How to Remove Water Stains From Wood

Knowing how to remove water stains from wood is a valuable skill that not only extends the life of your furniture, but also allows you a rare peace of mind when entertaining. Anyone who’s hosted a great party understands that the festive soiree atmosphere can be hampered by the panic-inducing sight of coaster-averse guests leaving water rings along your table. Luckily—just like all those dirty glasses—these spots can disappear fast with a little attention. So if you’re ready to tackle that coffee ring or water stain on your favorite table, read on for a DIY guide filled with helpful info and cleaning tips on water stain removal.

Why does water stain wood?

If you have water marks or white stains on your wood table, chances are they’ve only ruined the finish of the wood. “White rings on wood furniture reflect the moisture that has soaked into the top layers of the wood finish,” explains Sabrina Fierman, vice president of luxury cleaning service New York’s Little Elves. “Basically, it’s moisture that gets into wax, which naturally clouds up.” Most pieces of furniture are sealed with a layer of protection to prevent liquid damage, so even in the worst case scenario with dark water stains, you should be able to sand and seal your wood for a full recovery. There are a few methods to try removing the water stains from your wood furniture before you go to grab your sandpaper.

When is a water stain permanent?

White water marks indicate that moisture is in the varnish of the furniture, but that it hasn’t yet reached the wood.

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Darker water marks might make for a more work-intensive removal.

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If you’re wondering whether your stain is permanent, Kelly DeWitt of KKDW Studios explains that the shade of the stain can key you into whether or not it’s likely to stick around. “When water stains on the finish of wood furniture show up as those white cloudy rings or marks, this coloring is a sign that the moisture is in the finish and hasn’t yet reached the wood,” DeWitt says. “If the stain looks dark, versus light and cloudy, this is an indication that the stain has reached the wood itself. When this happens, you’re likely not going to remove the stain without sanding down the finish to the bare wood and refinishing it.”

Does rubbing alcohol remove water stains from wood?

Knowing how to remove water stains from wood may come in handy, but preventing them in the first place through the use of coasters is key to keeping your wood furniture good as new.

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Everyone’s favorite answer: It depends. According to DeWitt, “the alcohol can draw out the moisture trapped in the finish, but it can also very easily dissolve or strip your finish, to different extents depending on the finish used. Test an inconspicuous spot of your furniture first to see how your finish reacts to the alcohol.”

The best way to keep condensation from ruining your wood surfaces? One word: coasters. Regardless of your aesthetic or budget, you can find one to match your space. If you would rather live dangerously, then your best preventative measure is ensuring that your wood furniture is meticulously inspected after use and that wood stains are regularly addressed with gentle cleaners and conditioners.

How do you get water stains out of wood?

If your water stains aren’t quite in need of sanding, there are a few different techniques you can use to try removing them.

A clothes iron

  1. Be sure to clean off your furniture with a gentle wood cleaner or furniture polish before using any heat to make sure you don’t add to your stain.
  2. Take a damp microfiber cloth and place it directly on top of your stain.
  3. Turn your iron on a low setting with steam and gently iron back and forth over the damp cloth to help remove the stain.
  4. Repeat the process above until the stain disappears.

If you don’t have a clean cloth handy, you can also use a paper towel, but experts suggest doubling it up to avoid damaging the varnish of your tabletop or wood floors. This method is widely regarded as the best and most efficient way to remove white stains from wood and can even be used on hardwood floors.

A mixture of baking soda and toothpaste

Most homeowners will find a myriad of items in their kitchen that can be used for removing or at least improving the stained area. According to Sabrina Tretyakova, an ISSA-certified cleaning expert, combining baking soda and white toothpaste is best for removing damp stains from wood.

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