How To Remove Stains From Wood Furniture

How to Remove Stains From Wood Furniture

Wood stains are of many types, from food and alcohol stains to pet and water stains. Removing these is possible through different measures, ranging from home remedies like baking soda and mayonnaise to commercial oil-based stain removers.

While social gatherings are great, they open up your precious wood furniture to a range of threats, from alcohol stains to your overexcited pet choosing to remind guests of his or her territory!

Don’t let those stains get you down, though—here’s everything you need to know about how to remove wood stains.

Removing Different Types of Wood Stains

Unfortunately, not all stains are made equal—some require more work to get off than others. Here’s how to tackle different types of stains on your wood furniture.

Removing Different Types Of Wood Stains
Image: Freres Wood

Stubborn Stains

Stubborn stains usually arise from old, unattended water stains that have penetrated deeply into the wood. For such stains, wood bleach or oxalic acid can help. Dip a brush into whichever liquid you’re using and scrub the stained area. Let the bleach or acid sit until you notice the wood returning to its original color (this may take a few hours).

When this happens, wipe the bleach or acid away with a sponge or damp cloth and seal it with vinegar to stop any further discoloring.

For some extremely stubborn stains, you may need to turn to commercial heavy-duty, chemical-based stain removers. If you’re using these, use gloves and masks to prevent the chemical and its fumes from harming you.

Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the amount and instructions for use.

Pet Stains

As pet urine and feces contains a lot of bacteria, bacteria-killing solutions are necessary, such as hydrogen peroxide or vinegar.

For the former, soak a damp cloth with the solution and thoroughly scrub the affected area. If the stain doesn’t fade, leave a hydrogen-peroxide-soaked paper towel on the stained spots for a few minutes. However, this could further discolor the wood, so be careful.

If you’re using the latter, mix a cup of vinegar with a bucket of warm water and a few drops of grapefruit oil (for the odor). Scrub with this solution until the stains disappear.

Alcohol Stains

Alcohol stains are identifiable by white discoloration. Luckily, this indicates damage to the sealer and not the wood itself. Rub the stain with a small rag dampened with a few drops of cooking oil. Add more oil if the stain doesn’t disappear.

Once the stain disappears, wipe the area clean with a dry cloth.

Food Stains

Blot any food left on the wood with paper towels. Use a soft towel dipped in a mixture of one part vinegar diluted in two parts water to remove the stain. You could also add a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid to the mix. Wipe clean with a dry cloth after the stain disappears, and let the table air dry sufficiently.

Non-Greasy Stains

Such stains are best tackled with a mixture of warm water and a little bit of dishwashing liquid. Apply this mixture to the affected area with a rag, scrub lightly if necessary, and wipe clean with a damp cloth. You can let this air dry or wipe it once again with a dry cloth to dry it.

Greasy Stains

Strong, greasy stains need to be fought with a strong chemical. Ammonia is superb at breaking down fats and oils and hence, should be used for such stains. Mix cold water and ammonia and apply this to the affected area with a soft rag.

Water Stains

Water stains are the most common and problematic wood stains to deal with. You can tackle water stains in the following ways:

  • Use a hairdryer on the maximum power and heat setting to dry the stain. Or if you have a heat gun, use that on a lower setting.
  • Use oil-based solutions like mayonnaise and Vaseline. Just spread it across the stained area and let it sit for a few hours.
  • Apply a small bit of non-gel toothpaste to the stained area with a clean cloth, wiping until the stain disappears. Wipe off any excess toothpaste with another clean, dry cloth.

Heat Stains

Hot objects can leave behind a mark on wood in the form of white discoloration. Such stains, like alcohol stains, are indicative of damage to the sealant and not the wood—moisture gets trapped under the varnish because of the heat.

These stains can be removed by applying a mixture of equal parts baking soda and non-gel toothpaste to the area with a damp cloth and wiping it off once the stain is gone.

Homemade Wood Stain Removers for Grease & Water Stains

Often, you don’t need to look further than your kitchen or dressing table for the most effective stain-removal solutions! Here are a few of them.

Homemade Wood Stain Removers For Grease &Amp; Water Stains
Image: Weather Wash

Petroleum Jelly

A common skincare product, petroleum jelly can penetrate wood without causing any damage to it, just as it penetrates the skin. Petroleum jelly products like Vaseline can not only enrich the wood from the inside but also displace any water molecules inside.

Vinegar and Olive Oil

Olive oil is a superb conditioner that can deepen the color of the wood and nourish its fibers. Vinegar is an excellent cleaner; its acetic acid content is especially safe and effective for wood as it is used for the pretreatment of wood chips.

A mixture of one part vinegar and three parts olive oil, with a few drops of essential oil, can help get rid of minor, light stains.


Like petroleum jelly, mayonnaise displaces the water inside the wood and gets rid of any cloudiness on the wood’s surface. Just smear across the stained surface, let sit for a few hours, and wipe off with a paper towel. You can follow this up with polishing.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a natural whitener and cleaner that can get rid of stubborn, dark wood stains. However, beware of any discoloration.

Baking Soda

From cloth to closets, baking soda can get rid of stains on a range of surfaces. Form a paste with water and rub it onto the affected area. Let this dry, and then wipe it off with a clean cloth.

How to Remove Oil-Based Wood Stain From Wood?

Follow these steps to prep your surface for oil-based stain removers.

How To Remove Oil-Based Wood Stain From Wood
Image: Infinite Abyss

Step 1: Prepare Your Work Area

Use a drop cloth or tarp, and make sure all sharp, hard edges are padded or covered. If the stain is on the floor, tape the seams where the floor and the wall meet with painter’s tape.

Ensure that you’re in a well-ventilated area so that the fumes of chemical removers don’t affect you. Outdoors is great, but make sure there is no direct sunlight or strong winds. Also, ensure that you’re wearing gloves, goggles, long-sleeved clothes, and a mask to protect your skin, eyes, and lungs.

Step 2: Wipe and Clean the Wood

Clean the wood surface with soap and water if necessary, and ensure that it’s free of any dust or dirt. An easy solution to use is some dishwashing liquid in a bucket of lukewarm water with a soft cloth.

Step 3: Administer the Stain Remover

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply the stain remover on the affected area as recommended. Use a paintbrush to apply the stain remover. Let this remover sit on the area for up to 20 minutes, and if necessary, reapply the stain remover.

Step 4: Break Out the Scraper

When your stain remover bubbles up or swells is when you know that it can be removed from the surface. Before it dries completely, scrape off the remover with a putty knife or plastic scrape. Be gentle.

If the remover is stubborn, a steel wool pad may be used. Make sure you scrub in the grain’s direction to prevent damage to the wood. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Step 5: Sand the Wood’s Surface

If you want to sand your wood surface, give it 24 hours after applying the remover to dry. Ensure that you’re well-protected, with a mask, goggles, and gloves, before you start sanding.

Start with medium grit sandpaper and exert just enough pressure for the stain to be removed. When you’re satisfied with the result, wipe off all dust and debris and sand with a fine grit to remove any sanding marks and smoothen the surface.

What Should I Look for in Wood Stain Remover?

Wood stain removers can come in different types, so knowing these types and how they work will help you pick out the ideal one for the task at hand:

  • Caustic Strippers: Caustic strippers will dissolve the finish and are popularly used for wood stripping. These are strong bases or acids and are corrosive, more often than not. As the name suggests, these are caustic and quite harsh, which makes them great for stubborn stains.
  • Solvents: Solvents like alcohol, toluene, and methylene chloride dissolve the existing wood finish and clean it efficiently. If you’ve got a painted surface that needs cleaning, these are the products for the job. However, they can be quite toxic.
  • Biochemical Stain Removers: Though these are chemicals, they’re not as intense or harmful to humans, animals, and the environment as traditional stain removers. Chemicals like soy oil, terpenes, and citric acid are examples of biochemical stain removers.

Best Wood Stain Removers

If you’re looking for a wood stain remover, here are our top three picks.

1 | Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher

This refinisher can gently dissolve years of accumulated finishes and contains natural oils that condition wood at the deepest level. This makes it especially great for antique furniture.

Best Oil-Based Refinisher
Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher
  • Removes paint and stains: Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher is formulated to effectively remove paint and stains from wood surfaces, making it a good choice for furniture refinishing projects.

  • Gentle on wood: Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher is designed to be gentle on wood, helping preserve the wood's natural beauty and character while removing paint and stains on wooden furniture.

  • Ease of use: Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher is simple to apply, making it a convenient choice for DIY projects. It can be applied using a brush, roller, or cloth and is easy to clean up with just soap and water.

  • Multiple applications: Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher can be used multiple times on the same surface if necessary, allowing you to remove layers of paint or tough stains completely.


  • Removes stains without removing any polyurethane or paint coats
  • Conditions and enriches the wood and keeps its natural glow intact
  • It doesn’t require any sanding or scraping when applying the solution


  • The product didn’t work on extremely old, softwood-stained lumber

2 | Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel

This is an easy-to-use stripping gel that can remove oil-based paint, lacquer, dried latex, shellac, varnish, and polyurethane finishes.

Best Paint Stripping Gel
Citristrip Paint &Amp; Varnish Stripping Gel Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel
  • Effectively removes paint and stains: Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel is a powerful and effective product for removing paint and stains from wood surfaces. It is specifically formulated to dissolve and remove multiple layers of paint and varnish, as well as other finishes and stains, without damaging the wood.

  • Easy to use: Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel is easy to apply and can be used on both horizontal and vertical surfaces. It is also easy to clean up (using gloves), with no caustic or harmful fumes.

  • Safe for wood: Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel is safe for use on wood surfaces, as it is formulated with a citrus-based solvent that is less harsh than traditional paint and varnish removers.

  • Versatility: Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel can be used on a variety of wood surfaces, including furniture, doors, and trim, making it a versatile product for stripping paint and stains from wood.


  • It can be used on metal and masonry, apart from wood-based products
  • Strips multiple layers with just one application left to sit for 24 hours
  •  Industrial-strength remover with no harmful fumes; relatively non-toxic


  • Clean-up required – Leaves behind a sticky surface once finish removed

3 | DEFY Exterior Wood Stain Stripper

This is another easy-to-use wood stain stripper at a great price. It can be used on all types of wood and can remove mill glaze, dirt, stains, and weathered deck stains.

Best Exterior Wood Stripper
Defy Exterior Wood Stain Stripper DEFY Exterior Wood Stain Stripper
  • Effective: Defy Exterior Wood Stain Stripper is designed to effectively remove paint, varnish, and stains from wood surfaces, making it a useful tool for preparing wood for refinishing or repainting.

  • Eco-friendly: Defy Exterior Wood Stain Stripper is formulated to be safe for the environment, making it a good choice for those concerned about their projects' impact on the environment.

  • Easy to use: Defy Exterior Wood Stain Stripper is easy to apply and does not require any special tools or equipment. It can be used on a variety of wood surfaces, including decks, fences, and siding, and is easy to clean up with just soap and water.

  • Long-lasting: Defy Exterior Wood Stain Stripper is designed to provide long-lasting results, helping to ensure that the wood is thoroughly stripped and ready for refinishing or repainting.


  • Easy to use; doesn’t require any mixing or preparation – quick rinse
  • It can be directly applied once poured into a pump-spraying device
  • It can also remove penetrating sealers in no more than 20-30 mins


  • It doesn’t effectively remove certain paint and finish coatings

Why Should I Use Wood Stain Remover?

A wood stain remover is the most convenient option of all wood stain removers. It’s easy to apply, comes ready to use, and quickly and efficiently gets the job done.

Scrapers can involve hours of work, while grinders and sanders involve unnecessary flying chips of dust and paint, which can be hazardous and difficult to clean up.

The Bottom Line on Removing Wood Stains From Wood

Whatever your wood stain is, you now have a range of methods in your armory to tackle it.

Some are more effective than others, while some are safer than others. Pick a method based on your convenience and what the project may need. Now, go ahead and throw that party without fear!