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Removing stains from wood: 10 easy hacks

Want to know about removing stains from wood? Find out how to tackle water marks and other common stains here.

Updated By Wiki Tips English Team

Glass of water on a wooden  table

From dining tables and chopping boards to rustic oak flooring, natural wood is as beautiful as it is functional. Unfortunately, accidents are a fact of life. Before you know it, your once pristine table is looking decidedly stained. Never fear, once you know all about removing stains from wood, you should be able to restore your table to its former glory. 

Common stains include water, pen and tomato sauce. Thankfully, most can be removed with one of the methods below. 

Before we reveal our top hacks, a word of caution: It’s always wise to try a stain-removal technique on a less noticeable area first. And don’t try these wood stain removers on painted wood, as you could remove or discolour the paint. 

Finally, if you’re tackling a particularly challenging stain or dealing with expensive furniture, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

You will need:

  • Clean cloths
  • Sandpaper
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Salt
  • White vinegar
  • Non-gel toothpaste
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Wood stain stripper

How to remove wood stains

Before you try any of these hacks, remove as much of the stain causing culprit as possible (in other words, wipe up any remaining pasta sauce etc.) and give the table a quick clean.

Once you’ve completed your chosen stain-busting hack, make sure you get all of the cleaner off the wood. You might want to finish up by buffing the wood to bring the shine back, or giving it a good wipe down with some furniture polish.

  1. How to remove water stains from wood with salt

    Water (or other liquid) can leave a white stain on wood. To get rid of it, make a paste with salt and water. Add the water a couple of drops at a time. You only want enough to bind the salt together. Rub the paste into the stain and wipe it off.

  2. How to remove water stains from wood with petroleum jelly

    Vaseline isn’t just handy for soothing chapped lips you know. Try dabbing it onto the water stain. Leave it overnight and then wipe it off.

  3. How to remove water stains from wood with mayonnaise

    One of the stranger methods for removing water marks involves mayonnaise. Yep, that tasty condiment more likely to be found on your takeaway chips. Just dab it on, leave it for a few hours and then wipe it off. The high oil content helps to clean the wood.

    Mayonnaise can turn rancid pretty quickly. So don’t try this on a hot day!

  4. How to remove heat marks with bicarb

    Forgot to use a coaster? Don’t panic. Make a paste by adding a small amount of water to bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Add only as much water as it takes to bind the powder together, otherwise you risk making the water stain worse. Rub the paste into the wood and then wipe it off.

  5. How to remove heat marks with toothpaste

    Mix together equal parts of a non-gel toothpaste and bicarbonate of soda. Rub it into the stain with a cloth. Remove it with a clean, damp cloth and dry well. (Use a hairdryer on a low heat if needs be.)

  6. How to remove sticky marks from wood

    Sticky residue can be a right pain. Luckily, it’s easy enough to remove with vegetable oil. Rub it into the glue and leave it for a couple of hours. Then just wipe it off with soapy water (this works best on varnished wood, as the oil could stain untreated wood). Don’t have any vegetable oil to hand? We have lots of other hacks for removing glue and sticky residue from wood here.

  7. How to remove stains from wood with white vinegar and bicarb

    This method can work well on pasta sauce, dye and other stains. Before you start, try just washing the area with a damp cloth and dollop of washing up liquid, as that might be all you need to remove the stain. If that doesn’t work, add a few drops of white vinegar to baking soda. You’re aiming for a toothpaste-like consistency. Rub it into the stain and then wipe it off with a clean, damp cloth. Dry the area well afterwards.

  8. How to remove dark stains with bleach

    Dark patches are usually old liquid stains. They’re tricky to get rid of, but you can try using bleach. A specialist wood bleach is the best option. If you can’t find one, look for Oxalic Acid. Or just .

    As always, do test an inconspicuous area first, and protect your hands with rubber gloves.

    Spray or dab the bleach onto the stain. Leave it for half an hour to work its magic, before wiping it off with a damp cloth. You might need to repeat this method a few times for best results.

  9. How to remove really stubborn stains

    If the above hacks haven’t helped, the stain may be too deep. It’s time to get the sandpaper out. Lightly sand the stain and surrounding area. You may need to sand down the whole surface to keep the colour even.

    Use a fine sandpaper to avoid scratching the wood and don’t rub too hard.

  10. How to remove pen marks from wood

    First off, try wiping the mark with a damp cloth and washing up liquid. (Children’s colouring pens are often washable.)

    If the stain won’t budge, you’ll need isopropyl alcohol. Rub it into the stain with an old, clean cloth (wearing gloves to protect your hands). When the stain has gone, wash the area with a damp, soapy cloth and dry it thoroughly.

    Hand sanitiser usually contains a high quantity of isopropyl alcohol, so you could try using that. As with all of these hacks, just check it on an inconspicuous area first.

Now you know about removing stains from wood, let’s look at some other wood cleaning hacks.

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Tips for looking after wooden furniture

How do I get scratches out of wood?

Some types of wood scratch easier than others. We recommend taking expensive pieces to be professionally polished. For other items, try these scratch-removing hacks (who knew you could disguise a scratch using coffee grounds?).

What if there are lots of marks and wood stain remover isn’t helping?

It might be time to strip the wood and refinish it. It’s a pretty big job, but can usually be done at home if you’re prepared to put the work in. Read our step-by-step guide to refinishing wood.

Help! I’ve just spilled water on my wooden table!

Don’t panic. First off, dry the table as best as you can. Then place a cloth over the area where you spilled the water. You’ll need an iron, set to a low temperature, with no water in the reservoir. Run the iron over the cloth. Make sure you don’t leave it in one place too long as you don’t want to risk damaging the table. The heat from the iron should dry up any remaining water. Alternatively, try drying it with a hairdryer.

How do I clean wooden furniture?

A quick dust and polish keeps most furniture looking good. However, sometimes it needs a bit more effort. Here’s how to clean and care for wooden furniture.

How do I remove wood stain?

Knowing how to remove wood stain and old paint is pretty handy if you’re upcycling furniture. You’re going to need a chemical wood stripper, which you should be able to pick up from a hardware store.

Apply it as directed on the tin. Usually, this means painting it on with a paintbrush, leaving it for 15 minutes or so and then scraping it off.

Wood stain removal is a really messy job, so make sure you’re wearing gloves and old clothes, and do it outside if possible.

Another option is to use a local paint stripping service.

How do I clean wood flooring?

The trick with floor cleaning is not to get the wood too wet and to use the right method for the type of finish. Read our full guide to cleaning wooden floors here.

Originally published