Water stains can happen anywhere, and no matter how careful you are to protect your wood floors or tables, stains still happen. If the stain is light or white, it hasn’t set into the wood, and it is easier to remove from the surface. However, if it is dark, it is set into the wood, which is more difficult to remove.

To remove dark water stains from wood, you need to sand it out with sandpaper. You can brush the stain with a toothbrush and paste, lighten it with peroxide or bleach, or use a hardwood cleaner. Or you could stain the area with the same color.

Dark water stains in wood don’t need to be permanent, as there are several solutions to this problem. Keep reading to learn how to use inexpensive methods to restore your wood to its original beauty!

Sand the Area With #100-Grit Sandpaper

You need to get past the finish to get to the set-in stain. While some sources mention that you can iron out a water stain, it is usually a white stain that is new and not set like a dark stain. So you need to work it out with a little sandpaper.

Since the water stain is dark, it has set in the wood, compared with light stains. Therefore, you need to remove the finish with #100-grit sandpaper around the stain first. Going with the grain, rather than against, sand off the finish, or you will find strange patterns in your wood. Apply even pressure while sanding to keep the pattern even.

Once the finish is removed, take a #150-grit sandpaper and work with the grain to remove the final edges of the finish before attacking the water stain. Continue working the sandpaper over the stain until it is gone. Depending on how far the stain goes down into the wood, you may need to sand down a good distance.

When that is complete, use a vacuum or clean damp rag to clean up the dust or debris.

Stain the Area With the Same Color as the Rest of the Wood

Before applying a new finish to the newly sanded area, make sure that the entire water stain is gone and that the wood has not been unduly damaged by over-sanding.

After removing the water stain with the sandpaper, apply it using a clean rag or a brush. Again, go with the grain to avoid any strange patterns on your wood floor or furniture.

Another option to remove the stain without needing sandpaper is to get a finishing stain darker than the water stain and refinish the entire piece or floor. You will need lightly sand the finish to remove it, but you can avoid sanding completely down.

However, this method is not recommended because the stain will set in deeper and can ruin your wood.

Use Hydrogen Peroxide or a Bleach Solution to Lighten the Stain

If you don’t want to sand and re-stain the dark water stain out of your wood, then hydrogen peroxide or bleach might work.

Before you break out Hydrogen Peroxide or a bleach solution, there are a few things you need to know about using either substance on wood floors:

  • Do not mix the two bleaches.
  • Do not pour either one directly on the wood.
  • Do not leave it on longer than necessary to remove the water stain.

Make a 50:50 solution of bleach and water, or hydrogen peroxide and water. Soak a white rag in the solution, then wring lightly. Make sure it’s not dripping.

Lay the cloth over the stain and let sit for ten minutes. Lift and let the floor dry before another treatment. Continue this process until the stain is gone. Sand the spot lightly, then apply a new finish.

You could also use a vinegar/lemon juice solution. Because the vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, they can lighten the stain just as well as hydrogen peroxide or bleach, but without the strong smell.

Mix equal portions of vinegar and lemon juice. Soak a clean rag and lightly wring it out. Then, lay the rag on the water stain and let work for at least 10 minutes. Remove the rag and check out the stain. If it is still there, repeat the process. If it’s gone, proceed to dry the spot and refinish the area with a matching varnish.

One note of caution: Vinegar can dull your wood over time, so you may want to use this sparingly or not very often.

Brush the Stain With a Toothbrush and Toothpaste

If the stain is set in, you might try toothpaste and a toothbrush. You can begin brushing out the stain immediately if it’s unfinished wood. If it’s finished, lightly sand off the finish and then brush the stain out.

Use white toothpaste, not a gel paste, as it has better cleaning power than gel paste. Because toothpaste is made to remove stains on your teeth, it is perfect for removing the stain off your wood surface.

Put the paste on the brush like you would for brushing your teeth. Gently brush the spot and let sit. If the stain is deeper than the finish, keep brushing until you get to the stain. If the stain is tougher than you realized to get rid of, then mix a little baking soda with the toothpaste and try again.

When the stain is removed, wipe gently with a damp cloth and let dry. Refinish the wood with a matching stain.

Try Using a Hardwood Cleaner on the Stain

You can use specialty cleaners on your wood floor or furniture to remove the dark water stain. While there are specialized cleaners for daily cleaning of wood floors, these are not appropriate for removing dark, ugly water stains. You need to find cleaners such as a commercial wood bleach that will lift the stain right out of the wood once you remove the finish.

These products are made for cleaning hardwood floors but can be used on wood furniture as well. Use according to directions.

Apply Mayonnaise and Let Sit For an Hour

Vinegar is often used for cleaning stains, dirt, rust, and other things off surfaces. Mayonnaise is excellent for most wood surfaces, as it has oil and egg yolks (fat) to keep the wood moist.

As always, lightly remove the finish with soft sandpaper. Apply a modest amount of mayo on the stain and let work for an hour. Keep it moist by either applying more mayo or placing a cloth on top of the mayo. When the hour is up, wipe clean with a damp cloth, and reapply the finish. If that doesn’t work, then try one of the other methods listed in this article.

A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Might Work

Mr. Clean Magic erasers are great for several applications. While the magic erasers work on other items, wood stains might not work so well. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try.

Since the finish is still over the stain, and it’s set in deeply, remove the finish before using the eraser on it.

Then get the eraser damp, and scrub the stain. If it doesn’t, take it out immediately, try spraying it with a solution of a 50:50 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water. Then try again.

If it is a stubborn stain, you may need to try a stronger method. Magic erasers don’t often work like they are advertised to work, so if it doesn’t work for you, don’t give up. 

Try Using Other Household Ingredients to Get Rid of the Stain

Other methods are proven to be effective at removing dark water stains from wood. Before applying these methods, you may want to lightly sand off the finish to reach the spot a lot better. If you don’t have sandpaper to remove the finish, try using steel wool with lemon oil.

When the finish around the stain is removed, then the following household products should help to remove the deep, set-in water stain.

Baking Soda

Mix one tablespoon baking soda with one teaspoon water to make a paste. Apply the paste to the dark water stain and let rest for a few minutes. If the stain is resilient, apply more paste and let sit longer. When the stain is gone, then wipe clean with a damp cloth and let dry. If the finish is lightened or gone, reapply the finish.

Salt and Oil

Make a paste of olive oil and salt, and apply to the stain. For tough stains, rub it in a little bit before letting it sit for 15-20 minutes. Wipe clean.

White Vinegar and Olive Oil

Much like the mayonnaise method, a vinegar and oil mixture should lift the stain without drying out the wood. Mix equal portions of oil and vinegar as best as you can, and put some directly on the stain. Rub it in, then place a cloth soaked in the mixture over the stain. Remove the soaked cloth, and using a dry cloth, wipe it until it shines.

Dawn Dish Soap

If your wood is unfinished, and there is a dark water stain in it, you might be able to use Dawn dish soap. Mix a drop of dish soap with water and apply to a clean cloth. Gently rub the stain until it comes out. Rinse the cloth, then wipe the area once more. Dry quickly before the wood warps or rots.

One thing to remember about using dish soap: Cleaning wood with water and soap does more damage to wood if used frequently for cleaning. You want to use sparingly not to warp or rot the wood. For daily cleaning, use a cleaner that is formulated for wood floors or furniture.

Butter and Ashes

While this next tip may sound strange, using a paste of equal portions of butter and cigarette ashes can make the dark water stain disappear. Using a clean cloth, rub a bit of the paste on the stain until it disappears. Wipe clean.

Protect Your Wood Surface From Future Stains

Once you remove the stain, you need to protect your wood surface from future watermarks.

If you’re working on a wood floor, and there are significant water stains that you removed, you may want to remove all of the finish before proceeding.

After you remove all the finish, use the following tips to restore and protect your floor:

  • Rub the floor with natural linseed or Tung oil to give it a natural shine while protecting it against future stains.
  • Use varnish, lacquer, or polyurethane to seal the wood and keep it waterproof.
  • Find and use a stain-sealant combo that can stand up to even high-traffic areas where water is more likely to gather.
  • Seal your floor with a high-grade wood wax, once you’ve finished applying the stain, which will add an extra layer of protection against future water stains.

If you’re working with wood furniture, you can try the same products against water stains as you would with a wood floor. You could also seek out products specifically made for wood furniture, like tables, chairs, and nightstands.

Products like Pledge for normal dusting also protects against water stains, and it adds a protective wax-like substance that keeps your furniture shiny.

Related: Wood Stain vs. Varnish vs. Paint


Dark water stains in wood can be tricky to remove if you’re not careful. But a little bit of elbow grease and creativity can restore your wood surfaces to their previous glory.

Another tip that you can try is to use steel wool dipped in a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, and sand the stain as you would with sandpaper. Using a circular motion, gently buff the wood until the stain comes out. Then remove the debris with a clean, dry cloth, and refinish with a matching wood stain.

Whatever you do, don’t use a wet mop on your wood floors, or clean wood furniture with anything wet, as it could permanently damage your surface.

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