do you have to put a clear coat over stain
Kristina Davis

Although staining wood is fantastic for depth of color and richness, it does not offer long-term protection, and then the question becomes, do you have to put a clear coat over stain?

For the record, staining wood is not the same as sealing the wood. Stained wood is vulnerable to damage from abrasions and scratches because of accidental contact and discoloration from animal and human activity.

There are multiple clear coat products to consider when sealing your wood. Keep reading to learn more about clear coats and valuable tips for proper application.

Even though coating wood staining isn’t mandatory, it’s necessary if you wish to protect the wood. Wood without coating is easily damaged due to contact with food, sharp objects, and water.

Why Should You Seal Your Wood After Staining?

why seal your wood

Sealing your wood can appear to be cumbersome, but it is far better than watching your wood deteriorate because it doesn’t have proper protection.

Protect Against Wear and Tear

The primary purpose of wood stain is to color the wood and accentuate its natural grain; it offers very little protection. Stain does have the added advantage of closing the pore within the wood, which provides some protection against water and moisture damage.

The pores on the stain are partially open even after the color is applied because it cannot form a film on the surface of the wood. Water and any other liquids can still penetrate and damage the wood; this is particularly true when the applied stain starts to wear off.

To seal your wood is to supply your wood with a layer of protection that’s impervious to moisture, water, and other liquids such as chemicals. Furthermore, the hard surface formed from the sealant is scratch resistant.

Prevents Discoloration

it prevents the discoloration

Wood surfaces are constantly being exposed to foods, spills, pet activity, and human touch, all of these factors can leave marks and discolor your stained wood surface. A sealer is designed precisely to prevent this from happening.

Easy to Clean

What’s more, the new glossy sheen serves a purpose as well; the slickness of the surface makes it much more difficult for things such as grease, grime, and dust to stick to the wooden floor.

Consequently, cleaning is a breeze, and you can easily maintain a clean base with routine dusting and wiping.

Protection Against Fading

prevents color fading

Sealer not only protects against the elements such as moisture and water, but it helps to seal in the color of the stained surface. This allows the wood surface to keep its color in the face of harmful elements such as inclement weather.

Better Aesthetics

Furthermore, adding a clear coat actually enhances the look of the wood. The coat offers a polished look. You will preserve this look for a long time because it’s also protected against scratching and denting.

Tip: Allow the stained wood to dry thoroughly before you seal it; you may need to wait longer in bad weather

How Long Do You Have to Wait After Staining to Apply a Clear Coat?

how long should wait after staining

The dry time of the stain product that you used should be specified on the product itself, and once this is determined, you’ll be able to apply a clear coat at that time.

The most common to wait after applying stain is about eight hours. With that being said, it’s best to wait overnight.

Do You Have to Put a Clear Coat Over Stain? How Many Layers?

You need between three and five coats for proper clear coat application. Many products declare that you should apply at least three coats for optimal durability.

The wood is more susceptible to surface-level damage if you do less than that. At the most, five coats will suffice to protect the wood, depending on the type of project you’re working on.

Tip: Purchase a quality sealant with good reviews and a reputable manufacturer.

Types of Clear Coat Finishes

types of clear coat finish

Here are the most popular finishes to seal stained wood.


Polyurethane is a water or oil-based resin product that comes in liquid form and dries as a durable protective film. It’s harder to apply than a penetrating oil product, but it’s still excellent for beginners.

It comes in low and high gloss and some combo finishes as well. The drawback here is that it’s hard to remove dust and brush strokes when you’re finished.

It turns yellow quicker than other options and doesn’t function well in environments with high UV rays.


Polycryclic is water-based and crystal clear. It’s perfect for water-based wood stains, but you can also use it on bare or painted wood.

It’s not prone to turning yellow like polyurethane, but it’s also not as good as a protectant. Additionally, it’s less effective in humid environments.


the lacquer

Lacquer is likely the most popular option to finish stained wood. When it dries, it becomes hard and provides a high level of protection.

You’ll usually spray it on, meaning you’ll have to consider the need for spray equipment and a well-ventilated area. The most significant advantage is that it looks the best when finished.


Shellac is also called a French polish, and it’s more old school than the other options. This product is more susceptible to scratches and water damage than polyurethane and lacquer.

So though it looks great, it’s the most fragile selection. You can apply shellac with a brush or via a spray can.

Tip: Try the clear coat on a small piece of wood first to get an idea of how the final product will turn out.

How to Choose the Best Clear Coat Product

how to choose best clear coat

If you’re still wondering do you need to put a clear coat over the stain, the answer is yes to prevent damage, though it’s not required.

Choosing the best clear coat product depends on what you’re looking for and if it works well with the type of stain you’ve used.

Size of the Project

Avoid using brush-on polyacrylic or lacquer when you start a large project. That’s mainly because they dry so quickly that it’s harder to maintain a wet edge, as some products require.

A wet edge means the last roll of clear coat won’t dry before you overlap the next. A paint sprayer is ideal for easier application.

Outdoors or Indoors

for indoors or outdoors

Reconsider using polyacrylic or lacquer if the stained wood is outside. Direct sunlight may cause premature damage to the polycrylic or lacquer finishes.

In this case, go for an oil-based polyurethane because it can withstand the elements.


Think about what function the stained piece serves. For example, you wouldn’t use polycrylic on a dining room table. The topcoat is durable, but it doesn’t hold up to heavy usage and stress.

Polyurethane is the better choice because it’s sturdy and can stay tough and protective even under pressure.

Tip: Be sure not to sand the wood after you stain it, only after applying a clear coat layer.

Easy to Use

ease of usage

The option that dries fastest is the lacquer, but you have to spray it on. If you don’t mind waiting hours between the coats, polyurethane brushes on and is more durable.

Wood & Stain Color

If the wood is light-colored, you’ll need thin coats that aren’t yellow. The best choices here are water-based sealants like polycrylic and polyurethane.

Oil-based polyurethane and lacquer turn yellow over time and may ruin the surface color of the stained wood. If the stain is amber or darker, try a water-based polycrylic or polyurethane finish.

Water or Oil-Based

oil or water based

Oil isn’t compatible with water. So be sure that you seal water-based stains with water-based sealants. Lacquer is suitable for either type of stain so long as you clean the surface properly before application.

Tip: Always apply the clear coat in thin layers, allowing you to correct minor mistakes more easily.

Final Thoughts

So, do you have to put a clear coat over stain?

Not necessarily, but you risk compromising the lifespan of your wood. It will be more susceptible to damage, discoloration, and wear more quickly. It’ll look great if you stain the wood, but it won’t last long without a clear coat to seal it.

Be sure to practice before you start so that you have a better idea of how it’ll turn out in the end. Remember that there are pros and cons to selecting each clear coat product and various considerations that may make one more suitable than the other for your project.