Water Based Wood Stain

General Finishes Water Based Wood Stains are formulated to provide workability similar to oil-based stains. They spread easily, can be repaired, blend effortlessly and have plenty of open time. The thicker formula of these wood stains allows for controlled penetration, and their high-quality pigments produce rich, dark, uniform colors on hard-to-stain woods like maple and pine. Low odor, low VOC, water cleanup and noncombustible.

Need some inspiration? Visit the General Finishes Design Center OR Pinterest Board for water-based wood stain ideas.

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Instructions

Step 1: Preparation for Water Based Wood Stain

Before applying stain, all raw wood projects require preparation sanding, and all existing finishes require prep cleaning and 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.

Preparation for Projects with an Existing Finish
For high-use areas with heavy grime build-up and oil from hands, give your project a deeper cleaning. See our video: How to Prepare Existing Finishes

  1. Scuff clean with a Scotch Brite pad and a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. Dry 1-2 hours. Avoid cleaning with products containing phosphates (salt), which can linger in the substrate and produce a white haze. If your project requires a deeper cleaning, see Power Prep Cleaning Highly Used Existing Finishes below.
  2. Sand lightly with a fine-grade (220-320) foam sanding pad or 400-grit sandpaper.
  3. Remove dust with a non-sticky tack cloth or a water-dampened rag. 
  4. Let dry completely before applying General Finishes product.

Power Prep Cleaning Highly Used Existing Finishes
See our video: How to Power Prep Existing High Use Finishes for Stain or Paint

  1. Scrub clean with a detergent, such as Spic and Span or Dawn, using a Scotch Brite pad.
  2. Rinse well with water.
  3. Scrub clean with a Scotch Brite pad and a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. Dry 1-2 hours.
  4. Sand lightly with a fine-grade (220-320) foam sanding pad or 400-grit sandpaper.
  5. Remove dust with a non-sticky tack cloth or a water-dampened rag. 
  6. Let dry completely before applying General Finishes product.

Alternative Cleaning Solutions for Existing Finishes (Not as aggressive or effective as denatured alcohol; requires rinsing.) 

  1. 50:50 mix of bleach and water 
  2. 50:50 mix of vinegar and water
  3. Mineral spirits can be used when working with water-based products, but only if the surface is thoroughly rinsed and allowed to dry for 72 hours.

Step 2: How To Apply General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain

General Finishes Water Based Wood 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% distilled water or General Finishes Extender. Extender will improve flow and leveling and increase open time, 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. Hand-Application over Raw Wood:
    • Apply a LIBERAL amount of stain to ensure easy workability using an acrylic bristle brush, foam brush, pad applicator or roller. If not enough stain is used, the surface may dry too quickly, causing an uneven appearance. On large projects, leave a wet edge between sections to prevent lap lines.
    • Stain a complete section and wipe off the excess evenly with the grain using quality paper towel or shop towel. Check for missed spots and lap marks before moving to the next section. Do NOT use cotton t-shirts to wipe away stain because they will "push" the stain around and not absorb it.
    • Pull excess stain out of corners and details with a bristle brush.
    • Immediately correct lap marks by rewetting the entire working area with stain and wiping off the excess.
    • Let the stain dry 2-4 hours in ideal conditions: 50-70% humidity, 70*F/20*C before adding a second coat (optional) and before adding topcoat. Be sure to allow adequate dry time. If in doubt, wait longer. Increase dry time if: 
      • Humidity is over 80%
      • 3+ coats are applied (not recommended)
      • Thick coats are applied
      • To accelerate dry time in humid conditions, add General Finishes Accelerator before applying and work in a space with good ventilation and air movement. If you decide to re-coat before the recommended time, test dryness. 
  7. Spray Application over Raw Wood: 
    • 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 25-50% for even coverage. Read here for more information on spraying techniques.
    • Spray a LIBERAL amount of stain to ensure easy workability. If not enough stain is used, the surface may dry too quickly, causing an uneven appearance. On large projects, leave a wet edge between sections to prevent lap lines.
    • Pull excess stain out of corners and details with a bristle brush.
    • Immediately correct lap marks by rewetting the entire working area with stain and wiping off the excess.
    • Let the stain dry 2-4 hours in ideal conditions: 50-70% humidity, 70*F/20*C before adding a second coat (optional) and before adding topcoat. Be sure to allow adequate dry time. If in doubt, wait longer. Increase dry time if: 
      • Humidity is over 80%
      • 3+ coats are applied (not recommended)
      • Thick coats are applied
      • To accelerate dry time in humid conditions, add General Finishes Accelerator before applying and work in a space with good ventilation and air movement. If you decide to re-coat before the recommended time, test dryness. 
  8. Hand-Application over Existing Finish:
    • See our video: How to Update Existing Finishes with Water Based Wood Stain
    • Stir contents well.
    • Prepare surface by scrubbing with a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water using a Scotch Brite Pad. Lightly sand with fine-grade (220-320) foam sanding pad or 400-grit sandpaper. Wipe off dust with an oil-free tack cloth or a water-dampened rag.
    • Apply stain with a foam brush or paint pad. Feather out uneven areas and pull excess stain from corners using a bristle brush. Discharge accumulated stain from the brush onto a dry paper towel as you work.
    • Let the stain dry 2-4 hours in ideal conditions: 50-70% humidity, 70*F/20*C before applying a second coat (optional) and before applying topcoat. Be sure to allow adequate dry time. If in doubt, wait longer. Increase dry time if: 
      • Humidity is over 80%
      • 3+ coats are applied (not recommended)
      • Thick coats are applied
      • Layering General Finishes water- and oil-based products:
        • Water over oil: Let oil-based products dry 72+hr before applying water-based products
        • Oil over water: Let water-based products dry 24+hr before applying oil-based products
      • To accelerate dry time in humid conditions, add General Finishes Accelerator before applying and work in a space with good ventilation and air movement. If you decide to re-coat before the recommended time, test dryness.
  9. Topcoat is required. Finish with 3 coats of General Finishes topcoat. 

Color Adjustments

  1. Add up to 50% Pre-Stain Conditioner Natural to Water Based Wood Stain to lighten the color.
  2. Apply a second coat to deepen the color but no more than 2 coats.

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 Water Based Wood Stain

Wood Stain as a Glaze

MATERIALS NEEDED:

SAMPLE MIX:

Water Based Wood Stain + 10% High Performance Topcoat 

Aged/Varnish Glaze

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain: Your choice of color
  • General Finishes High Performance Topcoat

SAMPLE MIX:

Water Based Wood Stain  + High Performance Topcoat 50:50 ratio

Custom Colors

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain: Your choice of color
  • General Finishes Pre-Stain Conditioner Natural

SAMPLE MIXES:

  • Create additional colors by mixing Water Based Wood Stains and Dye Stains.
  • Lighten Water Based Wood Stains by diluting with General Finishes Pre-Stain Conditioner Natural

Toning

  • Water Based Wood Stains Can be used for toning. Spray applications: mix no more than 20% stain to topcoat. Brush applications: mix no more than 10% stain to topcoat. Spraying lays down a more even coat, so more stain can be used than when brushing.

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.

Settling
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. 

Warning
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.

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 or skin irritation; first aid: flush eyes thoroughly with water.

Specifications

Basic Features
Product Colors Antique Cherry, Antique Oak, Black, Black Cherry, Brown Mahogany, Country Pine, Early American, Espresso, Golden Oak, Natural, Pecan, Rosewood, Shaker Maple, Walnut, Weathered Gray, White Wash
Base Type Water
Interior or Exterior Interior only
Application
Coats 1+ coats
Application Method Brush, Spray
Brushable Yes
Usable over existing finishes Yes - see product page
Sprayable Yes
Spray Tip Sizes HVLP 1.1mm-1.3mm
Dry Time
Dry Time - Touch Raw Wood (30+ min.), Existing Finish (1+ hr)
Dry Time - Recoat Raw Wood (30-60 min.), Existing Finish (60-90 min.)
Contents
Can Sizes Pints, Quarts, Gallons
Coverage 75 sq. ft/pint, 150 sq. ft/quart, 600 sq. ft/gal
Technical Data
Viscosity Medium
Weight Solids 22%
VOC <150 g/L

Design Center

Videos

Colors

Wood Stains | Water Based | Shown on Maple & Oak

FAQs

Can I apply General Finishes Water Based stain on green white oak timbers?

No, you cannot. The stain  will not absorb due to the high moisture content of green wood and not accept the stain. 

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Can I create a glaze with General Finishes Water Based Stains?

General Finishes stains make beautiful glazes. Just add 10% High Performance Top Coat. 

 

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Can I thin General Finishes EF Water Based Stains?

Thin GF water based stains with 10-15% extender or water at point of use only. Decant what you need into a separate container and use immediately. If thinned water based stains are stored, they will separate and lose the semi-gel consistency.

GF Enduro RTM stains are a thinner formula designed for professional spray applications.

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How do I prevent bleed through when applying Whitewash over Espresso Water Based Stain?

Water Based Stains will always exhibit a bit of bleed through. When glazing with any color over water stains, we recommend some type of seal coat be applied first. Unfortunately, the two colors you have chosen do not work very well together. Expresso will always bleed if Whitewash is applied directly over top. In the future seal the Espresso stain with a coat Shellac,  and then High Performance, allowing both to dry,  before applying Whitewash as a glaze (1 part stain, 1 part top coat mix). 
 
We suggest two remedies:
1. Strip away finish and start over.
Stain with Espresso, top with Shellac, top that with 1-2 coats HP, top that with Whitewash as a glaze (Glaze = 1:1 EF stain : HP). Seal with High Performance.
2. Paint over the bleeding stain
Seal current finish with Shellac and then paint with Seagull Gray Milk Paint.
Any time you apply a light stain over a dark stain there is a possibility of bleed through. Therefore, it's important to seal off the base color first. If the look of the wood grain is not important, Dark Chocolate Milk Paint is an exact match to Java Gel Stain when painted, and it could be used as an alternative base color.

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How to Spray Water Based Finishes

General Finishes water-based products can be sprayed through compressed air, HVLP, airless or C.A.S. units.

Surface Preparation: All surfaces should be clean and free from dirt and oil and sanded. Spray Application of General Finishes Water Based Finishes

All General Finishes water based topcoats and wood stains are ready to spray from the container without additives with the exception of Conversion Varnish. Always strain material through a medium to fine mesh filter before spraying. If necessary, in hot or dry climates, reduce 10 to 15% with General Finishes Extender to extend the open time.

Pre Sealing: Softwoods such as Pine absorb stain at an uneven rate and may respond better to staining if the wood is pre-sealed. Pre-Stain Conditioner Natural can be applied to raw wood to condition the surface for uniform penetration of the stain. Pre-sealing will cause the final stain to be lighter so you may need to use a darker color. Always test your color on a hidden part of the furniture. Allow the Pre-Stain Conditioner to dry 30 minutes before applying your final stain color.

If you are using a sprayer that has been used for oil based or lacquers, clean the unit thoroughly with acetone followed with hot water to purge the fluid passage. Apply a thin coat first that will dry and harden faster. Sand this first coat down to a smooth base on which to build your finish coats with a 220-320 grade foam sanding pad or #400-grit sandpaper. It is better to spray 2 thin coats rather than 1 heavy coat.

Contact your supplier to verify proper tip sizes for your specific equipment. GF's general recommended fluid tips for Wood Stains and Top Coats are Compressed air - .040 and Airless - .009. 

RECOMMENDED TIPS FOR GENERAL FINISHES PRODUCTS USING HVLP:

  • Milk Paint: 1.8mm-2.0mm
  • Chalk Paint: 1.8mm-2.0mm
  • Stain Blocker: 1.8mm-2.0mm
  • Pearl Effects: 1.8mm-2.0mm
  • Glaze Effects: 1.8mm-2.0mm
  • High Performance Topcoat: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Flat Out Flat Top Coat: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Enduro-Var  1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Water Based Wood Stain: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Water Based Dye Stain: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Exterior 450 Topcoat:1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Exterior 450 Stain: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Enduro Sanding Sealer: 1.3-1.4mm
  • Enduro White Poly: 1.3mm-1.5mm
  • Enduro Black Poly: 1.3mm-1.5mm
  • Enduro White Under Coat 1.5mm-1.8mm
  • Enduro Clear Poly: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Enduro Pre Cat Lacquer: 1.1mm-1.3mm
  • Enduro Conversion Varnish: 1.1mm-1.3mm

Air caps should be medium size. Contact your supplier to verify proper tip sizes for your specific equipment.

Break your work into sections such as dresser top or drawer fronts. Spraying too large of an area can result in a textured grainy surface. A correctly sprayed finish should appear even and glossy. It is important to spray enough material to allow proper flow and leveling of the finish.

Spray medium wet films at 3-5 wet ml thickness. Practice makes perfect. If you have never sprayed finishes before, take a large piece of cardboard and practice your technique first. Spray water on the cardboard to learn how the gun works. Check your fluid settings and adjust the controls to get comfortable with the spray angles and to develop your technique.

SPRAYING TOPCOATS:

Keep your gun at a 90* angle, 6-8" from the surface. On large flat areas, use wet, even patterns 6 to 8 wide. For narrow surfaces, reduce the fan pattern to 2-3" to reduce overspray. For topcoats, overlap each pass 25% to conceal lines.

SPRAYING WATER BASED WOOD STAINS:

Keep your gun at a 90* angle, 6-8" from the surface. On large flat areas, use wet, even patterns 6 to 8 wide. For narrow surfaces, reduce the fan pattern to 2-3" to reduce overspray. Overlap each pass of stain 50% for even coverage and wipe back the excess with an absorbent cloth. For narrow surfaces, reduce the fan pattern to 2-3" to reduce overspray. 

SPRAYING WATER BASED DYE STAINS:

Keep your gun at a 90* angle, 6-8" from the surface. On large flat areas, use wet, even patterns 6 to 8 wide. For narrow surfaces, reduce the fan pattern to 2-3" 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. For narrow surfaces, reduce the fan pattern to 2-3" to reduce overspray. 

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Why can't I get a dark stain color on Maple wood using water based wood stain over pre-stain conditioner?

Maple is one of the most difficult woods to achieve a dark, uniform stain color on because it is a dense, closed grain wood and often absorbs stain very unevenly. General Finishes Gel Stains or Water Based Stains usually will perform very well because they are more topical than traditional liquid oil stains, and contain more colorants. 

We do not recommend pre-sealing Maple with a conditioner because it closes up the grain of the wood even more, further preventing color adherence. In the future, just use our water-based stains or gel stains on their own. Do not use liquid oil-based stains on Maple because they will blotch.

Also, prep sand Maple with 120 grit, followed by 150 grit or 220 grit. 

 

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