How to Paint Over Dark-Stained Wood

Things You'll Need

  • Detergent
  • Sandpaper or sanding sponge
  • Power washer
  • Rags
  • Wood putty
  • Primer
  • Caulk
  • Paintbrush

The trick to painting over dark-stained wood is choosing the right primer for the job, and using high-quality paint that won't require three or more coats to cover. Whether you're painting dark-stained exterior siding, interior paneling, cabinets or trim, the transformation from dark wood to bright, fresh paint is worth the effort. With some common sense and preparation, most homeowners will save hundreds of dollars by doing their own painting instead of hiring a contractor.

Painting Over Interior Stained Wood

Clean the wood with general-purpose cleaner or 1 cup of ammonia to a gallon of water. Rinse with clear water and allow it to dry.

Sand lacquered or varnished stained wood with a medium-fine sanding sponge or 120-grit sandpaper to dull the surface. If there's any shine on the surface, it's been lacquered or varnished. Wipe away sanding dust with a lint-free rag, such as an old T-shirt.

Fill nail holes, dents and gouges with carpenter's wood putty. Allow it to dry, then sand smooth.

Prime the stained wood with the appropriate primer. Use tinted shellac or oil-based primer instead of a general-purpose latex primer to ensure adhesion and stain-blocking.

Caulk gaps and joints with paintable silicone caulking. Apply a bead of caulk to each joint, then smooth it immediately with a damp rag or your fingertip. Allow caulking to dry for at least four hours.

Paint the stained wood with two coats of good-quality paint and a paintbrush. Low-quality paint typically requires more coats of paint to cover.

Painting Over Exterior Dark-Stained Wood

Prepare the surface by scraping, scrubbing or power-washing to remove dirt, mildew and loose stain.

Prime the wood with oil-based exterior wood primer and a paintbrush.

Caulk holes, gaps and joints in the wood. Caulk adheres better to primed wood than to bare or stained wood.

Paint the wood with two coats of 100 percent acrylic paint.


  • If you choose water-based primer, purchase the best quality possible and look for a "stain-blocking" primer. Water-based primer often requires two coats to hide stubborn tannin wood stains, while oil- or shellac-based primer only requires one coat.


  • Open windows or use fans when priming and painting indoors to dissipate fumes.