How To: Remove Water Stains from Wood
Those white, cloudy rings on your wood furniture don't have to stay there forever. Try one of these methods for removing—or at least minimizing—water stains on wood.
Wood furniture is beautiful, but it’s not impervious to the wear and tear of everyday life. To retain their looks, new and antique wood tables and chairs must be properly maintained. It’s for good reason that your parents sternly insisted that you use coasters: Water and wood are indeed natural enemies.
Water stains show up as white or light-colored rings or clouds. The light color is a sign that the moisture hasn’t reached the actual wood; rather, it’s trapped within the wood’s finish. (It’s when the stain is black or dark-colored that you have a real problem and should either refinish the piece yourself or consult a pro.)
If the damage has already been done, and you now have to figure out how to remove water stains from wood, don’t be discouraged. Many have been there before you and successfully eliminated—or at least made significantly less visible—the unsightly marks that moisture can leave in its wake. What follows are details on the three approaches that we and others have found to be the most effective. You may need to work through a bit of trial and error before discovering the trick that works in your case. Be patient, and good luck!
METHOD 1: Iron water stains out of wood tables.
As with most stains, it helps to act quickly. If the water stain has been there for only a few days, use the heat in this method to evaporate all traces of moisture.
- Empty your clothes iron of all the water inside, then bring it into the room with the affected piece of furniture.
- Plug in the iron, then lay a cotton napkin, towel, or T-shirt over the stain.
- With the iron set on its lowest setting, apply it briefly to the fabric before lifting the cloth to see if the water ring has diminished.
- Repeat until (we hope) the white water stain has disappeared.
Alternatively, you can try using a hairdryer to achieve the same effect. Move the dryer back and forth over the area for about 10 minutes until the moisture evaporates.
METHOD 2: Use mayonnaise to remove water stains from wood.
Assuming Method 1 gets no results, it’s worthwhile to experiment with what may at first sound like an odd thing to put on furniture: mayonnaise. The oil in the mayonnaise should seep into the finish, displacing the lodged moisture.
- Dab a bit of mayonnaise onto a rag, then gently apply it directly to the water-stained area. (Start with the least conspicuous damage as a test before addressing an entire tabletop this way.)
- Let the mayonnaise sit on the water ring for at least a few hours or as long as overnight, reapplying if the initial coating dries out. If there’s no mayonnaise in your fridge, petroleum jelly may be used as a substitute problem-solver.
- Wipe away with a clean cloth.
If you’re seeing some results but wish the remedy packed a little extra punch, consider adding a dash of cigarette or fireplace ashes to the mayonnaise. The penetrating power of oil works best when combined with the abrasiveness of ashes.
Note: If the water stain on the wood surface is several weeks or months old, there may not be moisture left to displace. Proceed to the next method for one more potential DIY fix.
METHOD 3: Scrub away water rings with white toothpaste.
If the above methods have gotten you nowhere, walk to your bathroom, reach into the medicine cabinet, and pull out a tube of toothpaste—but not just any toothpaste. You’ll need the white, non-gel variety.
- Squeeze white toothpaste onto a rag.
- Massage the toothpaste onto the water stain, starting in the most inconspicuous spot available.
- Scrub lightly for less than a minute. You shouldn’t need to scrub hard or for very long to see results.
To avoid causing any further damage to the furniture in question, it’s best to concentrate your efforts only on the affected portions, because the toothpaste can wear away the finish.
Even if the water stains on the wood surface aren’t completely gone, these methods may have at least lightened them enough to be less noticeable. The ace up your sleeve is that, if all else fails, you can always sand the furniture down to bare wood and refinish it. (If you’re dealing with a prized piece, you may want to consult a pro.) Then, keep coasts handy to prevent similar damage in the future.