How to Remove Water Stains From Wood

Updated August 27, 2018
wood floors

Water stains on wood furniture and hardwood floors can lead you to think they're permanently damaged. However, there are several methods you can use to make your wood household items look as good as new.

How to Clean Water Stains From Wood

Before you clean a stain, determine what type of stain it is and how long it's been there. The most common type of stain is known as a white water stain. This stain indicates the water has penetrated the finish of the wood.

There are many methods that effectively remove water stain from stained wood. You may have to try more than one method before you see results. Naturally, the quicker you catch the stain, the easier removal will be.

Removing Fresh Stains

If you've just spilt water on your floor or furniture, moving quickly can prevent the water stain from happening.

  1. Immediately buff the area with a soft, cotton cloth such as a cloth diaper. This will absorb the water without scratching the wood.
  2. Be careful to buff with the grain of the wood for best results.
  3. If you still see a mark, use a blow dryer to dry the excess moisture before it sets into the wood. Do this carefully on a low setting if possible or you may turn the watermark into a heat mark!
  4. Once the stain is removed, buff the area with an oil-based furniture polish. This will remove any remaining stain and make your wood look nice and new.

Removing Older Stains

There are many methods to remove older water stains. You may have to try more than one to get the stain out completely.

Water Mark Remover

There are several commercial products specially formulated to remove not only water marks from furniture, but stains caused by exposure to heat, cold, alcohol, or magic markers. Read the instructions carefully before use as some require adequate ventilation whereas others can be used in closed spaces and without protective face masks or gloves.

Hardwood Floor Cleaner

You can buy products designed to remove hardwood water stains at home improvement and household supply stores. Apply these with a spray and clean them up with a damp cloth.

Magic Eraser

Another helpful commercially made product is a Magic Eraser. Just gently buff a damp eraser, going with the grain of the wood. For deeper stains you may need to do this several times. Then, polish the wood as normal.


Apply a small amount of mayonnaise to a cloth (or an old disposable t-shirt) and place it on the watermark. Allow it to sit for an hour or more but don't let it get dry. If it does dry, apply more mayonnaise to keep the area moist. Wipe it away with a thick cotton cloth when you're done. You can also mix cigarette ashes in your mayonnaise.

Salt and Oil

Make a paste with salt and olive oil. Gently rub it in and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove with a cotton cloth and polish the wood. You can also do this with only one teaspoon of salt and a bit of water.


Use a white toothpaste, not gel, for this remedy. Apply a small amount of toothpaste to the stain and buff gently, with the wood grain, with a soft cotton cloth. Wipe off toothpaste with a damp cloth and polish. For tougher stains, add baking soda in equal parts to the toothpaste.


Mix white vinegar with an equal amount of olive oil and use a cloth to rub this solution with the grain. Once the stain is removed, use another cloth to soak up the excess mixture and shine the wood.

Baking Soda

Create paste with one tablespoon baking soda and one teaspoon water and apply it to the stain. Rub gently with a cloth. If the same does not come out, apply more paste and let it sit overnight. Wipe it away with a cotton cloth in the morning.

Steel Wool

Steel wool that has been saturated with lemon oil can be used to buff stains out of wood. As always, buff in the direction of the wood grain. Be sure to use enough lemon oil to prevent scratches in the wood. Make sure you use a quality steel wool available for your local home improvement store rather than a regular household cleaner wool.

An Iron

Use a hot iron to remove water stains and, oddly enough, heat stains! Put a thick cotton cloth over the stain and press the hot iron onto the cloth. The iron should be set to the lowest temperature. Hold it there for only a few seconds at a time and check the stain. It may take a few minutes for the stain to be completely gone.

Butter and Ashes

Mix together equal parts of butter and cigarette ashes and gently rub in with a cloth. Take a clean cloth to remove it.

Petroleum Jelly

Put some petroleum jelly onto the stain with a cloth or your fingers and leave it overnight. Use the cloth to wipe it away the next day. This is another substance that pairs well with cigarette ashes.

Black Water Stains

Black water stains are the most difficult type of stain to remove from wood floors and furniture. These stains occur when the water has seeped beyond the finish and into the wood. The best way to clean these stains involves using regular or wood beach.

Using Bleach

The first step is removing the wood finish. If you're dealing with an antique, you probably won't want to do this because once the finish is removed, the value of the piece goes down. However, if this isn't a concern, follow these steps:

  1. Sand off the finish from the wood piece.
  2. Make sure you wear gloves for the next steps.
  3. Use an old toothbrush or a paint brush to rub regular household bleach into the stain.
  4. Allow the bleach to evaporate for about two hours.
  5. Apply more bleach in the same manner.
  6. Allow it to sit overnight.

This process removes water stains from deep within the wood. Once the stains are gone, you can refinish the wood. However, if the stain persists, you may need to use the wood bleach method.

Using Wood Bleach

For stubborn black water stains, you may need to use a commercial wood bleach.

  1. After removing the wood finish, apply mixed wood bleach with a brush to the wood.
  2. Allow the wood bleach to work for four hours.
  3. Neutralize the wood bleach by applying a mixture of two parts water and to one-part vinegar with a sponge.
  4. Dry the wood and refinish once the stain is gone.

Using Toothpaste

As with white water stains, toothpaste can be effective for black stains. Use white paste and rub the watermark with a gentle motion with the wood grain. Do not press down too hard with the brush because you may remove the finish.

Unfinished Wood

Removing water stains from unfinished wooden floors and furniture is the easiest scenario. All you need to do is take some sandpaper and gently sand the stained area. You can also apply some gentle dish cleaning soap and water with a cloth to the stain.

Removing Water Stains From Wood

Having beautiful wooden furniture or floors stained by water can be upsetting. If you try one or more of the above methods, you're sure to get the wood looking like new! For more tips on keep wood in top condition, learn how to clean sticky wooden kitchen cabinets.

How to Remove Water Stains From Wood