Can Oil & Water Finishes be Used Over One Another?

In this video, Tom Monahan of General Finishes explains how you can use oil based and water based products over each other.

QUESTION: Can oil and water based products be used over each other?

ANSWER: Yes! but the underlying finish has to be absolutely dry.

Water Based over Oil Based

When using a water based topcoat over an oil based stain, allow oil based finishes, such as Java Gel Stain, to dry at least 72 hours before coating with a water based topcoat.

Oil Based over Water Based

When using an oil based topcoat over a water based stain or milk paint, allow water based finishes, such as HP topcoat to dry at least 24 hours before coating with an oil based product.


  • Oil based finishes amber over time. Do not use them over white or very light colors.
  • Dry times are affected by temperature and humidity. Ideal conditions are 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity.
  • Spray applications dry faster than hand applications because the coats are thinner and more uniform.
  • Allow more dry time when applying an oil finish over an EXISTING finish versus raw wood, which will absorb the stain faster.
  • Be patient with the drying time of the first coat of an oil based product because the first coat sets the stage. If the first coat is not dry before the next one is applied, the final coats may never dry.


Oil based product: No longer tacky and you can’t smell it.

Water based product: If it feels cool to the touch, it’s not dry. If you can sand to a powder, it is dry.


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