and is excellent for protecting outdoor projects. It is also more affordable than water-based poly, but it requires more time and effort for application.

Even though it dries clear, oil-based poly develops an amber tint over time; thus, it could affect the overall look of your acrylic paint.

How Do You Prepare Wood for Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is an excellent choice for coloring wood; however, you will need to prepare the wood properly to ensure that the paint sticks and maintains its quality for a long time.

The most vital preparation steps before painting wood with acrylic are cleaning, priming the wood. If you perform these two steps properly, you will always end up with a polished surface.

  • Cleaning

It is important to always paint on a clean surface because dirt and other particles will keep the wood properly absorbing the paint products. As you clean, you can assess the condition of the surface before you start painting – this means locating cracks and other damages then performing repairs where necessary.

It is important to mend all damages before painting wood with acrylic because the imperfections will show after the paint cures.

  • Priming

Wood contains natural chemicals that can easily break down acrylic paint. Furthermore, bare wood soaks up acrylic paint, causing the wood to warp and the paint to look terrible over time.

Thus, applying one or two coats of primer pre-paint is essential to prevent future damages. Wood primers lodge into the spaces between wood grain, providing a level surface for painting. It allows the acrylic paint to sit better on the surface, maintaining its vibrance for longer.

Here’s How to Prepare Wood for Painting

How Do You Change the Color of Wood Stain?

Sometimes you may find that the stain you picked for your wood does not match the image that you had in mind. Or you ran out of stain, bought another can, but it does match the previous one. Either way, you can darken or lighten the color of the stain to your liking using the methods below.

How to Lighten a Dark Stain

  • Bleach the Wood.

Painters often apply a coat of clear finish over stained wood as extra protection. So, if you want to lighten the stain on such a surface, bleaching is the method that works best. For this method:

  • Start by applying a finish stripper to the wood using a natural bristle paintbrush. Layer on a thick coat of stripper, then let it sit for 30 minutes to set.
  • Use a plastic scraper to eliminate the loosened finish and expose the stained wood. Make sure that you use firm pressure working along the grain of the wood, taking care not to damage the surface. 
  • Next, pour a wood-bleach solution into a container. Use a paintbrush to apply thin coats of bleach to ensure that the stain lightens evenly. Use oxalic acid if you only want to bleach the stain slightly. For a stronger treatment, we recommend using a 2-part bleaching solution. This product will remove most of the stain color and can even lighten naturally dark woods.
  • After 30 minutes, pour equal portions of warm water and white vinegar into a bucket and wipe the bleached wood. The vinegar solution will neutralize the bleach and stop the color from lightening further.
  • Finally, dip a towel in clean water, wring out the excess, then wipe the newly bleached wood to get rid of chemicals. Let the surface dry overnight before judging its color – if the stain still looks too dark, repeat the process above until you achieve your desired color.


  • Use Steel Wool and Mineral Spirits.

If you dread using bleach, you can lighten the stain by alternating between rubbing your wood with steel wool and wiping it with mineral spirits to lift some of the stains.

  • After stripping the finish, dip a 0000 steel wool in warm water, wring out the excess liquid, and then rub the wood carefully. Work in long back and forth gentle strokes to avoid removing too much product.
  • Next, wet a clean towel with mineral spirits and wipe the wood to lift some of the stains. You will notice the stain getting lighter, so keep alternating between steel wool and mineral spirits until you achieve your desired color.


  • Diluting Stain Before Application.

If you happen to buy a dark wood stain by mistake, you can mix it with natural wood stain to thin it and lighten the color. Natural wood stain is a transparent medium; hence, it can dilute standard stain without consequence.

However, you should ensure the base of the natural wood stain matches the base of the stain you want to dilute. Therefore, if you have a water-based stain, use a natural stain with a water base – the same goes for oil-based products.

If you do not have natural wood stain, you can use mineral spirits to dilute oil-based stains and water for water-based stains.

Here’s how to dilute standard wood stain:

  • First, combine equal portions of your stain and natural wood stain in a sealable metal container, then stir with a paint stirrer. Keep stirring until the two products are completely mixed, or else it will appear spotty.
  • Next, dip a paintbrush into the mixture, then wipe off any excess product on the rim of the metal container. Apply the stain on a scrap wood that is the same type as your wooden surface, then let the surface sit overnight so that you get an accurate picture of how your light stain looks when dry.
  • If the stain is still darker than you want, add ½ cups of natural stain in bits as you stir. Keep testing on scraps of wood until you achieve the desired lightness.

Note: Always keep track of how much natural stain you use to replicate the color easily in the future.

How to Darken a Light Stain

  • Using coffee, steel wool, and vinegar.

If you just applied fresh stain to your wood, but the color appears too light, use the following method to add a darker tint to it:

  • Put some steel wool and ¼ cup of used coffee grounds in a glass jar, then add 2 cups of vinegar.
  • Close the container tightly, shake the mixture, then let it sit overnight.
  • Next, remove the steel wool and apply the homemade stain over your stained wood to give it a darker color.

Be careful when using this homemade stain if you only want to add a slightly dark color to your stain. The reason is that this mixture becomes darker as it dries, so let it sit for at least 30 minutes before applying consequent coats.

How Do You Paint and Stain Wood?

The two main methods of painting and staining wood are spraying and brushing. Whatever method you select will depend on your project’s size and the amount of time you have to finish the project.

  • Spraying

I recommend spraying paint or stain for large-scale projects, especially when you have a short time to finish the work. Spraying allows for fast application providing a smooth finish within a short time.

As efficient as spraying is, your coat may develop drips and runs if you don’t know how to handle a sprayer. Furthermore, the preparation and clean-up time required for spray painting is much longer than other methods.

  • Brushing 

I recommend brushing on paint or stain if you want better control of your project. With this method, you will achieve more uniform coverage, and the paint will stick to the wood better. Furthermore, brushing allows you easier access to the hard-to-reach areas on your surface.

On the downside, brushing on paint requires a lot of labor, so it’s best left for small to medium projects. In addition, paintbrushes leave thicker coats that take longer to dry, and sometimes you may end up with brush marks on your finish.

How Do You Thin Acrylic Paint on Wood?

Acrylic paints are thicker and denser than other types of paint. The reason is that manufacturers make acrylic paints from an acrylic polymer emulsion and a coloring pigment instead of oil or solvent.

It would be best if you thinned acrylic paint a little for it to go on the wood flawlessly, and two common acrylic thinners get the job done:

  • Water

Unlike oil-based paints, acrylics are soluble in water, meaning that the paint will break down and become thin when mixed with water. The strategy here is to add just enough water to give the acrylic a latex paint consistency without making it too watery.

Start with a 2:1 paint to water ratio and work from there. These small ratios will give you a good starting point for thinning the acrylic paint, and you can add more or less liquid until you achieve the desired consistency.

  • Acrylic Mediums

If water doesn’t work for you, you can opt to use an acrylic medium instead. Acrylic mediums are products specially formulated for thinning acrylic paints, and you can find them in most stores that sell acrylics.

Acrylic mediums break down the acrylic polymer emulsion that makes acrylic paint so thick. This factor is what makes acrylic mediums such good paint thinners. Unlike water, you do not have to worry much about ratios when using acrylic mediums.

However, it is best to follow similar rationing as water if you are new to thinning paint to avoid disasters.

Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Outside On Wood?

Yes, you can use acrylic paint outside on wood; however, you need to seal the paint with at least two coats of exterior-grade clear finish to keep it durable.

Exterior wooden surfaces get constant exposure to potentially damaging elements such as UV rays and rain. And even though acrylic paint applies easily, it is not as durable as exterior paint products should be, and that’s why you need to protect it.

The best topcoats to use on acrylic paint outside are polycrylic and water-based polyurethane. These two products will protect the acrylic paint without the risk of changing its color.

Do You Wet the Brush Before Using Acrylic Paint?

You don’t have to wet your paintbrush before applying acrylic paint, but a little moisture would surely help the first coat of paint glide better onto your surface.

We advise our clients to always paint in thin coats, building up slowly. Starting with a damp brush will ensure that the base coat has no blobs.

Moreover, acrylic paint dries quite quickly and can render the bristles of your paintbrush useless if you’re not careful. To prevent the acrylic paint from drying on your brush, you can keep a can with water close to you as you paint your project.

This way, you can dip your brush in the water whenever the paint starts drying, and the bristles start feeling too firm. However, do not leave the brush on in the water can for too long because the bristles will bend, eventually damaging the whole brush.

How Do You Remove Acrylic Paint From Hard Surfaces?

Removing dried acrylic paint from hard surfaces can be difficult, but it is not entirely impossible. Use the methods below to remove dried paint stains from your surfaces.

  • Start by wiping the dried paint and its surrounding area with a damp paper towel to remove dirt and other particles.
  • Next, pour some vegetable oil onto a clean paper towel and hold it against the dried paint for a few minutes to loosen it.
  • Wipe off as much of the paint as you can with the oiled towel, then scrape any leftover stain with a plastic scraper.

For stubborn dried acrylic paint, use denatured alcohol instead of vegetable oil to remove the stain.

  • Pour some denatured alcohol onto a cloth, then hold the cloth over the paint for a few minutes.
  • Next, rub off the paint in circular motions until it lifts. Wipe the surface with a clean damp cloth to remove the alcohol.
  • Finally, use a dry towel to dry the surface.

Note: Always apply the denatured alcohol on a hidden area before using it on the dried paint to see how the surface reacts. 


Painting over stained wood is a tedious but very doable job. You have to pick the right products and prepare the stained wood properly for the paint to adhere. 

There are several paints in the market and not all are necessarily compatible with stained wooden surfaces. Of the many paints present in the market today, 

Can You Paint Acrylic Over Stained Wood?

Yes, it’s okay to use acrylic paint over stained wood. All you need to ensure is proper surface preparation which involves cleaning and light sanding the surface for enhanced adhesion between the acrylic paint and stained surface. After surface preparation, apply an acrylic gesso before painting, and seal the paint after it cures. This way, your finish will withstand all kinds of damaging elements; hence it stays vibrant for longer.

I hope you have learnt a great deal regarding the painting acrylic over stained wood surface. Do you have a question, suggestion or a general opinion that you’d like to put forth to help make this content better? Kindly share it with me in the comment section below.