Does Wood Stain Go Bad: Can You Use That Old Can in the Garage?


Wood Staining can make your wood projects look really neat and beautiful. They can make your wooden items blend naturally with the room or environment they are in if you’ve used the right color of wood stain on them. However, more usually than not, you will not have to stain your woods. Especially when you’re working with hardwoods, you need the natural color and grain of the woods to come out, giving the wooden project a grand look. But, if you need to stain your woodwork, by all means, go ahead with it.

Wood stains have a shelf life of around three years. That being said, your storage can determine whether you can prolong or shorten the shelf life. Many wood stains can last for decades if they are stored under proper storage conditions.

Usually, it is an old opened can of stain that goes bad. This is because woodworkers might not seal the stain cans properly, allowing air, moisture, and bacteria to enter and render the stain useless. If you can ensure proper storage of wood stains by carefully resealing them so that they are airtight, keeping them in a temperature-controlled environment and away from moisture, you can expect to use your cans for a very long time.

Does Canned Wood Stain Go Bad?

Canned wood stains can go bad if you have not used them for a long time. Usually, if you have crossed three to five years without opening a wood stain can, you can expect it to have expired. However, it helps to test out the stain before you throw it out.

You might have heard the saying, ‘when in doubt, throw it out’.

We agree with the underlying truth of the statement. We know that it can be very costly when you are not sure about a wood stain and still go ahead and use it on a really nice table.

You are risking your woodwork by using the wood stain. However, it does not hurt if you can try out the wood stain on some wood scraps and if it is good, use it on some woodwork that will not come back to haunt you.

So, if you’ve got a canned wood stain sitting in your storage for a long time – over three years or more – and you have the need to use wood stain on your project, you can test out the canned wood stain to decide if it is worth it to use it still.

You can begin deciding if it is worth it to use the stain by visual inspection first.

First, open the can and look into the wood stain for visual cues. You’re looking to see whether the stain contents have separated and become not fit for use.

You can easily identify this if your stain looks rubbery with chunks of stain or if it looks thick and does not mix well. If this is the case, then try stirring the stain in intervals of a few minutes. You might notice that the chunks of stain mix back again into the liquid. If the chunks mix back again into the liquid, you still might have a chance to salvage the wood stain.

You will now have to test to see if the visual inspection and stirring that concluded a good wood stain is indeed good. For this, you can take a glass and keep it at an angle, usually at 45 degrees and apply the wood stain on it. Your wood stain should dry within the time it is expected to dry to pass the test and be considered for usage on your wooden projects.

How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry?

Note that if the wood stain you’re using is water-based, it should dry within six hours. If you’re using an oil-based wood stain, you can expect it to dry in 10-12 hours. If it is a lacquer wood stain, the stain should be dry in about an hour. If the wood stain does not dry within these times, you know that it is not fit for use, and it is better to throw them out for new cans of wood stain.

A good indicator to know that you have a stain that has gone bad is when the stain appears moldy and emits a bad odor. You know that it is time to replace it with a new can of stain.

Reasons Why a Canned Wood Stain Can Go Bad.

There are two common reasons why a canned stain can go bad. We will take a look at them to understand them.

  1. Temperature
  2. Moisture

Both temperature and moisture shorten the shelf life of canned wood stains. You have to be careful with your storage to ensure an extended life for your wood stains.

1. Temperature

When a wood stain container that is unopened is stored in an area where you have temperature extremes like cold and extreme heat, the wood stain’s shelf life is affected. This is especially true for water-based wood stains.

Oil-based wood stains usually do not have this problem. For example, in low temperatures, the water in water-based stains freezes and hardens. This does not happen in oil-based stains where the oil only thickens at low temperatures.

Manufacturers constantly try to make sure that temperature differences affect wood stains the least. However, despite this, you must always ensure that your canned wood stain is stored in a place that does not experience temperature extremes.

The best way to do this is to ensure the place where the sealed wood stain is placed has a controlled temperature. If your woodshop is in a northern climate, you might have frigid winters. It is best to maintain the storage area’s temperature in your woodworking shop so that the canned wood stains have a longer shelf life and that you have access to them when you need them in a woodworking project.

2. Moisture

Moisture is an enemy for your wood stain cans. Even if they are not open, it is safe to keep them away from a moist place.

Store your unopened cans in a cool and dry place. Most of the wood stain cans from popular brands come with instructions for storage. Take the time to read the instructions to store your cans that will maximize their shelf life.

You will be surprised that you can make your wood stain cans last for a lot more years with the proper storage techniques than they usually last. When stored away from moisture and kept in ideal storage conditions, Wood stain cans can be used even after 20 years.

There are instances where woodworkers have bought wood stains from stores and kept them in good storage conditions, and used them after several years with the same results as new ones bought and used.

Canned wood stains have a better shelf life than opened wood stains because they are already tightly sealed, and the containers are full or nearly full. Because there is not much space above the liquid, wood stains that are canned do not tend to gel up, affecting their shelf life and usage.

I wrote an article talking all about humidity and woodworking.(Link Here)

Does Opened Wood Stain Go Bad?

Opened wood stains are much more likely to go bad than canned wood stains. This is because factors other than temperature and moisture can come into play to affect the wood stain. This is why it is important to keep the opened wood stain properly stored to use them for a long time. The storage criteria for almost all wood stains, including oil stains, water-based stains, and lacquer stains, remain the same.

Let us understand the various factors that contribute to why opened wood stains can go bad. This will help us understand how to mitigate the risks best and ensure the wood stain’s longevity. You need to know these factors to be on the safer side while storing the opened stains.

  1. Exposure to Air
  2. Exposure to Moisture
  3. Temperature
  4. Exposure to Bacteria

We will go through these factors to get us familiar with them and avoid them from happening, affecting the wood stain cans that are opened and resealed.

1. Exposure to Air

Exposure to air is one of the main reasons why your opened wood stain can go bad. You might use a seal and close it but could have forgotten to double-check to see if it was closed tight. If that is the case, then you might have air seeping into your wood stain container that will affect the shelf life of it and turn it bad soon.

This usually happens when you have opened the wood stain and used it for a woodworking project, and closed it back to put it into storage. Always make sure that you do not have any space for air to get into the container. If you can make sure of this, you have mitigated this risk and can be assured that your stain will not go bad because of air exposure.

2. Exposure to Moisture

The exposure to moisture for opened wood stains is because of improperly closed container lids and storage areas that are moist or humid.

Be sure always to keep your opened wood stains resealed in a cool and dry storage area. You can keep moisture away from your stains by following this. If you have the lid of your container not tightly closed, you invite moisture to creep into the can and cut your wood stain’s shelf life.

You can prevent this from happening by wiping the outer rim of your wood stain after usage and closing it tightly to ensure there will not be any exposure to moisture that can cause the wood stain to go bad sooner.

3. Temperature

You especially need to pay attention to the temperature when storing an opened can of wood stain. The reason why temperature becomes more important with an opened can wood stain is because you might have used a portion of the wood stain for a project before closing it and keeping it in your storage.

You must note that the container that you’ve used is no longer full or even nearly full. This means that there is some space above the fluid, which can affect the stain during extreme swings in temperature. In colder temperatures, the stain can form a gel or a coat on top to reduce its life.

Having a storage place with a controlled temperature is crucial to use your opened wood stains for a longer duration. Ideally, it would help if you stored all of your stains and other products that can be affected by extreme variations in temperature in a place that has a fairly constant range of temperatures. You can aim to achieve this in your workshop storage area to keep your stains from going bad.

4. Exposure to Bacteria

Bacterial exposure can render the wood stain useless. You want to avoid this from happening because bacterial exposure happens when your opened wood stain can is not closed properly. If the lid is not sealed well, you are allowing bacteria to contaminate your wood stain and, in the process, make it not fit for use.

Be sure to keep your wood stain’s lid sealed properly before you put it in a good storage area. It is not a good feeling when you believe that you have a wood stain kept saved later for woodworking projects to find out that it is contaminated when you needed it.

There are many ways that an opened wood stain can go bad. There are more chances that an opened wood stain can go bad compared to a canned wood stain. This is why it is essential to follow some of the best practices to ensure that your wood stain, even when opened and resealed, can last longer.

Remember to keep these storage best practices in mind the next time you open and seal a wood stain container.

Best Practice 1: Buy a Good Seal

We cannot overstate the importance of a good seal. Most of the issues around wood stains going bad can be solved using an airtight seal that will not let any air, moisture, or bacteria get into the container and spoil its contents.

Once you’ve got a good seal, you must test the seal to be really sure that it is tight enough and that you do not have an opening to let in air or moisture. After tightly closing the can with the airtight seal, you can press the sides of the can to observe if there is air seeping out closely. If you do not have any air seeping out, you can be sure that the seal is tightly closed.

Best Practice 2: Have a Steady Temperature in Your Storage Area

Your storage area should have a controlled temperature. Your wood stain cans should not be exposed to sunlight. A cool and dry room is recommended to keep your wood stain at the best temperature to extend its usage time. Maintaining a moderate temperature should be your goal when it comes to storing your stains.

If you are in a northern climate, then the chances are that you will experience harsh winters. You have to make arrangements to maintain your storage area in your workshop or house at a steady temperature. While most wood stains are freeze-thaw stable, you can be assured of the best results from your wood stains on prolonged usage by maintaining a controlled temperature.

Best Practice 3: Pick a Good Storage Place

Do not keep the wood stains in a place where children or pets can reach them. You will also have to choose a good place to keep the wood stain containers away from fire hazards. Since wood stains are highly flammable, you have to make sure they are stored in a place that does not pose such threats.

You can pick a good storage place in your wood workshop to store your wood stains. This will be the ideal place to keep your storage since you will be one who will be predominantly using the space.

The Wood Stain That Can Last the Longest

While there is a lot of debate on which is the best wood stain that will last the longest, it is agreeable that you can ensure most wood stains to last longer than their average shelf life with the right storage practices. Under ideal storage conditions, lacquer stains can even be used after decades.

The overwhelming majority among woodworkers is of the view that Minwax wood stains last the longest among all wood stains. Even the oil-based wood stain from Minwax is known to last for decades and produces the same quality as new cans picked from a store. This makes the brand a popular choice among woodworkers for wood stains.

As a brand with over 100 years of rich heritage, Minwax has a range of oil and water-based stains to add beauty to your wood. These stains are available in numerous colors, and with raving reviews of the products across retailers, it is clear that with good storage, Minwax stains can last for many years and provide you with the best results for staining wood.

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