Can You Paint Over Stained Wood Without Sanding
Tips & Tricks

Can You Paint Over Stained Wood Without Sanding?

I have some brown stained cabinet doors in my kitchen that I need to paint to match my home’s color scheme. I enjoy painting, but my least favorite part is sanding. We sand furniture before painting as it gets rid of imperfections giving the paint a good adhering surface.  But when you have to paint over large surfaces, sanding can be time-consuming and also tedious. To save you some time and energy, I will show you how to paint over stained wood without sanding.

You can certainly paint over stained wood without sanding; however, the trick is to prepare the wood surface properly. You should clean the surfaces with some soapy water to get rid of dust, bird droppings, or pollen, apply degreaser and rinse,  wipe the surface with a sponge dipped in deglosser, and allow time to dry. Apply a bonding primer to prevent bleed-through, allow it time to dry, apply about two coats of paint, let it dry, and finish with some topcoat. Read more details below on painting over varnished wood.

How to paint over stained wood without sanding

Sanding can be too exhausting, especially if you have to cover large surfaces; luckily, you can paint over stained wood with a little prepping and have great results. Here is how to paint over stained wood without sanding:

Things you’ll Need

  • Primer (oil-based or water-based)
  • Paint (oil-based or water-based)
  • Paintbrush or roller
  • Polyurethane topcoat
  • Liquid sander or deglosser
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Soapy water
  • Degreaser or Trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution
  • 100-200- grit sandpaper
  • Protective gloves, mask, and goggles


  • Wear your protective gear as the chemicals you use during painting can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. You have to also work in a well-ventilated area as liquid sanders contain very toxic chemicals.
  • Remove any hardware such as doorknobs from the wood surface. If the hardware is not removable, you will have to cover its well with some masking tape.
  • Clean the wood surface with soapy water and a lint-free cloth to remove dirt and dust. The overall look will not be pretty if the paint mixes with dirt, and the paint also needs a clean surface to adhere to.
  • Clean off grease and oils using some industrial strength degreaser containing trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution. Spray the degreaser on the wood surface and let it soak for about two minutes; scrub the surface with a sponge, then rinse.
  • Remove the glossy varnish from the wood surface. Use a paintbrush to apply the liquid sander, which makes the surface dull. Removing this gloss gives the wood a rough texture that allows the paint to stick to the surface and avoids peeling and cracking. The liquid sander is a powerful chemical so make sure you wear your protective gear.
  • Allow the wood surface to absorb the liquid sander for about 15 minutes, then wipe it off with a lint-free cloth.
  • Clean the surface again to remove the liquid sander by wiping it with a damp microfibre cloth.
  • Inspect your wood surface for dents and scratches and fill them in with wood filler. Sand these filled-in areas with 100 to 120- grit sandpaper to ensure the surface is smooth and leveled, and then wipe it off.
  • Apply either oil-based or water-based bonding primer on your stained surface using a roller to prevent bleed through. It is best to use a roller than a brush as it applies evenly; a paintbrush may leave brushstrokes that will show through the paint. If you are using oil-based paint, the primer should also be an oil-based and water-based primer for water-based latex paint. For better results, ask the paint store to tint your primer to the same color as your paint.
  • Apply your paint, whether it is water-based, oil-based, or spray paint over the wooden surface with a roller or brush. Wait for it to dry typically overnight, and then apply another second coat. It is better to apply more thin coats instead of thick coast of paint; remember to wait for each coat to dry before adding another.
  • Apply a polyurethane top coat for a more desirable finish. High-quality paints may not require a top coat, though.
  • Let the topcoat dry, and then fix the hardware.

NOTE: Cleaning the wood surface with a degreaser will help the primer and paint grip with the stained surface; however, not all primers work with TSP. Always read the instructions on your primer to make sure it does not react with the strong chemicals in the TSP solution; for instance, BIN Primer clearly states on the package that you should not use it with TSP.

What kind of paint do you use to paint over stained wood?

You can use water-based latex paint, oil-based paint, or spray paint on stained wood if you do the proper prep work. The type of paint you use determines the primer to choose. The primer and paint must have the same base formula, which means oil-based paints adhere better to oil-based primers and water-based primers are most suitable for water-based paints.

You can also use chalk paint for a matte finish which is a water-based paint. Chalk paints require no prepping or primer, but since chalky surfaces scratch easily, you have to seal your paint with a polyurethane topcoat.

As long as the varnished wood has no glossy finish, any paint will stick to the stained wood surface with the help of the right primer.

What happens if you don’t sand before painting?

Sanding before painting is not always necessary. You can forego sanding if you have the right primer,  the wood surface is not chipped or dented, and if the wood surface is not shiny. But sanding gives the wood surface a smooth finish so, for the best results, we recommend sanding before painting. Even if you do not sand the varnished surface manually with sandpaper, you may have to use a liquid deglosser to remove the glossy surface and allow the paint to stick to the wood surface.

If you paint on a glossy surface without sanding, even with a bonding primer, that paint may not last over a year, and it will start peeling. The point of sanding a stained wood surface is to buff the surface for paint adhesion but not to remove the previous stain.

Can you paint over stained wood without priming?

You must prime stained wood surfaces before painting for the paint to bond better with the surface. But first, you must determine if the stain is oil-based or water-based. To test this, pour some water over the wood surface, and if the water repels the surface and beads up, then the stain is oil-based.

If the stain on the wood surface is oil-based, you must clean the surface with TSP solution to remove stubborn grease, degloss, and apply a stain-blocker primer and then lightly sand the primer surface before painting over it. A wood surface that has primer will adhere to your paint quickly without sanding, but we recommend a little buffing of the glossy surface for better results.

If the stain is water-based, you have to clean the surface with TSP, degloss, apply one or two coats of water-based latex primer, and then apply your water-based paint.

Not every paint job requires a primer; however, it does have some benefits to your painting’s overall look and longevity. The primer provides an opaque base coat; it also makes the surface smoother for the paint, it has binding agents that adhere better to the wood than paint, and paint adheres better to the primer. It also blocks stains and prevents stains from bleeding through the paint. The instances where priming is important when painting include;

  • When the stain is a much darker color than the paint you want to use
  • When the wood surface has an oil-based stain, oil-based paints tend to bleed through the paint finish.

If you want to skip priming, you can use spray paints with in-built primers.

Can you paint over a water-based stain?

Yes, but you have to use water-based primer and paint with water-based paint. Water and oil do not mix; therefore, there may be adhesion problems if you apply oil-based paint on the water-based stain. If you want to use an oil-based paint over a water-based stain, you should allow it to dry for at least 24 hours and then use an oil-based primer first.

Can you paint over freshly stained wood?

You can paint on freshly stained wood only if it’s completely dry and has the right primer to bond the paint to the wood surface. We do not recommend painting over freshly stained wood if it is still wet. The wood must fully absorb the stain and be dry; otherwise, the paint will not bond with the surface. The stain is also likely to bleed through the paint if it does not dry and if no bonding primer is present.

Oil-based stains take longer to dry, so you have to wait for at least 72 hours before applying a topcoat, while water-based stains may take about 6-8 hours in dry weather and 24 hours in cold weather.

When dry, oil-based products no longer have a smell and are not tacky, while for water-based products, you can sand it down to a powder when dry.


From the article, we can see that it is possible to paint over stained wood without sanding as long as you use the right bonding primer for the paint. However, you may be required to use sandpaper if the wood surface has dents and peelings to smoothen the surface. To remove the glossy varnish finish and prepare an adhering surface for the paint, you can use a liquid sander, which is easier to use than manually sanding the surface.