Can You Stain Wood in Cold Weather (And Should You)?

Updated: Dec. 15, 2023

As temperatures drop, do you have to put your woodworking projects on hold? Experts explain how to handle staining wood in the cold.

Temperature and humidity have an effect on many home projects, including staining wood. If you’re thinking about staining wood in cold weather, there are a few things you can do to ensure a good outcome. Here are some expert tips on the best temperature for staining wood and how to complete a project when it’s cold outside.

Best Temperature for Staining Wood

The optimal temperature for staining wood is actually a range. “Staining wood usually works between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Phillip Ash, the founder of Pro Paint Corner, “but the best temperature would be at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.” Some brands or types of stains may work outside that range, but it’s the generally accepted best temperature for staining wood.

Types of Wood Stain for Cold Weather

Oil-based stains are by far the best for staining wood in cold weather. “Oil-based stains perform better than water and gel varieties as they do not rely on evaporation to dry out,” explains Goodell David, founder of Woodworking Clarity. “Another advantage is that some oil-based brands can perform in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Oil-based stains take longer to dry, even in cold weather, so be sure to follow the product’s instructions. It could be up to 48 hours.

Effects of Cold Weather on Wood Stain

Low temperatures can cause lots of wood stain problems, but David and Ash both point to delayed curing as the most common. For the most part, delayed curing only affects the project time, not the finished product. However, there are a few temperature-induced complications that will harm the project’s quality, particularly if temperatures drop below freezing.

“If the weather sinks to freezing level before a penetrating stain dries up, then it will not penetrate as required,” says David. This prevents the project from taking on your chosen wood stain color.

Another issue is delamination, which, as David explains, is “where the stain freezes before penetrating the wood and falls off.”

The last issue David mentions has to do with the slower curing time. “The delay caused by the cold can lead to gloss variation and poor color development as the stain might move and cause uneven spreading,” David explains.

David and Ash agree that hot weather is worse than cold weather for staining wood. Extreme heat causes the stain to dry too quickly, leading to uneven color and brush strokes.

How To Stain Wood in Cold Weather

If you can’t avoid staining wood in cold weather, “Apply the stain in a heated garage and give the wood a bit of time to warm up,” Ash recommends. Keep wood stain away from any flames. An unheated attached garage might still be warmer than the outdoors, which will help you avoid some of the problems mentioned above. Don’t forget to check out these tips for outdoor wood stain.

Keep an eye on the weather, too. “Work only when no rain is expected within 48 hours of your application,” says David. “Rain will affect both water and oil-based stains.”

Finally, warm the stain itself before working. You could bring it inside to let it get to room temperature. Ash recommends dipping the can in warm water to speed the process.