How to Remove Water Stains From Wood

Those white, cloudy rings on your dining room table don't have to stay there forever. Try one of these methods for removing—or at least minimizing—water stains on wood.

By Deirdre Mundorf and Bob Vila | Updated May 24, 2022 10:21 AM

remove water stains from wood

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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!

Using an Iron to Remove Water Stains From Wood

remove water stains from wood

Photo: Bobvila.com

As with most stains, it helps to act quickly. If the water stain has been there for only a few days, use the heat from this method to evaporate all traces of moisture. Follow the steps below to learn how to get water stains out of wood using a clothing iron.

STEP 1: Prep your iron.

Before using your clothes iron with your wood furniture, empty the water from the tank. You don’t want to introduce any more water and make the stain worse or create a new stain. Then, bring the iron into the room with the affected piece of furniture.

STEP 2: Plug in the iron and lay a piece of cotton fabric over the stain.

Plug the iron into the outlet. Then, lay a clean cotton napkin, towel, or T-shirt over the stain. When removing water rings on wood, it is important to choose a piece of cotton fabric that doesn’t have any decals or prints on it. The heat from the iron could cause text or images from the fabric to transfer to the wood furniture, exacerbating your problem.

STEP 3: Turn the iron to the lowest setting and run it over the stain.

Set the iron to the lowest setting, and give it a few minutes to warm up. Then, apply it briefly to the fabric before lifting the cloth to see if the water ring has diminished. If the ring is still visible, repeat until (we hope) the 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.

RELATED: 20 Crazy Cleaning Tips That Actually Work

Using Mayonnaise to Remove Water Stains From Wood

remove water stains from wood

Photo: Bobvila.com

If the iron method doesn’t yield good 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 works as a wood stain remover and should seep into the finish, displacing the lodged moisture.

STEP 1: Dab a bit of mayonnaise onto a rag.

Open the mayonnaise jar and use a clean, white rag to grab a small amount of mayonnaise. Use the rag to dab the mayonnaise directly onto the water stain. Apply enough to fully coat the stain.

STEP 2: Let the mayonnaise sit overnight.

Lay the rag over the mayonnaise-covered stain. Leave the mayonnaise and rag over the stain for at least 2 or 3 hours, or even as long as overnight.

STEP 3: Wipe it away with a clean cloth.

After a few hours (or the next morning), use a clean, soft cloth to wipe the mayonnaise off the stain. The oils from the mayonnaise should have worked to remove the moisture, eliminating or minimizing the appearance of the stain. Use furniture polish to touch up the surface of the furniture.

Using Toothpaste to Remove Water Stains From Wood 

remove water stains from wood

Photo: Bobvila.com

If the above methods have gotten you nowhere, fetch a tube of toothpaste from the medicine cabinet—but not just any toothpaste. You’ll need the white, non-gel variety if you want it to function as a water stain remover.

STEP 1: Squeeze white toothpaste onto a rag.

Grab a clean and soft white rag. Squeeze the white toothpaste onto the rag. You’ll want to squeeze out a good amount to give yourself plenty to work with when removing the water stain.

STEP 2: Rub the toothpaste into the water stain.

Rub the toothpaste into the water stain, starting in the most inconspicuous spot available to make sure that the toothpaste doesn’t damage the finish of your furniture. Continue rubbing the rag over the water stain using gentle pressure. The toothpaste should work relatively quickly, and you should start to see the stain lightening or even disappearing as you rub.

STEP 3: Scrub the stain with a small brush.

If a little bit of elbow grease with the rag isn’t enough to remove the stain, you can also try using a small, soft-bristled brush. 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 surface finishes.

Treating Stubborn Watermarks on Wood 

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. If you’re not satisfied with the results, there are two additional options that can help remove water rings from wood: You can try a commercial stain remover, like Guardsman’s Deep Clean, or you can refinish the wood.

Commercial stain removers are designed to eliminate watermarks as well as other stains on wood caused by markers, heat, and more. While some users have success with commercial stain remover, they aren’t 100-percent effective either. It’s possible for the products to cause additional damage to your furniture’s finish, so you’ll always want to test it on a hidden area first.

The ace up your sleeve is that, if all else fails, you can always sand the furniture down to bare wood and refinish it with a new wood stain or even paint over the existing finish. (If you’re dealing with a prized piece, you may want to consult a pro.) Then, keep coasters handy to prevent similar damage in the future.

Final Thoughts 

remove water stains from wood

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Water stains on wood tables can be challenging to remove. While the recommendations shared above do not guarantee success, they can be effective with some wood stains, or at least can help minimize the appearance of the stain.

If you do manage to effectively remove water stains from wood, take precautions to prevent new stains from forming. Seal and waterproof wood furniture with polyurethane or lacquer, use coasters and placemats, and follow best practices when cleaning your wood furniture (wood is one of those things that should never be cleaned with water).

FAQs About Removing Water Stains From Wood

Water stains on wood can cause a lot of frustration, and you may be left with a few remaining questions. Refer to the frequently asked questions below to help you address any additional concerns regarding how to remove water spots from wood.

Q. What’s the best water stain remover for old watermarks?

Mayonnaise can work well to remove an old white stain on wood. When you apply mayonnaise over the water stain, and allow it to sit on the spot for a few hours, the oil in the mayonnaise will help remove the moisture and the cloudiness that accompanies it.

Q. Do these methods for removing water stains work for finished wood?

Yes, the methods shared above using a clothing iron, mayonnaise, or toothpaste can help eliminate or minimize water damage on wood table or other furniture pieces with a finish.

Q. What types of wood finishes are resistant to water stains? 

Polyurethane and lacquer wood finishes can resist water stains. Polyurethane is a synthetic material that leaves a clear coat over wood. In addition to being water resistant, polyurethane is durable and can help protect against damage. Lacquer leaves behind a glossier (or sometimes matte) finish. However, unlike polyurethane, lacquer should not be applied over old varnish or paint.