Can You Mix Stain and Polyurethane Together?

Polyurethane floor but can you mix stain and polyurethane together?

Both stain and polyurethane, make good finishes to your wooden surfaces. Unlike a stain, polyurethane provides a finish with more gloss. However, these two can be transparent such that they allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through by exposing the grains. What if you have these two finishes at your disposal, can you mix stain and polyurethane together?

Stains exist in limited colors, which can be a shortcoming if you are looking for a specific color. Therefore, you can mix the stain and polyurethane so that you get the shade that you want. 

If you have decided on mixing the two, ensure that you stir the two formulas properly before you proceed to combine them in one place.

What is Stain

As you can tell from the name, a stain refers to a substance that enhances or changes the natural color of your wood. Stains can penetrate the wood deeply to highlight its grain, as a result, intensify existing tones, or alter the color. 

The wood stains usually provide some level of protection to the wood against destructive environmental elements. Even so, for most people, stains are for decorative needs than the protective bit of it.

Types of Stain

There are so many types of wood stains that you can find in the market today. Some of them are:

Oil Stain

They are the most widely available and are the ones that first come into people’s minds when they think of staining their projects. They are easy to uses because the linseed oil ( occasionally a mixture of linseed oil and varnish) binder gives you alot of time to do away with the excess stain before the formula dries—even on large projects.

Mostly, you will need solvents such as mineral spirits (paint thinner) to clean a stained surface.

Varnish Stain

Varnish stains look more or less the same as the oil stains except that varnish stains use only varnish (polyurethane varnish at times) as binders. Therefore, varnish stains dry hard, unlike the oil stains don’t. 

Therefore, you can brush a varnish stain on wood and leave it to dry without wiping unlike in the oil stain where you have to wipe off excess oil or else the top finish may end up chipping or peeling.

Water-Based Stain

These types of stains use water-based finish as the binder and replace the organic thinner with water. Therefore, these stains come with less pollution, they do not irritate when they come into contact and above all are easy to clean compared to the first two stains above.

These stains dry very fast, faster than most of the other stains.

Gel Stain

Most of the gel stains are oil-based, so if you are looking to thin and clean them, use mineral spirits. You can identify them using their thickness, which is like mayonnaise. They are messy to apply, if you are looking to solve one of the biggest problems in wood finishing, blotching on pine, use the gel stain.

Lacquer Stain

Lacquer stains use ultra-fast drying binders plus solvents. It is a favorite of most professional finishers because you can apply them within 15 minutes or so. 

These stains don’t use lacquer as the binder. Instead, they use a very fast drying varnish, a short-oil varnish.

What is Polyurethane?

Mostly, you could say that polyurethane is a plastic in the form of a liquid before it dries. You will find polyurethane in both water- and oil-based options and are available in varieties such as satin to glossy.

Water-based polyurethane is the most popular because it contains low odor and a small number of toxins. It goes on and dries clear without adding a slight color, unlike the oil-based versions. Water-based polyurethanes dry much faster. As with shellac, the water-based polyurethane does not hold up well to heat plus chemicals. Therefore, it’s suitable for surfaces that do not experience extreme conditions such as bookcases, side tables, desks, and picture frames.

Types of Polyurethane


They are not as durable as an oil-based polyurethane; however, they are preferred because they produce less odor and dries faster than the oil-based. When using this formula, you don’t necessarily have to worry about the ventilation of your working area as it produces less toxic fumes. 

You can easily clean it with a simple use of water and soap.

Oil-Based or Solvent-Based

These types of polyurethane demand that you apply them in well-ventilated areas because they produce toxic fumes. They are durable compared to the water-based ones. 

You can clean them using solvents such as mineral spirits.

How to Mix Stain With Polyurethane

The use of one-step stain and polyurethane finishes in woodworking has become a common thing recently. Combining the two has made the application easy to come with quick finish time, making it a high demand product for most woodworkers. 

Stains exist in limited colors, which haven’t helped many leading to people preferring the mixture of stain and polyurethane to obtain their desired shades in the process. In the steps below, I have explained how you can mix a stain and a poly product successfully.

Step One

Take your stain, stir it in its container until you achieve a consistent color throughout the stain.

Step Two

Use a stirring stick to stir the polyurethane. Ensure that you do the stirring of this chemical in a room with proper ventilation.

Step Three

Pour even sections of the stain and polyurethane into a separate paint bucket.

Step Four

Stir the mixture(stain and polyurethane) until the color is entirely even. In case the container is not full, tip it slightly to the side, allowing for better mixing.

Step Five

Cover and make a mark on the container with the stain color via brushing a little amount of the mix on the lid of the container for future references. In case you happen to store the mixture for several days, you will have to stir it thoroughly before using it.


Stain and polyurethane give your wooden structure a beautiful finish and, above all, protection. Stains come in limited colors, which is a drawback, especially to people who love colors on their structure. So,

Can you mix stain and polyurethane together?

The straight answer is yes; you can mix the two to achieve your desired shade. Above all, the two give you a one-off application, which saves you time.

I hope you found this article helpful, kindly share your thoughts on the comment section below.

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Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

1 thought on “Can You Mix Stain and Polyurethane Together?”

  1. Maybe obvious to most, but should be noted you should only mix water based stain products with water based urethane products and similarly oil based….. Unfortunately it even harder to find much color selection with water based stain.

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