I have a desk that needed restaining. I applied wood stain like paint. The desk looks beautiful but it’s sticky and didn’t dry. What do I do? Can I leave it like that? Will it ever dry?

  • 1
    Are there any directions on the can of stain? Aug 18, 2023 at 15:12
  • 1
    Some clear photos of the desk would likely help, particularly if you can see an area that doesn't look dry
    – maples
    Aug 18, 2023 at 15:21
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    Why did you think the desk needed a new stain? Many desks are lacquered and, even if they bleach under the sun, the seal remains in tact. It sounds like you applied stain over a surface that remained sealed.
    – AdamO
    Aug 18, 2023 at 15:38
  • How long did you wait for it to dry? It could just be a matter of allowing an unusually thick application to fully dry. It may lose it's stickiness over time.
    – gnicko
    Aug 18, 2023 at 16:02
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    What brand & type of "stain" did you apply? There are a wide variety of types and the cure may depend on which you used. Also, I'd suggest you peruse the finishing tag at the Woodworking sister site for all sorts of existing info on why this happened and who to resolve it. However, you'll note that for 90% of the questions of sticky finishes, the first point of clarification is "exactly what did you use"?
    – FreeMan
    Aug 18, 2023 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


Determine what solvent the stain is made with, and use that (or compatible solvents) to thin and wipe off the stain you have applied so far. So if it's a water based stain just water and some shop rags to wipe it up (with some time and effort), or if it is oil based used mineral spirits. Check with the manufacturer instructions, which should mention a cleanup process. Once you have thinned and removed the thick sticky stain you will next need to assess where you are at.

If the original desk had a finish coat the new stain likely did not penetrate it. You mention it needed restaining, so presumably the old coat was not entirely intact. The areas where the old finish was scratched, worn, or otherwise missing likely did have penetration from the new stain so the result at this point will be a very uneven mess of unstained old finish and stained areas with no top coat. The old finish will need to be removed so that you can even out the results.

Determine what the old finish was, and remove it. The process will vary but using paint thinner, lacquer thinner, heat, or sanding plus some work should get you down to bare wood. Be sure to use good chemical and physical personal protective equipment appropriately.

One the bare wood is exposed, stain again using the proper technique provided by the manufacturer of your stain. The result should be nice and even, though you may still find the areas where the thick and sticky stain was able to penetrate remain a different shade. Apply the stain for an extended time, or keeping it away from the darker areas can help even this out but it can be hard to get stain to appear completely even in situations like this.

Once the staining has been completed per the manufacturer instructions, apply lacquer or another sealant as your final top coat. Often the top coat is applied multiple times to get a thicker, stronger, glossier final finish.


Stain almost always needs to be wiped off after applying. If you did not wipe your stain coat off, that's why the stain isn't acting correctly.

Additionally, after wiping the stain off, the wood needs another finish coat of some lacquer, polyurethane or such finishing to seal in the stain.

If there was already a finish coat on the desk, like paint, lacquer, etc, the stain will have a hard to impossible time to get to the wood, and will not work correctly. Stain needs to be applied to fresh wood with no other finishing products on the wood.

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