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How To: Remove Stains from Wood

how to remove stains from wood

Have you accepted the water ring on your end table as part of the décor? Maybe the thought of further damaging your furniture while trying to fix the problem has kept you from doing anything about it. Fortunately, if you need to remove stains from wood, it is not as complicated as it might seem.

Wood is a common material for furniture and flooring, especially in older buildings, however, because it is porous it can absorb liquids from spills, which when not thoroughly cleaned, will cause discoloration. There are many ways to bring the inner beauty of wood back after a stain, but it is important to know what left the mark and what type of finish is on the wood, as methods of restoring your wood will vary from case to case.

There is a simple process to determine the type of finish you have I’ve outlined in this post so start there if you’re not sure and then come back here and follow the steps below.

How to Remove White Water Stains

Water stains are the most common, usually happen unintentionally. A cold drink without a coaster, a pet’s dish, or an overwatered plant will all leave unsightly marks on your floor and furniture. Getting rid of white marks on wood can be done with items that are already in your pantry. Not only is this convenient, but when it’s safe enough to consume, it’s a better choice to use in your home.


To remove a water stain with salt, create a paste by slowly adding water to a dish that has 1/8 cup of salt. Use more or less depending upon the size of the stain. Rub this onto the target area, wait a few minutes, then wipe off.  

Mineral Oil

Pour a generous amount of mineral oil on a clean, soft rag, and work the oil into the stain, rubbing with the grain of the wood. Leave this on overnight and check the next day to see if the stain is gone. Rub away any remaining oil with a fresh cloth. If you don’t have mineral oil on hand, Vaseline can work as well.


Yes, you read that right, mayonnaise. Thanks to its high oil content, a dab of mayo can make a water stain disappear. Rub it onto the spot, then check after a few hours. Be sure to remove all traces of this condiment from your floor or furniture once you are done, as it can turn rancid when exposed to warm temperatures for long periods of time.  

How to Remove Dark Water Stains

These are going to take more time and effort to remove because the darker color means that the water has seeped further into the wood. You will need to gather the following materials before you get started:

  • 100 and 150 grit sandpaper
  • 0000 Steel wool
  • Wood varnish
  • Hydrogen Peroxide or Wood Bleach (oxcalic acid)
  • Water
  • Vacuum
  • Soft cloths

This is a three-step process, which will involve sanding, and possibly bleach, so make sure that you are wearing a mask and gloves to protect yourself from the wood dust and chemicals while you work.

1. Sanding

Start by gently sanding with the #100 grit until you reach the stain, then continue with the higher grit paper until the edges around the stain appear smooth. Vacuum up the wood dust before moving on to the next step.

2. Treating the Spot

Mix equal parts peroxide and water and work the solution gently into only the stained area, then wait for it to dry. If the stain is still visible after the first attempt, try again. If this doesn’t work, you may have to use wood bleach, in a 4-part water 1-part bleach ratio. Repeat the process until the stain is gone.

3. Finishing Touches

Once the area has completely dried, apply a varnish that matches the existing wood surface. If necessary, use the steel wool to get rid of any noticeable uneven spots.

How to Remove Other Stains

Red Wine

These telltale signs don’t have to raise eyebrows when you have company. White vinegar will help pull this stain out from your table; just soak a cloth in the vinegar and place it over the stain and check periodically. The white vinegar should lighten it up until it’s gone.

If this doesn’t work, pour salt over the affected area. Finish the job by mixing baking soda, lemon juice, cornstarch, and water together to form a paste and gently work it onto the stain. You will want to rub carefully when using baking soda to avoid scratching the wood.

Oil Stains

Oil spills are best treated right away if possible. Blot the stain with newspaper, then use a scrub brush and soapy water on the area until the stain is worked out. Dawn dish soap is both gentle enough, yet capable for the job.

If the stain has set, mineral spirits may have to be used. Make sure the room is well ventilated, then rub the spirits onto the oil mark with a clean cloth. Really stubborn stains will need to be tackled with a product that is more absorbent than wood. Something clay-based like Fuller’s Earth will work on oil stains that are more embedded.

Coffee Stains

If you like to work with a mug of coffee, your desk may have some rings on it. These can be removed with distilled white vinegar, as the acid in the vinegar will dissolve the stain without causing any damage to the wood. Just let the vinegar set onto the stain for a minute, and then blot dry with a clean cloth.

Nail Polish

Don’t reach for the nail polish remover if you drip nail color on your floor or furniture. Sugar will help the polish to congeal while it is still drying making it easier to scrape off once it’s done hardening. If there are any stray dried spots, hit them with a few spritzes of hair spray and carefully wipe the excess away to finish the job.

I hope you’ve learned a few new and maybe unconventional ways to remove stains from wood in this post. Every stain and every piece of wood is different so some of these that have worked for me in the past may or may not work in every circumstance, but before you break out the sander and spend hours refinishing a piece of furniture or your floors give one of these stain removers a shot and see how it works. You might just save yourself a ton of extra work!

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve found some other great products to remove stains from wood.

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3 thoughts on “How To: Remove Stains from Wood

  1. Thanks for the help. We love our old floors and like to make them more beautiful. But what about stains from pet stains (urine). These are dark marks found under old carpeting when we removed the carpeting, that we have reason to believe are from previous ownwer’s pet.

  2. I have a black mark in my bedroom wood floor I think it’s scratches from my bed wheels. How to remove the black stain please thanks

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