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How do I Remove Water Marks from Wood?

Deborah Ng
Deborah Ng

There are several different ways to remove water marks from wood, and the approach that works best often depends on the extent of the damage. Surface marks can often be removed by applying dry heat to the area or rubbing the stain gently with mayonnaise or toothpaste. Deeper staining may require removing the finish, treating the wood, and then refinishing it. In all cases, do some research on the wood and its proper care before trying any treatment to avoid causing permanent damage.


Water stain on wood.
Water stain on wood.

There are two main types of marks caused by water on wood: white or cloudy marks and dark stains. White marks are made when water gets into the finish on the wood and cracks or clouds it. Darker marks and stains often occur where the water has seeped past the finish and gotten into the wood itself. Both types of marks can be caused by a beverage glass or a hot, damp item — like a pizza box or a casserole dish — placed on a table. Surface damage is usually relatively easy to treat, especially it if it done soon after it occurs, but deep staining typically requires more extensive repair.

Preparing to Remove Water Marks

Cigarette ash may be used to help buff away water marks from wood.
Cigarette ash may be used to help buff away water marks from wood.

Before using any treatment to remove water marks, do some research. Some woods and finishes respond better to certain treatments, and you could further damage a surface by using an inappropriate stain removal method. If possible, read any information that you might have from the manufacturer of your furniture or call its customer service department for suggestions. If you are unable to get professional advice, try the treatment on a small area of the floor or furniture to see if it adversely affects the finish.

Mayonnaise can remove water marks from wood.
Mayonnaise can remove water marks from wood.

You should also remove any polish or wax from the surface before you treat it. These are used to improve the appearance of wood as well as to protect it; since it's designed to help repel water, it may prevent anything used to treat the water mark from penetrating as well. Wax or polish can be removed with wood cleaner or a remover specifically designed for these substances. Always read and follow the directions carefully, and test any cleaner in a small area first to see how the wood reacts.

Removing White Marks

If you use bleach to remove water marks from wood, the bleach should be rinsed with a combination of baking soda and water.
If you use bleach to remove water marks from wood, the bleach should be rinsed with a combination of baking soda and water.

Dry heat can help get rid of recently developed white rings by helping to evaporate any trapped moisture. Try using a blow dryer set on low, and hold it above the stain, constantly moving it around to prevent heat damage. You can also cover the area with a soft, lint-free cloth and press it with an iron set on medium-low; keep the temperature down and check under the cloth every 30 seconds or so to see if the mark is still there. A small lamp can also be held over the area, as the bulb can usually generate enough heat to serve the same purpose. In addition to removing any trapped water, using low, dry heat may help any cracks in the finish fuse back together.

If you're concerned about damaging the surface with heat, you can try an oil-based treatment instead. Apply some mayonnaise, petroleum jelly, lemon oil, or even cooking oil to the area and rub it with a chamois, cloth diaper, or soft rag that won’t further damage the finish. You can leave these substances on particularly stubborn white rings for several hours. It is thought that they will soak into the finish, replacing the water and reducing the appearance of the mark.

Other experts advise using toothpaste (not gel) to rub away white rings caused by water damage. This can act as a gentle abrasive to remove water marks. You can also combine mayonnaise or another oil-based solvent with baking powder or cigarette ash and use it with a soft cloth to buff the stains away. Some experts recommend using lemon or another oil and very fine steel wool instead of a cloth. The problem with abrasive methods, however, is that you increase the risk of damaging the wood, so use caution and test the method first before abrasively cleaning a large area.

Unfortunately, these remedies can affect the appearance of your floors and furniture, and the treatment may scratch or dull the wood's surface. If you are working with very old, expensive, or fragile wood, it may be best to seek professional assistance rather than attempting to remove water marks on your own. Wood coated with a high quality lacquer, for example, can be treated with a special retarding spray, but it should only be done by a professional.

Removing Dark Marks

To remove a dark water stain, you first need to strip the finish from the wood and treat the area directly. Oxalic acid, a compound used in wood restoration, is often recommended because it typically does not change the color of the wood itself. Also known as wood bleach, you may need to apply several coats to the surface until the stain fades away. Bleach typically needs to be neutralized as well, so it should be rinsed with water and a mix of water and baking soda. After treatment, you, or a professional, can refinish the surface.

Completely refinishing a floor that has a dark mark can add value to a home, but that's not always true for furniture items. In many cases, antiques should not be refinished or they will be worth less. It's best to consult with an expert about whether it's worthwhile to try to remove water marks from antique wood, and if so, you may want a professional to do the restoration.

Protecting Wood Furniture and Floors

You can help protect wood from water damage by creating a barrier between the wood and liquids. Always use coasters under drinks and trivets under hot food containers. You can also protect a table by covering it with a glass tabletop. Regularly apply furniture or floor wax to keep the surface protected. You may also want to consider furniture treated with a synthetic resin finish that is resistant to stains and other damage.

Discussion Comments


How can I remove red dye from a 100 year old tile that has tiny little cracks on it? It's like the tile just sucked it right in. Please, I've tried everything I can think of.


Thanks so much. I have a black lacquered desk with a big white cup ring. The hairdryer sorted it in seconds and then a bit of black shoe cream to finish it off -- job done.


Thank you thank you thank you. My roommate's guest hung a wet towel on my grandmother's antique bed (what?), and I used the hairdryer trick, and the white mark is all gone - just a little dull where it was, which I imagine some furniture polish will fix right up, but even as is, you'd never notice the difference.


This didn’t really work for me. I tried plenty of methods and products and I very seldom got a result I was pleased with. I live in Australia and I restore and own a lot of antique furniture. It may have to do with the amount I move around or the climate here, but the only product I found to effectively restore my furniture and remove water marks was a item called from howard products called restore-a-finish, available online. I don’t normally like plugging a company's product, but I found the results to be amazing. Hope this helps anyone in the same situation as me.


Just used a warm iron and a napkin to remove my white ring on an old oak table. Worked a treat. you can't see where the stain was.


that was great it worked perfectly. my water stains are now gone. now we will never have water stains again.


Thank you so much. My mom asked me to clean the house one day and i used a mop and left it in one place for a while, and there was a white spot. I thought i was going to get yelled at, but i looked here and saw about the hairdryer, so i got it out, and heated up the mark and used some stuff i found in the closet. It had a picture of a hardwood floor on it so i thought it would be safe. But the mark is now out. thanks again.


Thank you for saving the day! We had unknown water marks on our wood table, right in the middle. I tried soap and water, and then furniture polish with no difference. Then I tried the toothpaste solution and within five minutes the stain was completely removed. Thank you! --Shannon in Ottawa, Canada


I also used a liberal amount of toothpaste and rubbed hard for a few minutes along the grain and it worked a treat. Thanks for your advice.


I had a stain on my kitchen table, no more than 12 hours old. I used a blow dryer for about 10 minutes then buffed with baby diaper and furniture polish for about a minute. It worked great! No more water stain! Thanks so much!


We discovered a white mark on our oak kitchen table. It was from a hot cup of coffee left on the table. I got a clean cotton cloth, wet one corner with my best vodka and rubbed on the spot. Spot was gone in no time. I then polished with wax cleaner and looks like new. --xfbt


your baking soda idea caused a lot of damage to my floor. now I'm going to have to try oxalic acid to remove the resulting multiple dark stains. I'll stick to toothpaste from now on, which I've used in the past. who knows what will happen if i try your mayonnaise suggestion. It'll probably leave holes in my floor!


There are all sorts of products to buy for removing ring marks and we find that none of them actually work. The only method we use is dangerous, extreme fun and we have only known it not work twice. But we take no responsibility if you get it wrong!

You need methylated spirit, cotton wool and a cigarette lighter. Just dampen the cotton wool with the meths and hold only in your left hand. Hold the lighter in your right hand. Wipe over the ring mark with the cotton wool, making sure that your hand is well away, and flick the lighter on at the edge of the mark.

The meths will light and the mark will disappear. Do you want to know why? Well the white mark is caused by putting something hot and wet on the table, such as a dripping mug of tea. The heat opens up the pores of the timber which soak in the moisture. As the cup cools the moisture is trapped inside the wood. Meths burns at a very low temperature and does not burn for long. What happens is that the lit meths opens up the pores long enough for the moisture to escape before they close up again.

This way, you are not disguising the mark; you are removing it. But remember: Only use meths, make sure you use the smallest amount, and if it burns for more than three seconds, then just blow out the clear flame as you would blow out birthday candles and do not set fire to the cotton wool or your fingers. It will hurt! Also remember that heat resisting mats for your table are not a license to put 200 degree pans on. You will damage your table. The mats resist heat; they don't repel it!

Information provided by Terry Waters French Polishing.


You guys rock. I removed soup bowls left on dinning room table next day and I have four round circles on table, Gasp! I used a blow dryer as suggested and they are gone. Thanks so much.


We were on holiday in a house belonging to friends of friends. Before the holiday we were lectured on the wooden table in the dining room. Murphy's law. I put a wet shirt on the table and saw our last holiday by the sea. But thanks to your tips, I blow dried it and voila - as good as new! Thanks, man! Kobi


I blow dried a still wet stain, and it worked! Thank you.


toothpaste works. I just used it on an antique walnut table. The ring is gone.


I had a water mark on my beautiful wood kitchen table for months. I tried white toothpaste and it disappeared! Thanks so much!


We're staying at a friends' house and my daughter kindly bought me a cup of tea which she spilled a little of before putting it on the wooden table - leaving a white ring.

I happened across your advice, grabbed a tube of toothpaste which we rubbed in liberally, going with the grain, using the corner of a towel - and the ring is gone! *Amazing*! And *so* simple. You've just saved my bacon. Many, many thanks. Just need to sort the drops of tea on the carpet now!! Wonder if you have any advice about that...


THANKS FOR YOUR EXCELLENT ADVICE! I removed a vase of flowers earlier this morning to discover that the vase had left a ring on my black lacquered Napoleon III side table (which is adorned with hand painted flowers done in watercolor). While the piece is not expensive, it was precious to me and I was sick at this discovery. A cursury search on google.com led me to www.wisegeek.com and I am forever thankful. I blowdried the spot and once the color returned to almost normal I polished the spot with a furniture polish that contained a high concentration of oil et voila, the sidetable was restored to almost normal! And my husband will never be the wiser!!! THANK YOU WISE GEEK -- You're the best!

T.H.in Amsterdam

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    • Water stain on wood.
      By: IMaster
      Water stain on wood.
    • Cigarette ash may be used to help buff away water marks from wood.
      By: Николай Григорьев
      Cigarette ash may be used to help buff away water marks from wood.
    • Mayonnaise can remove water marks from wood.
      By: Alexandra
      Mayonnaise can remove water marks from wood.
    • If you use bleach to remove water marks from wood, the bleach should be rinsed with a combination of baking soda and water.
      By: Africa Studio
      If you use bleach to remove water marks from wood, the bleach should be rinsed with a combination of baking soda and water.