Things You'll Need
Oil-based polyurethane stain
Staining laminate furniture can be problematic: Laminate is not made from wood; it is a plastic material printed with a wood grain, so traditional liquid stains meant for wood can't absorb into the material. Gel stains occasionally work on laminate, as this type of stain doesn't need to penetrate the material as deeply as traditional stain, but gel stain manufacturers typically advise against it. To preserve the look of the wood grain on laminated furniture, try using a tinted polyurethane stain. This type of stain doesn't need to absorb into the material; it only needs to adhere to it.
Fill the plastic container with a few inches of warm water. Add a few drops of dish soap to make a degreasing cleaning solution.
Wipe the furniture down with a soft rag dipped in the soapy water to clean away dirt, grime and body oils from frequent touching or handling. Dry the surface off with clean, dry rags.
Sand the surface lightly just to scuff it up a little to make the stain adhere better. Do not oversand, which can easily permanently damage the thin laminate surface. Wipe the furniture down with a tack cloth to remove any fine debris from sanding.
Open the can of polyurethane stain and stir well using the stir stick. Stir about every 10 minutes to ensure that the color remains evenly distributed throughout the product.
Dip the paintbrush into the stain, covering about half to three-quarters of an inch of the bristles with stain. Brush the stain onto the surface of the furniture, working quickly to apply a thin, even coat. Go back and forth using smooth, even strokes. Use the tip of the brush to smooth out the finish.
Reload the brush with the polyurethane stain when necessary. Start brushing a few inches from where you left off, carefully blending the new stain into what you previously brushed on.
Allow the first coat of stain to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. Apply each subsequent coat in the same manner as the first, allowing the stain to dry between each coat. Apply as many coats as necessary to get the color you want, typically between three and five coats.
Before sanding the entire piece of furniture, sand a small spot in an inconspicuous place. Test the stain for color and adhesion on this spot to determine if the product is appropriate for your furniture. Only use polyurethane stain if you intend to darken your laminate furniture. It will not work to lighten the finish.
Apply polyurethane stain in a well-ventilated area. Wear a painter’s mask when sanding.
Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at LoveToKnow.com and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.