Water Based Dye Stain

Water-based Dye Stains penetrate deep into the wood to beautifully magnify the grain. They will provide your project with more depth and color vibrancy than any other wood stain. This product is excellent for highly figured woods like mahogany, walnut or maple. Dye stains can also be used as a toner when mixed with Water Based Topcoats.

Need some inspiration? Visit the General Finishes Design Center OR Pinterest Board for dye stain ideas.

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Step 1: Preparation for Dye Stain

Before applying stain, all raw wood projects require preparation sanding. If you skip this critical step, your finish may fail.

Preparation for Raw Wood Projects
See our video: How to Prep Sand Raw Wood

  1. Sand open-grain wood (e.g., oak, ash, mahogany, parawood) with 180-grit sandpaper followed by 220-grit sandpaper.
  2. Sand closed-grain wood (e.g., cherry, pine, maple, birch, alder) with 150-grit sandpaper followed by 180-grit sandpaper.
  3. Remove dust with a water-dampened rag or oil-free tack cloth.
  4. Do not over-sand with fine-grit sandpapers; this will close and seal the wood grain, preventing ideal color absorption.
  5. Do NOT use steel wool with water-based finishes; the particles will get trapped in the finish and rust.

Reducing Grain Raise on Raw Wood
To reduce grain raise, dampen the wood with water after prep sanding. Let dry completely, then lightly sand with fine-grade (220-320) foam sanding pad or 400-grit sandpaper.

Step 2: How To Apply General Finishes Dye Stain

General Finishes Dye Stain Application Steps

  1. Stir stain to reincorporate solids that have settled to the bottom of the can before and throughout the application process.
  2. If desired, thin stain with 10-15%  General Finishes Extender to increase open time and allow for maximum flow and level, which is helpful in dry climates.
  3. An initial coat of General Finishes Pre-Stain Conditioner Natural can improve color uniformity over difficult-to-stain wood species such as pine. However, it will limit color absorption, so a darker stain may be required to get the depth of color you want.
  4. Test your complete finishing process beforehand. Stain color can be affected by variances in wood, room lighting, and deepened with the application of topcoat. 
  5. Divide your project into manageable sections: top, side, drawer, door, table seam.
  6. Apply 1-2 coats. A second coat will create a deeper, richer color. Do not apply more than 2 coats.
    • Hand application: Apply a LIBERAL amount of dye stain using a cloth, an acrylic bristle brush, foam brush, pad applicator or roller. Dye Stain penetrates the surface fast; if not enough stain is used, the surface may dry too quickly, causing an uneven appearance. Stain one complete section, such as a side, top, or drawer, and immediately wipe off excess evenly with a cloth, paper or shop towel before starting the next section.
    • Spray application: Before spraying, strain topcoat through a fine-mesh filter. HVLP: 1.1mm-1.3mm spray tip, medium air cap. Verify tip sizes with your equipment supplier. See our general guide for spray tip sizes. Wear a full filter respirator (NIOSH/MSHA approved) and work in a ventilated space. Keep your gun at a 90* angle, 6-8" from the surface. On large, flat areas, use wet, even patterns 6-8" wide. For narrow surfaces, reduce the fan pattern to 2-3" wide to reduce overspray. Overlap each pass of stain 50% for even coverage. If coverage is even, there is no need to wipe. If you have issues with uneven coverage, wipe back the excess with an absorbent cloth. Visit this FAQ for more information on spraying techniques.
  7. Dry 2+ hours between coats in ideal conditions: 70*F/20*C; 50-70% humidity. Inadequate dry time is one of the top reasons for finish failure. If in doubt, wait longer. Increase dry time if humidity is over 80%
    • To accelerate drying in humid conditions, add General Finishes Accelerator and work in a space with good ventilation and air movement. If you decide to re-coat before the recommended time, test dryness.
  8. Allow final coat to dry 2-4 hours in ideal conditions: 50-70% humidity, 70*F/20*C.
  9. Finish with 3 coats of General Finishes topcoat.

Step 3: Topcoat Over Water Based Stain

Always seal General Finishes Water Based Wood StainGeneral Finishes Dye Stain and General Finishes Enduro Ready-To-Match (RTM) Water Based Wood Stain with 3 coats of topcoat. More coats will not improve durability.

Recommended Water-Based Topcoats
General Finishes High Performance can be applied by hand or sprayed; General Finishes Enduro Clear Poly is spray-only. Both topcoats dry clear and are great for high-use surfaces, such as kitchen cabinets and tabletops. General Finishes Flat Out Flat is our flattest topcoat, suitable for projects that do not receive major wear.

Recommended Oil-Based Topcoats
When sealing with General Finishes oil-based topcoats, General Finishes Arm-R-Seal and General Finishes Gel Topcoat, let water-based stain dry a minimum of 24 hours first. Oil-based topcoats amber increasingly over time.

Creative Finishing Techniques Using Dye Stain

Custom Colors using Dye Stain Reducer
Create custom color Dye Stains by adding General Finishes Dye Stain Reducer in 10% increments until you achieve the color you want. It is not possible to mix too much of our Dye Stain or Reducer together. Do NOT Use Water to Lighten General Finishes Dye Stains. Dye Stain Reducer has ingredients that help keep color molecules dispersed evenly in the can. 

Layering Dye Stain
Use Dye Stains to highlight the depth of the grain, to even out color saturation, and to achieve deeper colors under other stain applications. Example: Use Amber or Yellow Dye Stain for a golden glow under General Finishes Gel Stain or General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain.

Dye Stains can be used as a toner when mixed with water-based topcoat.

Cleanup of Water Based Products

Application tools and materials containing water-based products can be cleaned with soap and water immediately after use.

Product Spills
Spills may be able to be removed from fabric and carpet if cleaned immediately with soap and water.

Storage of Water Based Products

Life of Product
Water-based products do not last forever, even when unopened. General Finishes products are best used within 1 year of the manufacture date listed on the bottom of the can. The life of the product may be extended with proper care and storage.

Gravity can cause some solids to settle on the bottom of the can and slight separation on the top. This is normal. If working with older paint, use paint mixing attachment on a drill. If the solids dissolve and clumps smooth out after mixing from the bottom, the product is in good condition for use.

Storage Tips
See video tutorial: Tips on Storing Leftover Finishes
Water-based finishes crystalize and form a skin due to evaporation when the air-tight seal on a can is broken at first use. The following best practices will increase the life of your product:

  1. Pry open sealed lids with a paint can opener by hooking under the lid's rolled edge. The use of a screwdriver can disfigure the rim and lid, impairing a complete seal. 
  2. Keep lid closed while working. Pour what you will use into a bowl, paper cup, or plate, and close can lid as you work.
  3. Clean the chime of the can thoroughly with a paper towel before closing to create a complete seal. Paint in the chime can be minimized by using a pouring lid, such as Fitsall. Avoid wiping used brushes on the lid.
  4. Pound the lid in place using a rubber mallet to avoid distorting the chime or lid. Dents in the lid from direct contact with a hammer can impair a complete seal. Alternatively, place a flat piece of wood over can lid and firmly pound shut.
  5. Store in moderate temperatures. Avoid temperatures below 50*F/10*C or above 80*F/26*C. Frozen and heat-damaged product cannot be revitalized. Temperature-controlled spaces, such as a basement, are ideal for storage. Do not store product in an attic, garage, in direct sunlight, or next to something warm like a water heater or furnace.
  6. Store can upside down to create a liquid seal, minimize evaporation and reduce the chance of crystallization. Decant remaining product from the can before stirring. 
  7. Decant leftovers to a smaller container when the finish is almost used up. Alternative storage containers for water-based products are plastic FIFO bottles or glass bottles. Do not fill metal-lidded containers completely to prevent them from rusting.

The following water-based product mixtures can be stored:

  1. Product thinned with up to 15% General Finishes Extender or General Finishes Accelerator can be stored, with the exception of thinned General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain.
  2. Mixtures involving colors & sheens within the same product line, such as:
    • High Performance Satin + High Performance Gloss
    • Snow White Milk Paint + Coastal Blue Milk Paint
    • Amber Dye Stain + Merlot Dye Stain

The following product mixtures should NOT be stored:

  • Any water based product with thinned tap water; water often contains bacteria that will adversely affect stored paint.
  • Topcoat + Stain or Paint
  • Milk Paint + Chalk Style Paint
  • Water Based Wood Stain + Dye Stain

Warnings and Warranties

Limited Warranty
General Finishes products must be tested to your complete satisfaction before using, including compatibility with other manufacturers products. General Finishes will be responsible only for the cost of our products and will not be responsible for any costs such as labor, damage, or replacement costs.

Contamination and Compatibility
Our finishes are engineered as a system and are compatible with each other. General Finishes cannot guarantee an ideal refinish when applying our products on top of or combined with another company's products or over surfaces that have been in contact with waxes, polishes or sprays containing contaminants such as silicone. Test for adherence and aesthetics before beginning. 

If you scrape, sand, or remove old paint, you may release lead dust. LEAD IS TOXIC. EXPOSURE TO LEAD DUST CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ILLNESS, SUCH AS BRAIN DAMAGE, ESPECIALLY IN CHILDREN. PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD ALSO AVOID EXPOSURE. Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to control lead exposure. Clean up carefully with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop. Before you start, find out how to protect yourself and your family by contacting the National Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or log onto www.epa.gov/lead. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects. Do not swallow; first aid: drink water to dilute product. May cause eye and skin irritation; first aid: flush eyes thoroughly with water.

This product contains a chemical known to the State Of California to cause cancer and birth defects. Do not swallow; first aid: drink water to dilute product. May cause eye or skin irritation; first aid: flush eyes thoroughly with water.


Basic Features
Product Colors Yellow, Amber, Light Brown, Medium Brown, Dark Brown, Orange, Empire Red, Vintage Cherry, Cinnamon, Merlot, Pewter, Ebony, Green, Blue, Reducer (Clear)
Base Type Water
Interior or Exterior Interior only
Coats 1+ coats
Application Method Brush, Spray
Brushable Yes
Usable over existing finishes No
Sprayable Yes
Spray Tip Sizes HVLP 1.1mm-1.3mm
Dry Time
Dry Time - Touch 30+ min.
Dry Time - Recoat 2+ hr
Can Sizes Pints, Quarts, Gallons
Can Size Exceptions

5 Gallon Pails available in Light Brown, Medium Brown and Dark Brown only.

Coverage 75 sq. ft/pint, 150 sq. ft/quart, 600 sq. ft/gal
Technical Data
Viscosity Very Thin
Weight Solids 11%
VOC <240 g/L

Design Center



Dye Stains | Water Based | Shown on Maple & Oak


Can I adjust the color of my Dye Stain?

Yes, there are a couple of ways. Dye Stain Reducer is the clear base that we use when manufacturing General Finishes Dye Stains. The Reducer is made first, then the dye color is added.

It is easy to make your own custom color Dye Stain by adding in 10% increments of Dye Stain color to Reducer until you achieve the color you want. It is not possible to mix too much of our Dye Stain and Reducer together.

Additionally, General Finishes Water Based Wood Stains can be mixed into the Reducer, which will lighten the color and thin the viscosity so it will penetrate deeper into the wood.

You can also mix other manufacturers dyes such as TransTint dye concentrate, sold in many wood working stores.

We do NOT RECOMMEND using water to lighten dye stain. Reducer has ingredients to help keep color molecules dispersed evenly in the can.

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Does adding Dye Stain Reducer to Dye Stain lighten the color?

Yes, one of its uses is to dilute dye stain colors. Dye Stain reducer is the clear base the we use when manufacturing our dye stains. We make the reducer first, then add the dye color.

It is easy to make your own custom color Dye Stain by adding in 10% increments until you achieve the color you want. It is not possible to mix too much of our dye stain or reducer together.

Additionally, General Finishes Water Based Stains can be mixed into the reducer, which will lighten the color and thin the viscosity so it will penetrate deeper into the wood.

You can also mix other manufacturers dyes such as TransTint dye concentrate, sold in many wood working stores.

We do not recommend using water to lighten dye stain. Reducer has ingredients to help keep color molecules dispersed evenly in the can.


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How do I correct color lift when applying High Performance over GF Water Based Dye Stains?

It is normal to see a bit of stain on the brush when applying the first coat of topcoat. Topcoats often pull a bit of color ont he first pass, but good preparation will minimize this.

To prepare open grains woods such as raw Oak for a water based stain, we recommend sanding with 180 grit followed by no more than 220 grit sandpaper. 300/400 grit sandpaper is too fine for preparing raw wood. Too fine of a grit changes the wood from a porous surface to one that is too smooth to absorb the stain, which causes the first top coat application to pull excessive color. (It is like trying to apply stain to glass.) There is always a small amount of color pull when using water based stains, but the smooth surface escalates this condition. This was evident in the areas that you used the brush to remove excess topcoat.

See recommended sanding schedules here: https://generalfinishes.com/faq/what-grit-should-i-use-for-prep-sanding-raw

Here are some options to try. Always test a small area before proceeding with your entire project.

  1. Toning: Lightly sand the light areas with a 220 grit sanding foam PAD to open up the pores of the wood. Create a toning mix of 10-20% dye stain to 80-90% topcoat. Using a small brush, apply this mix over the light areas to blend with the darker areas. Let this dry 3-4 hours. Then apply another coat of the mix over the entire surface. If this is successful, then apply 2-3 coats of the topcoat. 
  2. Glaze the light areas. This will change the look of your doors, but it is an easier remedy.
  3. Optimally, you should sand down to bare wood and start over with this prep sanding schedule. You can apply the dye stain directly to the wood, or mix in 10% top coat to help lock in the color.


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Why or when should I use a Dye Stain?

There are several reasons.

  1. When you have beautiful wood grain, pattern or burl and you want to show it off! Dye stains are like ink, and penetrate deep into the wood grain, revealing the figure of the wood with beautiful transparency.
  2. They are a great way to layer and intensify color. We often use a yellow or amber dye stain under another type of darker stain. For example, Yellow Dye Stain under Java Gel Stain. The depth and glow is lovely.
  3. To create a brilliantly colored project. Dye stains come in a range of colors from traditional wood tones to brilliant primaries, and they can be applied to raw wood, and can be combined with clear coats.

Look at this piece that Jillian Moncada of ReFind Design by Coco Clare graciously shared. When Jilian discovered this beautiful burled wood under the old finish, she wrote and asked what to use - we said dye stain and just look at her result! Please share your dye stain projects on this post or to our Facebook Page.

We do not recommend the use of a wood pre-conditioner with dye stains. It is a matter of personal preference, but conditioners always diminish the saturation of the color, defeating the purpose of dye stains.

GRAIN RAISE: Water based dye stains pop the wood grain more than solvent based versions, but like all water based stain products, it will raise the grain of the wood a bit. You can reduce this effect by raising the grain before applying the dye stain. First, dampen the sanded surface with a cloth moistened with distilled water (tap water can contain minerals that may affect the finish). Let the surface dry and then lightly with the grain using P220-girt sandpaper. Never over-sand before applying any stain, as you may seal the surface so much the stains will not penetrate properly. Alternatively, the grain raise can easily be knocked down when finish sanding the first layer of topcoat.

CAUTION: Test the color first in a hidden area. Once you use a dye stain, that is the color you are going to get. Apply liberally and evenly with a foam applicator and wipe off any excess immediately. There won't be much to wipe off it penetrates fast.

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