Do You Need to Use Wood Conditioner Before Staining?

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 06/12/23 • 

Staining is one of the methods of finishing wood that enhances the beauty and natural look of wood. Although staining can feel intimidating, it is simple if you prep your wood properly. Once you’re done sanding and preparing the wood, it is time to apply a stain. However, before applying a stain, do you need a wood conditioner?

What is a Wood Conditioner?

A wood conditioner, also called a pre-stain conditioner or stain controller, is a simple product used to reduce stain penetration and thus prevent problems like blotching and streaking.

Wood conditioners are usually thinned finishes that penetrate deeper into the wood’s pores, so the stain only colors the wood near the surface.

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.

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Pre-stain conditioners are available for both oil-based and water-based wood stains. However, you don’t need a pre-stain conditioner for water-based stains because they don’t cause problems when staining wood compared to oil-based stains.

When to Use a Wood Conditioner

Blotching is a problem you’ll experience when staining wood. It is the uneven coloration when applying stain to the wood. It usually occurs in woods such as pine, fir, spruce, aspen, and alder.

Blotching After Applying Wood Stain

Blotching After Applying Wood Stain

Most of these woods have different densities in their composition, which causes some parts to absorb more stains than other parts. Of all these woods, pine, which is the most popular wood for beginning woodworkers, blotches the worst.

A wood conditioner is usually used before staining the wood to reduce blotching and get an even finish. The wood conditioner penetrates the wood fibers and fills the pores. This prevents stains from going deeper into the wood fibers, thus effectively preventing blotching.

How Long After Wood Conditioner to Apply Stain

For most wood conditioners in the market, you should let it dry for about 2 hours before applying a stain. However, we recommend six to eight hours of drying time or leaving it overnight, eliminating any hint of blotching when applying the stain.

However, you may notice the wood will be lighter if you follow this method. This is because the wood conditioner prevents the stain from being absorbed deeper into the wood fibers, thus creating a lighter color.

To get a darker color, apply a second coat of the stain or leave it to stay on the wood’s surface longer before wiping the excess.

How to Apply Wood Conditioner and Stain

Wood Conditioner Problem

The only problem when using a wood conditioner is the stain will appear lighter. This is because the wood conditioner prevents the stain from penetrating deeper into the wood.

To make the wood darker, leave the excess stain on the wood’s surface or apply a second coat of the stain. However, don’t leave too much stain, which will muddy the wood or cause streaking.


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