How to Gel Stain Laminate Furniture (Yes you can)!

A laminate MCM night stand gets a two tone makeover using gel stain and paint. Learn how to up your refinishing game by “staining” fake wood furniture. To watch the video tutorial click here.

For someone who flips furniture for profit – I have a confession. I’d been using a box for a night stand since we moved. I know, its embarrassing. I almost always choose to sell my furniture makeovers even when I need them!

Then I found this. Just what I needed, check out those legs.

laminate night stand

But, its laminate. To match my dresser I needed it to have stained drawers and a painted body. “But you can’t stain laminate”, is what they say. I knew there was a way.

Enter Gel Stain.

What is Gel Stain?

Gel stain is different from regular stain because it sits on the surface of the furniture instead on absorbing into the wood. Since laminate isn’t real wood and won’t absorb anything, it’s just what you need.

Essentially you are painting a coat of “stain” over the top to make it look like darker wood and not completely cover the grain like paint does. I’ve only done this with laminate that is printed to look like wood, and I’m not sure if it would work with other types laminate prints.

How to Stain Laminate – Supplies:

(Affiliate links are provided below for your convenience. See my full disclosure here.)

Gel Stain

Krud Kutter

Tack cloths

Bin 123 Primer

Purdy Paint Brushes

150 Grit Sandpaper

Benjamin Moore Advance in Simply White

Foam Chip Brushes

gel stain, primer, paint, paint brush, sandpaper, krud kutter

Prep Piece

Furniture prep is so important. If there is residue remaining on the furniture it will affect adhesion and the gel stain can look uneven.

Spend enough time prepping, it will be worth it!

Remove all drawers and handles. Vacuum or thoroughly wipe out the inside of the furniture.

Then, clean the entire piece down with Krud Kutter or another cleaner. Water and vinegar works well too.

I prefer Krud Kutter on my laminate pieces because its specifically formulated to high gloss pieces. It will help remove the shine and prepare the laminate for paint or stain.

For a more in depth post all about furniture prep see Furniture Prep.

clean with krud kutter

Lightly sand the laminate with 150 or 220 grit sandpaper. Laminate is very smooth and shiny so you MUST sand or the paint and the gel stain won’t stick.

You can use a sanding block, or just a piece of sandpaper.

Apply Gel Stain

I decided to stain the drawers and paint the body on this nightstand. I love two tone MCM furniture.

You can also opt to stain the entire piece.

Open your can of gel stain. If it looks like a gloopy mess, that’s perfect.

It’s very important to stir the gel stain. Using a stir stick, thoroughly stir the stain until well blended.

gel stain on brush

Using a cheap foam brush start painting the gel stain in the direction of the grain. I like to get a good amount on the brush and then work the stain all over the drawer until its a light thin coat.

paint on gel stain
gel stain on laminate

Since you aren’t rubbing it of like traditional stain it will dry how it is painted. So, paint a thin coat using long brush strokes to mimic the look of wood grain.

After you are done you can leave it as is or do another coat if you’d like it to be darker. I was happy with the color so I only did one coat of stain!

gel stained wood

This was seriously SO easy and I think it looks just like real wood. I’m so thrilled to find a way to preserve the look of wood grain with laminate furniture!

Painting the Body

After cleaning and sanding the body, I primed it with BIN 123 primer. I wanted to give the paint something to grip too since laminate is prone to peeling.

painting laminate

After I primed, I gave the piece another light sanding using 220 grit sandpaper.

Remove all dust from sanding, and then wipe the piece down with a tack cloth.

Then using a high quality angle brush I painted the piece with Benjamin Moore Advanced in Simply White. When painting laminate its especially important not to overload your piece with thick paint or it can cause the laminate to bubble.

painting first coat

It took two coats to get complete coverage. I waited 16 hours in between coats. I also gave a light sanding using 220 grit sandpaper followed by a wipe down with a tack cloth.

Here’s the last coat!

last coat of paint

Benjamin Moore Advance was meant for cabinets so it has a durable built in top coat, so no need to seal. Just make sure to let your paint fully cure for a few weeks before it gets heavy use.

Stain the Legs

The legs looked awful, almost like brown paint. I wanted to keep them looking like wood instead of painting white. I’m not quite sure what material this was. It was either a thin layer of laminate over pressed board or veneer over pressed board.

The beauty of gel stain is the material doesn’t matter.

So I sanded off the brown paint/stain.

sanding legs

Then using another foam chip brush I painted the stain on the legs the same way I stained the drawers.

legs gel stain

To finish it up I sealed all the gel stain with Minwax Water Based Polycrylic. This seals in the color and protects the finish.

stained legs

Stir the poly. It will look milky and white but rest assured- it dries clear. Make sure the piece is lint free before you put on the top coat because everything will show through. Paint a thin coat in the direction of the grain.

Let the gel stain cure at least overnight, until it is no longer tacky. Be gentle on the paint and stain for the first 30 days as it hardens.

Here is the finished night stand all put together. I’m in love! (and glad my stuff is out the box on my floor!)

I hope this encourages you to give gel stain a try on laminate furniture.

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How do you feel about laminate furniture? Let me know in the comments. If you enjoyed this make sure to subscribe to my email list for more furniture and home tutorials! See you next project.