Can You Stain Wood in Cold Weather?

Finish wood in cold weather

If you plan to stain wood in cold weather, you must identify the factors that affect how the stain dries and find ways of overcoming them. Temperature and humidity are the primary factors that you should consider.

Staining wood in cold weather is possible but it will increase the drying time. Unpredictable weather can affect the quality of a wood finish since cold weather can cause delamination, poor color development, and gloss variations, especially if you’re using water-based stains.

In this article, we’ll elaborate on the critical question—can your stain wood in cold weather? – and share some tips and tricks how to do it.

Ideal Temperature Range for Staining Wood

The best temperature for staining wood is 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 27 Centigrade). When it’s wet or cold, the drying time for stains will increase, at times, doubling. In extreme cases, you have no option but to wait until the temperatures rise to desirable levels.

When staining wood in cold weather, pick a day when rain isn’t expected in about 24 hours. Although wood can be stained at varying temperatures, it works best between 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 32 Centigrade; source).

The optimal temperature is when it’s neither too hot nor too cold—around the mid 70 be (c.25 Centigrade). It’s advisable to check the label on the stain to identify the recommended temperature since it can vary from one product to another.

When staining wood, you should consider not only the air temperature but also the optimal temperature for the wood.

For example, if you decide to stain your patio furniture during winter and you’re doing this indoors in a warmer room while the furniture had been outdoors, the cold wood may affect the staining process. In such a case, you’ll have to let the wood dry in several hours or days.

Read more about drying wood in this article.

Effects of Cold Temperatures on the Staining Process

When temperatures in the workshop are too low, it can affect the staining process.

For example, water-based stains depend on evaporation to dry and cure appropriately. This may not be possible in cold weather. Besides, it’ll take ages for the stain to dry since evaporation is extremely slow at such temperatures.

The drying process starts dipping when the temperatures get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Centigrade), and as they approach 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Centigrade), it’ll slow even more. These cold temperatures may cause the water-based finish to become cloudy or to dimple. Also, you’ll have to wait longer between coats.

One of the best ways to overcome this challenge when using water-based stains is to add an accelerator to the product or the mix of stains. It’ll assist the stain to dry faster regardless of the temperature.

Fortunately, oil-based products don’t have significant issues with cold temperatures as do the water-based products, although they’ll also cure slowly (up to 48 hours). They are also the more resilient type which makes them more suitable for exterior uses. Still, you can decide to warm the room, but avoid using and a combustible heater or open flame since the stain is flammable.

How Do You Stain Wood in Cold Weather?

Ensure all the products such as primers and caulks that need to be mixed when staining your wood are compatible and formulated for cold temperatures. If you’re using an off-the-shelf stain blend, check the suggested temperature range on the can.

This will ensure you get excellent results. The stains and related items should also be stored appropriately, most preferably in a secured and heated environment such as a workshop, basement or cellar.

Choose the right products: the primers, stains and additives should be ideal for cold temperatures. Only use products that meet your drying schedule besides meeting the commercial and residential requirements. Products that are fast drying are best considering the changeability of weather.

During cold weather, you don’t have to postpone staining your wooden products. An excellent way of accomplishing the task is by picking the ideal finish. If you want to speed up the drying process in cold months, select a finish meant for such a season. For example, spray lacquer, shellac, or a wiping varnish will dry faster in cold weather when compared to other stains.

Alternatively, ensure the wooden product to be stained is stored in the appropriate temperature range. For example, you should not store the wood in a cold area or unheated garage. Another option would be to warm the furniture in a tub of hot water for several minutes before staining.

Ideal Products for Cold Weather

A majority of stain manufacturers provide special stains that are devised for cold weather. Many of these stains are rated for temperature above 35 degrees Fahrenheit (>1 Centigrade). A stain explicitly formulated for cold weather will offer better results than those that need to be thinned for easy application or mixed with additives for freeze-resistance.

It’s essential to note; the temperature needs to be at or more than the recommended minimum over the entire curing process. For example, if you stain your wood while the weather is at 50-degrees F (10 Centigrade), then after an hour, it gets much colder; the stain may not cure as needed, although it will eventually dry.

Again, use stiff brushes bearing polyester, nylon, or chinex bristles since stains thicken in lower temperatures.

Tracking the Weather

Before staining your wood, it’s essential to check your local weather forecast and identify the best days to work on your project. Choose several consecutive days when the temperatures will remain at the recommended staining ranges. This is vital because you need to consider the curing time.

For each stain coat, pick days when the sun will be shining in your area. Ordinarily, direct sunlight raises the surface temperature of most items, including buildings. You should not stain your wood under direct sunlight during summer, but in cold months you can do so.

Building a Bubble

One of the best ways of overcoming cold weather when you want to stain your wood is by building a bubble where you’ll be working. You can easily accomplish this using scaffolding or zip poles and 4-6 mil plastic sheeting. Using these materials enclose your working area fully then use a space heater to raise the temperature in this place to about 70-80 degrees F (21-27 Centigrade).  

Ensure the temperatures in the bubble remain constant during the drying period. You should not leave this place unattended to when the heater is on. Besides, the site should be well ventilated.

You can use a thermometer to get the exact temperature in your workshop and the surfaces. Alternatively, you can use simple methods to estimate the temperature. For example, if you have to wear a sweater due to the cold, then it’s too cold for staining your wood using a water-based finish.


Although you should avoid staining wood on cold days it is possible to do it if you consider a few things (source). If you can’t bring the wood to a warm place, such as a workshop or garage, you should use an oil-based stain.

In case you prefer a water-based type, make sure you adhere to the range of temperature recommended by the manufacturer. Allow enough time for it to dry as cold weather will increase its drying time significantly.

If you need more information about the different types of stains, read this article. To determine the amount of stain that you’ll need for your project, use this free stain calculator.

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