How to remove water stains from wood – 8 fixes you'll find in your pantry

Whether on furniture or floors, water stains can be removed from wood, with some surprising pantry staples

Water marks on wood
(Image credit: Alamy)

If someone's forgotten to use a coaster on a favorite antique table, or there's been an accidental spillage, you might be wondering how to remove water stains from wood, and worrying that your furniture or flooring is ruined permanently.

However, whilst the faint white stains water leaves behind on wood seems like they will be impossible to remove, you can restore wood furniture and flooring to its former condition, and you may already have the ingredients to do so in your pantry.

Below, we take you through the easiest ways to remove water stains from wood.

How to remove water stains from wood

'Prevention is always the best cure, and it is important to mop up wet spills immediately,' says Jon Ashbrook, Head of Product Development at wooden flooring specialists Ted Todd (opens in new tab)

1. Use made-for-purpose products

'The best solution for a stain is to seek professional treatment and use a floor care kit. Most branded floor cleaners are solvent or bleach based and will damage a wood floor, leading to discoloration, so ensure to purchase one that doesn’t do this. 

'The type of care kit needed depends on the finish of the floor as some oil-based finishes need intense maintenance, so choose the correct one to prolong the life of the wood.'

'I tend to use a water mark remover on furniture,' says Jen Ebert, Deputy Editor in Chief of Homes & Gardens. 'Guardsman Water Mark Remover Cloth (opens in new tab) is my favorite product, and has over 5,000 five star reviews on Amazon. However, I have also used a couple of the pantry staples below and had good results, too.'

2. Does mayo remove water stains on wood?

Mayonnaise can remove water marks from wood. 'You may not be aware but the easiest way to fix a water stain is with something you’re likely to have in your fridge!' say the interior experts at Beanbags (opens in new tab)

'To do this, add a small amount to a microfiber towel and dab it into the stain. Let it sit for a few hours with a paper towel on top. Together, the oil in the mayonnaise helps displace the moisture into the paper towel, and off the table itself. Check on it after a few hours and if it’s gone, you can remove the mayo and polish it. If it hasn’t worked, repeat the process but leave the mayo overnight.'

3. Does toothpaste remove water stains wood?

'Another method involves using toothpaste to remove a water stain from wood,' says cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey at My Job Quote (opens in new tab).

Ensure you use white toothpaste, but 'avoid using whitening or gel varieties of toothpaste for this,' continues Sarah. 'Dab a large amount of toothpaste on a clean cloth and then buff it into the stain. Continue to buff the stain until it is completely removed. Then, wipe away any residue with a paper towel or clean cloth.'

'Let it dry before applying furniture polish,' say the experts at Beanbag. 'If it does, however, not work, mix equal parts white toothpaste with baking soda and repeat the process, as this is an even stronger mix.'

4. Can baking soda remove water stains from wood?

Like toothpaste, you can clean with baking soda to remove water marks from wood. 

'Simply make a paste from two parts baking soda to one part water and apply with a microfiber cloth (you can buy these from Amazon (opens in new tab)). Rub the baking soda mix over the water mark gently until it disappears. As always, once the baking soda is removed entirely, add a coat of furniture polish – I use Weiman Cabinet & Wood Clean & Shine Clean and Protect Spray (opens in new tab) – to protect the wood from future water marks and stains.'

5. Can you remove water stains from wood with an iron?

You can remove water stains from wood with an iron, though cautiously. This method is best used when the stains are still damp, as the heat of the iron can help evaporate the moisture that has seeped into the grain. 

'To remove the stain, firstly you should remove the water from your iron and set it to a low temperature,' say the experts at Beanbag. 'While it’s heating up, lay a clean plain cloth over the mark. You should then lightly place the iron on top of the cloth. After a few seconds, check the water ring to see if it’s disappeared. Keep repeating this sequence until it works. 

'We would recommend using a plain cloth as opposed to a patterned one to prevent a transfer onto your table surface.'

We would also advise caution – ensure heat is low and that you don't allow the iron to linger. Removing a scorch mark from wood will be much more difficult than removing water stains.

6. Can you use a hair dryer to remove water stains from wood?

'If you’re too scared to use an iron – the heat of a hairdryer works on fresh water stains, too,' say the experts at Beanbag. 

'One of the best methods is with your hair dryer,' says cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey. 'Use the hair dryer on its lowest setting and then point it at the water mark. Move the dryer around to ensure no direct heat hits the wood, which may cause the wood to overheat.'

7. Can Vaseline get water marks out of wood?

'Like mayonnaise, this medicine cabinet staple contains a lot of oil that can help remove the white cast of a water stain on a wooden table,' say the experts at Beanbag. 'It’s also one of the easiest approaches to removing a stain as all you need to do is apply the petroleum jelly and buff it in with a dust cloth. You should then let it sit overnight before wiping it away in the morning.'

Vaseline is available online at Amazon (opens in new tab).

8. Can lemon oil and steel wool get rid of water stains?

Using the finest grade (0000) steel wool (Red Devil's finest grade is highly recommended on Amazon (opens in new tab)) to very gently rub a water mark can remove it from wood, though be sure to work with and not against the grain to ensure no fine scratches are left behind. 

'To condition wood afterwards, use lemon oil – Old English (opens in new tab) is a trusted brand. It will clean the wood too, as well as protecting it from future spills,' says Jennifer Ebert.

How do you get water marks out of wood?

It's important to wipe up the spill as soon as possible to stop water marks forming; while the stain is still damp, use a hairdryer on a low setting to remove as much moisture as possible from the wood. After that, a speedy response is best, so if you don't have a water mark remover, go to your pantry or bathroom for either mayonnaise, baking soda, Vaseline or toothpaste. All of these, when rubbed into the water mark should remove it from the wood. Once that's done, buff clean the wood, then product with a furniture polish or lemon oil.

Are wood water stains permanent?

Wood water stains are generally not permanent, especially if you treat them quickly. Small stains on furniture are much easier to remove than larger, more ingrained stains on wood floors, however. To clean hardwood floors if they are badly damaged or the water marks are very old, and indeed to refinish hardwood floors afterwards, you will find professionals can give you a better result.

Lola Houlton
Contributing Editor

Lola Houlton is H&G's long-term intern. Currently student of Psychology at the University of Sussex, she began writing content for Real Homes around the subjects of children's and teenagers' bedroom, in particular covering the psychology of teens and their approach to tidiness. From there, Lola expanded her knowledge of a broad range of subjects and now writes about everything from organization through to house plants while continuing her studies.