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Can You Apply Water-Based Sealer over an Oil-Based Stain?

(Updated July 2020)

Sometimes you’re working on a project and you realize you’ve got some oil stain that you want to use or finish up—or simply that you’d applied an oil-based stain, but you’re wanting to use your EMTECH water-based Sealer (for example, USH 3000 UltraSeal-Water Based Shellac Sealer or EM1000 Universal Sanding Sealer) on top of the stainand you wonder if you can.

It’s a question we get often, actually—especially as more craftsmen are making the move to water-based finish.

And actually, the answer is YES—you can use our EMTECH water-based sealer or top coat over the oil stain.

The beauty of all our water-based sealers and topcoats is that they’ll level and adhere to whatever solvent- or oil-based stain you’ve used. So there’s no need to go oil on oil simply because your stain is oil-based.

If you’re going to apply a water-based sealer on oil stain though, here’s a few tips to ensure a perfect application.


Water-Based Sealer
Our Water-Based Sealer can be used over oil stain

How to Apply Water-Based Sealer on an Oil-Based Stain

Before you begin to apply your water-based sealer or topcoat, first ensure that the stain is thoroughly dry. You should follow the stain manufacturer’s instructions for proper dry time and recoat schedules. You’ll find most oil stains should dry for at least 12 to 18 hours before going over the stain with any EMTECH water-based sealer or topcoat.

Once the oil-based stain has had a chance to thoroughly dry, the next step is to lightly—you don’t want to rub too hard—wipe the dried stain surface with a clean, lint-free cloth that you’ve dampened with a solution of water and denatured alcohol mixed in a 1:1 ratio. This wipe down will remove any oils or mineral spirits that may have come to the surface of the stain during the drying cycle. Removing these surfacing spirits will ensure proper leveling and adhesion of the water-based sealer or topcoat that you’re applying.

After the wipe-down, you can go ahead with the sealer or top coat.

Here Are Some Additional Pro Tips:

Perhaps the best way to know if you’ve done it right is to understand what can happen if you do it wrong. Some of the more common problems are:

Fish Eyes: these are the small “craters” that form if you haven’t removed all of the surface oils. Basically, when the surface tension of your sealer doesn’t match the surface tension of the oil underneath, the sealer can’t “wet out” and you get those pesky dry spots.

Rollup/Sheeting: this is when the film looks good when it’s wet, but when you go to pull off your protective tape, the coating pulls off or “rolls up” with it.

Blue/Purple Hazing: certain well-known stains have an extremely high level of mineral spirits content and it will give a water based sealer a bluish or purplish “haze.”

To fix these (and other) problems, here’s what I recommend:

1. Wipe with the same water and denatured alcohol mix as mentioned above (1:1 ratio)

2. Lightly “scuff sand” to remove the defects. You are not trying to remove the color, just the defects.

3. Re-wipe with the water and denatured alcohol mix (1:1 ratio)

4. Re-apply your water based sealer.

I hope the tips above are helpful and I’d love to hear any of yours.

If you have advice (or questions) about applying a water based sealer over an oil based stain, please share your thoughts or read what other are saying in the comments section below.


14 thoughts on “Can You Apply Water-Based Sealer over an Oil-Based Stain?”

  1. Awesome! I was fearful to try so thanks for the advice. I am looking forward to your new linseed oil finish. I use walnut 90% of the time so being able to get a rich color with waterborne product would be great.

    1. Nancy — Thank you for your inquiry. As long as the oil-based sealer is well dried and cured you can apply a water-based sealer over it. I recommend wiping the previous sealer with a solution of water and denatured alcohol to clean the surface, then lightly sand with 400-grit paper – followed by one more cleaning with water/dna solution. From this point you can apply the WB sealer.


      1. Solvent based finishes really pop the colors on reclaimed wood but are much too dangerous to use in my little shop. What I have done to get similar results is apply a brush coat of solvent based finish let it dry( backs of doors have oil based stain also) then move to 3 coats of wb finish. Will your conversion varnish work over oil based products.

        1. Thank you for your inquiry. Yes, our EM8000cv will bond to oil-based stain or sealer. Ensure that the oil-based product of choice has thoroughly dried and is lightly wiped clean with a solution of water and denatured alcohol mixed 1:1 — this will remove any residual oily film that may be left on the surface that may cause leveling or adhesion issues with the WB top coat is applied over it.
          –JW —

  2. Okay, you can call me a “fuddy-duddy”, I’ll accept that. You are most probably right about applying water base over oil base, but I am going to continue to say NO. Have had problems years ago and the bitter taste is still there. Now it is water base or nothing! Don’t even mention oil base and water base to me in the same sentence! If it gets to the point of having to recoat something, it is time for new cabinetry and the water base finishes that come with the new work. Have been using water base finishes for twenty four years and have succeeded, and occasionally failed, to convert everyone that I can to water base. Most of the failures of converting someone, comes from staunch oil base users and I will live with that because of my staunchness concerning water base. It seems to balance out in the long run, but as time moves on, we all know that oil base is going away, so someday we will not have to concern ourselves with having to hope that putting water base, over oil base, is a good idea.
    The Old Curmudgeon Frank

  3. house renovations Ngaruawahia

    Thank you very much for sharing about can you apply water based sealer over an- oil based stain here. I really hope I can work on your tips and it works for me too, I am happy to come across your article. Great post I must admit, keep sharing more…

  4. I am so happy I found your blog and I absolutely love your information about can you apply water based sealer over an oil based stain and the tips you have shared are awesome. I liked and it is wonderful to know about so many things that are useful for all of us! Thanks a lot for this amazing blog!!

    1. Marty Schlosser

      And we’re happy you’ve found our blog and are finding it helpful, too! If there are any other topics you’d like to hear about, please don’t be shy to ask. Marty Schlosser

  5. wayne ashworth

    My deck was done with thompsons water seal and the colour is not what i expected after drying.Can i puchase a stain and apply it over what is there now and darken the colour

    1. Wayne – Thank you for your inquiry. I recommend that you contact the good folks a Thompsons to obtain their recommendations for products and methods for changing the color-tone of your finished deck.

  6. I paint barn quilts and mosaic painted designs on wood. I have a question regarding mixing oil based stain, and water bases paint and sealer. I first stained a wood board with an oil based stain. I let it thoroughly dry. Next I drew out my pattern, and dry brushed watered down sherwin williams latex paint so that it would add coloring bur so you could still see the wood grain. Once done, I sealed with varathane clear water based sealer. Does this sound appropriate?

    1. Brooke – Thank you for your inquiry. If the procedure you describe in your post is working successfully for you in terms of paint/film formation and adhesion over the dried oil based stain, than I recommend that you continue with it. The only modification I would recommend is to lightly clean the dried oil-based stain with a very soft cloth dampened with denature alcohol and water mixed 1:1 to remove any residual spirit oils from the surface of the stain that may cause leveling or adhesion issues for the water based paint/coating as it dried and cures. However, if you are not experiencing these problems then I recommend that you continue-on with your process and try our EM6500 Pigmented Lacquer Series as a replacement for the SW paint. We will custom color match SW colors give the correct color name/code to work with in our tint lab.


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