How to Remove Water Stains from Wood

There is nothing more annoying than water marks on your beautiful wooden coffee table or kitchen worktop. Water can cause unsightly rings, blackening and ruin it’s lustre. So how do you get rid of water stains from the wood and restore it to its original beauty?

Prevention is Better than Cure

The first thing to say is that prevention is better than cure. Remember when the kitchen salesman mentioned that you may have to oil your wooden work-top once a year or so to maintain it? Well, chances are, if you have water stains, you will have not gotten around to it – but ignore the advice at your peril! Wooden kitchen surfaces may look perfect when installed, but they can take quite a battering and pretty soon the protective layer of oil it came with, will wear off, leaving the wood porous and able to absorb water. If exposed to a lot of moisture, for instance around the tap area, then wood can turn black. But don’t despair, stain removal is possible!

Ironing out a Stain

One method to remove water stains from wood if the stain is fairly recent is to lay a clean white cloth (preferably lint-free) over the water mark. Then press an iron set at medium heat onto the cloth, without using the steam function, and hold for a few seconds. Lift the cloth, release the warmth from the surface and repeat. Keep going in this manner until the stain disappears. If, however, the damage is older or the water has penetrated deep into the wood, then a slightly more drastic solution is called for.


If water damage has caused lots of ugly marks and areas of discolouration, the best thing to do is to sand down the wood. If it’s just a small patch of water damage, sanding by hand is fine, but for larger areas, it is much easier and quicker to use an electric sander. Just remember to protect the entire surrounding area, because the fine sanded sawdust does have a tendency to cover everything.


Once the areas of water damage have been sanded out, the wood then needs immediate protection against further staining by helping it to resist water. The best way to do this is to use a good, rich, nourishing oil, such as linseed, which is appropriate for both inside and outside use.

Take a dry, soft, acid-free cloth and making sure the wood surface is clean and dry, apply the oil along its grain in long, even stokes, or if for a small patch of wood, using a smooth circular motion. Then leave to soak in.

Re-Oiling and Oiling Again

Once the first coat has been applied, repeat the process building up layer upon layer of oil, until the wood is fully saturated and puddles begin to form on the wood where it can’t absorb any more. Then wipe off the excess and leave to dry.


To give the wood an extra protective surface, you can also use a coating of wax – either in a neutral, clear shade or else tinted to enhance the colour of the wood. Certain waxes, like beeswax and carnauba wax are particularly good for pine and hardwood floors and will give a deep, lasting shine. When buffed and polished, they almost ‘glow’. Wax of course is resistant to water and will help further water damage..


If more lasting protection is preferred, a harder surface layer can be applied to the wood in order to prevent future water stains. In this case, a coat or two of good-quality wood varnish will seal the wood and stop water from entering the grain.

Alternative Methods

To treat small local staining – for instance on a coffee table – there are many other alternative methods to treat water rings. Rubbing half a cut Brazil nut over the area is said to help restore it and another remedy is to apply a small amount of toothpaste to offending mark.

Does Mayonnaise Work?

Some people advocate the use of using mayonnaise or peanut butter on a white water mark. The method used, is to smear a bit of mayo on a cloth and gently massage into the water-marked area and repeat as necessary to lift out the stain. The oil in the peanut butter and mayonnaise will soak into the wood and ‘match’ up the colour in the damaged area – however your table may be left smelling of peanut butter and mayo – so weigh up the odds first!

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