How do I remove watermarks from wood? (with photos)

Water stain on wood.

There are several ways to remove watermarks from wood, and the approach that works best often depends on the extent of the damage. Surface marks can usually be removed by applying dry heat to the area or gently rubbing the stain with mayonnaise or toothpaste. Deeper staining may require removing the finish, treating the wood and touching up. In all cases, research the wood and its proper care before attempting any treatment to avoid permanent damage.


Cigarette ash can be used to help remove watermarks from wood.

There are two main types of marks caused by water on wood: white or cloudy stains and dark stains. White marks are made when water gets into the wood finish and cracks or clouds it. Darker stains and marks often occur where water has leaked past the finish and penetrated the wood itself. Both types of marks can be caused by a drinking glass or a hot, wet item – such as a pizza box or a casserole – placed on a table. Superficial damage is usually relatively easy to treat, especially if done soon after it occurs, but deep staining often requires more extensive repair.

Preparing to Remove Watermarks

Mayonnaise can remove watermarks from wood.

Before using any treatment to remove watermarks, do your research. Some woods and finishes respond better to certain treatments, and you can further damage the surface using an improper stain removal method. If possible, read any information you may have from your furniture manufacturer or call their customer service department for suggestions. If you can’t get professional advice, try the treatment on a small area of ​​the floor or furniture to see if it negatively affects the finish.

If you use bleach to remove watermarks from wood, it should be rinsed with a combination of baking soda and water.

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You should also remove any polish or wax from the surface before treating it. They are used to improve the appearance of wood as well as to protect it; as it is designed to help repel water, it can prevent anything used to treat the watermark from penetrating as well. Wax or polish can be removed with a wood cleaner or a wood-based remover. Always read and follow the instructions carefully and test any cleaner on a small area first to see how the wood reacts.

Removing White Marks

Dry heat can help get rid of newly developed white rings, helping to evaporate any trapped moisture. Try using a hair dryer on the low setting and hold it above the stain, moving it constantly to avoid heat damage. You can also cover the area with a soft, lint-free cloth and press it down with an iron set on medium-low; keep the temperature low and check under the cloth every 30 seconds or so to see if the mark is still there. A small lamp can also be placed over the area, as the lamp can usually generate enough heat to serve the same purpose. In addition to removing any trapped water, using low, dry heat can help restore cracks in the finish.

If you’re worried about damaging the surface with heat, you can try an oil-based treatment. Apply a little mayonnaise, Vaseline, lemon oil, or even cooking oil to the area and rub it with a chamois, cloth diaper, or soft cloth that won’t mar the finish any further. You can leave these substances in particularly stubborn white rings for several hours. It is thought that they will soak into the finish, replenishing the water and reducing the appearance of the mark.

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Other experts advise using toothpaste (not gel) to remove white rings caused by water damage. This can act as a mild abrasive to remove watermarks. You can also combine mayonnaise or another oil-based solvent with yeast or cigarette ash and use it with a soft cloth to wipe away stains. Some experts recommend using lemon or other oil and very fine steel wool instead of a cloth. The problem with abrasive methods, however, is that you increase the risk of damaging the wood, so be careful and test the method before cleaning a large area with abrasion.

Unfortunately, these remedies can affect the appearance of the floor and furniture, and the treatment can scratch or dull the surface of the wood. If you are working with very old, expensive, or fragile wood, it may be best to seek professional help rather than trying to remove watermarks yourself. Wood coated with high-quality lacquer, for example, can be treated with a special fire retardant spray, but it should only be done by a professional.

Removing Dark Marks

To remove a dark water stain, you first need to strip the finish from the wood and treat the area directly. Oxalic acid, a compound used in wood restoration, is often recommended because it typically does not change the color of the wood itself. Also known as wood bleach, you may need to apply several coats to the surface until the stain fades away. Bleach typically needs to be neutralized as well, so it should be rinsed with water and a mix of water and baking soda. After treatment, you, or a professional, can refine the surface.

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Completely refining a floor that has a dark mark can add value to a home, but that’s not always true for furniture items. In many cases, antiques should not be refinished or they will be worth less. It’s best to consult with an expert about whether it’s worthwhile to try to remove water marks from antique wood, and if so, you may want a professional to do the restoration.

Protecting Wood Furniture and Floors

You can help protect wood from water damage by creating a barrier between the wood and liquids. Always use coasters under drinks and trivets under hot food containers. You can also protect a table by covering it with a glass tabletop. Regularly apply furniture or floor wax to keep the surface protected. You may also want to consider furniture treated with a synthetic resin finish that is resistant to stains and other damage.

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