How to Remove Stains From Wood

One of the reasons removing stains from wood can be a challenge is because wood is a porous material that will easily absorb most liquids. Depending on the finish and the type of wood, the stain can be pulled deep into the wood, which is why many insist on the use of coasters for fine wood coffee tables. Nevertheless, stains often find their way on to wood surfaces.

Remove Stains from Wood

If water or other liquids spill on wood, Cornell Cooperative Extension recommends quickly reaching for a towel to wipe clean the surface. If this is done, there is often little to no damage to the wooden surface. Stubborn stains may require additional cleaning techniques. The type of wood, finish of wood and stain agent may all affect the specific technique used to remove stains from wood.

Removing Water Stains from Finished Wood

Many dining tables, coffee tables and other types of wood furniture feature glossy, finsihed surfaces. Ignoring the warning to use a coaster often results in a white water mark. In many cases, the stain is superficial, only occuring on the finished surface.

What You Will Need Before You Start:

  • Clean, lint-free towels
  • Iron or hair dryer
  • Salad oil or mayonnaise
  • Ammonia
  • Furniture polish

Fold a clean, lint-free towel, like a barkeeper's towel or cloth diaper, unitl it is several layers thick. Place over the water mark and apply a a dry, hot iron for five seconds. You can also use a blow dryer set to high heat to warm the towel. Repeat until the stain is gone. This method works on many types of finishes, but is especially effective on wood finished with wax. The heat helps to draw trapped moisture out of the finish and wood.

If the stain remains, dampen a cloth in salad oil or mayonnaise. Rub over the stained wood to erase the white marks. Marks extending deep into the wood may require dampening a clean, dry cloth with several drops of ammonia. Rub into the stain, following the direction of the wood grain. Continue rubbing until all marks are removed. 

Once a water stain is removed, apply furniture polish or wax to restore the original beauty of the wood. Start at the center of the furniture and work your way toward the edges, buffing the entire surface. Buff using a clean cloth to remove excess polish or wax.

Removing Water Stains from Unfinished Wood

Bowls, glasses and vases may all cause water stains on unfinished wood surfaces. Although they often appear more permanent than those on finished wood, they are often easily removed using table salt. 

What You Will Need Before You Start:

  • Clean, lint-free towels
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Iron or hair dryer
  • Wood cleaner and moisturizer

Mix one teaspoon of salt with several drops of water to create a salt paste. Apply the paste to the stained wood. Use a clean, damp towel to gently rub the paste into the water marks. Rub until the stain is no longer being removed. Wipe the paste from the wood.

Dry the wood by folding a clean, lint-free towel several times. Place over the stained area and apply a dry, hot iron for five seconds. Repeat until the stain is removed. Use a wood cleaning and moisturizing product to remove any remaining salt.

Removing Dark Spots from Unfinished Wood

Many wood surfaces develop dark spots or discoloration prior to finishing. If these spots are not removed before applying a stain or finish, they may affect the finished product. 

What You Will Need Before You Start:

  • Tetrachloride
  • Stiff Brush
  • Oxalic Acid
  • Sponge
  • Ammonia
  • Clean, white towels 

Oil and grease stains that have penetrated the surface of unfinished wood are cleaned using tetrachloride, a dry cleaning spot remover. Apply the tetrachloride to the stained area of the wood. Following the grain of the wood, scrub with a stiff brush until the stain is removed. Allow to dry, and then sand and finish as normal.

Other stains can be removed through bleaching. While chlorine bleach is often used to bleach wood, it has the potential to turn wood a yellow-green color. Use oxalic acid to bleach stains and remove any gray color from wood surfaces. You can purchase oxalic acid from a pharmacy. 

  1. Pour 2 to 4 tablespoons of oxalic acid crystals into a glass jar. Add one pint of hot water. The more crystals you add, the stronger the bleach will be.
  2. Apply the bleaching solution using a sponge to the surface of the wood. Apply to the entire surface, not just the stained area. If you only treat the stained area, you risk the potential of having an uneven lightening of the wood surface. 
  3. Allow the solution to penetrate the wood for up to 20 minutes. If the stain remains, apply additional solution to the stained area. Continue applying the solution until the stain is removed. 
  4. Neutralize the bleaching by washing the wood with a solution of on tablespoon clear ammonia and 1 quart of water. Use a clean, dry towel to dry the wood.
  5. Rinse the wood with cool water and wipe dry with a towel. 

Bleach raises wood grain, making the surface of the wood rough. Allow the wood to dry for 24 hours and then sand smooth. 

Removing Urine Stains from Wood Flooring

Wood flooring may seem like a better option than carpet when you own pets. However, because wood is a porous surface, it can absorb liquids. Urine can both result in visual stains and lingering odor. 

What You Will Need Before You Start:

  • Clean, white towels
  • White vinegar
  • Water

Immediately use a towel to absorb any excess urine. Dampen a clean towel with cool water and wipe the stained area. Blot dry using a dry cloth. Dampen a clean towel with undiluted white vinegar. Sponge onto the stained area. Do not saturate the wood, just moisten. Wipe again with a towel dampened with water and blot dry. 

If a visual stain remains, it may be necessary to buff the area using a 000 steel wool. Rub with the grain of the wood until the stain is no longer noticeable. Apply a floor wax according to manufacturer directions.

You can successfully remove stains from wood by acting quickly and using products safe for wood surfaces. Do not fully saturate a wood surface with water or other cleaning solution. Keep wood as dry as possible, even during the removal of stains. Working quickly prevents the wood from absorbing any excess moisture. Immediately begin to treat stains as soon as they appear for quick and easy stain removal. Taking the time to protect your quality furniture and other wood surfaces will maintain its beauty for furture generations.