how to get water stains out of wood

How to Get Water Stains Out of Wood

When a steaming cup of hot coffee has left a mark on your kitchen table, don’t panic! There are ways to gently remove the stain and restore the piece to its original beauty without breaking the bank!  Right now, you may be wondering to yourself, ‘how can I safely, effectively and affordably remove water stains from wood?

A number of ways to remove water stains from wood include: furniture polish, toothpaste, baking soda, solvent, sandpaper, bleach, salt and lemon oil. Applying heat to the affected area using a blow dryer (or clothing iron) is another way. Removing watermarks from wood is fairly easy to do, as long as the damage is minimal (on the surface only).

multiple ways

The method you choose depends on the type of wood (treated, untreated, lacquered or finished) and how severe (or deep) the damage is.

Now that you know it is possible to remove watermarks from wood, let’s explore the different ways in more detail below.

We will discuss how to remove stains on untreated wood as well as lacquered or finished wood using convenient household and hardware products.

How to Remove Water Stains from Wood

Stains on wood (usually caused by exposure to liquids or steam) are usually white or light-colored. This often indicates that it is a surface stain, penetrating only the top layer of wax or polish rather than the wood itself. Removing these ‘water stains’ is fairly easy to do. Try the following four steps (in order) below:

  • Use an oily substance such as furniture polish, mayonnaise or petroleum jelly. Gently rub the affected area with a clean, soft cloth and oily substance (such as furniture polish, mayonnaise or petroleum jelly) to displace the watermark. 
  • Use toothpaste. Put a dab of toothpaste on a wet cloth and gently rub the stained area until the spot disappears. The granules in the paste act as a mild abrasive, gently buffing out the watermark.
  • Use baking soda. Mix equal parts baking soda with toothpaste (1/2 tsp each) to create a paste. Apply the paste to a wet cloth and rub the stained area to buff out stubborn water marks. This paste is a gentle (yet abrasive) mixture sure to work!
  • Use a solvent. Mineral spirits or paint thinner applied to a soft, dry cloth will help remove deep-set watermarks. Simply dip the cloth into the liquid, squeeze out any excess moisture and then gently rub the stained area.

It is important to note that the above methods will work only on white or light-colored stains, not black or dark stains. When the stain is dark, this usually indicates deep-set damage that has penetrated the wood surface and gone beyond the top layer of finish or lacquer. This type of damage requires a more laborious solution that may (or may not) work in the end. We will discuss this in more detail below.

How to Get Black Water Marks Out of Wood?

Removing blackened stains from wood involves the use of sandpaper, bleach and other hardware products. I will outline two ways below, one with sandpaper and the other with bleach. These include the following:

Removing Black Water Marks Using Sandpaper (Seven Steps)

  • Using 100-grit sandpaper, gently remove the finish from the wood by rubbing the sandpaper across the wood moving in the direction of the grain.
  • Once the finish is removed, sand the stained area with 150-grit sandpaper, again moving in the direction of the grain. Use steel wool around the edges of the water mark.
  • Use a lint-free cloth to brush away the sanding dust.
  • Apply several thin coats of varnish (in the same shade as the original finish).
  • Feather the edges of the newly-applied varnish with steel wool to remove any imperfections or bumps between that the pre-existing varnish.
  • Wax the wood with a good quality polish and allow it to dry completely.
  • Buff the polished surface using a soft, dry cloth to reveal a high-shine finish.
beach and sandpaper

Removing Black Water Marks Using Bleach (Eight Steps)

Even though we are telling you to use bleach in this article in most instances you should try other methods first. Check out our complete article on whether or not to use bleach on wood for a more in-depth look.

  • If the stain is deep-set and sanding is not enough, bleach the wood stain with chlorine bleach using rubber gloves and a brush.
  • After applying the bleach, allow it to sit on the stain for a few hours. Slowly, the stain should fade and appear to look like the original wood.
  • Remove the bleach using a clean, soft sponge and warm water.
  • Apply vinegar to the area to neutralize the wood and allow time to dry completely.
  • Once dry, brush on several thin coats of varnish in the same shade as the original finish.
  • Use steel wool to feather the edges of the stain and remove any bumps or imperfections between the pre-existing finish and the newly-applied finish.
  • Wax the wood with a good quality polish and let it dry thoroughly.
  • Buff the polished surface with a clean, soft cloth to reveal a high-gloss finish.

How to Get Water Stains out of Lacquered Wood?

Removing water stains from lacquered wood is fairly easy to do, provided the stain is not deep-set and the damage is minimal. One way to do this involves using a clothing iron! The six necessary steps include the following:

  • Turn the iron on and set at medium heat.
  • Turn off the steam switch to ensure the wood stays dry.
  • Place a clean, dry cloth over the stained area.
  • Set the iron on top of the cloth and press down on the water stain for three to five seconds.
  • Remove the iron and the cloth. Check to see if the stain is still visible. If so, reapply the cloth and the iron for an additional three to five seconds.
  • Repeat this process as many times as needed until the water stain disappears.

How to Remove Water Stains From Unfinished Wood?

Removing water marks on unfinished wood can be a challenge, especially when they are old and deep-set. One way to do this is by using salt! The five steps for this method include the following:

  • Mix one teaspoon of salt with a little water to form a paste.
  • Apply this paste to the water stain and gently rub with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Repeat this process until the stain disappears.
  • If the stain persists, try using a blow dryer on a low heat setting and move it all around the water mark until it disappears.
  • If the blow dryer method doesn’t work, try using a few drops of lemon oil (or a mixture of equal parts vinegar and olive oil) on a clean, soft cloth and gently rub it into the stained area.

For more information on untreated wood, water and the outdoors check out our post on can untreated wood be used outdoors?

How to Remove Water Stains from Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is often used to finish wood surfaces. To remove water marks from furniture or floors treated with polyurethane, try the following six-step method:

liquid detergent and sponge
  • Mix one cup of water with a few drops of mild liquid detergent.
  • Dip a sponge into the mixture and wring it out to remove excess moisture.
  • Blot (or gently scrub) the stain with the sponge. If the water mark lifts, wipe away any residue from the mixture and allow the wood to dry completely.
  • If the stain persists, dampen a sponge with a polyurethane cleaning product and gently scrub the stain with a soft sponge.
  • Remove any product residue using another clean, damp sponge.
  • Dry the surface of the wood by hand using a soft, lint-free cloth. Open a window or turn on a fan to aid in the drying process

How to Prevent Water Rings on Wood Furniture?

To ensure your furniture maintains its original pristine appearance, taking care of it properly is the key. There are a number of ways to protect its surface from water marks and stains. These include the following:

  • Use coasters, holders or pads whenever possible. Always place a coaster, holder or pad onto the wood surface before putting hot or cold liquids on top.
  • Use furniture polish. Wood polishing and cleaning agents used regularly will protect the surface of the wood and keep in looking beautiful.
  • Apply a protective finish. Treating unfinished wood with varnish or lacquer will help protect the surface from staining and damage.

Check out two other popular related blog posts, how long does polyurethane take too dry and can untreated wood be used outdoors.


In conclusion, there are a number of easy ways to remove water stains from wood. The method you choose depends on the type of wood (treated of untreated, lacquered or finished) and the degree of damage. Furniture polish, toothpaste, baking soda, solvent, bleach, salt, lemon oil and applied heat are just a few of the ways.The best treatment, of course, is prevention. Never directly expose wooden surfaces to water, steam or moisture of any kind. Good luck with your future home repairs and renovations.

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