How to Remove Water Stains From Wood

How to Remove Indoor Water Stains from Wood

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $15

Whether you've overwatered a plant, left wet boots dripping on the floor, or had a plumbing leak, removing dark water stains from wood can be a challenge. If the stain appears white, there's a good chance you can remove it. The whitened area indicates that the water has only seeped into the wax or polyurethane finish on the wood.

Dark water stains are more difficult. The moisture has penetrated the finish and seeped into the wood, causing it to darken.

With some elbow grease and patience, though, it is possible to remove both types of water stains. Here are tips and techniques for restoring your wood surface to its former beauty.

 Stain Type Water 

Before You Begin

Before you start the stain removal process for either white or dark water marks, make sure the wood surface is clean and free of any dust, crumbs, or grime. A smooth, clean surface will make stain removal much easier and improve your chances of success.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

White Stains

  • Soft cloth
  • Vacuum or dust mop
  • Disposable gloves

Dark Stains

  • Dust mask
  • Tack cloth or vacuum
  • Soft cloths
  • Disposable gloves


White Stains

  • Mineral spirits
  • #150-grit sandpaper
  • Mineral oil

Dark Stains

  • #100-grit sandpaper
  • #150-grit sandpaper
  • #0000 steel wool
  • Hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach
  • Wood varnish that matches your wood
  • Wood polish


How to Remove White Water Stains From Wood

White rings and marks indicate a superficial stain—the moisture did not fully soak through the varnish or wax. This is good news because these stains are easier to remove than their darker counterparts.

Odorless mineral spirit container in middle of disposable gloves, vacuum, cloth and mineral oil

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  1. Get Rid of Dust and Dirt

    Before you tackle the white mark, use a dust mop or vacuum to thoroughly clean the area.

    White water ring on wood floor being vacuumed

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Apply Mineral Oil

    Pour a generous amount of mineral oil onto a soft cloth. Rub the white mark with the cloth, working with the grain of the wood.

    Let the oil remain on the wood overnight. If the stain is gone the next morning, buff the area with a dry cloth to absorb any remaining oil. If the stain remains, move to the next step.

    Mineral oil poured on white water ring and cloth rubbing it in

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee


    If you don't have any mineral oil on hand, you can substitute any cooking oil, mayonnaise, butter, or solid shortening. Petroleum jelly also works well in a pinch.

  3. Apply Mineral Spirits

    If the mineral oil didn't do the trick, move on to mineral spirits, a product that works as a paint thinner and solvent. Wearing nitrile gloves, since mineral spirits can soak through latex, apply some mineral spirits to a soft cloth. Following the grain of the wood, rub what remains of the white mark.

    Wait a few minutes, and the stain should disappear. Finish by buffing the area with a clean, dry cloth.

    Odorless mineral spirits applied to white water ring and rubbed in with white cloth

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

How to Remove Dark Water Stains From Wood

Unlike white marks, dark stains are a result of water seeping through the wood's finish and into the grain. This means that you need to take a more aggressive approach to stain removal, including sanding the surface of the wood to access and eliminate the stain.

Materials and tools to remove a dark water stain from wood floor

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  1. Sand the Stained Area

    You will need to remove the wood's finish to get to the dark water stain.

    • Wearing a dust mask, start by evenly sanding directly over the stained area with #100-grit sandpaper. Work following the grain of the wood while applying even pressure.
    • Next, move to the #150-grit sandpaper, and sand the edges of the finish around the main stain to gradually smooth the edges.
    • Finish sanding by going over the entire area with the #150-grit sandpaper and the #0000 steel wool.
    • Finally, use a vacuum or tack cloth to remove all of the grit and dust from the work area.
    Dark water stain on wood floor being sanded

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Lighten the Stain

    To lighten the dark staining, you can use either hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach, but do not mix the two chemicals.

    For hydrogen peroxide, begin with a 1:1 dilution of hydrogen peroxide and water.

    • Soak a white cloth in the solution, and wring lightly.
    • Then, place the cloth on the dark stain, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the cloth, and allow the wood to dry completely.

    If the stain remains, treat again with 100 percent hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes, and allow the wood to dry completely.

    If the stain is still present, try the chlorine bleach method.

    • For chlorine bleach, start with a solution of 4 parts water to 1 part bleach.
    • Follow the same instructions for hydrogen peroxide.

    If the stain remains after the first treatment, repeat the steps with a stronger bleach solution until the stain is gone.

    Dark water stain on wood floor wiped down with cloth mixed with hydrogen peroxide and bleach

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Apply a New Finish

    Once the dark water stain is lifted, use a wood varnish that matches your wood to stain and seal the area.

    After the finish is dry, use the #0000 steel wool to smooth any bumps between the newly cleaned area and the old finish.

    Finally, use a good wood polish to make your wood shine again.

    Wood varnish applied after dark water stain is removed

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Additional Steps for Handling Water Stains on Wood

Depending on the extent of the stain and damage to the wood, refinishing the floor or replacing the wood furniture might be necessary.

Of course, if deep, dark stains defy sanding, or you simply love the item too much to part with it, strategically placed table cloths and rugs can help remove stubborn stains from sight.