How to stain MDF (Made easy)

Are you looking to add some color and depth to your MDF project? Staining MDF is a great way to enhance its appearance, but it requires some preparation and patience. In this blog post, we’ll go over the steps to help you achieve a beautiful, even finish on your MDF surface.

4 Steps to Stain MDF furniture

Step.1 Clear the Surface

Is there an existing finish on your MDF board like a veneer or paint? it’s important to remove it before staining. Otherwise, the wood stain won’t stick and will peel off in just a few weeks.

Here’s how you can strip off the existing finish:

  1. Apply paint stripper to the surface.
  2. Wait for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Scrape off the finish using a paint scraper.
  4. Clean the surface with water and let it dry.

Related: Remove veneer from MDF

Step.2 Sand it

The next step is to sand the surface of the MDF before staining it because it helps to remove any imperfections, rough patches, or scratches that may be present on the surface. Resulting in a smooth surface, It also opens up the pores of the MDF, allowing it to absorb the stain more effectively.

Step.3 Make sure to seal it first

After sanding the MDF, it’s important to seal it to prevent uneven absorption of the stain. A great way to seal the MDF is to use a sanding sealer, I recommend using Clear Zinsser as a basecoat.

Simply apply a thin coat of the sealer using a brush or a rag, making sure to cover the entire surface evenly.

Let the sealer dry completely before moving on to the staining step.

Step. 4 Apply the Stain

The next step after sealing is to apply the wood stain. You can use an oil-based stain or other types of stains that are dissolved in oils or solvents, such as varnish, lacquer, and gel stain.

Apply the stain using a brush or rag, making sure to cover the entire surface evenly. Allow the stain to sit for a few minutes, and then wipe off the excess using a clean rag.

You can repeat this process to achieve a darker color, but be sure to let the stain dry completely between coats.

Tips to stain MDF

Choose the oil-based stains

If you want to stain your MDF project, it’s important to choose the right type of stain. The best option is an oil-based stain because it penetrates the wood better and won’t soak in too deeply. You can also use other types of stains that are dissolved in oils or solvents, like varnish, lacquer, or gel stain.

Avoid Water-based Stains on MDF

Just make sure to steer clear of water-based stains when working with MDF. Since MDF is sensitive to moisture, it can easily swell up if it absorbs too much water. Water is the solvent in water-based stains, so it’s not the best choice for MDF surfaces. Stick to oil-based stains and you’ll get the perfect finish every time!

Paint or stain or Varnish?

When it comes to choosing between painting, staining, or varnishing MDF, it depends on your personal preference and the intended use of the finished product.

  • Choose stain: If you want to add color to the MDF surface while still retaining its natural grain pattern. However, it’s important to note that MDF is not real wood and doesn’t have a grain pattern like natural wood. Staining will give it a faux-grain appearance.
  • Choose paint: If you prefer a solid color or want to add a specific design to your MDF project. There are several colors and finishes to choose from, such as glossy, matte, or satin, depending on the desired outcome.
  • Choose varnish: If you want to protect the MDF surface from scratches, dings, and stains. Varnish will provide a clear and durable coating that enhances the natural beauty of the MDF. It’s important to choose the right type of varnish that is compatible with MDF.


Q: Can I use a water-based stain on MDF?

A: It’s not recommended to use water-based stain on MDF as the material is sensitive to moisture and can easily swell if it absorbs too much water. Water is the solvent in water-based stains, so it’s best to avoid using it on MDF surfaces.

Q: Can I apply stain directly to MDF without sanding?

A: While it’s possible to apply stain directly to MDF without sanding, it’s not recommended as it can result in an uneven finish. Sanding helps to create a smooth and even surface that allows the stain to absorb evenly and give you a more consistent finish.

Q: What type of stain is best for MDF?

A: Oil-based stain is the best type of stain to use on MDF as it has better wood penetration and won’t penetrate the material too deeply. Other types of stains that are dissolved in oils or solvents, such as varnish, lacquer, and gel stain, can also work well.

Q: How many coats of stain should I apply to MDF?

A: The number of coats of stain you should apply to MDF depends on the desired depth of color. Typically, one to two coats of stain is sufficient. Apply the first coat, let it dry completely, and then evaluate the color. If you want a darker color, apply a second coat and repeat the drying process.

Q: How long should I let the stain dry before applying a finish?

A: The drying time for stain can vary depending on the type and brand of the stain used. Generally, it’s recommended to let the stain dry for at least 24 hours before applying a finish. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific drying times.

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