Removing stains from wood: 10 easy hacks

Want to know about removing stains from wood? Find out how to tackle water marks and other common stains here.

Updated 2 October 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time7 minutes

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From dining tables and chopping boards to rustic oak flooring, natural wood is as beautiful as it is functional. Unfortunately, accidents are a fact of life. Before you know it, your once pristine table is looking decidedly stained. Never fear, once you know all about removing stains from wood, you should be able to restore your table to its former glory. 

Common stains include water, pen and tomato sauce. Thankfully, most can be removed with one of the methods below. 

Before we reveal our top hacks, a word of caution: It’s always wise to try a stain-removal technique on a less noticeable area first. And don’t try these wood stain removers on painted wood, as you could remove or discolour the paint. 

Finally, if you’re tackling a particularly challenging stain or dealing with expensive furniture, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

You will need:

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  • How to remove wood stains

    Before you try any of these hacks, remove as much of the stain causing culprit as possible (in other words, wipe up any remaining pasta sauce etc.) and give the table a quick clean.

    Pro Tip: Check out our article on how to clean grime off wood furniture to discover more detailed instructions.

    Once you’ve completed your chosen stain-busting hack, make sure you get all of the cleaner off the wood. You might want to finish up by buffing the wood to bring the shine back, or giving it a good wipe down with some furniture polish.

    1. 1

      How to remove water stains from wood with salt

      Water (or other liquid) can leave a white stain on wood. To get rid of it, make a paste with salt and water. Add the water a couple of drops at a time. You only want enough to bind the salt together. Rub the paste into the stain and wipe it off. Salt can also be an effective surface disinfectant.[1] So, while you’re removing stains from wood, you’re also getting rid of bacteria.

      salt water mix
    2. 2

      How to remove water stains from wood with petroleum jelly

      Vaseline isn’t just handy for soothing chapped lips you know. Try dabbing it onto the water stain. Leave it overnight and then wipe it off.

      Quick Tip: You can also use petroleum jelly to clean other materials. Check out our article on how to clean patent leather to discover the many uses of Vaseline.

    3. 3

      How to remove water stains from wood with mayonnaise

      One of the stranger methods for removing water marks involves mayonnaise. Yep, that tasty condiment more likely to be found on your takeaway chips. Just dab it on, leave it for a few hours and then wipe it off. The high oil content helps to clean the wood.

      Mayonnaise can turn rancid pretty quickly. So don’t try this on a hot day!
    4. 4

      How to remove heat marks with bicarb

      Forgot to use a coaster? Don’t panic. Make a paste by adding a small amount of water to bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Add only as much water as it takes to bind the powder together, otherwise you risk making the water stain worse. Rub the paste into the wood and then wipe it off.

      Quick Tip: Sodium bicarbonate has antibacterial properties. So, using this approach can also be effective at disinfecting wooden surfaces.[2]

      hands mixing white vinegar with baking soda
    5. 5

      How to remove heat marks with toothpaste

      Mix together equal parts of a non-gel toothpaste and bicarbonate of soda. Rub it into the stain with a cloth. Remove it with a clean, damp cloth and dry well. (Use a hairdryer on a low heat if needs be.)

      toothbrush and toothpaste for personal hygiene
    6. 6

      How to remove sticky marks from wood

      Sticky residue can be a right pain. Luckily, it’s easy enough to remove with vegetable oil. Rub it into the glue and leave it for a couple of hours. Then just wipe it off with soapy water (this works best on varnished wood, as the oil could stain untreated wood). Don’t have any vegetable oil to hand? Check out our hacks for removing glue and sticky residue from wood

      wooden living room furniture on wooden floor
    7. 7

      How to remove stains from wood with white vinegar and bicarb

      Using vinegar can work well on pasta sauce, dye and other stains.[3] Before you start, try just washing the area with a damp cloth and dollop of washing up liquid, as that might be all you need to remove the stain. If that doesn’t work, add a few drops of white vinegar to baking soda. You’re aiming for a toothpaste-like consistency. Rub it into the stain and then wipe it off with a clean, damp cloth. Dry the area well afterwards.

      Teaspoon coming out of a jug containing a mixture of white vinegar, laundry powder and water
    8. 8

      How to remove dark stains with bleach

      Dark patches are usually old liquid stains. They’re tricky to get rid of, but you can try using bleach. A specialist wood bleach is the best option. If you can’t find one, look for Oxalic Acid. Or just try a multi-purpose bleach spray like Domestos.

      As always, do test an inconspicuous area first, and protect your hands with rubber gloves.

      Spray or dab the bleach onto the stain. Leave it for half an hour to work its magic, before wiping it off with a damp cloth. You might need to repeat this method a few times for best results.

      bleach bottle
    9. 9

      How to remove really stubborn stains

      If the above hacks haven’t helped, the stain may be too deep. It’s time to get the sandpaper out. Lightly sand the stain and surrounding area. You may need to sand down the whole surface to keep the colour even.

      Use a fine sandpaper to avoid scratching the wood and don’t rub too hard.
    10. 10

      How to remove pen marks from wood

      First off, try wiping the mark with a damp cloth and washing up liquid. (Children’s colouring pens are often washable.)

      If the stain won’t budge, you’ll need isopropyl alcohol. Rub it into the stain with an old, clean cloth (wearing gloves to protect your hands). When the stain has gone, wash the area with a damp, soapy cloth and dry it thoroughly.

      Hand sanitiser usually contains a high quantity of isopropyl alcohol, so you could try using that. As with all of these hacks, just check it on an inconspicuous area first. We suggest reading our article about removing permanent marker ink on any surface to discover more detailed instructions.

      Hand sanitiser usually contains a high quantity of isopropyl alcohol, so you could try using that. As with all of these hacks, just check it on an inconspicuous area first.

    How to remove red wine stains from wood

    It’s generally easy to clean freshly spilt red wine off a wooden surface. So, deal with the accident as soon as it happens. Usually, all you’ll need is a simple mixture of water and dish soap. You can spray the solution onto the affected area and gently scrub it using a soft toothbrush. Once you’re done, you can rinse the spot with cold water and dry it thoroughly with a clean cloth.

    Now, things can get tricky if you’re dealing with old red wine stains. You’ll need to create a cleaning paste by mixing equal parts white vinegar and baking soda. Apply the paste onto the affected area and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Then, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the spot. Use enough pressure but not too much that you’d damage the wood.

    After scrubbing the area, the next step is to wipe off the paste. Use a damp microfibre cloth to remove the paste. Finally, make sure that the area thoroughly dries. If the stain persists, repeat the process.

    Note: If you want to learn more DIY solutions, check out our article on how to remove red wine stains from carpets.

    How to remove oil stains from wood

    To remove oil stains from wood, you’ll need kitchen paper towels or old newspapers. You’ll use either of the two to blot the oil stain. Usually, you can get the stain off using a mixture of dish soap and water. Apply the solution onto the affected area and scrub it gently. Of course, don’t forget to rinse and dry the wood to avoid water damage.

    Now, if you notice that the stain has set in, you may have to use mineral spirits. When using this product, make sure that the room is well-ventilated. Moreover, wear protective gear. Follow the instructions on the package for removing stubborn stains.

    How to remove coffee stains from wood

    You can remove coffee rings from wood by using white vinegar. The acetic acid in the vinegar will break down the coffee stain without damaging the surface. Let the vinegar sit on the affected area for about ten minutes. Then, use a clean cloth to blot the spot dry.

    How to remove nail polish from wood

    When removing nail polish from wood, acetone is not the answer. Remember that nail polish remover will damage the wooden surface. If the nail polish is still wet, sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar onto it. It will be easier to scrape off the nail polish once it’s dry. However, if the polish has dried, apply hair spray to it. Use a clean cloth to wipe away the nail polish.

    Now you know about removing stains from wood, let’s look at some other wood cleaning hacks.

Tips for looking after wooden furniture

What if there are lots of marks and wood stain remover isn’t helping?

It might be time to strip the wood and refinish it. It’s a pretty big job. However, this can usually be done at home if you’re prepared to put the work in.

Help! I’ve just spilled water on my wooden table!

Don’t panic. First off, dry the table as best as you can. Then place a cloth over the area where you spilled the water. You’ll need an iron, set to a low temperature, with no water in the reservoir. Run the iron over the cloth. Make sure you don’t leave it in one place too long as you don’t want to risk damaging the table. The heat from the iron should dry up any remaining water. Alternatively, try drying it with a hairdryer.

How do I remove wood stain?

Knowing how to remove wood stain and old paint is pretty handy if you’re upcycling furniture. You’re going to need a chemical wood stripper, which you should be able to pick up from a hardware store.

Apply it as directed on the tin. Usually, this means painting it on with a paintbrush, leaving it for 15 minutes or so and then scraping it off.

Wood stain removal is a really messy job. So, make sure you’re wearing gloves and old clothes, and do it outside if possible.

Another option is to use a local paint stripping service.

How to prevent staining wood

Preventing wood staining involves proactive measures to maintain its natural beauty. Apply a protective finish like varnish, polyurethane, or wax to create a barrier against liquids. Moreover, use coasters and placemats to prevent water rings and spills. Wipe up spills immediately to prevent absorption. You can also consider using tablecloths for extra protection during meals. 

Avoid placing hot objects directly on the wood; use trivets or pads. Regularly clean with a soft cloth to remove dirt and oils. Moreover, if using wooden furniture outdoors, apply weather-resistant finishes and cover during inclement weather. By combining protective coatings and mindful habits, you can preserve the integrity and appearance of your wood surfaces.


1. Sojitra, R. G., & Chotaliya, U. J. (2021). Saltwater as a Disinfectant and Cleaning agent for Environmental Surfaces in the context of SARS-COV-II. Asian Journal of Research in Pharmaceutical Science, 11(2), 165–174.

2. Drake D. (1997). Antibacterial activity of baking soda. Compendium of continuing education in dentistry. (Jamesburg, N.J. : 1995). Supplement, 18(21), S17–S46.

3. Arnett, S. B. (2018, March 1). No stain, no pain! Scientific American.

Frequently asked questions on wood stains

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