Can You Paint Acrylic Over Stained Wood? The Magic of Acrylics

Bob Thomas
Yes, you can paint acrylic over stained wood. But to ensure the best results, there's more to it than just brushing on paint. Curious about the steps to a flawless finish? Dive into the article for expert insights.

There's something truly charming about the rich, warm look of stained wood.

But what if you're itching for a change, craving a pop of color, or just want to freshen up your space?

You might be wondering, "Can I paint acrylic over stained wood?" The answer, my friend, is a resounding yes!

You can indeed bring in the vibrant palette of acrylics to spruce up your stained wood.

However, there are a few essential steps to ensure a successful, long-lasting finish.

Let's dive in!

Quick Summary

To paint acrylic over stained wood, follow these essential steps: 1) Prepare the surface by cleaning and sanding, 2) Apply a quality primer, 3) Paint with acrylic paint, and 4) Seal with a protective topcoat. This process ensures a smooth, vibrant, and long-lasting finish.

Understanding the Basics

Before we embark on the journey of painting, let's get to know our canvas a little better - stained wood.

It's essentially wood that's been treated with a type of stain to alter its color or enhance its natural tones.

The stain seeps into the wood grain, creating a beautiful, timeless look. 

However, this penetrating quality of the stain can pose a challenge when you want to paint over it.

Pro Tip: Understanding your material helps in choosing the right products and techniques for the best result.

Preparation is Key

Materials Needed:

Why You Need It

Soft cloth

To clean the surface

TSP (Trisodium Phosphate)

Effective cleaning agent for greasy or dirty surfaces

Medium-grit sandpaper (80-120 grit)

To create a rough surface for better adhesion

Primer (oil-based or acrylic)

Creates a barrier between the stain and the paint

Acrylic paint

Versatile, easy to work with, and comes in various colors

Protective topcoat (optional)

To seal and protect the painted surface

Steps to Follow

  1. Cleaning: The first step is always cleaning. I can't stress this enough. A clean surface ensures better adhesion of the primer and paint. Use a soft cloth dipped in a solution of warm water and TSP to clean the surface. Let it dry completely.
  2. Sanding: Once the surface is clean, it's time for a bit of elbow grease. Sand the surface lightly using a medium-grit sandpaper. Remember, the aim is not to remove the stain but to create a slightly rough texture for the primer to stick to.
  3. Priming: After dusting off the sanding residue, apply a coat of primer. I've found that an oil-based or acrylic primer works best on stained wood. It creates a solid barrier, preventing the stain from seeping through the paint. Allow the primer to dry as per the manufacturer's instructions.
  4. Painting: Now comes the fun part - painting! Acrylic paint is versatile, easy to work with, and comes in an array of colors. Apply the paint using a suitable brush or roller, working in the direction of the wood grain. You might need two or more coats for an even, opaque finish. Remember to let each coat dry before applying the next.
  5. Sealing (Optional): Once the paint is dry, you can choose to apply a protective topcoat. This step is optional but recommended for surfaces that will see heavy use or outdoor exposure. The topcoat seals the paint, adding an extra layer of protection.

Pro Tip: Always apply the topcoat in thin layers to avoid brush strokes or drips.

Unleashing Creativity

Once you've mastered the basics of painting acrylic over stained wood, it's time to let your creativity shine!

  1. Color Blocking: Use different colors to create sections or 'blocks' on your piece. This can bring a modern, geometric touch to your furniture or decor.
  2. Stenciling: Stencils can add a detailed design with little effort. Choose from countless stencil patterns available online or in craft stores, or make your own!
  3. Distressing: After the paint is dry, use sandpaper to lightly rub off some paint on the edges and detailed areas. This gives a rustic, aged look to your piece.
  4. Mix and Match: Don't feel limited to just one technique or color. Mix and match to create unique, personalized pieces.

Safety, Risk, and Considerations


  1. Ventilation: Many products used in the painting process, such as primer and sealant, can release fumes that are potentially hazardous if inhaled in large amounts. Always work in a well-ventilated area, and consider wearing a mask if necessary.
  2. Personal Protection: Wear protective clothing, including gloves and safety glasses, to protect your skin and eyes from splashes of paint or primer.
  3. Proper Disposal: Dispose of leftover paints, primers, and sealants as per local regulations. These materials can be harmful to the environment if not disposed of correctly.


  1. Damage to Original Finish: The process of sanding and priming can irreversibly alter the original finish of the wood. Make sure you are comfortable with this before you start.
  2. Uneven Coverage: If not done carefully, painting can result in streaks, drips, or uneven coverage. This can be mitigated by applying thin, even layers of paint and allowing each layer to dry thoroughly.
  3. Potential Allergies: Some people may have allergic reactions to certain types of paint, primers, or sealants. If you notice any adverse reaction while working, stop immediately and seek medical attention.


  1. Type of Wood: The type of wood and stain can impact how well the paint adheres to the surface. Some woods, like oak or mahogany, have a high oil content that can interfere with paint adhesion.
  2. Color Choice: Darker stains might show through lighter shades of acrylic paint. You might need to apply multiple coats or use a primer to prevent this.
  3. Existing Damage: If the wood is damaged or rotted, painting over it won't fix the underlying issue. It might be necessary to repair or replace the damaged sections before painting.

Remember, while painting can be a fun and rewarding DIY project, it's important to take the necessary safety precautions and understand the risks involved.


  1. Problem: Paint is not adhering to the surface
    • Solution: This can be caused by insufficient preparation. Make sure the surface is clean, dry, and free of loose particles. If the wood is very smooth, you might need to lightly sand it to create a better surface for the paint to adhere to. A primer may also be necessary.
  2. Problem: Stain is showing through the paint
    • Solution: This could be because the paint is too thin, or the color of the paint is too light. Apply an additional coat of paint, or use a primer first to cover the stain. A stain-blocking primer can be especially effective for this.
  3. Problem: Paint is drying unevenly or cracking
    • Solution: This could be due to painting in a space that is too hot, too cold, or too humid. Try to work in a space with a stable, moderate temperature and low humidity. Also, ensure that each layer of paint is fully dry before applying the next one.
  4. Problem: Paint is bubbling or peeling
    • Solution: This can happen if the surface wasn't clean when the paint was applied, or if the wood is exposed to moisture. Make sure the surface is clean and dry before painting. If moisture is an issue, you might need to seal the wood before painting it.
  5. Problem: Brush strokes are visible in the finished paint job
    • Solution: This could be due to using a low-quality brush, or applying the paint too thickly. Try using a higher-quality brush, and apply the paint in thin, even layers.

Remember, the key to a successful paint job is patience and preparation.

Don't rush the process, and make sure to properly prepare the surface and your materials before you begin.

Frequently Asked Questions Section (FAQs)

Q. Can I use any kind of acrylic paint on stained wood?

  A: While most acrylic paints should work on stained wood, it's best to use one that is specially designed for use on wood for optimal results.

Q. How many coats of acrylic paint should I apply on stained wood?

  A: The number of coats required can vary based on the color and thickness of the paint, as well as the color of the underlying stain.

It's best to start with a single layer, then add more as necessary until you're satisfied with the appearance.

Q. Can I use a paint roller instead of a brush for applying acrylic paint on stained wood?

  A: Yes, a paint roller can be used and may even provide a smoother finish. However, a brush might be better for smaller, more detailed areas.

Q. Do I need to seal the acrylic paint after painting over stained wood?

  A: It's not always necessary, but applying a sealant can protect your paint job and give the surface a finished look. It can be particularly useful for surfaces that will see a lot of wear and tear.

Q. How long should I wait between applying coats of paint?

  A: It's generally best to wait until the previous coat is completely dry. This can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight, depending on the thickness of the paint and the environmental conditions.

Q. What should I do if the stained wood has a glossy finish?

  A: If the wood has a glossy finish, it may be necessary to lightly sand the surface before painting to ensure proper adhesion. Be sure to clean off any dust before you begin painting.

Q. Can I paint acrylic over stained wood furniture?

  A: Yes, acrylic paint can be used on stained wood furniture. Just be sure to properly prepare the surface and follow the necessary steps to ensure a smooth, durable finish.


Revamping stained wood with acrylic paint is an excellent way to breathe new life into your furniture, doors, or decor pieces.

With a bit of preparation and a whole lot of creativity, you can transform any stained wood surface into a vibrant work of art.

So, roll up those sleeves, unleash your inner artist, and start painting!

Suggested Products:  

  1. Stain Blocking Primer: An example of a high-quality product is the KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Interior/Exterior Latex Primer. It's specifically designed to cover stains and prevent them from showing through the paint. This primer provides excellent adhesion for acrylic paint, making it a great choice for painting over stained wood.
  2. Acrylic Paint: For acrylic paint, Liquitex Basics Acrylic Paint is a strong contender. This paint has a rich, highly pigmented color that can effectively cover stained wood. It is also easy to layer and mix, enabling you to achieve the exact shade you want.
  3. Paint Brushes: When it comes to paint brushes, the Presa Premium Paint Brushes Set stands out. They're made with a blend of synthetic filaments that are designed to hold more paint, allowing for smoother application. The set includes brushes of various sizes, which can be handy for painting different areas of the stained wood.
  4. Paint Roller: The Wooster Brush Company's Paint Roller Frame and Covers are excellent for painting larger areas of stained wood. The roller covers are made of a high-density knit fabric that holds a lot of paint and leaves a smooth finish.
  5. Sandpaper: 3M's General Purpose Sandpaper is an excellent choice for preparing stained wood for painting. It's durable and versatile, capable of smoothing rough surfaces and removing gloss from stained wood to ensure better paint adhesion.
  6. Sealant: The Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish is a clear, ultra-fast drying protective topcoat. It's perfect for protecting acrylic paint on stained wood, ensuring your paint job lasts longer and withstands everyday use.
  7. Painters Tape: ScotchBlue Original Multi-Surface Painter's Tape is a reliable choice for protecting areas you don't want to paint. It adheres well and removes cleanly without leaving residue or damaging the surface.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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