Can You Use Gel Stain on Laminate Furniture?

Last updated on June 23rd, 2022

Several finishes are available today, and considering gel staining laminate furniture is a significant step. You could be having experience with gel staining veneer and solid wood furniture in the past. However, today, the type is different, and you realize the furniture that needs staining is laminate. Can you use gel stain on laminate furniture?

Yes, you can apply gel stains on laminate furniture. Gel stain is an excellent finish as it does not penetrate the surface like other regular wood stains that soaks into the surface, creating a new color. You need to apply one or more light coats of gel stain, then let it dry to touch before you add the next coat or add a clear coat. Gel stain will build up a thick coat similar to paint on your laminate furniture.

What is laminate furniture?

Laminate furniture is a form of furniture made from a manufactured product of compressed layers of plastic resins and flat paper. It is not made from wood but comprises synthetic materials that form a wood-like thin layer.

Laminate – the material used to make the laminate furniture – goes through a printed process responsible for its wood grain look. In most cases, the upper layer (printed) has a shiny finish with decorative colors or patterns, giving it a manufactured appearance. The printed upper layer of sheets is attached to durable core materials such as medium-density fiber (MDF). 

It is manufactured to withstand heat and scratches. Laminate furniture will always appear shiny and new even after being subjected to a long stretch of continuous usage. For this reason, some people prefer laminate furniture over furniture made from wood veneer and solid wood for the busy indoor and outdoor areas where the furniture is most frequently used.

What are the Different Types of Laminates?

There are several types of laminates in the market having different applications. Here are the different laminates to guide you to make the right choice when buying one for your home, office, or premise.

  • Matte-finish laminates

These are some of the most preferred choices used in carpentry works and kitchens. Matte-finish laminates have a moderate shiny surface that is reflective in nature. They are resistant to dust and scratches.  Matte-finish laminates are easy to clean and maintain.

  • Gloss-finish laminates

They are reflective with a mirror-like sheen adding so much brightness into any space. Gloss-finish laminates add a high-end look to the interiors and are available in a variety of colors.  

  • PVC-finish laminates

PVC-finish laminates are moisture resistant so highly suitable for areas prone to water, such as bathroom cabinetry. They have a plastic look and are easy to maintain. PVC-finish laminates are also waterproof and durable.

  • Textured laminates

Textured laminates resemble different natural surfaces such as raw silk, and stone stucco finishes. They are used to add the aspect of depth to both interior and exterior space. They trap a lot of grime and dirt and are not suitable for kitchen usage due to continual maintenance.

  • Exterior laminates

Exterior laminates are highly durable and thus offer good protection against unfavorable weather elements. They are both fire and scratch-resistant. You can use exterior laminates for the balcony railings, pergolas, and building façade.

  • Acrylic-finish laminates

Acrylic-finish laminates are great for bringing in a sophisticated and premium look. They are reflective, thus giving instant brightness to any given space.  Acrylic-finish laminates are resistant to both UV rays and moisture.

  • Metallic laminates

Metallic laminates give any space a glossy modern look with sophistication and richness.  They have limited colors, such as copper, brushed gold, silver, among a few others.

Why Use Gel stain over laminate furniture

Gel stains do not penetrate the laminate furniture (unlike the regular stain that sinks into the wood), thus creating unique markings and textures by coating the laminate surface. 

Gel stain has excellent hiding qualities to mask the underlying color of the finish, stain, or paint used previously on furniture. You can switch to your previous color with gel stain. It also creates a thick crème-like coat on the laminate furniture making it a go-to choice for DIYers.

Gel stain is easy to use. It requires less preparation in advance. Gel stains do not require sanding of the laminate to achieve maximum adhesion. You can light-scuff the surface if you so wish, then proceed to apply gel stain by wiping with a lint-free cloth. Alternatively, apply gel stain using a natural bristle paintbrush if you prefer a more textured painterly finish.

The thickening agent added to the gel stain during the manufacturing process gives it a high concentration of color. This additive agent makes gel stain achieve a hybrid of a transparent stain and an opaque paint, a feature that goes well with some DIY enthusiasts as they can accomplish the two-colored look on their furniture without much hassle.

Gel stains do not flow much so they are ideal for novice finishers. And because of its excellent hiding strengths, it easily masks the color of the paints and stains used previously on the furnitureLet’s discuss how to stain laminate furniture with gel stain in detail in the section below.

How to Gel stain laminate furniture?

Gel staining laminate furniture needs a lot of care, patience, and the use of special tools to make the process simple, easy, and correct. Below are the steps to guide you from the cleaning to the final stage of this project.

Tools you need to have:

  • Bristle or foam brush.
  • Sandpaper of grit 200-220.
  • Clean rag.
  • Clean cloth.
  • Sanding block.
  • Gel stain.
  • Gloves.
  • ClearCoat finish.
  • Stirring stick.
  • Screwdrivers to remove handles if you are applying gel stain on laminate cabinets.

The steps:

Step #1: Surface Clean Up

Before applying gel stain over laminate furniture, it is extremely important to thoroughly clean the laminate surface to remove dust, oil, or any foreign particles that could have built up.

Cleaning should be done by degreasing the laminate surface. If you apply gel stain on a laminate surface that is not well degreased, it might not stick well, causing immediate chipping or peeling off of the surface.

In some circumstances where laminate furniture has a gummed residue dried on its surface, consider using Goo Gone in rubbing it off. However, ensure to thoroughly wipe off all the traces of Goo Gone after you are done. Then apply a degreaser.

Step #2: Sanding the Surface

Sanding is optional when gel staining the laminate. However, you can light sand using a high voltage 200 grit to slightly roughen the surface for gel stain adheres well to the laminate surface. Using low voltage sandpaper of less than 150 grit could cause deeper scratches that could be visible through gel stain.

After sanding the laminate surface, remove any sanded residues with a quick solvent wipe. Then wait for the solvent to evaporate fully from the surface before adding gel stain.

Step #3: Gel Stain Application

Use a paintbrush to apply stain on laminate furniture. Preferably use a foam brush because it is very cheap and does not require cleaning after use. Moreover, you can quickly dispose of the used foam brush. 

Pick up a little amount of gel stain using a foam brush, then place it on laminate furniture. The laminate surface is very smooth and shiny, so drop a small amount of gel stain to avoid wastage. 

Brush gently in any direction. Focus on that particular direction until the entire laminate surface is covered unless there is an element of deceitful-wooden look you would want to concentrate on before focusing on other less problematic areas.

Ensure you brush the entire laminate surface well to achieve an evenly distributed coat, though you don’t have to worry about excess gel stain as you will wipe it off in the next stage. Just focus on brushing it perfectly at this stage to achieve a thin coat of gel stain.

One of the key take-aways to remember is that you should always apply gel stain in thin layers to prevent it from flushing on the laminate surface, creating an uneven appearance. However, in circumstances where you are using gel stain, and it forms pellets on the surface, wipe them up immediately to achieve your desired finish.

If you are planning to gel stain laminate furniture in the future, you can consider using the Minwax Gel Stain.

Step #4: Thinning the coat

After brushing the gel stain over the laminate perfectly well, wait for 20 – 30 minutes before you start wiping up any excess stain to remove them all. The reason for wiping up the excess is to thin the coat of gel stain to dry faster. 

If you do not wipe to remove the excess stain, the coat will remain thick, thus remaining tacky for even more than two days. Put differently, it will prolong the dry time even to several days. 

So, wipe up thoroughly until you achieve your desired look. Always wipe with the grain to ensure the grain retains its natural look. Also, ensure there are zero thickets of gel stain that would not dry properly on the surface.

As you wipe the stain, always move along the direction of the wood grain to achieve an excellent final product. Make sure the underlying surfaces get needed attention as the stain could easily hide them. If you need to hide these underlying surfaces, it is advisable to apply many coats of gel though it will take you much time-spanning for days, so it depends on the amount of time you can invest in the project. 

Step #5: Drying the stained laminate

After thinning the gel coat by wiping up excess gel stains for the coat to dry much faster, it is at this time you need to be very patient with your stained laminate to dry up. The gel coat on laminate can take even days to dry.

But most importantly, always rely on the instructions provided by the manufacturer regarding the dry times for that particular gel stain commodity. You can opt to wait a bit longer than the manufacturer’s indicated dry times, but the key indicator is if the gel coat dries to touch. Again, after ensuring no tackiness feelings on fingers, you can add the next finish coat or the clear coat. Ideally, apply 2-3 coats until the finish is opaque or even. Usually, the coat takes 48 – 72 hours to cure completely.

Step #6: Clear coat Finish Application

After you have cured and dried the gel coat till it feels rigid to touch, your last step is to apply a protective topcoat for the laminate furniture to last for a long time. If you do not add a topcoat finish then the coat will probably peel off. You can only opt not to add a topcoat finish if the gel stain you want to use is composed of a protective coating such as polyurethane.

It is highly recommended not to add wax finish directly on gel stain. Finishing wax can make gel stain coats peel off. However, you are at liberty to use finishing wax over gel stain, but the first step is to apply polyurethane or lacquer. After it has dried, apply wax. When you buff the wax finish, it produces a super glossy surface.

Why is Staining Laminate Not as Easy as Wood?

Staining laminate is not easy as wood because laminate is a manufactured product not meant for refinishing based on its design.

However, with enough preparation and correct polishing, laminate surfaces will respond well to stains. It is a long process because laminate might require several days to dry and cure, thus making staining laminate a long and tedious exercise.

On the other end, wood is porous, making them respond exceptionally well to stains. The stains naturally adhere to the wood surface. Stained wood has a shorter dry time-spanning for a few hours. When adding multiple coats, apply an additional coat within 4-6 hours after the previous coat has dried to touch. You can use your wood furniture after 24 hours from the time you finish staining it. 

FAQ for the Application of Gel Stain on Laminate

Can I Gel Stain Laminate Countertops?

Yes. You can gel stain laminate countertops. For excellent results, you should properly prep the countertops prior to applying gel stain. Also, ensure you have many coats of a clear finish like the Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane. 

Clean the countertops using high voltage sandpaper of 150 – 200 grit to scuff up the surface for a lightly roughened surface to make the stain stick well. It is recommended that you apply a long-lasting clear coat finish because countertops experience constant touching and high traffic.

What Clearcoat Should I Apply Over Gel Stained Laminate?

The good news is that most clearcoats work well on gel stains. Apply a clear coat once the gel coat has cured. You can use lacquer or polyurethane as clear coats. It is important to note that gel stain commodities have distinct, clear coats recommended by the manufacturer. Using the correct clear coat will enhance your results.

Can You Stain Laminate Furniture without Sanding?

Sanding is optional when gel staining laminate furniture. However, you can light sand using a high voltage 200 grit to slightly roughen the surface for gel stain to adhere well to the laminate surface. Using low voltage sandpaper of less than 150 grit could cause deeper scratches that are visible through gel stain.

Can You Gel Stain on Laminate furniture without sanding?

Yes, you can gel stain laminate furniture without sanding. However, to make the stain adhere to the laminate surface, you need to slightly roughen it by light sanding using a high voltage 200 grit sandpaper.

Can you Gel Stain Laminate Cabinets?

Yes, You can apply gel stain on laminate cabinets. However, ensure you clean it thoroughly prior to applying the stain.  Curing a gel coat is very important after cleaning. Then, add your gel stain. You can use lacquer or polyurethane as your clear coats.

Can You Stain Ikea Laminate Furniture?

Yes. You can gel stain it. Moreover, you can use tinted polyurethane to stain it. Strictly follow the steps needed for proper preparations before applying either tinted polyurethane or gel stain.

Can You Use Gel Stain on Veneer?

Yes, you can apply gel stain on veneer. But if you need a penetrative protection layer for the veneer, then you’ll have to use regular stains because gels have thick consistency which makes it hard to get absorbed into the wood.

Can you stain a laminate table top?

Yes, it is possible to stain laminate table tops. Unfortunately, gel stain is the only compatible stain for laminate surfaces. Scuff and clear the table top before staining. You can also decide to skip the sanding process and apply primer.

How long does it take gel stain to dry on laminate?

It usually takes between 48 to 72 hours for gel stain to dry completely. There is no standard dry time since rate of drying depends on different factors like the thickness of the applied stain coat and the humidity level in the surrounding environment or room.

What is the alternative Way to Stain Laminate Surfaces?

Apart from the gel stains, you can also apply tinted polyurethane on laminate surfaces.

Summary: Can you use gel stain on laminate furniture?

Yes, you can use gel stain on laminate furniture! Although it does not soak into the laminate, gel stain creates a coating layer that maintains the laminate texture, color, and depth without covering the grains and qualities that make laminate surfaces uniquely attractive.

Together with the other benefits of gel stains, like thick consistency and excellent hiding strength, you can now safely use gel stain on laminate furniture surfaces. Consider testing it in your next coating project.