Gel Stain

3 Gel Stain Video Lessons

7 Gel Stain FAQs

Can Milk Paint or Gel Stain Be Used Over Laminate?

GF advises extra care and prep when applying any finish over laminate surfaces because they are specifically designed not to mar and therefore they are not very "sand-able", making adherence difficult.

In addition to this non-permeable surface factor, General Finishes Gel Stain is an oil-based product, and it is more difficult to obtain proper drying characteristics over a dense manufactured surface such as laminate. Gel stains, as all wood stains, were formulated to go over raw wood which has an "open" surface and can absorb some of the stain.

Customers have reported the successful use of Gel products over laminate surfaces. Here are two techniques:

  1. Using Dark Chocolate Milk Paint as a Base under Gel Stain (Dark Chocolate Milk Paint was formulated to mimic the color of Java Gel Stain)
  2. Several techniques using only Gel Stain/no paint or primer


  • If you can abrade the surface by sanding, you will increase your chances of success. If you choose to proceed, test for adhesion on a hidden area of your project before getting started.
  • If you are applying GF Gel Stains over existing "sealed" finished wood or any impenetrable surface, TRIPLE OR QUADRUPLE the drying times of all the finishes used because the stain cannot soak into the surface.
  • De-Glossers: GF does not recommend the use of a de-glosser as a REPLACEMENT for prep sanding and cleaning. They are sold by manufacturers that advocate that it is ok to cover up dirt and grime, which can create a problem. GF feels that appropriate cleaning and sanding delivers a better result and saves money.

    If you have physical issues with the labor of sanding, at least clean the project before using a de-glosser.


  1. “Power clean” by scrubbing with a solution of water and a strong detergent such as Dawn or Spic & Span, using a Scotch-Brite pad. Rinse thoroughly.

    Then follow with a second scrubbing with a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water, also using a Scotch-Brite pad. Let dry completely.
  2. Sand with a power sander. 150-grit followed by 180 grit sandpaper. (some users report using 220 grit sandpaper). Wipe off the dust.
  3. Apply XIM 400 White Primer Sealer Bonder (follow label applications instructions but let dry longer, 12 hours or overnight.)
  4. Apply 2 coats of Milk Paint allowing triple drying time. Use Dark Chocolate if you are trying to mimic the look of Java Gel Stain.
  5. Apply Java Gel Stain. While wet, immediately use a mineral spirit dry brush technique to create a wood grain effect. Dip a clean brush in mineral spirits and drag over the surface until you achieve the effect you want, continually discharging the excess stain.

    Watch a good video demonstrating a dry brush technique here.

    Allow the Gel Stain to DRY 72 HOURS or longer if necessary.
  6. Seal with a topcoat, allowing extra dry time. In GF's finish line, you can use General Finishes Arm-R-Seal (this topcoat ambers) over dark colors and General Finishes High Performance over light colors.


  • “Power clean” by scrubbing with a solution of water and a strong detergent such as Dawn or Spic & Span, using a Scotch-Brite pad. Rinse thoroughly.

    Then follow with a second scrubbing with a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water, also using a Scotch-Brite pad. Let dry completely.
  • Sand with a power sander. 150-grit followed by 180-grit sandpaper. (some users reported using 220 grit sandpaper). Wipe off the dust.

You can apply Java Gel Stain several ways:

  • With a roller for a painted effect (from ABHall), painting on with a chip brush followed by pouncing with a plastic bag for a textured effect from Denise Wonders Beatty.
  • Brushing on followed by a mineral spirit dry-brush technique. See mineral spirits dry-brushing technique in this video. 
  • Apply a slip-coat of mineral spirits first using a chip brush to give you more open time. While the mineral spirits is still wet, paint the Gel Stain on using a chip brush. While the Gel Stain is still wet, GENTLY smooth out the surface with a folded blue shop towel going in the direction of the grain.

    Tip from Andrea Allred: Dry brush Gray Gel Stain on top the next day for a weathered look. 
  • Paint on two coats of Gel Stain, letting each coat dry 72 hours. Create the look of faux wood by sanding each coat lightly.
  • Allow the Gel Stain to DRY 72 HOURS. If it is still tacky and cool to the touch, let it dry for days. Let it dry, let it dry, let it dry. Lack of dry time over existing surfaces is the number one reason for Gel Stain failure!
  • Seal with 3 coats of topcoat, allowing triple dry time. As previously stated, you can use Arm-R-Seal over dark colors and High Performance over light colors.

NOTE: When using fine wood finishes, water and spills must be wiped up in a timely fashion. If this a high-use area near a sink, consider replacing the countertop instead. If this a low-use area such as a bedroom dresser that needs a tune-up, you will be fine.

Test your entire procedure (preparation to topcoat) on a hidden area first and let it cure for 7-10 days. Then further test the finish by duplicating normal wear and tear: washing, scrubbing, scratching, etc. to make sure the finish bonds to the surface.

How Do I Achieve an Even Gel Stain Color on Raw Knotty Pine? When I Apply the Topcoat, the Stain Starts Pulling Off.

Pine is full of pitch (rosin or tar) and stain alone will never adhere to these areas.

GF University FAQ: Gel Stain on Knotty PineGeneral Finishes Gel Stain on knotty pine.

To fix, sand the table lightly with 120-grit sandpaper and restain the table. To improve adherence of the stain, mix 2 parts Gel Stain with one part Gel Satin Topcoat. Apply as many coats of the mix as needed to obtain the desired color, allowing 24-hour dry time between coats.

Note: The stain may never adhere well to the knots because they are too dense to hold a stain. You can try dry brushing the knots with the stain to deepen the color and the protecting with topcoat.

How Do I Create a Glaze with General Finishes Gel Stain?

Yes - just add 10% mineral spirits. You can add more mineral spirits, but test first. The mixture will thin out quickly.

What is the Best Topcoat to Use over Gel Stains?

You can use any of our topcoats.

Water-based products include General Finishes High Performance or General Finishes Flat Out Flat.

Oil-based products include General Finishes Gel Topcoat or General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. Gel Topcoat is thick, while Arm-R-Seal is much thinner, and is easier to apply large projects.

Always allow 72-hour dry time when applying water-based products over oil-based products.

Find more information about Oil Based Gel Stains here.

How Can I Lighten the Color of the Java Gel Stain I Have Applied?

It's always possible to darken a stained surface, but you cannot lighten a stained surface after the finish has dried.

When the surface is still wet, you can try to lighten the color by scrubbing with mineral spirits. If the finish has hardened, you will need to sand down your current stain and start over or use one of our paints.

You can mix GF Gel Stain colors to create a custom color.

You can also thin Gel Stain with 10-15% mineral spirits.

Always test our color on a hidden area of your project before beginning.

Can I Mix Gel Stain Colors Together to Achieve Other Colors?

Yes, you can mix similar products together at any ratio to make more color options.

You can also mix with 10% General Finishes Liquid Oil Based Wood Penetrating Stains to obtain a slightly thinner stain than the normal Gel Stain formula.