How to Remove Water Stains From Wood Furniture

Unfortunately plant pots, vases or spills through a table cloth do leave stains on furniture. Because of the variety of woods and wood finishes, what might work for one stain may not for another. Here are a number of remedies to try from a number of sources. Always test on a small hidden area first to be sure it doesn’t damage the finish.

Haley’s Cleaning Hints, by Graham and Rosemary Haley, 3H Productions, 2000, suggests:

  • For water rings on wooden furniture apply regular mayonnaise for at least 3 or 4 hours, preferably overnight. Wipe off with a soft cloth.
  • For water spots make a mixture of 1/2 tsp. (2 mL) lemon oil and 1 cup (250 mL) denatured alcohol. Wipe mixture on the area and buff it dry immediately.

Heloise Hints (from the Arizona Tribune) suggests to start by making a paste with equal amounts of baking soda and white non-gel toothpaste. Dampen a sponge or a clean, soft cloth with water and then dip it into the paste and work at the stain using a circular motion. Do a small area at a time until the stain is removed. It may require more than one application and lots of elbow grease! Once the stain has been removed, wipe with a soft, damp cloth and buff dry. Lastly, rub on some of your favorite furniture polish.

Removing Spots & Stains, a little booklet printed many years ago by Dell Publishing Co., Inc. and distributed by Esso, adds the following advice:

  • Rub the stain with a cloth dipped in a solution of 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) vinegar in a cup (250 mL) of cold water. If stain persists, dampen a lintless cloth with hot water to which several drops of ammonia have been added. Apply directly to stain, then wipe immediately with a clean cloth soaked in furniture oil.
  • If the finish on the wood is shellac, try rubbing gently with a lintless cloth dampened with alcohol. Wipe immediately with a clean cloth soaked in furniture oil.
  • A white or milky film, usually caused by absorbed moisture, can sometimes be removed by rubbing vigorously with a soft cloth and furniture oil. Another method is to apply a paste made by mixing table salt with furniture oil. Rub paste on stain, then wipe off and apply furniture polish or wax.
  • Stains on unfinished or raw wood surfaces can be extremely difficult to remove. Treat surface stains by sponging with mild soap and lukewarm water; then rinse with clear water and wipe dry. Stubborn surface stains may respond to a light going over with very fine grade sandpaper or steel wool. If necessary, dip the sand paper or steel wool in a solvent. Always sand with the grain of the wood.
  • If the stain persists: a) treat stains that are lighter than the wood with a colored wood stain that matches the surface. (Test it first on a hidden area to be sure the color match is exact!) b) Treat stains that are darker than the wood with household ammonia. Apply ammonia with a small brush; rinse when stain has bleached to match wood. If ammonia is not effective, try chlorine bleach.

Updated October 2020