Best Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners to Prevent Blotching

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 06/18/23 • 

To prevent or reduce blotching in some types of woods, such as pine, cherry, or birch, among many others, a pre-stain wood conditioner is applied before staining. The wood conditioner helps the stain be absorbed evenly by preventing it from going deeper into the wood fibers. In this post, we’ll look at some wood conditioner you can use before staining wood for a perfect-looking stained surface.

Our Best Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners

Best Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

1. Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Minwax Clear Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
$18.72 ($0.58 / Fl Oz)

The Minwax pre-stain conditioner treats wood surfaces after sanding before staining to prevent blotches and streaks. It's easy to apply and wipe off the excess. It evens out a wood's surface, so the stain blends in well.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

If you’re looking for a good wood conditioner that will even out the stain and blend it better, this Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner is our best option. We’ve stained wood without and with this wood conditioner, and the difference is amazing. It’s easy to apply and wipe off the excess. We only recommend you use one layer for the best results.

This is for use with only oil-based stains, but there is a water-based pre-stain option, which we’ve also included in this post. One of the disadvantages of the Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner is the price. It’s expensive compared to other options on this list. However, it makes a difference, and we still recommend it.

Another Good Alternative

2. General Finishes Oil-Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

General Finishes Oil Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
$38.99 ($1.22 / Fl Oz)

The General Finishes wood conditioner is excellent if you want to treat your wood before staining it. It's easy to apply and works. However, it's more expensive compared to other products in the market.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

General Finishes is one of the biggest names in the finishing industry, with a wide range of wood finishing products. This pre-stain wood conditioner is a good alternative to our best option, but it was more expensive than the Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner.

However, it worked perfectly when we used it, and we saw minimal blotchiness, which is hardly noticeable. It has a watery consistency and is easy to apply and wipe off. It makes problematic woods take stains very well for an even-colored wood surface.

Cheaper Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

3. Rust-Oleum Varathane Wood Conditioner

Rust-Oleum Varathane Wood Conditioner
$21.72

If you want a cheaper or budget-friendly wood conditioner to try out, this is it. It is easy to apply and delivers good results compared to other higher-priced products. However, it's a more pungent smell, but overall works.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

If you’re looking for a cheaper or budget-friendly wood conditioner, the Rust-oleum’s varathane wood conditioner is your best option. Compared to Minwax and General Finishes, it is very cheap and still delivers good results after using it.

Like the other wood conditioners, it reduces blotching, and the results are evident. It was also easier to apply, allowing the stain to penetrate deep enough to color the wood and prevent blotching. However, it has a stronger smell, but that’s a smaller price to pay considering its price and the results.

Water-based Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

4. Minwax Water-based Wood Conditioner

Minwax Water-Based Pre- Stain Wood Conditioner
$17.98 ($0.56 / Fl Oz)

The Minwax water-based pre-stain wood conditioner is a great product to reduce blotching when applying a water-based stain. However, we did notice much difference when using it before staining wood.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

While we neither recommend nor use water-based pre-stain wood conditioners when applying water-based stains, but it does not hurt to use it before you stain wood. Like other wood conditioners, it is easy to use and apply. However, we didn’t notice much of a difference as we do when using oil-based wood conditioners with oil-based stains.

Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners Buying Guide

What is a Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner?

A pre-stain wood conditioner is also known as a stain controller. It is usually a thinned finish like varnish or polyurethane. Wood conditioners are applied to the wood before staining and penetrate deeper into the wood fibers. This helps reduce stain penetration in woods likely to stain unevenly, such as pine.

When to Use a Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Blotching is one of the wood staining mistakes that cannot be easily fixed. To fix blotching after applying a wood stain, you’d have to sand the wood enough to remove the blotches.

The cause of blotching when staining some woods is because of uneven densities. This makes the wood not soak up stains uniformly across its surface. Using mineral spirits before you apply a wood stain can show you darker areas that are likely to blotch when you apply a wood finish.

Treating Desk with Minwax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

Treating Desk with Minwax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

However, to reduce or eliminate blotching or streaking, apply the wood conditioner before you use a wood stain. The wood conditioner penetrates deeper into the wood fibers and prevents a stain from penetrating deeper. This effectively eliminates and reduces blotching in woods such as pine, birch, maple, fir, poplar, and cherry.

Which Wood Species Need Pre-Stain Conditioners

A wood conditioner should be used on porous woods with uneven densities before applying a stain. Pine, one of the most available woods for beginner woodworkers, needs a wood conditioner to avoid blotching and perfectly apply the stain. Other woods that might benefit from a pre-stain wood conditioner include cherry, poplar, maple, birch, and fir.

Varathane Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner and Minwax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

Varathane Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner and Minwax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Wood Conditioner

There are oil-based pre-stain wood conditioners for oil-based stains and water-based pre-stain wood conditioners for water-based stains. However, blotching is usually prone when applying oil-based stains.

Minwax Water-Based Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

Minwax Water-Based Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

We usually recommend a wood conditioner for only oil-based stains, but you can also use a water-based wood conditioner to get better results with your water-based stains.

Wood Conditioner vs. Sanding Sealer

A sanding sealer is a lacquer- or varnish-based finish with mineral soap (zinc stearate) added. A sanding sealer is applied to the wood before some finishes, like lacquer or varnish, to make sanding them easier.

Varnish and lacquer finishes are harder to sand down because they clog up the sandpaper faster. The zinc stearate additive makes it easier to sand the finishes so that the first coat is smoother and the other coats can also go on smoothly.

Apart from making the first coat easier to sand, sanding sealers reduce grain raising, seal off the wood, and lengthen the application window of some two-part finishes.

Applying Varathane Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

Applying Varathane Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

While a wood conditioner is used to reduce stain penetration, a sanding sealer is mostly used to make it to sand the first coat of finish and make the other coats go on smoothly. Check out our wood conditioner vs. sanding sealer guide for more information.

Pre-stain Wood Conditioner vs. Wood Polish

Pre-stain wood conditioners and wood polish are sometimes confused because some wood polishes use the word wood conditioner in their names. However, these two products serve very different purposes.

Wood polish and conditioners, such as the Howard Products Wood Polish & Conditioner, are used to condition from drying and fading while also polishing the wood. Wood polish and conditioners have oils that help rejuvenate and restore drying and fading wood. They also have wax that acts as a wood polisher.

Wood polish and conditioner are used on finished wood furniture and products to maintain and keep them in good condition. This is unlike pre-stain wood conditioners that are applied before staining wood to help reduce problems like blotching and streaking on some woods.

MWB-Team

Hello there! This is the Make Wood Better Team. Here, we share informative how-tos and guides focused on making wood better. Whether it's finishing wood, maintenance, or restoration, there's something on this website for you to learn and improve your skills.